'We've done a lot of amazing things": Praise, criticism for Fessler as he departs Dist. 59
Outgoing Superintendent Art Fessler received a mix of praise and criticism this week during his final Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 board meeting.
"I like to think that we moved the needle in District 59. That we've done a lot of amazing things," Fessler said in his final remarks. "I know personally I've learned a lot of very good lessons, none better than the one that change is difficult."
He thanked his leadership team for "trying to do, really what we thought was best for kids. Really teaching learning through application of skill, knowledge and content versus repetition. And I'm proud of that work."
Former school board member Sharon Roberts said she is proud she voted to hire Fessler as superintendent in 2012.
"(His vision) allowed our students to explore and discover for themselves what interests and passions were within them," she said. "A vision that didn't simply see them as a standardized test score."
She read from a prepared statement that listed some of the district's accomplishments during Fessler's tenure, including support for the staff and concern for the social and emotional needs of students.
Other speakers, however, were critical of recent controversies, including a scuttled arrangement for Fessler to take a position with the Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization.
The Daily Herald reported last month that the job was set up to allow Fessler to work the 170 remaining days he needed to get a full pension. Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization officials called off the deal less than a week after the report.
As part of the deal, the District 59 board agreed to give the special education organization nearly $40,000 to pay off Fessler's unused vacation days. With the job not happening, the district instead will pay that amount directly to Fessler, triggering at least a $10,000 penalty to the Teachers' Retirement System. The fine is due to a 2005 law designed to limit districts from boosting pensions for retiring teachers and administrators.
Resident Mary Vicars questioned the moves.
"Well, this deal is dead, but what can we learn?" she said. "I learned that some folks, all of whom are supposed to work for the taxpayers, were more interested in helping somebody land a job so he could collect his full pension."
She called the arrangement "disheartening" because she believes in government.
"The deal between NSSEO and District 59 is an example of local government at its worst," Vicars added.
Dan Makowski said the deal made the district look bad.
"Those couple thousand dollars, was it worth all the bad publicity that the district got, and the bad name that it has?" Makowski said. "We have enough issues with the test scores and the reputation about the education. This was not necessary.
"In 24 days, on July 1, we'll have a new superintendent. The district deserves better."
Terri Bresnahan, currently superintendent in West suburban Berkeley Elementary District 87, is set to take over as District 59 superintendent next month.
"I think Dr. Bresnahan is going to do an amazing job, kind of picking up, cleaning up some of the mess I created, and doing great things," Fessler said.