Over the past two years, George Dalin, principal of Howland School for the Arts, came to expect bad news every time he got a call from Intervention Chief Phil Hansen.
“First, the school was placed on remediation, then it was bumped up to probation. When he’d call, I’d ask him, ‘What are we on now, Phil, the death list?,'” Dalin recalls with a laugh.
In July, Dalin got a call that amounted to professional death. He was told he was being removed from Howland and replaced with a new principal.
“I didn’t expect that,” he says somberly.
Dalin is one of 11 principals removed over the summer from schools that were on probation but not reconstitituted. (For details on reconstitution, see story on page 24.) Only three principals attended the dismissal hearings to challenge their removal— Allen Stringfellow from Dodge, Lawrence Head from Pope and Betzaida Figueroa from Kelvyn Park.
At four of the schools, reading test scores went up. At one, the percentage of students scoring at or above national norms rose above 15 percent, which was the cutoff for probation. Hansen says the Office of Accountability looked at more than test scores, as the law provides.
“Principals were dismissed for either low test scores, lack of completion of the school’s corrective action plan or severe leadership problems,” he says.
Beverly Tunney, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, angrily disagrees. “There was no educational malpractice at these schools,” she says, issuing her first public challenge to the administration of Paul Vallas. “This was only a lesson in how to do your principal in. … The only criteria I see being used is when someone in the school has a conflict with the principal.”
Tunney contends, for example, that Rafael Sanchez was dismissed from Roosevelt High because the local school council was against him. “He’s done a good job by board standards, which is raise test scores. But the council didn’t want him.” The percentage of Roosevelt students scoring at or above national norms in reading rose from 8.9 to 19; in math, the percentage rose from 19.3 to 22.4.
At Sanchez’s dismissal hearing, LSC Chair Linda Logan submitted a letter showing that the LSC unanimously passed a motion seeking his removal.
A former LSC member and a teacher LSC member who also is a Chicago Teachers Union delegate testified against Sanchez at the hearing. The allegations ranged from “forcing parents to wait hours to meet with him regarding students” to “demoralizing good staff members by promoting incompetent personnel to key positions within the school and openly punishing and retaliating against teachers who attempt to constructively criticize his regime.”
In addition, one evaluation from probation manager Patricia Kubistal says Sanchez failed to develop a school leadership team and lacked any interest in communicating effectively with students, staff and parents.
Tunney contends that a conflict with probation manager Marva Collins prompted the dismissal of Lawrence Head from Pope Elementary. A hearing officer’s report confirms disagreements between the two. Tunney says Collins put in only four appearances at the school and didn’t participate in writing its corrective action plan.
However, Collins’ co-probation manager, Janet House, reported 21 visits between April and June, finding that Head failed to implement the corrective action plan, to evaluate every teacher, to implement the restructured school day and to fill LSC vacancies. House, assistant director in the Department of Intervention, subsequently was named interim principal at McCorkle Elementary, which also saw its principal removed.
Even if these reports are true, says Tunney, actions short of dismissal could have been taken.
“I am not against removing incompetent principals from schools,” says Tunney. “But there was nothing these principals did that was not remediable. And we believe if it is remediable, then you don’t dismiss.”
Like Tunney, some dismissed principals feel the process was unfair.
“I realize the test scores are still not where we’d like them, but they went up,” says Rickey Dorsey, principal of Smyth for the last nine years. Students at or above grade level in reading increased from 9 percent in 1996 to 13 percent in 1997. In math, the percentage of students at or above grade level went from 8.6 percent to 10.3 percent.
“This was a complete surprise,” he says. “I guess you’re vulnerable no matter what you do. Also, I think there may be a lot of other dynamics at play here. We’re right in the University of Illinois’ corridor. In five years, no one will recognize this area. It’s changing, and we’re in the way.”
A dismissal hearing report says student scores had not “sufficiently” increased and that student attendance and dropout rates had not improved. The report also says the school’s corrective action plan had “not been sufficiently implemented with respect to school leadership, parent/community partnerships, student-centered learning climate, professional development and collaboration, quality instruction plan and school management.”
Howland’s George Dalin says his school has suffered from heavy staff turnover that began when the previous Board of Education voted to close the school. “During that time, I lost a lot of teachers because people didn’t know if the school was going to be around,” he says. “Then in 1995-96, I lost 12 staff members to prolonged illnesses.”
In addition, says Dalin, the school has had three different coordinators from its external partner, Barbara Sizemore’s School Achievement Structure Program (SAS), since it was put on remediation in January, 1996.
“We didn’t get an SAS coordinator until April, then she left. Then we got another one in October, and still another one this January,” says Dalin, principal for four years and a CPS employee for 36. “None of this was taken into consideration. I think there should have been a meeting between the principal, the probation manager and central office before this move. There was no red flag.”
Howland’s probation manager, Ollie McLemore, formerly a principal at Beasley Academy who now is also an assistant director in the SAS program, acknowledges that changes in the SAS coordinator may have added some confusion, but she says that was not to blame for the condition of the school.
“The principal is still in charge of running the school,” says McLemore. “The SAS coordinator’s job is to offer support.”
She also acknowledges that Dalin and his staff worked hard to implement the school’s corrective action plan. But she says that test scores fell steeply from 1991 to 1996. Further, she says, reading scores dipped slightly this year, and math scores only inched up—in reading, 5.4 percent of students score at or above norms; in math, 8 percent do.
“I didn’t have to make the recommendation [for his removal] because it was evident by the students’ progress,” says McLemore. “Because of the failure of progress, a change was inevitable, which was the decision of the Office of Accountability.”
Many people were also surprised to find Reva Hairston’s name on the list, especially since she had planned to retire this summer.
Hairston, who in 1990 won the Borg-Warner Award for School Leadership, was very upset by the decision.
“They knew I was retiring,” she says. “I thought, 43 years with the board, 21 as a principal in the same school, and I’m not even allowed to leave with dignity.”
Hansen says central administrators knew Hairston was retiring but needed to remove her so that they could choose an interim principal to turn around the school. Had Hairston simply retired, the local school council would have chosen an acting or interim principal.
“She was feeling low, I know that, but I talked to her and said ‘Reva, for two years in a row, you have been number one or two at the bottom'”, says Lula Ford, Terrell’s probation manager and director of the Office of School Leadership Development. “I know the school was a challenge, but so was mine. [Ford was principal of Beethoven, down the street.] I know she wanted to be successful, but the school was not in good shape. It had to be done.”
At Terrell, the number of students who scored at or above national norms in reading increased slightly, to 4.7 percent in 1997—under pressure from superiors, the school switched reading programs midyear. In math, the percentage of students at or above national norms increased from 6.1 percent to 9.3 percent.
Barbara Radner of DePaul University, a longtime friend of Hairston and the school’s external partner, says the school did need a change and she thinks Hairston knew that and that’s why she was planning to retire.
At press time, with the exception of Hairston, who retired in August, all dismissed principals were reassigned to positions in central or regional offices to honor the remainder of their four-year contracts. At the end of their contracts, they will be free to apply for other positions in the school system.
“I want to stress that in many cases, these are talented people,” says Hansen. “They just weren’t successful where they were.”
Interim principals assigned to the schools probably will remain for a year, he says. “We’d like them to go in and make some changes on the school improvement plan, and we hope to give these schools a chance to be successful. After that time, local school councils will once again be free to chose the principal at these schools.”
Tunney is skeptical. “These are very difficult schools, and some of these new people aren’t equipped to handle them,” she contends. “I’d like someone to tell me how what they are going to do in these schools is going to be so drastically different from what is being done to help them now. That’s what I’d like to know.”