Hinsdale District 86 teachers square off against school board, call for reorganization and new president

Teachers, parents and students packed the Hinsdale South High School cafeteria during Thursday’s Hinsdale Township High School District 86 School Board Meeting, following calls by the Illinois Education Association (IEA) and Hinsdale High School Teachers’ Association (HHSTA) to reorganize the district’s board of education and appoint a new board president.

“We want to shed light on these issues so we can work together to resolve them,” Hinsdale Central math teacher and HHSTA Co-President John Bowman said in a news release Thursday. “All school board members pledge an oath to work with educators and the superintendent to foster excellence in every student when they take office. This is not happening. Our community, schools and, most importantly, our students deserve better.”

In Thursday’s news release, the Illinois Education Association accused the board of fostering “toxic working and learning environments in the district,” citing a list of high-level staff turnover in the last 12 months, and non-collaborative decision-making regarding school curriculum.

Since the May 2023 election the district placed former Superintendent Tammy Prentiss on administrative leave, two board members resigned over irreconcilable differences, an assistant and interim left to work at a neighboring school district, an interim superintendent departed early for “personal reasons,” the director of human resources resigned, and most recently Hinsdale South Principal Patrick Hardy is expected to leave at the end of the school year and become the new principal of Hampshire High School in Kane County.

Bowman also accused the board of micromanaging staff, pointing to the creation of an academic committee run by board members, instances in which the board dismissed recommendations by Hinsdale teachers and administrators regarding curriculum changes and maintaining classes of “low interest” that would ordinarily result in the course removal at the end of the year.

“Our students deserve better. We need you to do your jobs and let us do ours,” Bowman said at Thursday’s board meeting.

For its part, the Board was caught off guard by the HHSTA’s announcement Thursday.

“I am very disappointed by the HHSTA ambush of the Hinsdale Township District 86 Board of Education,” Board Vice President Peggy James said. “We have had informal meetings for several months to do exactly what was being requested, to build a collaborative working relationship.”

While the cafeteria was filled with teachers sporting blue HHSTA shirts, a small group of community members came out in support of the board’s recent decisions, including Andrew Catton, a former board candidate.

Catton praised the board for ousting former superintendent Prentiss, calling her “a symbol of everything gone wrong” with the District. “As more time passes, more and more of her handpicked associates are following her out the door, what a thing to celebrate. Amen.”

Later that evening, Catton made accusations towards Board Member Asma Akhras regarding an attack website setup during the board member’s campaign last year, resulting in Akhras and Board Member Terri Walker walking out for the remainder of Catton’s public comment.

Following the meeting board members Akhras Walker and Jeff Waters refused to comment further on the action by the HHSTA.

“I have, and always will, continue to work with all stakeholders for the better of our students,” Board President Catherine Greenspon said in an interview with the Pioneer Press.