By Nancy Thorner –
The upscale community of Lake Forest remains in a turmoil over what was to be a fast-track approval at a hurriedly arranged 7:00 a.m. Special Meeting of Lake Forest Board of Education District 115 on Tuesday, May 26, to discuss the hiring of Dr. Chala Holland, an African American administrator now serving as assistant principal at Oak Park and River Forest High School, as the sole candidate for the position of principal at Lake Forest High School. Ms. Holland was picked from a pool of 25 candidates. Eight were interviewed, culling the pool down to three. Through interviews conducted by teachers and administrators, Holland was chosen as the finalist.
The LFHS principal search began in March of this year to replace Barry Rogers (LFHS also has an assistant principal) who resigned from his LFHS position after only two years of what had been a successful tenure. Roger’s resignation was followed in short order with his appointment to another administrative position, that of an Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, a shared position in Lake Forest Districts 67 and 115.
Although the administration tried to keep Dr. Holland’s name a secret, even stating in an email to parents on May 25 that “it remains by necessity and law a personnel matter required to be confidential”, this was not to be. The leaking of Holland’s name as the administration’s #1 choice for principal happened on Friday, May 15. It didn’t take long until concerned citizens in Lake Forest, wanting to know more about the administration’s #1 candidate for principal, used Google as their search engine. Links to Dr. Holland’s Facebook page, her website’s consulting firm of Holland Educational Consulting Group (HECG), and other social media accounts were found and examined. Most disconcerting is that less than 24 hours after the Google search began all of Ms. Holland’s information had been scrubbed from the Internet.
Among the more inflammatory remarks on a recovered cache of erased Holland posts, doubly offensive because of the job Holland is seeking, purports that “tracking is a beacon of white privilege and institutionalized racism.” Regarding tracking, it separates children into various groups backed on their ability in coursework specific to AP honors, college prep and remedial. A February 22, 2014 post on the HECG Facebook page showed an image of Malcolm X with this overlay quote in white letters: “Only a FOOL Would Let His Enemy Teach his Children.” Another HECG website post of January 1, 2013, focused on academic tracking, how it perpetrates racism in schools, and about white privilege and internalized racism.
The initial secrecy over principal candidate Chala Holland (pronounced Shay-la, who was in the audience at the Tuesday morning special board meeting), was further compounded by what the Internet search revealed. As would be expected, the information spread quickly through social media. Accordingly, the stage was set for a standing room only, vocal crowd that filled the District 115 Board of Education meeting room at its Lake Forest West Campus on Tuesday, May 26. Public interest was further enlisted through the initiative and courage of a LFHS Freshman who started an online petition late on Saturday, May 23rd, requesting signatures of those protesting the hiring of Holland. By the morning of the special board of education meeting, Tuesday, May 26, over 546 signatures had been collected. A bright, posed and well-spoken young man offered these comments during the time of public comments on Tuesday, May 26.
As to why the Special Board of Education meeting was set at 7:00 a.m. the day after Memorial Day, school board president, Reese Marcusson, explained: “The candidate had been selected [interview process was complete] and action was called for.” Continuing: “It is only at a school board meeting where business can be discussed outside of an executive meeting. Finding a time suitable for all board members to attend is difficult. Schedules have to be rearranged.”
Remarks by Superintendent Michael Simeck informed the standing room only crowd about the very talented Dr. Chala Holland, who, by the way, is a step about Simeck in having earned her doctorate degree. As is indicative of the process used in the highly competitive school districts here in northern Illinois, and why salaries are so astronomical in comparison to the rest of Illinois, Simeck went on to say, “The more talented the candidate is, the more likely the candidate will be snapped up by another school district. Time is rarely your friend, so we had to move quickly.”
According to information received from “Open The Books” (A Project of American Transparency), following are the 2014 base salaries for 1) Superintendent Michael Simeck ($204,598); 2) Barry Rogers when principal at LFHS ($206,945); and the present assistant LFHS principal ($204,598). Forty percent of teachers and administrators at LFHS receive salaries at the $100,000 to $100,125 level, while 21% are compensated at the $125,000+ level. These salaries represent only “pensionable” salary — the annual amount that figures into the eventual calculation of the employees retirement annuity and are not total cost which includes perks and pension benefits.
