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No state of crisis in District 161, board president says

A state of crisis does not exist in Flossmoor School District 161, board of education President Stephen Paredes said last week.

“All pistons are firing,” Paredes said in an Oct. 27 interview with the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle. “We are headed in the right direction. We are meeting our district goals.”

The Chronicle posed questions to school board members via email Oct. 24 to gauge their thoughts on the state of the district in what has been a challenging start to the school year.

At the Oct. 17 school board meeting, a parent presented a letter demanding the immediate removal of Superintendent Craig Doster that reportedly was signed by more than 400 residents.  Doster has been on a leave of absence since Oct. 18.

School board meetings have become increasingly contentious in recent months, with audience members blasting low test scores and other perceived shortcomings in the district. Parker Junior High School’s principal resigned suddenly at the start of the school year.

Paredes, who serves as spokesman for the elected school board, responded to the Chronicle. He said he is pleased with leadership in District 161.

“We have fantastic leaders in all our buildings,” he said. ”I am very pleased with our leadership. We are moving forward and I expect great results.”

The Chronicle did not learn about Doster’s leave of absence until Oct. 27 and the emailed questions were sent out without that knowledge.

Here are the Chronicle’s questions:   

1. Do you believe that the letter presented at the Oct. 17 board of education meeting, requesting the removal of the current superintendent, is a sign that Flossmoor School District 161 is in a state of crisis?

2. If so, how is the board demonstrating leadership and guiding the district’s schools toward achievement levels that residents demanded in the letter?

3. Do you agree with the position spelled out in the letter? If so, what do you believe District 161 immediately needs to do to correct the current situation?

When asked if he believed District 161 is in a state of crisis, Paredes responded, “No I don’t.”

He also talked about the role of the school board and its members.

“The board listens to the community,” he said. “We hire the right person. We make sure the right person is in the right seat. We hold people accountable.”

Paredes had no response to the second question since it is based on the district actually being in a state of crisis.

He pointed out, however, that there are some matters that board members cannot discuss in public.

He also said he “can’t think of a better place to live” than Flossmoor and that he and his wife, who both grew up in the area, moved back to the community from the East Coast to raise their family.

Paredes said one of his goals as a school board member is that “at the end of the day all kids win.”

When asked the Chronicle’s third question – whether he agreed with the position brought forward in the Oct. 17 letter — Paredes said the board will address the concerns brought by the public.

“I respect the viewpoint of everyone, even if I don’t agree with them,” he said.

Asked about the recent contentious board sessions, Paredes said he always thinks it’s a good thing when parents come to meetings. He recalled that when he ran for school board he was once asked to leave a meeting.

Paredes said he pushed for the video recordings of board meetings, which are now available on the district’s website.

Social media presents new challenges to the school board, he said.

“With Facebook, rumors can grow exponentially,” he said. “There’s lots of venting going on on Facebook.”

Paredes said he had advice for District 161 community members.

“Stay involved. Talk to other parents. Have a goal,” he said.

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