Editorial | New leadership in Urbana

Editorial | New leadership in Urbana

Incoming Superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum says she's excited about fixing the district's problems.

After considering three finalists for the superintendent's position in Urbana, the school board opted for a familiar, if somewhat surprising, choice — its former Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum.

Board members were almost gleeful in making the announcement. Board President John Dimit effusively praised the longtime Urbana schools employee who currently serves as an assistant superintendent in Champaign.

"No one can restore relationships or regain academic leadership faster than Jennifer," Dimit said.

That endorsement, of course, raises a question.

Why the did board acquiesce to the 2017 decision by former Superintendent Don Owen to demote Ivory-Tatum from her assistant superintendent post to principal of Thomas Paine Elementary School?

Public opposition, fueled by racial resentment, over Owen's decision led to a reversal of that decision. But that fiasco set the stage for future controversies that decapitated much of the district's leadership. Among the casualties was Owen, who now will be replaced in the top job by an employee he wanted out of the superintendent's office.

If that seems indefensibly chaotic, it's because it is.

Owen last year was dismissed after hastily and ineffectively implementing an ill-conceived restorative-justice discipline program at the middle and high schools. Assistant Superintendent Samuel Byndom was removed after — speaking of fiascoes — he allegedly tried to illegally record a private school board session in which board members discussed the performance of top administrators.

Finally, Assistant Superintendent Kathy Barbour was sidelined along with Owen for violating board directives, apparently meaning she was complicit in Owen's maladministration.

There's more that went wrong. The low light was a brawl between two groups of students that ended in mass arrests and the injury of a teacher who tried to step in and stop what amounted to a rumble in the school hallways.

Things have been fairly quiet since former Superintendent Preston Williams was brought out of retirement to clean up the mess. He deserves credit for restoring relative calm to a disorderly and, judging by the personnel shake-up, disgraceful situation.

Nonetheless, the new superintendent will have her plate full when she comes aboard.

It would be surprising if large numbers of Urbana school parents do not lack confidence in the school board and administrative leadership and, as a consequence, adopt a show-me attitude.

Most parents don't ask a lot from their public schools, just good educational and extra-curricular opportunities and a safe, secure and positive learning environment for their children. That, in fact, should be the minimum that all school systems provide.

But too many school districts, both in Illinois and beyond, are not up to that challenge for a variety of reasons.

Why else would so many parents be opting for private schools or moving to communities because they perceive the school system in their new communities to be both better and safer?

So what about Urbana schools? Owing to past events, they're in trouble. That's why Ivory-Tatum will have her hands full as she, buoyed by the community's best wishes, embraces the challenges ahead.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
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