The board and superintendent Michael Simeck listened to more than two dozen comments from residents of the community, as well as colleagues and neighbors of the candidate. Comments were limited to three minutes; audience members were requested to hold their applause. Some booing did erupt, which the board president nipped in its bud, when non-residents used the podium to speak in defense of Ms. Holland. Despite rhetoric relating how successful Ms. Holland was when employed in Evanston and now at Oak Park High School, it was concurred that Lake Forest residents should be given the priority in speaking. As one Lake Forest resident remarked, “Outsiders need not preach to us, for how can they know what is best for the community of Lake Forest?
One non-resident even suggested that Lake Forest, as part of a Global Community, must adapt to what is a changing society.
Residents offering comments were respectful in how they addressed the board, often expressing gratitude for the work of school board members. Two resident speakers did suggest that Superintendent Simeck resign from his position.
Major concerns and questions expressed as public comments:
- “Why did Ms. Holland scrub her Internet sites to hide her opinions from the community?”
- “Who told Ms. Holland to scrub her website and why? It’s now down for maintenance?”
- “Take a deep breath and delay hiring. An interim principal can be named at Lake Forest High School (There is already an assistant principal in place.).”
- “Superintendent Simeck seems to have his own agenda for Lake Forest High School. If any administration has an agenda it wishes to put in place, it should start its own school. I don’t want my children to be an experiment of some future idea that might not work.”
- “The ideas and core values of the students must be considered and those of the community. Does Superintendent Simeck believe he knows the core values of Lake Forest resident better than the residents themselves do? An agenda is being pushed that is not in keeping with the core values of this community. Truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Truth needs no explanation.”
- In a tongue and cheek comment: “Could it be that all of Holland’s websites were removed for maintenance at the same time?”
- “Superintendent Simeck’s action represents a hostile takeover of the Lake Forest School System. Just say ‘no’ when it comes to renewing Simeck’s contract.”
- “Were the views held by Ms. Holland known by Simeck when he recommended Holland? What could Simeck have been thinking in hiring someone so obsessed with race?”
- “You can see that I am brown. It takes hard work to succeed. My children fit into Lake Forest School System. I don’t want compassion from anyone because of the color of my skin.”
- As stated by an educated black Lake Forest resident and parent: “My children are doing well. I found Holland’s posts very divisive.”
- “It’s about Holland’s character — end of story. About scrubbing her social media — or who told her to do so — is proof of her character.”
- “Ms. Holland may be brilliant, but she would be more effective in another situation given the right setting and circumstance. Hiring Ms. Holland would be a disservice to the children. It’s all about kids at the end of the day.”
Following the public comments the board and the administration went into executive session. Announced after the meeting was reconvened was that the discussion about Chala Holland’s candidacy would extend for several more days. Another public meeting will be held sometime between the evening of June 1 and the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on June 9th.
What happened in Lake Forest is an example of what grassroots activism can do through social media to rally individuals together for a common cause. Although the saga continues in Lake Forest, it remains troubling that Chala Holland seems to view tracking as some kind of a white supremacy thing. She might even be described as a revolutionary intellectual if her views weren’t in sync with what is so prevalent in today’s society by those on the Left: an obsession by white supremacy and racism as a reflection of the ills of society.
Although offensive, this thought process does not describe Lake Forest High School, or the community as a whole, with its mostly white population. It would not be impertinent to inquire whether Superintendent Michael Simeck is attempting to implement a major culture shift at Lake Forest High School?
Cultural shifts through experimentation that propose to bring fairness to all, especially to those perceived to be poor and less fortunate, are taking place across the spectrum of American society. Public schools are not excluded from the perceived leftist philosophy that white students must be made to understand that being white is not a sign of privilege. It is through hard work and effort that LFHS students do well academically, not because most of them are white.
Superintendent Simeck seems eager to jump on the band wagon for social reform. The question remains how to fit a square peg in a round hole if the board and Superintendent go their own way and hire Dr. Chala Holland as principal of Lake Forest High School.
The author would like to hear how other school districts in Illinois are dealing with the issues of white supremacy and racism.