Nearly a dozen Lindbergh Middle School Faculty and Staffers met privately with me as a group to set the record straight on some of the on-going turmoil within LMS following the unexplained firing of their new principal, Julie McArdle. A half dozen more have spoken with me on the telephone. This group considers themselves the silent majority, very concerned about possible ramifications for speaking out against D150 Administration, but also appalled at the unjust firing of McArdle who they feel has been a source of hope and strength in improving a toxic and divisive environment at LMS.
It should be noted that at NO time prior to her firing had any board member or Central Admin member contacted McArdle to intervene in any real or perceived conflict between McArdle and staff or parents. This same group who spoke to me reached out to both Hinton and the Board of Education through letters, unsigned at the time, but accompanied with a cover letter stating they would be willing to disclose their identities in a personal meeting, which could be arranged through school staff. They wanted the Administration to understand that the story they were getting from a select few was highly subjective and one-sided. No one responded.
The case against McArdle was shrouded in secrecy due to the confidential nature of personnel matters, but many teachers on the inside are calling FOUL and speaking out. Their stories and concerns all share a common theme.
According to them, the conflicts revolve around a core group of 4 teachers, a staff member, and a few easily influenced "fence sitters". They are friends and operatives of Mary Davis, the former Lindbergh principal who sits at the right hand of the Superintendent, Ken Hinton. Amazingly, McArdle ended up reporting to Davis, a situation that anyone with average sense could have predicted as trouble.
The rest of the story is oddly reminiscent of a popular 2004 movie . Sadly though, in this case, we are dealing with adult, not teenage behavior, and instead of being comedic, it is a real life situation with real life consequences.
According to the teachers, shortly after Julie McArdle arrived at the beginning of the '08/'09school year, the "Fab 5" as they had been dubbed let her know in short shrift who was in charge. All attempts by McArdle to shore up notoriously loose interpretations of State, Federal and district rules were met with a full court press by these gals who considered Julie an opponent to the leadership of Davis as opposed to a successor to.
McArdle is well known by her peers in the industry as a very competent, extremely knowledgeable "by the book and stickler for rules" principal with an impeccable record including a Central Illinois "Principal of the Year Award". The vast majority of teachers and parents felt McArdle was doing a very good job. The Fab 5, however, felt differently. According to sources, they worked double time to undermine her and complained constantly to Davis of McArdle's attempts to "even the playing field" by treating all students, parents, teachers and staff equally. Davis, instead of discouraging this challenge to McArdles leadership, seemingly encouraged and welcomed it.
Several teachers told me that as early as January, the Fab 5 would frequently roll their eyes at the directives of McArdle and mouth "She's gone" to those around her.
Mary Davis, as principal of LMS, was thought to pander to a chosen few. According to some teachers and parents, appearances and image were everything to her. She was partial to the admittance of students with high GPA's over the more academically challenged students, and would bypass the "boundary waiver" requirement by telling parents they could use the home address of one of her Fab 5 on their student admission form.
Many of Davis' actions were considered manipulative by some of the faculty. She was lavish with gifts, signature apparel and catered parties. The teachers were told that she paid for these perks with her own money. Now that the whistle blowing allegations of misuse of funds has surfaced, many teachers are beginning to worry that this lavish treatment came at the expense of the generous contributions from parents and students via their activity fund.
Other questions have arisen. One example is the annual school field trip to Springfield, Illinois. Parents have traditionally been charged $25. per student to cover the "expenses" relating to this trip. Where are the financial records for payments made for this trip? How was the $25 figure calculated? Many of the payments from parents were made in cash.
Another example: Under the Davis Administration, a Herculean effort was underway every week to sell food items such as ice-cream, nachos, pop and crazy bread from outside vendors to students at a profit. This practice was in direct violation of the contract the District had with the food service vendor. For instance, Little Caesars Crazy Bread could be purchased for .50 per serving but was sold to the students for $1.00. Likewise with soda-pop. The Kids loved this practice and it endeared them to Mary Davis. If the food vendor was scheduled to appear on the premises during lunch time the kids were told "Don't ask for crazy bread - we aren't selling crazy bread today!". The "store" (the student council storage room) would be locked up and all were under strict orders to keep it secret. Again, it was a largely cash business. Where are the records of receipts and disbursements?
