The Homewood-Flossmoor High School school board officially terminated the contract of former principal Ryan Pitcock, despite pleas for his return.
The 6-1 vote was described as confirmation of “the termination of the principal, Ryan Pitcock, by exercise of the buyout clause in his employment contract, effective June 21, 2016.”
Pitcock had been principal for eight years and was on the last year of his contract when the board voted 5-2 to fire him. Board member David Meyer, who voted against the move, resigned from the board shortly after the termination.
Member Tim Wenckus, who also vote against the termination, repeated his “no” vote at the District 233 board meeting Tuesday, Sept. 20.
“I trusted Dr. Pitcock to make it through the year (2016-17 school year),” Wenckus told the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle. Wenckus thought Pitcock should serve to the end of his contract. He also was concerned about the financial implications of buying out the contract.
Pitcock has not been replaced. Administrators are splitting the duties of principal until a new principal takes over in August 2017.
The vote on Pitcock’s contract came two hours into the meeting after the board accepted comments on both sides of the issue from residents, parents and teachers.
Dean Armstrong again told the board it had made a mistake in removing Pitcock. Armstrong said Pitcock is willing to return to H-F in a dual position of principal/superintendent.
Another parent called Pitcock’s removal “a terrible loss; it’s a terrible mistake.”
Many in the standing-room-only crowd supported the board’s decision, including the teachers’ union which presented signatures of support. Dana Noble, president of Homewood-Flossmoor Educational Organization, thanked the board for standing by its position and developing a work environment that allows teachers to focus on the success of H-F students.
Several speakers criticized the opposition for denigrating the high school and its staff, and one called their actions “inappropriate and un-American.”
Board members said they examined the issues raised by Pitcock after he investigated a March 2014 incident at H-F that he claimed put students at a Sunday band concert in danger because of a report of a man with a gun on campus.
Pitcock said Superintendent Von Mansfield failed to relate the incident to him. He claims he learned of it through an anonymous letter in fall 2015 – 18 months after the incident – and took it upon himself to find out the details.
Board members said they took the allegations seriously, even though Pitcock should have brought his concerns directly to the board.
District 233 hired an outside firm to question all parties involved. The firm determined school safety wasn’t an issue. Police were called at the request of a man outside school, but he was not threatening and did not have a gun. Allegations that Mansfield and Jodi Bryant, director of human resources and public relations, were having an illicit affair were unfounded. Mansfield had handled the March 2014 situation correctly. Pitcock should be held accountable for taking on an investigation of his superior (Mansfield) without sharing information with the board. He received a verbal reprimand.
Board member John Farrell said the investigation went on for months because the board wanted it to be “very thorough” and members raised additional questions after the initial draft of the report was presented.
Board member Debbie Berman pointed out what she called inconsistencies with information presented by Pitcock supporters. She argued the board would never allow any actions that would put students in danger.
She believes that a number of points presented on the incident by Dean Armstrong were inconsistent with the police report, and in some cases unsubstantiated.
Repeated requests from Pitcock supporters for information under the Freedom of Information Act are costing the district in lost work time and additional charges in attorney fees, Berman said, and questioned why Pitcock supporters are now interested in personnel files of teachers who spoke up in support of the board’s actions.
Berman urged the community to “rally around the school so we can get the best principal for our students.” The search process will begin in the next four to six weeks.
“If we can move on, that would be a benefit to all of us,” Board President Richard Lites told audience members.