New board in D86 off to a rather rocky start

The new board in Hinsdale High School District 86 has been busy.

After almost 90 minutes in closed session at a special meeting May 24, board members voted 6-0 (Asma Akhras was absent) to affirm the “leave with pay” status of Superintendent Tammy Prentiss and designate of Chris Covino as acting superintendent.

Prentiss’ leave was announced more than a week earlier on May 16, with no information available as to whether the leave was paid or unpaid or if board members had voted to place Prentiss on leave. Now we know they had not.

They’ve also hired a law firm to provide legal advice on what was described in a 46-word paragraph that we’re pretty sure translates to “getting rid of Tammy Prentiss.”

We don’t know what was discussed in a special closed session meeting held May 9, less than a week after three new board members — Akhras, Kay Gallo and Cat Greenspon — were sworn in.

Demands for transparency were a common refrain during the spring campaign, which now seems a bit hypocritical. We recognize this is a personnel issue, but holding votes in open sessions sandwiched between closed sessions hardly defines transparency. How many residents are going to go to a meeting only to wait — it could be 30 minutes or three hours — before board members emerge to take a vote?

In addition to appearing to be on the way to getting a new superintendent, board members have been busy in other areas as well. They’ve cleaned up some things they didn’t like (now committee meetings will be recorded and posted and the director of communications will not automatically receive emails sent to the “boe” address) and created an academic committee that’s been the subject of debate for two years. They also plan to revisit at their June 8 meeting changes made to the social studies curriculum that were approved almost two years ago. It seems the director of diversity, equity and instruction position might be on the chopping block as well.

What the DEI discussion will involve, we don’t know. We do know Cheryl Moore, assistant superintendent for human resources, had a candidate ready to recommend at the May 25 meeting.

“We’re not ready for that recommendation, I guess,” she told the board.

Gallo attempted to amend the agenda to add a discussion of the position to last week’s meeting but did not have support from other board members.

We can only hope new leadership in the district will bring a change for the better. Jason Markey, the new assistant superintendent for academics, certainly has his work cut out for him. Yes, the board is responsible for approving curriculum changes, but we agree with Acting Superintendent Chris Covino that the board can’t simply accept teachers’ recommendations that they like and ignore the ones they don’t.

Perhaps working with an academic committee, Markey can better lay out what educators’ objectives are and take into consideration board members’ concerns to end the cycle of approving curriculum changes and later reversing them.

On the board’s side, we hope Greenspon will do a better job of managing agenda items so meetings don’t last five hours. If there are too many topics to discuss, schedule a special meeting. Board members, administrators, audience members — no one is at their best at 10:30 on a weeknight.

We hope board members will be mindful of their comments to shorten meeting times as well. All opinions should be heard, but there is too much elaboration and repetition.

Two of the three new board members made a lot of promises about how much better things would be after they were elected. We’re waiting.