According to teachers, Davis systematically bent the rules to gain and maintain popularity. One teacher described how Davis would submit a plan to Admin for how the teachers would utilize their teacher institute days, only to have it discarded and the teachers told to go home and "stay off the golf course".
She would utilize the PA system throughout the day with frequent blasts of psychological propaganda such as "We are number 1!" Many teachers found this very disruptive and intrusive.
Teachers that have declared their unquestioned loyalty to Davis by all appearances are forgiven their sins, and some of those "sins" are serious.
According to these teachers, one of the Fab 5 continues to scream and berate her students on a daily basis. "SHUT UP!" is constantly emanating from her classroom. The behavior is upsetting and shocking to the other teachers and they frequently have to close their doors. Teachers and parents have complained continuously about this teacher. At one point a parent filed a complaint with the state. This teacher, however, despite her horrid offensive behavior towards her students continues to be employed and continues to receive satisfactory reviews.
To add to the intrigue, activity fund records have been reported to the police as "missing". Credit card records filed in the Julie McArdle vs. Mary Davis court case clearly demonstrate a payment from the student activity fund to pay a credit card balance on a credit card that Mary Davis denied existed. Many of the charges on this credit card appeared to be of a personal nature. There were also several "cash advances", and the activity fund does not reflect any credit for rewards cash earned from the credit card.
According to this group, the Fab 5 along with Mary Davis regularly demonstrated extremely unprofessional and sophomoric behavior. They would regularly hang out after hours in the office, outside the gym and at extra-curricular events. They would frequently have their heads together, giggle, snicker and laugh. This behavior was very unsettling to the teachers, and the group that spoke to me said it made them feel belittled, excluded and intimidated.
A parent that I spoke to reported similar feelings. She told me she would shake when she went to pick up her child's report card, because she would see it passed among them, then handed to her, and they would burst out in laughter as she walked away.
One person told me that Mary Davis referred to a student as "dumber than a box of rocks" in front of staff.
Another teacher once said she had to unwillingly and uncomfortably sit in on a conversation where the Fab 5 discussed how awful it would be to have sex with some of the male teachers.
Many of the teachers I spoke with would describe incidents where Davis would scream at students. According to them, she was very short-tempered and would get within inches of a students face and scream so hard "she would spit". "You could see the veins pop out on her neck!" A parent that I spoke with witnessed one such incident with her child unbeknownst to Davis at the time. She described the situation as "horrifying". That same parent reported however, that under Julie's leadership, her child has had their "best year ever".
The teachers that spoke to me felt that if they exhibited independence and an unwillingness to bow to Davis, they were shunned and ignored. If they directly challenged her they would get the worst scheduling, the most difficult students, a cubby hole instead of an office - and worse, be the subject of ridicule and gossip at the hands of the Fab 5.
One teacher said she felt so stripped of her self esteem that "When Davis would leave the building, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders".
I asked the group if this affected their ability to teach. The group was quiet for a moment and lowered their gaze. It was a reflective sad moment. Then quietly someone offered "We had to continually tell ourselves that we were OK - that we were worthwhile. So much effort was put into tearing us down, we had to constantly try to build ourselves up." Emotionally, it was very challenging and demoralizing for them. The commonality of this group however, was that they had families, enriching personal lives and a relationship with God. This is how they coped.
As I looked at them, I was struck by how much they DID not fit the profile of an "outcast". They were all very well dressed, attractive, intelligent and well spoken. Truth be told, I felt a little dowdy in their company. It was obvious from the sincerity with which they spoke that they were truly devoted to their students and in their job for the "right" reasons. Could those be the very reasons they were ostracized? This writer thinks so.
This group feels that the only people that have been heard is the Fab 5 and a few easily influenced "fence sitters". Davis obviously has cultivated herself some power in Central Admin and the "how" and "why" is a burning question on more than one mind.
Appalled yet somewhat amazed at what I was hearing I asked a few probing questions. First, did any of these teachers field complaints from parents regarding McArdle? They all shook their heads. "No." However, they do think that some of the parents who had benefited from Davis' willingness to disregard rules and laws may have objected to McArdle putting a stop to it.
