Wait and see regarding concerns over District 128 superintendent, new initiatives

As seniors from Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools graduated Thursday to their next chapters, they leave behind a district also facing an uncertain future with new initiatives and the 293-member teachers union voting “no confidence” in the superintendent.

Parents and community members also had a lot to say regarding educational initiatives planned for the 2024-25 school year during a six-hour Libertyville-Vernon Hills High School District 128 school board meeting held in the Vernon Hills High School gym.

The meeting which ended at 1 a.m. Tuesday with the school board emerging from an hour-plus closed session to approve a first-time contract with the new educational support professionals union. The three-year contract is effective immediately.

It covers about 152 people in the school system other than teachers and administrators, such as campus safety, paraprofessionals, office staff and others. Starting salaries will increase 4% for 2024-25, 4% plus longevity based on years of service in 2025-26; and, between 35% and 54% in 2026-27.

However, several regular items of business also were discussed during Monday’s marathon session.

Libertyville, Vernon Hills teachers call for superintendent’s dismissal

But it was public comment alleging a lack of planning, questions about how the pending changes will be implemented coupled with the union report calling for the removal Superintendent Denise Herrmann that set the tone to end the school year.

In an unprecedented step, the 293-member District 128 Federation of Teachers came out publicly with a vote of no confidence in Herrmann, saying in part that she has shown a lack of leadership and created an “environment of distrust and disrespect.”

In her defense, Herrmann doubled down to critics saying it’s human nature to want to be liked.

“But whenever that desire or need becomes a leadership motive, or the reason why you make decisions in your organization, expect trouble,” her statement during the meeting began.

It is unknown whether her future employment was discussed behind closed doors and no board members addressed it directly during the public session.

The board Monday and when asked again later in the week, issued the same statement: It hears the union's concerns and will process them as a board but (members) aren't in a position to comment because it’s a personnel matter.

Social media has calmed to some extent, and as administrators work to craft and refine a play book for the new year, it appears the parties involved are waiting to see what happens.

“I haven't heard anything from the school board,” teachers union president Monica Caldicott said Wednesday. “We’re talking with our members and trying to see where we go from here. We kind of feel the ball is in the court of the school board.”

Caldicott emphasized the union’s concern is with Herrmann's leadership.

Herrmann was hired as superintendent in 2021 replacing Prentiss Lea, who retired after 12 years in the post. Her contract was extended in March 2023 and runs through June 30, 2028.

As for the new initiatives, critics say they are concerned with how the district is preparing students to be successful working in the new system.

Two of the initiatives are mandated by state law: the Accelerated Placement Act, calls for the automatic enrollment of students who meet certain standards into the next “most rigorous” level of advanced coursework; and, heterogeneous classes. The district over the next three years will eliminate “striving learner” classes and integrate them with college prep.

Enhancements to academic support systems have been updated in recent weeks and the process will continue into summer, said Tom Koluentes, Libertyville High School principal who is taking on a new role July 1 as assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

“Everything we’re building is designed to be inclusive of (teachers’) voice,” he said.

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