Superintendent succession plan divides West Chicago Dist. 94 candidates
West Chicago High School District 94 school board members are expected Tuesday to approve a superintendent's contract with the lone candidate considered for the top post: Principal Moses Cheng.
The board plans to promote Cheng to replace retiring Superintendent Doug Domeracki, who made a surprise announcement in mid-October that he will step down at the end of June after six years at the helm of the one-school district.
But the challengers in the five-way race for three available board seats in the April 2 election have expressed dismay that the board did not conduct a search.
Some hopefuls have called for a new face to lead the district to help rebuild rapport with faculty after contract talks nearly devolved into a strike a year ago.
But Cheng's 12-year tenure as principal has received a vote of confidence from current board members, who say he brings continuity as the district prepares for the second year of campus renovations approved by voters.
Cheng and the board have agreed to the contract terms, subject to final approval by the panel, in a four-year pact that would allow either side to terminate without cause after three years. Cheng would receive a total compensation package of $201,324 in the first year of the contract, including a $180,000 salary.
Here's a closer look at how the candidates -- who will participate in a League of Women Voters meet-and-greet today -- would address the superintendent's vacancy.
A 20-year veteran of the Winfield School District 34 board, Bob Brown said a superintendent search typically involves developing a profile of attributes for the next school chief and hiring a search firm to find candidates who match that profile. The current board initially considered using search consultants but instead decided to focus on Cheng.
"It's concerning that they just, with all the issues, with the tensions, lack of trust, the near strike ... they don't even say, 'Let's go to everybody and say what do you think our next leader should be?'"
Brown and others also question why Cheng wasn't named superintendent when he emerged as a contender in previous searches. Brown was invited to a forum with Cheng, a meeting that Brown says was spent mostly on having the principal respond to a "set of pre-canned questions."
"What the district needs most as far as attributes of a new superintendent right now is somebody who has a track record of building trust, building bridges when trust has been broken," Brown said. "And ideally given the rancorous negotiations over the last several years, I believe there's benefit to somebody that does come from the outside who's not seen as a part of what was going on before."
Brad Larson, the president of the West Chicago Teachers Association, had no comment about the superintendent succession plan. "Everyone in the teachers association hopes that Dr. Cheng is successful as the superintendent," Larson said.
The teachers union has endorsed Brown, Lynn Casey-Maher and Lauren Scanlan for the three seats.
A mortgage branch manager for MB Financial Bank, Katherine Doremus is seeking her fourth term.
"It is not unusual or unprecedented to promote from within when a qualified candidate is available, and this was a time where it made sense and saved valuable time that we can commit to our students," she said.
After Domeracki announced his retirement, Cheng, previously an assistant principal for teaching and learning at Hinsdale South High School, indicated his interest in succeeding him. "The board felt it was worth vetting ... that person ... before we went to a search firm," she said. "This person had 12 years history as a principal of the school and incredible dedication to our students and an understanding of the direction we want it to go."
When asked why Cheng wasn't hired six years ago, she said "people change and grow and attain knowledge."
"We had a different kind of need six years ago within the district," she said.
Cheng was not part of teacher contract talks, she said, and is capable of rebuilding trust. "Part of that is what convinced us that he is the right person for that position at that this point in time," she said.
Appointed to the board last April, Scanlan is a teacher in Marquardt School District 15.
"I know Mr. Cheng's work, and honestly I feel he is well-suited to be a superintendent, maybe even better suited to be a superintendent than necessarily a principal," she said. "I feel like a principal can make more of an impact inside the school, and for what I think our school needs moving forward, I think some changes within the school dynamic could be even more powerful than just a new superintendent."
A search is under way for a new principal, board President Gary Saake said.
An attorney, Jennifer Shilakis Wiesner said she's disappointed there's only one candidate for the top spot. She also attended the meeting with Cheng.
"There were certain questions, he answered he was strong and I thought well-qualified. ... And certain things, I felt he kind of fell short on, but it's hard to judge when there's only one person," she said.
"He talked very highly on how they help promote the Advanced Placement students and what opportunities are available for them, but I was concerned with what do we for the least of our students, for the students who struggle the most academically, emotionally and fall below the national average instead of above."
A nurse anesthetist whose late husband was a West Chicago High School teacher, Casey-Maher said the district needs a new face to "bring some new ideas and a vision."
She also said Cheng should be named an interim superintendent to allow the board to conduct a "wider search" or be awarded a "very, very short contract." "And I really feel that new board should be involved in making this decision because I feel like it's being rushed," she said.