As candidates, members of the “Bellwood 88 Dream Team” were vocal before the April 4 election that they wanted accountability from controversial Superintendent Rosemary Hendricks.
In a May 8 special meeting, as part of a new board majority, new members Vice President Maria Perez, Secretary Dorothy Smith and Deborah Giles voted to place Hendricks on paid administrative leave and appoint Roosevelt Middle School Principal Mark Holder as interim superintendent.
President Sondra McClendon announced that “an investigation” would be undertaken, although she did not specify by whom or about what.
“We want you out!” Dream Team member Deborah Giles told the superintendent during public comments at a spring board meeting. Hendricks caused bad blood with Perez after sending a letter blocking her from setting foot on school district property after Perez argued with board member Annie Copeland. Perez has children in the district and had volunteered with the PTO. Hendricks’ letter threatened Perez with arrest for trespassing.
Hendricks revolved in and out of the district three times in 10 years, as nine superintendents came and went in 15 years. She was first hired in 2007, then resigned with a $75,000 settlement. Hendricks was rehired by the board in 2010, but then fired for misconduct two years later and sued the district, which later settled for $45,000. Hendricks was brought back as an interim, but then the board bypassed a search and awarded a two-year, $170,000 contract to Hendricks, as parents complained.
Members of the public also disapproved of the district hiring Hendricks’ two daughters as a school nurse and teacher. Her critics, including Dream Team candidates, leveled charges of nepotism and packing the district with connected vendors from her home suburb near Hazel Crest, and other southwest suburbs.
The board voted in June, 2016 to contribute an extra $105,000 to “buy 20 years” to “fill up” Hendricks’s pension with the Teachers Retirement System. Then, shortly before the 2017 election, the board, then headed by President Marilyn Thurman awarded Hendricks another one-year contract extension.
Thurman was the only nay vote on the decision to place Hendricks on administrative leave. Voting yea were Giles, Perez and Smith as well as President Sondra McClendon, Annie Copeland and Lindsley Griffin. Thurman, along with Annie Copeland, also voted nay on Holder’s appointment. Hendricks did not return phone messages and emails seeking a comment on being place on leave.
McClendon said in a phone interview she could not comment on the nature of the investigation because it was a personnel matter. McClendon, who was seated in 2015, said the board had “not made a determination about a superintendent search.”
“We’re not going to have a witch hunt,” Giles said. “We are the dream team within the board, but we are still the dream team and we are going to deliver what the community voted us in to deliver,” she said. “I’m still sticking with everything I said before the elections. We are here to make policy for the children and community of District 88. That’s what the community wants us to do.”
Giles and Dorothy Smith both also ran for library board as well as school board, and won both offices.
“I never saw myself in this place,” Giles reflected. “Things started falling into place and I realized I can make a difference both individually within a group. It’s ethically and morally wrong to see a problem you know you can help solve and not do it.”
— Bellwood D88 Board places Superintendent on leave for ‘investigation’–