from the Circuit Court of Macoupin County, No. 16-MR-69; the
Hon. Kenneth R. Deihl, Judge, presiding.
Attorneys for Appellant: Susan E. Nicholas, of Robbins,
Schwartz, Nicholas, Lifton & Taylor, Ltd., of Champaign,
and Dennis L. Weedman, of Robbins, Schwartz, Nicholas, Lifton
& Taylor, Ltd., of Collinsville, for appellant.
Attorneys for Appellee: Rick Verticchio, of Verticchio &
Verticchio, of Carlinville, for appellee.
PRESIDING JUSTICE HOLDER WHITE delivered the judgment of the
court, with opinion. Justices Cavanagh and Harris concurred
in the judgment and opinion.
WHITE, PRESIDING JUSTICE
1 Respondent, the Board of Education of Staunton Community
Unit School District No. 6 of Macoupin and Madison Counties,
employed petitioner, Gayle Nafziger, as a schoolteacher for
32 years. After the 2015-16 school year, due to a reduction
in force (RIF), respondent honorably dismissed petitioner.
2 Petitioner then filed a civil complaint for declaratory
judgment, alleging, based on her summative evaluation
performance ratings from the 2014-15 school term, respondent
improperly placed her in grouping two on the sequence of
honorable dismissal list, which resulted in her honorable
dismissal. Following a bench trial, the circuit court entered
declaratory judgment in favor of petitioner. The circuit
court stated it based its decision on the application of
section 24-12(b)(2) of the School Code (Code) (105 ILCS
5/24-12(b)(2) (West 2014)) and "the ratings received in
each evaluation of proficient."
3 On appeal, respondent argues (1) the circuit court erred in
its interpretation of section 24-12(b) of the Code
(id. § 24-12(b)) and (2) the circuit
court's decision was against the manifest weight of the
evidence. For the following reasons, we reverse.
4 I. BACKGROUND
5 A. Procedural History
6 In July 2016, petitioner filed a civil complaint for
declaratory judgment, alleging, based on her summative
evaluation performance ratings from the 2014-15 school term,
respondent improperly placed her in grouping two on the
sequence of honorable dismissal list for a RIF, resulting in
her honorable dismissal. Petitioner argued that under section
24-12(b) of the Code (id), respondent should have
placed her in grouping three on the sequence of honorable
dismissal list thereby saving her from dismissal.
7 The matter proceeded to a bench trial held over two
consecutive days in December 2017. Prior to trial, the
parties entered a stipulation stating, "The parties
hereby stipulate that if GAYLE NAFZIGER should have
properly been placed in Group 3 as a result of a proficient
evaluation, then based on her certifications and years of
seniority, she would not have been subject to Honorable
Dismissal by Reduction in Force." (Emphasis in
original.) Below, we summarize the evidence presented at
8 B. Petitioner's Bench Trial
9 1. New Evaluation System
10 In 2010, the Governor signed into law Public Act 96-861,
titled the "Performance Evaluation Reform Act of
2010" (commonly known as PERA), implementing a new
teacher evaluation system in Illinois. See Pub. Act 96-861
(eff. Jan. 15, 2010) (amending 105 ILCS 5/24A-5). Under PERA,
administrators formally and informally observe teachers and
award a summative performance evaluation rating based on four
ratings, a change from three ratings. 105 ILCS 5/24A-5 (West
2010). The four ratings include, "excellent,"
"proficient," "needs improvement," and
"unsatisfactory." Id. § 24A-5(e).
11 Respondent school district evaluates and awards tenured
teachers a summative performance evaluation rating once every
two years unless they receive a "needs improvement"
or "unsatisfactory" rating, in which case
respondent school district evaluates a teacher the following
year. See 105 ILCS 5/24A-5 (West 2014). Respondent school
district implemented PERA in September 2012.
12 2. Petitioner s Honorable Dismissal
13 Petitioner, a schoolteacher in contractual continued
service (tenure) with respondent school district, taught for
32 years before her honorable dismissal. During the 2011- 12
school term-school term being July 1 to the following June
30-petitioner's principal, Mark Skerticher, awarded her a
summative performance evaluation rating of
"excellent" under the old evaluation system. During
the 2012-13 school term, respondent school district conducted
no evaluation of petitioner due to her status as tenured and
her rating of "excellent" the prior year. During
the 2013-14 school term, a new principal, Brooke Wiemers,
observed petitioner based on PERA and awarded petitioner a
summative performance evaluation rating of "needs
14 After receiving a "needs improvement" summative
performance evaluation rating, Wiemers placed petitioner on a
professional development plan as required by the Code. See
id. § 24A-5(h). The professional development
"The teacher will be evaluated during the 2014-2015
school year as required by the Code. The District expects
that more than the minimum number of evaluations will be
conducted on both an announced and unannounced basis. The
[a]dministrators may conduct observations, have input into
evaluations [, ] and may assist in improvement tasks. The
administrators will observe lessons being taught, review
lesson plans when specified, conduct conferences as needed [,
] and assist with teaching ideas.
[Petitioner] must be rated as proficient to be reinstated to
the regular tenured teacher ...