H-F school board asks for patience during its transition

District 233 school board President Steve Anderson asked residents to “be patient” with board operations, saying the three new board members need time to get up to speed.
 
“We’re new and there’s a steep learning curve,” he told the audience at the Sept. 19 meeting.
But some residents in the Homewood-Flossmoor High School district who addressed the board said the issue wasn’t one of time but rather integrity. 
 
At two recent meetings, residents were given the floor for more than 60 minutes to voice their concerns about how the board is functioning. At the beginning of the September meeting, Anderson read a statement asking the audience to hold comments to no more than five minutes and deal with school issues.
 
But one of the first to speak was a mother who said the community wants board members who “exude transparency. When I use the word transparency I mean clarity, honesty and openness.“ There should be “no hidden agenda,” she stressed.
 
The board is still feeling the anxieties of residents who say the district has been in turmoil since the June 2016 firing of Ryan Pitcock, the school’s principal.
 
That led to months of community dissent with many questioning the board’s actions. The board argued it couldn’t respond because it was a personnel issue.
 
Residents say an active rumor mill on social media exacerbated dissention. The community elected three new board members ― Anderson, Annette Bannon and Beth Larocca ― in the April election.
 
Residents addressing the board said they had hoped for a positive outcome from the election, but they don’t believe the board is working as a team for the good of their children, the school and the community. 
 
Parents and residents at recent board meetings also have questioned statements by newly elected board member Beth Larocca and argued that the board is not being honest with them. 
 
Many were upset in June that new board members, who served for only a month, would question the contract extension for Superintendent Von Mansfield.
 
At the September meeting, Larocca supporter Patrick Keating told Anderson he allowed “character assassination” against Larocca. He said residents were not addressing any actions she’d taken as a board member.
 
Several parents have argued that Larocca’s responses to issues dealing with the Pitcock release were not truthful.
 
Anderson tried to reassure the audience. He said the district’s finances are in excellent shape and its leadership is strong.  The board recognizes those things.
 
“We’re all still learning how to be high school board members. I really believe that time will tell and how we act will tell the community what we’re all about,” he said. 
 
Anderson said new board members will learn from the four members ― Tim Wenckus, John Farrell, Debbie Berman and Jody Scariano ― who together have many years experience.
 
Farrell, who’s been on the board for 12 years, said this isn’t the first time the H-F board has gone through a major shift.  Change can bring a new set of eyes to examine issues, he said.
 
“We’ve only been together for a few months now and it’s been tumultuous, but I believe that this is a process that happens when people of good faith and intelligence and commitment get together,” Farrell said.
 
“There’s a growth process that happens when people care. We’ll grow our relationships together. I believe that and I ask you to believe, too.”
 
Anderson said the board retreat in November will be another building block for the seven members to come together for the good of the district.
 
“We’re all pulling on the same rope. Nothing but time is going to make this better for us up here.”

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