Supporters of outspoken Blaine Elementary Principal Troy LaRaviere suspect that the district’s ‘reassignment’ of him last week was a politically motivated effort to keep him out of the public spotlight and out of the running for a bigger role as head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.
If so, that plan may well have backfired.
LaRaviere, a vocal critic of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s education agenda, is still running for the presidency of the principals group. And there’s nothing in the organization’s constitution to keep him from doing so, despite the reassignment and the district’s charges against him, which include “insubordination” and “ethics violations.”
If LaRaviere is elected, he will have to leave his post at Blaine anyway—taking him out of CPS’ disciplinary jurisdiction while simultaneously giving him a more powerful public role.
“If they were that afraid of him winning, they should have left it alone,” said Clarice Berry, the current principals association president. “Now the very thing they seem to be most terrified about may be happening. They’ve given him more publicity than he ever could have bought.”
Emanuel and CPS insist the mayor had no role in the discipline action. But even the suspicion of City Hall’s involvement, given mayoral control of the city’s schools, was enough to make the news go viral and draw a response from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who tweeted about it to his over 2 million followers and blamed “Emanuel’s unhealthy obsession with taking revenge.” LaRaviere previously appeared in a campaign ad for Sanders.
Berry, who will retire after the election, says the race between LaRaviere and his opponent, association Vice President Kenneth Hunter, appeared tight before LaRaviere’s reassignment. Ballots will be mailed out to up to 1,500 association members next week, and votes will be counted May 20. Berry has held the presidency for 12 years, under six CPS administrations.
Hunter, a retired principal from Prosser Career Academy in Belmont-Cragin, says he’s not sure whether the extra media attention on LaRaviere will lead to a larger turnout among members, which include assistant principals and other administrators along with principals.
“I’d love to get some of his publicity, but I’m not sure I want to get it the way he’s getting it,” Hunter said. “I thought, it will either make him a martyr or a pariah, and it’s done a bit of both.”
Hunter’s campaign, centered on open and increased communication between principals, CPS and state legislators, has appealed to more conservative members, according to Berry.
Because state law prohibits administrators from unionizing, Hunter says the key to getting things done is all “about the relationship we have with CPS” and a willingness to sit down and negotiate.
LaRaviere’s campaign also calls for increased communication, especially between school leaders and education-based groups such as Generation All, an initiative of The Chicago Community Trust. Under LaRaviere’s leadership, the association would become “member-driven” and link administrators with similar problems together to brainstorm solutions and create change.
LaRaviere also wants to be involved in policy and help educators “live up to our responsibility to be public advocates,” but says members would never have to participate beyond their personal comfort level.
Still, some members have expressed concern that LaRaviere’s controversial past may force administrators into an activist role that would distract them from their jobs and have a negative impact on the association’s image.
Last year, he spoke out against the PARCC exam and overtesting in public schools, leading over 50 percent of students at Blaine to opt out of the national exam, one of the reasons the district failed to meet Illinois’ requirement to test at least 95 percent of students. The state threatened punitive measures, including potential budget cuts, should CPS schools not meet the requirement again this year.
Meanwhile, LaRaviere has made one thing clear: “I was put on the ballot and I will remain on the ballot.”