District 161 board hears audience’s pitch for Pitcock at Parker

Residents brought concerns over last week’s administrative shakeup at Parker Junior High School to Monday’s Flossmoor District 161 Board of Education committee meeting.

Nearly 50 people attended the sometimes heated meeting, during which a number of residents peppered board members and administrators with questions and criticism on issues ranging from the current absence of a principal at Parker to test scores to the proposed 2016-17 budget.

The situation at Parker attracted the most attention during the section of the meeting reserved for audience comments, with four residents suggesting that former Homewood-Flossmoor Principal Ryan Pitcock should take over at the junior high school.

David Kennedy, Parker’s principal for the past year, was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 23, the second day of the new academic year. Kennedy still has the title of Parker’s principal – he is being paid -- although he will not be on the school premises during the leave, which could turn out to be temporary. According to the district’s website, a job opening for Parker’s principal has not been posted.

“Who is leading Parker?” Carolyn Griggs asked the board. “We all know that a principal is critical to the success of a school.”

Kristin Troutman, another parent, asked what sort of plan was in place at Parker after Kennedy went on leave.

Superintendent Craig Doster said district administrators have been present at Parker since Kennedy’s leave was announced. They have been carrying out supervisory duties, he said, as well as dealing with phone calls and meeting with parents.

“We are working on a resolution,” Doster said. “Hopefully we’ll have one soon.”

Many of the audience members clearly supported the idea of Pitcock becoming principal at Parker. In June, he was removed as H-F’S principal following a split vote by the District 233 school board. Pitcock, who was the high school’s principal for eight years, is being paid for the one year remaining on his contract. H-F board members have said they cannot share details about the dismissal.

Dean Armstrong said his daughters received a superb education at H-F and that Pitcock deserves much of the credit for the school’s success. Pitcock came into a difficult situation in which test scores were declining and different student groups were at odds, but brought positive change to H-F, Armstrong said.

“Ryan Pitcock shares my opinion that diversity is strength,” Armstrong said. “He came into a situation where there were problems between groups. He brought them together. He calmed the waters.”

Armstrong said Pitcock would be a stabilizing influence at Parker and that he is uniquely qualified to take over at the junior high school.

“We will survive,” Armstrong said. “We are a strong, proud community. But with Ryan Pitcock we will thrive.”

Audience members applauded his comments.

Melissa de la Torre, a Parker parent, said she hears about fights at the school on an almost daily basis.

“Why are they not being addressed?” she asked.

Hiring Pitcock to restore order at Parker is a “no-brainer,” de la Torre said.

“I don’t understand why it’s not obvious to you,” she told the school board.

Board member Lisa Harrell told the audience that she appreciated the comments.

“It’s extremely beneficial that you’re coming here,” she said. Harrell said the audience comments at the meeting are a good counterpoint to messages posted on social media, which she said are often “not helpful” and sometimes show signs of cyber bullying.

“It’s important that your voice is heard here,” Harrell said. 

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