So how have things changed at LMS under the McArdle principal-ship? The teachers that I talked to feel very supported by her. "I saw support for my program that I have never seen before." "She sits in on every Special Ed IEP meeting", one teacher said. "We started feeling like we could be part of the leadership team." Other comments: "Julie gave us hope and courage." "My kids have really progressed this year." "Julie often comes in and sits in our classes. It makes the kids feel so proud!" "If there is a problem she talks it through with us." "Her knowledge of curriculum is amazing." "She never belittles or berates us - she is firm, but fair." "Never once have I ever seen her raise her voice to a student."
I wondered however, if the sentiments expressed were unique to the teachers before me - and I inquired as such. One teacher said that she had begun asking around, to gain some perspective other than her own. She said that she has heard from Speech, Occupational, Physical therapists, cafeteria, custodial, Social Workers, nurses, aides and support staff. They all had little to no complaints about McArdles knowlege or performance. She feels strongly that the tide against McArdle was orchestrated and embellished by the Fab 5 and the fence sitters eager to please, along with the assistance of Mary Davis.
Many feel that these individuals exploited long-lasting personal relationships they enjoyed with staff members and parents to pursue their own agenda against McArdle.
So why have these teachers come forward now? For one, they are extremely concerned that the new principal will be another Davis minion hand-picked by Mary Davis herself. One that will maintain or intensify the incredibly demoralizing and disfunctional status-quo. Secondly, their sense of honor and integrity compels them to take a stand against a situation that they know is fundamentally wrong and unfair. "If it could happen to Julie, it could happen to any of us", they said.
"Why did you not complain sooner?", I asked. They responded that they were very proud of their school and the reputation it enjoyed as District 150's finest. They did not want to air their "dirty laundrty" in public and felt they would tolerate it as best as they could for the sake of the community and their students. They also said that sometimes when you are in a disfunctional environment, you lose perspective and it becomes the new norm. At this point however, it has become just too weird to overlook, and they feel the time is appropriate to lay the cards on the table.
Work has not been easy for Julie since her contract termination. Many students thought that it was in fact her who was the subject of allegations of misuse of funds. Some students picked up on the cue's of the teachers and parents against McArdle and felt that it was OK to mirror that behavior and show disrespect.
The Fab 5 continues to challenge McArdle's authority. The students insult her audibly. I was told of a situation that occurred recently, after her termination. During a mandatory "Code Red" Safety drill, one of the Fab 5 refused to participate. That teacher is still working, under the assumed protection of Mary Davis.
A bright spot in all of this has been Asst. Superintendent Herschel Hannah, who has replaced Mary Davis as McArdle's Supervisor. Hannah has been very kind and supportive to Julie and has helped smooth over some of the difficulties and discomfort of the circumstances. Many feel that had she reported to Hannah from the beginning, much of this could have been averted.
The reader may wonder what this all has to do with the bigger picture that is D150. How can a situation like this be allowed to fester and thrive? In any properly functioning working environment nonsense of this nature would be nipped in the bud. To me, it is a perfect microcosm of all the problems we see in District 150. We have finally seen the demise of normalcy and common sense.
So many questions remain. Why would Superintendent Hinton NOT have intervened prior to the Mcardle firing? Why wouldn't they have replaced Davis as McArdle's supervisor at the first sign of trouble? Why did not a single Board of Education member do their due diligence and investigate the other side of the story (there always is one, isn't there?) prior to their vote to terminate the McArdle contract- particularly when they were warned that a major whistle blowing lawsuit was in the works? How could the District 150 legal council NOT have anticipated this? Or did they and were ignored? Did anyone in D150 leadership ever consider the legal costs to the district at a time that we are virtually bankrupt? Why is Mary Davis not on administrative leave following such serious and well documented allegations? McArdle's lawyer must be dancing a jig at the end of every single day she remains at her desk.
Julie McArdle recalled one moment when she asked Human Resources director Tom Broderick why she was being fired. Broderick's response: "Your just not a good fit."
Damn. I'll say!