Not yet six months since hiring Superintendent Robert Libka for the top post in District 209, board members voted this month not to renew the administrator’s contract when it expires June 30. The decision was made March 17 following an evaluation of Libka’s performance, and according to school board President Chris Welch, the board is looking for “a little more backbone” from its next superintendent.
“Mr. Libka is too nice,” Welch said of the outgoing administrator. “He just doesn’t say no.”
Reached for comment after the board’s decision, Libka said he was disappointed he won’t be able to continue with the district, but said he understands from the recent assessment of his tenure what it is the board is looking for. His evaluation was “largely a conversation of style,” said Libka. Once his contract expires, Libka said, he may apply for other administrative positions in District 209, but has not discussed that possibility with the school board.
“The board, I think, is acting for the benefit of the children and with the belief that we need a new kind of leadership,” Libka said.
Libka was hired as superintendent in late September following a brief stint as an interim. In August, then-superintendent Stan Fields resigned the position after spending several weeks on administrative leave for reasons that were never disclosed by the school board. Libka’s ouster this summer will mark the fifth change in the office in less than three years.
Libka has twice served as an interim superintendent in District 209, the first stint following the dismissal of Greg Jackson in August 2005.
Board member and Forest Park resident Bob Cox cast the dissenting vote in the 6-1 tally not to renew the superintendent’s contract and pointed to the dramatic amount of turnover as part of his reason for doing so. The mantra that applies here, said Cox, is to “stop the churn.”
Cox agreed with Welch’s assessment that Libka “could be more forceful” in his day-to-day management, but questioned whether the district will be able to find a candidate that can navigate the demands of the board. Fields, the prior superintendent, certainly offered a more maverick style, said Cox, but clearly did not gel with board members.
“They want the strongest superintendent … but they also want a superintendent that’s subservient to the board,” Cox said.
Welch acknowledged that between Libka and Fields, the school board has seen both ends of the spectrum in terms of management style. The board has not yet discussed specific characteristics that will be sought in the new superintendent, but Welch listed experience and a willingness to “roll up their sleeves” as desirable traits.
“Stan Fields was a change agent for the short time he was here and Bob Libka was a healer for the time he was here,” Welch said, summarizing the board’s consensus.
Upon his termination in 2005, Jackson had steered the Proviso Township High School District for five years, a period Welch described as an utter “failure.” Anytime a lengthy administration comes to an end, said Welch, there is bound to be an adjustment period.
“After someone has served for so long, you have a couple of short stints,” Welch said. “We’ve had our couple of short terms.”
Libka, too, acknowledged that staffing changes have been a constant theme of late, but said that shouldn’t necessarily wreak havoc on the district’s reputation or classroom instruction. Strong initiatives have been installed recently, said Libka, which should empower both educators and students to reach new levels of achievement. If those programs are followed it will help mitigate any damage caused by the revolving door at the top.
“I wouldn’t be an alarmist about it,” Libka said. “I don’t think it’s desirable to have constant change. On the face of it, that isn’t helpful, but I wouldn’t be alarmed by it.”
Board members were scheduled to meet Tuesday, March 25, to choose a firm that will conduct a nationwide search for a new superintendent.