Former Supt. Richard Weigel.
Former Supt. Richard Weigel.

Archived Story

Administrators: Former Niles Supt. bullied staff, created hostile workplace

Published 7:10pm Friday, March 14, 2014

Others voice support for Weigel

Fifteen administrators within the Niles Community Schools sent a letter to the school board saying Supt. Richard Weigel bullied coworkers, created a hostile environment and that they had “no confidence” in his ability to lead the district, likely creating the momentum that ultimately led to his resignation earlier this month.

The letter — dated Feb. 10 — was released Friday after the Niles Daily Star submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for information relating to Weigel’s departure. His resignation was accepted about three weeks after the no-confidence letter was sent to the board, this final act coming after several closed sessions by the board of education.

In the letter, administrators — some of whose signatures are not clearly legible but does include principals and key staff members within the district — describe Weigel as a bully whose actions had created a toxic atmosphere in the school district and the community. Administrators included a bullet-point list of more than 20 reasons why they lacked confidence in the superintendent’s ability to lead.

Here are some of the specific criticisms of Weigel:

• He has bullied several administrators and has created a hostile environment, often using profanity and exhibiting highly unprofessional behavior.

• Dr. Weigel manipulates and undermines administrators’ thinking and decisions. If it is not his idea, then he does not support it.

• Dr. Weigel demonstrates no understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities associated with being a building administrator, despite having years of experience.

• Administrators’ evaluations were not completed, and it is the belief that records have been falsified.

• A lack of opportunity exists for at-risk students.

• His communication style is ineffective. Dr. Weigel wants open communication but does not follow through.

• Our lack of trust in Dr. Weigel is a significant challenge and has started creeping into other relationships within the district.

At the end of the letter, administrators suggested that Weigel take a leave of absence while the board looked into the matter.

“As a result of Dr. Weigel’s actions, our mental and physical health is deteriorating. We love Niles and resent the toxic atmosphere he has created in our school system and community. We want time with the board to discuss our grave concerns without Dr. Weigel present. Once word gets out, we know how Dr. Weigel will respond,” it stated. “We suggest Dr. Weigel take a leave of absence while the board interviews administrators, or interview us quickly before he has a chance to further demean our reputation and spirit. As an administrative team, we will move on, as we are committed to this district; however we cannot do it with this leader. Therefore, it’s our recommendation that Dr. Weigel be directed not to contact any administrator. It is also recommended that the board direct administrators not to communicate with Dr. Weigel in any way.”

Weigel wasn’t without his supporters, however.

The district also released two letters and an email written to the board by administrators voicing their support for Weigel.

One of the letters was written by New Tech Director Jerry Holtgren and Assistant Director Mike Vota. They wrote that Weigel is “far from a bully” and that they were saddened by the use of the word.

“His actions deserve a very different term, we believe: passionate leader,” they wrote.

Another letter of support was written by Bonnie Prenkert. She wrote that Weigel expected everyone to put in their best effort and that she had become a better teacher and leader because of him.

Zech Hoyt, director at Northside Child Development Center, wrote that while Weigel’s passion for education could be uncomfortable at times, it was also motivating and invigorating.

“Our district has realized more over the past four years than the prior 11 years I have been a part,” he wrote.

Weigel, who will remain as a consultant to the district until June 30, did not return a phone call Friday or messages left earlier in the week.

School staff have been asked to keep quiet on the matter, according to a district employee who wishes to remain anonymous. The employee said all school staff received the following email Friday afternoon, a couple hours prior to when the district released the documents requested by the FOIA.

Good Afternoon,

(Interim Supt.) Dr.(Kevin) Ivers has asked that I forward this message on to you:

As part of the Freedom of Information Act, information is being provided to the media today regarding recent personnel matters in Niles Community Schools, specifically the resignation of Dr. Wiegel and two employees who were place on administrative leave of absence.   You may be contacted by the media for comment. If you are contacted, please be advised of the laws that exist around privacy related to personnel matters.  Regardless of your feelings around a specific personnel matter, it is not appropriate for you to provide additional details or an opinion in a public setting.  If you are contacted by the media, please refer them to me.  If you are approached by the media or community, you may answer, “I am not at liberty, nor would it be appropriate for me, to discuss private personnel matters.  Questions regarding this matter should be directed to the Interim Superintendent’s Office.”

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation around this important issue.  It is important you maintain professionalism at all times and remain focused on providing the highest quality educational experience for the students we are privileged to serve. Thank you.”

Weigel was hired in 2010 to replace retiring superintendent Doug Law. His contract was set to expire in June of 2016.

The district will pay Weigel his salary through June 30 as he serves as a consultant as well as a one-year salary severance payment of $115,000, according to a separation agreement obtained by the Niles Daily Star in an earlier FOIA request.

As part of the agreement, the district also agreed to write a positive letter of recommendation, acknowledging Weigel’s achievements as superintendent. In that letter, the board pointed out that the district’s enrollment increased every year under Weigel’s watch and that ACT and NWEA scores have also improved. The letter also acknowledged that Weigel was the driving force behind opening a New Tech school in the district and the re-opening of Eastside Connection School as a magnet school.

“The administrators have been pushed under his leadership and he has done his best to teach them,” the letter reads. “He leads by example. He consistently talks about school culture and how that is the key toward making improvements.”

In his resignation letter to the board dated Feb. 25, one day after the date referenced in the agreement, Weigel wrote that his “vision for the future of the district differs fundamentally from the vision held by some members of the administration and perhaps some members of the board. These fundamental differences will inevitably interfere with my ability to effectively lead this district according to my vision.”

Language in the separation agreement also indicates that some administrators and board members had developed irreconcilable and fundamental differences on the leadership vision of the district but did not offer the specific examples cited in the no-confidence letter.

Read the “no-confidence letter” here.

See the document containing signatures to the “no-confidence letter” here.

Read the letter of support written by Holtren and Vota here.

Read Prenkert’s letter of support here.

Read Hoyt’s letter of support here.

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