North Chicago schools among first in state to have school board ousted
By Judy Masterson firstname.lastname@example.org June 21, 2012 8:22PM
The Illinois State Board of Education authorized State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch to proceed with plans to replace local school board members in North Chicago Community Unit School District 187 with a new Independent Authority. The Illinois School Code allows the State Board to take such measures after several years of poor performance in order to implement meaningful reform and improve academic achievement. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Financial Oversight Panels:
North Chicago 187
Venice 3 (goes away July 1)
East St. Louis 189
East St. Louis 189
City of Chicago 299
Round Lake 116 (past)
Hazel Crest 152.5 (current)
Updated: August 21, 2012 1:55AM
North Chicago Community Unit School District 187 will become one of the first school districts in the state of Illinois to lose its elected school board under historic action by the Illinois State Board of Education.
The ISBE voted unanimously on Thursday to direct Lake County Regional Superintendent of Schools Roycealee Wood to unseat the board’s seven members: Kenneth Robinson, Henrietta Graham, Lanelle Collins, Sherry Murray, Sharon Epps, Jill Janezich, and Jimmy Baldwin.
The action, which was also applied to a downstate East St. Louis district, is called for by the Illinois School Code in cases in which districts fail to advance academically, according to Superintendent Christopher Koch.
“This is not something we take lightly,” Koch said in a telephone interview after the vote. “Statute requires us to do this.”
Koch cited a shocking statistic for North Chicago High School: Just 13 percent of students meet or exceed state academic standards — 40 points lower than the state average. In the 4,000-student district overall, 52 percent score average or better on state tests.
“That’s simply not acceptable,” Koch said. “We can’t allow these kids to continue to be lost. They’re not going to have opportunities for college or careers or employment. We have to take responsibility and focus the discussion of adults around the needs of the children.”
Koch said he expects Wood to take action within a week after which he will appoint a new five-member Independent Authority by July 1, also the date the state terminates a 2010 intergovernmental agreement with the district.
Board President Ken Robinson did not return a call seeking comment. But member Sherry Murray, who was appointed in 2009, decried the state action.
“I think it’s a farce,” Murray said. “We’re being scapegoated. Most of our decisions have been either guided by the state or overseen by the state over the last several years. Yet they can go in and take away the rights of citizens by eliminating their choice of representation. They didn’t do that in other areas. They put in an oversight panel and leave the board intact.
“That, to me, speaks volumes,” added Murray, who noted that both North Chicago and East St. Louis are “majority black communities.”
The state has taken financial control in 10 districts throughout the state, including North Chicago, where on Tuesday it announced the appointment of a five-member Financial Oversight Panel. In Round Lake District 116, it appointed a School Finance Authority in 2000, after the district floundered financially for eight years. The district earned back local control in 2010.
Koch, who said he is considering major interventions in five other districts throughout the state, will establish performance measures for progress with the goal of giving back local control to North Chicago. He said student performance was the primary consideration in his unprecedented decision. But the state frowned on board decisions including a recent vote against a charter school and a $40 million revenue bond that put millions in federal impact aid at risk.
“All that stuff certainly contributed to their financial situation and some problems, but these decisions are drive by student data,” Koch said. “That’s the only metric we’re required to act on.”
North Chicago schools Superintendent Milton Thompson, who was hired last year, but who was not the choice of the board majority, according to Murray, skirted politics in commenting on the historic ISBE action.
“The most important thing is that the children and community of North Chicago progress, that the city get the opportunity for a well-run education system,” Thompson said. “That’s the pertinent issue. It’s not about me and it’s not about others.”
“It’s unfortunate we had to lose the board,” said North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham. “But hopefully it’s going to be best for the children. Hopefully the state will make the right choices.”