Thursday, June 16, 2005

Are the Winnetka School Board and its Supt. ready for Reform?

Democracy perhaps is returning to the Village of Winnetka, in the heart of the North Shore. At its semi-annual Town Meeting on Monday night, two residents, Mike Finnerty [a relative newcomer to the community by Winnetka standards-- a seven year resident] and Meg Revord [someone who grew up in the Winnetka Schools--a pillar of the Winnetka Establishment perhaps] stood up and said, essentially, they were speaking out for 125 families from the 350 student Winnetka Greeley School. Those families were willing to do something that is not often done in Winnetka, put their names on a document that publicly and sharply criticizes a person of authority in the Village—in this case, the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. van der Bogert-- for “failing in her duty.”

The petition also said that the School Board’s assertion that the Superintendent was following “accepted practice,” when she treated the existence of a public lawsuit as confidential “was groundless.”

And, the petition charged the School Board with “failing to investigate and confirm all facts regarding the hiring of Mr. Dorken [the new Greeley School principal].”

The 125 families are asking for “formal apologies” from the Winnetka School Board and Schools Superintendent van der Bogert [See Winnetka Talk article here]. Various people involved in this effort have made clear that by formal apologies they do not mean something like “mistakes were made.”

Nor will they accept the silliness that Winnetka School Board President Anne Kelly put out at the Town Meeting on Monday to the effect that the School Board was sorry for the upheaval due to the fact that information about the new Greeley School Principal’s wrongful death lawsuit came from the Chicago Tribune, as opposed to the Winnetka School Board, with the implication being that the Chicago Tribune somehow caused the problem. Talk about shooting the messenger: what was Anne Kelly thinking when she said that?

The dissident families are also demanding that “the [School] Board, Supt. van der Bogert and [new Greeley School Principal] Mr. Dorken should fully answer the Community’s questions in an open public forum.”

The School Board has scheduled a special school board meeting for tonight at Greeley School, 275 Fairview, Winnetka at 7:00 pm. The School Board notice said the purpose of the meeting was to “Communicate with the Community.” Will the [School] Board, Supt. van der Bogert and [new Greeley School Principal] Mr. Dorken fully answer the Community’s questions? Will there be an open question/answer period in which all questions asked are answered? If not by the Board, van der Bogert and Dorken, then by whom? If not tonight, when? Are the Winnetka School Board and Supt. van der Bogert ready for reform?

The Winnetka dissidents [an oxymoron?] also state that “the Winnetka School Board should appoint an independent committee to conduct a full investigation of all facts related to the hiring of Mr. Dorken and answer the many questions raised by the Community.” And, the Committee should make “all findings public,” and “recommend guidelines for future decisions of this nature.”

Well, folks, the dissidents say that the above actions are the “minimum,” of what is required to “restore the net of trust,” and “mend the community divide.”

Formal apologies, fully answer questions and independent panel to
investigate? The dissidents, representing what would seem to be the vocal majority of the Greeley School Community, appear to be seeking to “Take back their schools,” to borrow from a widely used political phrase. They appear to want a school board and Schools Superintendent who think, act and communicate quite differently from the board members and superintendent whom they have now.

I get it. But do the Winnetka School Board and its Superintendent get it? True democracy now in Winnetka? A really independent committee to investigate, with the emphasis on the word, “independent.” Wow, that’s a tall drink. This could be one interesting evening.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at