Mitchem: 'I Take Responsibility' For Bolingbrook Principal Turnover

Valley View superintendent fielded questions on the resignation of BHS Principal Michael White, rumors of violence at BHS.

Supt. James Mitchem. Credit: File photo
Supt. James Mitchem. Credit: File photo
For about three hours Thursday night, Valley View School District Superintendent James Mitchem fielded questions from residents — many of whom are still upset over the resignation of Bolingbrook High School Principal Michael White.

White was the school's third principal in the four years. 

Mitchem served as BHS' principal before being tapped to replace retiring Superintendent Phillip Schoffstall in 2010. He selected former Chicago Public Schools Principal Fabby Williams to take the helm in 2011, but Williams resigned in 2012 after roughly six months on the job.

White took over during the 2012-13 school year, but announced his resignation in January. Originally, he said he would serve until the end of the school year, but by mid-February, he had left the post.

"At the last board meeting, I apologized for that," Mitchem told parents of the frequent turnover. "I do take responsibility for that. It was not my intention when we hired Mr. Williams that he not be here today. It was not my intention when we hired Mr. White that he not be here today ... We really felt like we had the right choice for BHS."

Mitchem said due to White’s separation agreement, there are some aspects of the principal’s departure he is not at liberty to discuss, but did deny that he and White clashed over a "personality conflict." 

Mitchem also addressed "notions that I ran [White and Williams] out of town."

"In fact, both of them I asked more than once not to resign," Mitchem told parents. "They made the decision that this was not the place for them."

As far as a search for White's replacement goes, Mitchem said it will progress "very slowly." Applications are currently being accepted for the post, although Mitchem said the search will begin in earnest following spring break.

'Bolingbrook High School is not a dangerous place'

Other parents had questions about security on the BHS campus, saying their kids had felt safe due to the strict rules implemented by White.

Mitchem, who said the same strong focus on discipline will be kept in place, repeatedly emphasized that he believes BHS is a safe place. He denied that fights and acts of violence have increased since White's departure.

"I'm concerned by the picture of our children that has been painted at Bolingbrook High School," Mitchem said, adding he takes umbrage at comments about students being "gangsters, hoodlums, thugs."

"That's not who our children are," he said. "Bolingbrook High School is not a dangerous place."

Several parents asked about an incident in January involving a student with a BB gun; the freshman reportedly believed it was a real weapon when he allegedly threatened a teacher with it. The teen then went into a bathroom, where he reportedly put the gun to his own head before White intervened.

A parent asked about rumors that the same student had brought a knife to Brooks Middle School during his seventh-grade year.

"We cannot speak about a child discipline incident because that is illegal," Mitchem said, adding the law also only allows school districts to suspend students for a maximum of 10 days. Before being expelled, a student must be allowed due process, which includes a hearing, and the issue must go before the school board. Even then, Illinois school districts can only expel a student for two years.

Even if that particular student was expelled during seventh grade, Valley View would not have been able to refuse him enrollment this year, Mitchem said. 

"We took the issue very seriously and will take appropriate [disciplinary] action," Mitchem said, calling the BB gun incident "very unfortunate, but it could happen anywhere."

Mitchem did confirm that the student, who was taken into custody by Bolingbrook police following the Jan. 30 incident, is not currently attending school.

Responding to a parent's question as to whether the district is helping the teen with counseling, Mitchem noted, "We cannot force counseling on a student. We can suggest counseling," but ultimately it is up to the family. 

While he said the district "cannot guarantee an incident won't happen," Mitchem said staff have to be prepared to respond. He addressed new safety measures being taken at BHS and other campuses, such as the installation of new alarm systems that sound in the event of a hard lockdown, and strobe light system that will alert anyone outside the building to a lockdown.

Mitchem said claims from teachers and parents that incidents of violence have increased at BHS "just aren't true."

He did acknowledge that security sweeps were conducted on Thursday and more were scheduled for March 11 due to graffiti on a bathroom wall that implied an incident could happen on those dates.

"Those things are not unique," Mitchem said.

'We have to move forward'

Yolanda Jordan, a former BHS dean and current Romeoville High School assistant principal, is serving as BHS' interim principal. She also addressed questions from parents on Thursday.

"I'm not Mr. White," Jordan said, acknowledging anger from some parents and students since White's departure. " ... That's just not who I am. I care about the kids. My goal is to work with you, not against you."

She acknowledged that the absence of White "is a loss." 

"There's hurt in the families. There's hurt in the students ... but we have to move forward," Jordan said. "Mr. White isn't coming back. That is the truth, that is the fact, so we have to move forward."

    mysty March 08, 2014 at 12:32 PM
    Chris, thanks for sharing... I keep hearing comments from this administration that are so insulting and demeaning. They are so arrogant and keep getting away with their "untouchable" attitude towards staff, students and residents! Enough already!
    Annie H. March 09, 2014 at 06:03 PM
    Just to clarify, John Sparlin was the principal before Derek Kinder at RHS (2006-2010). Mitchem was there from 2002-2006 and David Carlson was before that, from 1977-2002. I've heard several comments about how bad RHS was before Kinder but, having had a student there during that time, I believe not only was the "social" culture of the school better, I also think the academic culture was better. I'd have to look back at state report cards, because, you know, it's all about the data, but I believe my oldest got a good education through VVSD and he graduated just as Dr. Mitchem was coming in as Superintendent with his "New View." Unfortunately, I believe that view has caused a lot of damage to the district, especially the students and staff. I was at the meeting last week and stayed the whole time. And, frankly, I feel it was a waste of my time and the time of all those parents and community members who attended. We were basically lectured to/at for over 2 1/2 hours, while only a very few of our questions were "answered" or addressed (in fact, only 1 of my 4 or 5 questions was answered). And, as a Romeoville resident, I am sad to say that, outside of the question regarding the lawsuits against Kinder, the meeting was really about Bolingbrook, primarily. Not sure what the answers are to our problems but, as I've said at a recent Board meeting, I truly don't believe we can fix these problems from within. It is long past time to bring in someone from the outside to help us.
    chris March 09, 2014 at 07:23 PM
    @Annie, thanks-- please post this on the Bolingbrook forum, as well, since it does not go there automatically, and they need to know that the Romeoville parents are involved, as well!!
    chris March 09, 2014 at 07:25 PM
    BTW- you cannot copy and paste, it does not work-- it will delete your comment from here! I agree with you-- the social and academic climate were FANTASTIC at Romeoville before Kinder took over.
    Pete Simon March 09, 2014 at 07:45 PM
    Annie, we need more of the Romeoville community to speak up like you!! I think most forget that Bolingbrook and Romeoville share the same school district.


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