Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett (center), announces plans for Barack Obama College Preparatory High School on April 24, 2014. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media
Rahm Emanuel says he welcomes principals’ concerns, ideas
Contrary to recent allegations by several Chicago Public Schools principals that they’re being silenced, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday that he welcomes ideas and even criticism from principals.
Emanuel said he has even implemented some of their ideas, responding to the latest complaints that his administration tries to control the message. Blaine Elementary School principal Troy LaRaviere accused Emanuel’s administration of silencing principals in an op-ed published in the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday. Several of the hundreds of CPS principals have signed their names to comments on LaRaviere’s blog, troylaraviere.blogspot.com, and at www.Catalyst-Chicago.org, expressing similar concerns.
“If a principal has a concern or an idea, [schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s] attitude, my attitude is, ‘We want to hear about it if there are concerns,’ ” Emanuel said at an unrelated announcement in Bronzeville, where he he took reporters’ questions for the first time since Saturday.
“Barbara meets regularly with the principals. I meet with them when I go to the schools and bring their ideas in. An example of an idea that they came up with was just a couple weeks ago: the expansion of the International Baccalaureate into our neighborhood schools so there was a kind of campus between the high schools and the elementary schools,” he said. “That was a principal-driven idea that’s now the policy we’re having implemented throughout the city . . .
“But anybody has an idea or a concern, it should be heard and listened to and addressed that way,” Emanuel said.
LaRaviere told the Sun-Times that he and his colleagues have been told not to speak to the press about problems.
In his op-ed, he characterized the administration’s interaction with principals as “insulting.” He said City Hall “ignored and even suppressed principals’ voices” while pushing its education agenda, making principals come up with an elevator speech about the benefits of Emanuel’s signature longer school day.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has told the Sun-Times she was blindsided by the criticism and she’s determined to get to the bottom of what’s upsetting principals. She said that school leaders have her email and direct phone number so they can directly voice their concerns to her.
CPS spokesman Joel Hood said Wednesday that no meetings with principals had yet been set.
“You can say Barbara is working to coordinate a meeting with principals to better understand the issues they’ve raised,” he wrote in an email. He also said she called LaRaviere and was looking forward to speaking with him.
But LaRaviere pointed the finger of blame squarely at Emanuel.
“I never mentioned her” in the op-ed, he said of Byrd-Bennett on Wednesday. “This culture doesn’t come from her. . . . They have a very good way of distracting from the issue. Whether or not we have her number has nothing to do with the fact that we’ve been told to shut up.
“She says she’s going to get to the bottom of it. She can’t get to the bottom when the culprit is at the top,” LaRaviere said.
Earlier this week, John Kupper, Emanuel’s longtime political consultant, fired off an angry email to the Chicago Sun-Times in response to a follow-up story on the principal uprising.
Referring to LaRaviere, Kupper wrote, “First, this guy got a full page in the Sun-Times on Saturday. Now, a story as well? When does he get a column?”
Kupper went on to chastise the newspaper for quoting “at most, four disgruntled principals” without mentioning there are more than 600 CPS principals given more authority by Emanuel.
“My daughter’s professors at Medill would label this ‘selective reporting,’ ” Kupper wrote.
Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, has argued that, while LaRaviere is “one of the few principals willing to stand up” to City Hall and the central office, he “may have opened the floodgates” among those who feel the same way about intimidation, budget cuts and unfunded mandates.
To that, Kupper wrote, “Clarice Berry is not representative of all principals. She’s a CTU shill.”
Berry did not return messages on Wednesday requesting comment.