SD 103 boots two principals
One resigns under pressure, 14-year vet not renewed
By Steve Metsch and Ray Hanania
At Monday night’s committee of the whole meeting, the school board accepted a letter of resignation from Lincoln School Principal Tara Kristoff, and voted to not renew the contract of Robinson School Principal Al Molina.The resignation of Kristoff, on paid leave since Feb. 14, is effective immediately. Molina will serve out his contract that expires June 30.
Molina, 48, has been principal of Robinson for 14 years. The board did offer him a teaching job, but he is not leaning that way.
“I’m doing everything I can to look elsewhere for a position and get away from the politics,” Molina said. “It’s so toxic.”
Molina said he planned to talk with his lawyer about the decision to not renew his contract, noting his past job reviews had been “very good to excellent.”
Kristoff, in her first year as principal at Lincoln, did not return a call to her home Monday night.
Al Molina, white shirt and tie, with some of the supporters who came out for him at Monday night’s meeting of the Lyons School District 103 board. Molina, principal for 14 years at Robinson School, was not offered a contract renewal. Supplied photo.
Molina said that he had been told by one of the two interim superintendents “there were concerns but he refused to tell me what they were.”
Board President Marge Hubaceck said, “It was about the teachers, not the children.”
She said at the start of the meeting there would be no comment on personnel matters.
Molina said while he was disappointed, he was not surprised. “Knowing the union president (Toni Jackman) was behind this. She’s always taken an adversarial approach against me.”
Molina thinks it stems from last year when Hubacek asked him to sit on the district’s side during teacher contract negotiations. He was the first principal to do that, he said.
“Numerous teachers at the time told me how upset Toni was that I serving in that role. I was told at some point to be careful about retaliation. Obviously, it took place. So, this is the price I pay for helping our school district. Had I known this would happen, I would have declined assisting.”
While the actions were not a surprise – each principal had been clearly targeted at the board’s Feb. 25 meeting – the vote was.
The vote was 4-3 to accept Kristoff’s resignation and 4-3 to not tender a renewal offer to Molina.
Two of the “no” votes came, as expected, from the board’s minority members, Jorge Torres and Michael Bennett. The surprise “no” vote was from Joanne Schaeffer.
Torres and Bennett both refused to attend the executive session. Torres said both knew the decision to “punish” Molina was decided by the board majority beforehand.
“His options are to leave or take a demotion,” Torres said of Molina. “I don’t know what they discussed about Kristoff. She’s also gone.”
Torres was surprised by Schaeffer, who is in the board majority and hardly ever votes with Torres and Bennett.
“It wasn’t because of Jorge or Mike, but because I don’t think this was done at the right time in the right way,” Schaeffer said.
“Ask them what the urgency was. I felt we should wait until the new superintendent comes in. Both of those principals were good, decent principals. The one at Lincoln needed a mentor. That’s a big school,” she said.
She’s concerned about Molina, 48, finding a job: “He’s a good guy. I like Al.”
Molina said he’s known Schaeffer “for years.”
“I think she voted for me on behalf of what was right. I taught her grandson 16 or 17 years ago. Ever since then it’s been all good. Lot of respect,” Molina said.
He thinks the board moved fast to buy time for damage control before the April 2 school board election.
Molina has said there’s a “personal vendetta” against him, courtesy of Jackman. And Jackman, as she did for the Feb. 25 meeting, made sure Robinson teachers were out in force Monday night.
Asked if she would be named to take Molina’s job, Jackman, a seventh-grade science teacher, smiled and said, “I haven’t applied for anything.”
A woman sitting with the teachers came up to a reporter during the meeting and said the teachers had been “encouraged” to attend.
The board last year decided to not renew contracts of three principals, making it five principals in two years. The superintendent left with one year remaining on her contract.
“We have a new handbook on how to get rid of principals. Just follow the pattern just set,” Schaeffer said.
She said that since she voted against the majority, “I’m so deep in the kitty litter box right now, I’ll never get out.”
During the public portion of Monday’s meeting, some teachers criticized Molina. But many students and parents said they were shocked, calling the board’s and the teacher’s union’s actions “bullying.”
Parents angered with the dismissal complained that the board lacked transparency and the dismissal of Molina was a surprise. They said parents should have been informed about the board’s intended actions before the meeting and the dismissals took place.
Parent Kelly Medina said: “You guys as a board are doing things that should not be done. That is wrong.”
Another woman who identified herself as Alma, told the board, “We just learned about this only three or four days ago. This is very alarming. The accusations and rumors are not how things should be done. … You should provide information and proof to the parents to show why Molina should be dismissed.”
After the meeting, about 40 parents and students, some with tears in their eyes, hugged Molina and thanked him, he said.
“I feel very good about the person who I am. I love these students, staff members, parents and community to death.”
— Desplaines Valley News