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Change needed, residents tell District 161 school board

Flossmoor School District 161 Superintendent Craig Doster, on a leave of absence for the last two weeks, was not present at Tuesday’s Board of Education committee meeting.

Frances LaBella, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, has been coordinating operations since the start of Doster’s leave, and she represented District 161’s administration at the board table.

About 50 residents were in the audience Tuesday. It was the first board meeting since Doster began his leave on Oct. 18, one day after the school board received a letter, reportedly signed by 400 residents, calling for his removal as the district’s chief executive officer.

Doster’s name never came up during the meeting but residents appearing before the board called for change and said the district needs to take immediate steps to improve student performance.


Nathan Legardy said he learned about the superintendent’s leave of absence from the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle last Friday. He asked board members why District 161 did not release any information to parents about the leave of absence.

“I’m going to ask for your patience,” Board President Stephen Paredes told Legardy. He said the school board will share information on the leave of absence “when it is appropriate.”

Legardy – who said he grew up in the Homewood-Flossmoor community and now has children in the District 161 schools – told the board that he finds local test scores “shocking” and that such poor performance can affect property values in the community.

According to the Illinois Report Card, 35 percent of District 161 students met or exceeded expectations on the state’s PARCC test for 2016. That was up from 33 percent from 2015. Across Illinois, students had overall PARCC scores of 34 percent and 33 percent, respectively, in 2016 and 2015.

The district’s highest PARCC scores for this year were 55 percent at Western Avenue (up from 50 percent in 2015) and 54 percent at Flossmoor Hills School (up from 40 percent). Students at Serena Hills School had a 39 percent meet-or-exceeds score (up from 30 percent last year) and Heather Hills School had a score of 35 percent (up from 33 percent in 2015). Parker Junior High School students scored 26 percent on the 2015 test, down from 29 percent last year.

“We need to keep this an attractive community,” Legardy said, adding that good schools are the key to making that happen.

Legardy related the story of a woman he knows who decided not to move to Flossmoor after looking at test score results.

“You will need to make a decision in the next few weeks,” Legardy told the board. “The search should be for someone who can significantly move the needle” on test scores.

Resident Anthony Mootry told the board that recent events in District 161 are testing “understanding of who we are as a community.”

Mootry said his family moved to the Homewood-Flossmoor area in 1978 and that he attended the local schools. He made the decision to raise his own children in District 161.

“We are here because we love it,” he said.

Mootry told the board members he has confidence in their making “whatever decision needs to be made.”

Current test scores are unacceptable, he said, especially since District 161 spends more on education per pupil than many other area school systems.

“We know what has been happening,” Mootry said. “Change needs to be made.” 

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