District 41 teachers rally behind superintendent
Glen Ellyn District 41 teachers and parents staged a rally Monday night to push for a contract extension for Superintendent Paul Gordon and to protest the school board's public silence on the fate of their top administrator.
More than 100 demonstrators gathered outside district offices before a school board meeting in a show of support for Gordon, who has less than a year remaining on his contract. Leaders of the Glen Ellyn teachers union organized the hourlong rally along with parents and the Illinois Education Association.
Gordon's supporters marched along north Main Street and carried signs proclaiming "This teacher wants transparency" and "Sign or Search." After the rally ended, teachers and parents packed the board meeting and gave Gordon a standing ovation when he arrived.
School board President Stephanie Clark acknowledged that confidential negotiations about the renewal of Gordon's contract have taken place behind closed doors since last spring. His contract -- which pays him $229,392 annually -- ends in June 2019.
If the board doesn't intend to renew Gordon's contract, the pact also calls for the board to give notice no later than April 1.
"The board and Dr. Gordon have discussed giving earlier notification," said Clark, reading from a prepared statement. "But it's a confidential personnel matter, and the board does not expect to have any additional comments until the board and Dr. Gordon gives notice, except to note that the board has been advised by an experienced search consultant that there is still ample time to conduct a successful search for a highly qualified candidate."
Clark's comments didn't ease concerns among union leaders and some rank-and-file teachers that the board could be left scrambling to find a qualified superintendent should it decide to seek Gordon's replacement.
"If Dr. Gordon's successes are not what the board feels is best for our students, such as closing the achievement gap, passing a referendum, launching a comprehensive study into special education as directed by the board, then time is running out to find a qualified candidate to pick up where Dr. Gordon leaves off at the end of this school year," said Tracy Guerrieri, co-president of the union that represents about 200 teachers in the district.
"The lack of action in a timely manner or without direction from reputable and knowledgeable leadership could lead to a change in working conditions for our members or a change in the learning environment for our students."
In response to questions from Clark, Guerrieri said the Glen Ellyn Education Association membership did not vote to take a position on the rally or Gordon's contract.
Some parents increasingly have called on the board to keep Gordon at the helm. An online petition in support of Gordon started by Jessica Buttimer has garnered nearly 850 signatures. About two dozen parents, along with Glenbard West High School Principal Peter Monaghan, vouched for Gordon at a board meeting last month.
But parent Janet Wagner, a mom of two children with special needs, spoke out against Gordon's tenure, saying he doesn't deserve the credit for launching an audit into the district's special education programs.
"The bottom line is he's not a champion, he's ignored concerns and only finally did something when he was forced by board members and the community," she said. "He doesn't show initiative, requires direction and ignores requests from the board. I'm not sure why teachers support him. I suppose he's done some things that are helpful to you."
About 15 other speakers stood behind Gordon, whose original contract was extended for three years in 2015. At Hadley Junior High, 55 teachers who could not attend the rally also signed a letter supporting Gordon.
"I personally think Dr. Gordon is one of the best superintendents I've ever worked for and I've worked in a couple of other districts," said Patty Jurczak, an eighth-grade teacher at Hadley who participated in the rally. "He's brought in so many good initiatives, so many new things, and we're thriving, and we're growing, and we're doing new things that are going along with the 21st-century thinking that I just can't imagine someone coming in and possibly taking all of those things away."
Gordon was hired after a national search and from a pool of nearly 300 candidates to succeed Ann Riebock, who retired. Gordon previously was chief academic officer in a school district in suburban Denver.