Glen Ellyn District 41 board votes 4-3 to seek new superintendent despite outcry
A search for a new superintendent will begin in Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 after a slim majority of the school board chose late Monday to replace Paul Gordon in the top administrative post even after a parent outcry over the split.
In a 4-3 vote, the board decided to let Gordon's expire at the end of June after nearly six years in charge. The move to part ways with Gordon brought 35 speakers and an audience that packed a Hadley Junior High library Monday, many of whom made emotional pleas to board members to reconsider.
Parents, teachers and school administrators reaffirmed their support of Gordon, calling him a visionary and collaborative leader known for his open-door policy with educators. Other supporters denounced the board's decision as a "foregone conclusion" that will erode trust and create a leadership void at the end of the school year.
Speakers suggested the division on the board over Gordon's contract will put the district at a disadvantage in the search for its next superintendent. A search firm consultant also told the board the situation was "not ideal."
Glenbard High School District 87 Superintendent David Larson urged the board to extend Gordon's contract for one year and to postpone the search until the fall to "get the pressure off the table," cautioning that it will be "really tough" to find strong candidates with the "environment and the climate."
"This removes the mistrust, the conflict and the tension in the air and allows you to focus on work, maybe running for election, focus on students, listening to parents," Larson said.
Tracy Guerrieri, co-president of the Glen Ellyn Education Association, the teachers union that represents about 300 educators, expressed disappointment that the board would allow a "student-centered leader to be let go."
"We are hopeful that at the very least, the board will be transparent this evening by sharing with us what characteristics Dr. Gordon does not possess that they will be looking for in a new superintendent."
Search firm consultants revealed that school board members had asked whether a selection could feasibly be made by late March, just weeks before voters in the April 2 election decide a five-way race for three board seats.
But board President Stephanie Clark clarified that no decision had been made about a deadline for finding a new leader to take the helm of the district, which encompasses four elementary schools and one junior high.
Clark said the board has had confidential talks about renewing Gordon's contract since spring 2017. At that time, a majority of the board "favored, and still favors" allowing his contract to expire, Clark said.
But at the request of Gordon, the board held off on taking action as a courtesy "in deference to his efforts to obtain a superintendency in other school districts," she said.
Gordon's contract -- which pays $229,392 annually -- ends June 30. If it isn't renewed, the pact calls for the board to give notice no later than April 1.
In the fall, Gordon renewed his request that the board hold off on taking action on his contract and starting a search, Clark said.
"The board was cognizant about the timing necessary to conduct a search and thus consulted with an experienced search consultant about this request," Clark said. "We were advised that the fall and January are typically times when you would begin the search and there would be sufficient time to conduct a successful search for a highly qualified superintendent beginning in January."
Gordon didn't arrive at the meeting until nearly three hours after it started. Board members spent that time interviewing prospective consultants from School Executive Connect, BWP and Associates, and the executive search department of the Illinois Association of School Boards.
Gordon later read a lengthy statement, highlighting his accomplishments since he was hired in 2013, expressing gratitude to the district staff and pausing at times to gather his composure.
During his tenure, Gordon noted, the district has approved two teacher contracts with "great expediency" and developed a facilities plan to create 35 new learning spaces and replace all 32 of the district's portable classrooms.
"We've done great work together over six years," he said.
But Clark and board Vice President Kurt Buchholz have criticized Gordon over the handling of curriculum changes and financial decisions.
Two speakers Monday -- Village Trustee Pete Ladesic and parent Amy Watroba -- voiced support for the move to seek a new superintendent, with the former encouraging the board not to be swayed by the emotions of what he called a vocal minority.
Clark said late Monday board members were limited about what they could say about Gordon's evaluation as a matter of privacy. "We are a high-performing district, but there's things that are concerning as well," said Clark, citing student MAP test growth in certain grades and certain subjects as examples.
Gordon's contract was extended for three years in 2015 after a four-hour executive session.
Clark, Buchholz and then-board member Drew Ellis opposed the deal.
The seats held by Clark, Buchholz and Erica Nelson are up for election in April.