Approximately 100 parents, staff members, alumni and even young students from Waterbury Elementary School in Roselle spoke out in fierce support of fired Principal Beth Carow Thursday during a Keeneyville District 20 board of education meeting.
For more than an hour, approximately three dozen people grilled board members and Superintendent Carol Auer on reasons behind the board's late March decision to dismiss Carow after 10 years at Waterbury.
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Carow joined as assistant principal in 2001, became principal about two years later, and is eligible to retire next year.
"The best days are when my daughter comes running home saying 'I got to hang out with Ms. Carow today," said Waterbury parent George Stavropoulous.
Even before fielding questions, board President Tim McHugh said state statute prevents officials from publicly discussing personnel issues.
The crowd cheered and clapped after many statements in favor of Carow, while jeering when McHugh deflected questions due to confidentiality.
Parents and students both called Carow a "mom" to Waterbury children, sharing several stories of her personal touch. Stavropoulous said Carow helped his family after their house caught fire. Some speakers shed tears.
Superintendent Carol Auer did reveal concerns about Carow's performance have been ongoing for five years, but she added administration has "never questioned Ms. Carow's relationship with the community."
"Things could not have been that bad for you to keep her around for five years," said parent Susie Garcia. "I think that's the big concern."
Staff members who spoke in support of Carow indicated some of their colleagues complained about Carow, but dismissed them as a loud minority. Board members did not confirm if any complaints occurred.
"My concern is that you have only heard from a select few," said Eva-lynn Neufeldt, a Waterbury mom and special education teacher's assistant. "Employees who are happy are often quiet."
Many speakers chastised board members, with several saying they should be "ashamed" of their decision and silence on the matter. Others questioned why this decision occurred shortly after the school board election.
In one instance, McHugh asked one mother to keep comments civil.
Several supporters also called for Carow's reinstatement and indicated she is taking legal action to fight the decision. Carow attended the meeting, but did not speak or confirm whether she is fighting her dismissal.
She is slated to continue in her post until the end of this school year.
"This is a person's life, this is not something to toy with," said parent Valerie Owen.
Carow's dismissal comes in the midst of major administrative changes within District 20. Auer will retire at the end of this school year, along with Assistant Superintendent Dorothy Dirks, who focuses on curriculum and instruction.
The district will not replace Dirks, since new Superintendent Michael Connolly has background in curriculum development. Connolly is currently director of curriculum at Fenton High School in Bensenville.
Spring Wood Educational Foundation Vice President Vicky Stewart spoke about Carow in a closed board of education meeting Wednesday, and shared public comments Thursday too.
"Carow is fabulous at the things that count, and the things that are important, especially to our children," she said.
McHugh allowed some audience members to speak twice, then told the crowd the board would consider all they had said but could not take any action Thursday.