What's Going On At Brooks?

Check out the letter a reader sent in below about the craziness going on surrounding the selection of a new principal for Brooks (aka South Side Prep).

July 18, 2006

RE: Brooks College Prep Principal Selection

Arne Duncan, Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Public Schools
125 South Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60603

Dear Arne Duncan, Chief Executive Officer,

In writing this letter, I am seeking your intervention in the selection process of a new principal at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy.  By now, I am sure you are aware of the situation that has transpired thus far, and I am hopeful that you are as concerned as I am regarding this important decision.  Selecting a principal is not an easy task, yet the process that was used to select the principal for Brooks was questionable at best.  Furthermore, events that took place this week solidifying the selection of our principal negated the process that had been agreed to and decided upon in an apparent attempt to forward a personal agenda by our Local School Council.  I urge you to scrutinize this selection very carefully as we all want a principal that best fits the needs of our students, staff, and school community above all else.

If Brooks is to compete on a par with the rest of the selective enrollment schools in the Chicago Public Schools, it is imperative that a strong, focused, and experienced high school principal be put in place to demonstrate sound leadership in instruction and management.  Using this as a measure of a potential principal, one only needs to look at the leadership provided by the selection of the Local School Council.  Investigating the school report card posted on the Chicago Public Schools website for Curtis Elementary, Dr. Brown was responsible for quite eye-opening statistics.  For example, according to the document, 64.3% of the seventh graders tested in science did not meet state standards or were on academic warning and 53.7% of the eighth graders tested in reading did not meet state standards or were on academic warning.  In the most alarming statistic 96.7% of the eighth graders tested in mathematics did not meet state standards or were on academic warning.  Is this the instructional and managerial leadership desired for an elite high school?

Using this same document, there are a few more alarming facts that must be pointed to as well.  Curtis Elementary failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals in reading and math.  In addition, using federal classifications under No Child Left Behind, Curtis is restructuring.  Illinois has this school on the academic watch list as well.  Again, I must ask, is this the instructional and managerial leadership desired for an elite high school?

Having attended the public forum that introduced the final six principal candidates to the Brooks community I was shocked to learn that this would ultimately be the only interview the candidates would endure in the process to become principal at Brooks College Prep.  This in and of itself is a ridiculous notion.  However, the public forum went on and the candidates fielded questions prepared by the LSC and the audience.  I was appalled to observe members of the LSC inattentive to the proceedings, eating as the candidates fielded their questions, and fidgeting with cell phones and moving about.  This was the only opportunity the LSC would have to really get a sense of the positions and philosophies of these candidates and they were not interested.  At the conclusion of the event, it was clear who should move forward in the process to select a principal.  The LSC, as a whole, did not make any effort at all to support those obvious choices.  Is this the behavior of individuals charged with seriously identifying instructional and managerial leadership for an elite high school?

The LSC, however, would not make a decision for another month and a half.  During the last meeting of the LSC for the school year in June, they finally whittled the list down to three candidates for principal, Kathy Farr, Jewel Lewis, and Patricia Owens, all three who have high school teaching and administrative experience.  In addition, all three have ties to Brooks through previous work experience at the school.  Dr. Brown was not approved at this meeting.  This vote was taken after two members of the LSC walked out of the meeting prior to the vote.  It is my belief that no list of three finalists would be acceptable for the whole LSC without Dr. Brown on it.  It is too coincidental that Curtis is within the same Ward as Brooks, and that the LSC chair at Brooks is tied to that Ward and its alderman, Anthony Beale, as well.  There is an appearance of relationships long at play here and a potential for a quid pro quo of sorts.  Are these the relationships that are necessary for improving instructional and managerial leadership for an elite high school?

The process chosen for selecting a principal was not adhered to.  The very same process that was approved by the LSC relations office at CPS, the Area 24 office, and was advertised to the parents and staff of the Brooks community.  I would argue more demands are placed upon our students in the high stakes of testing than were placed upon the candidates for principal.  There is something inherently wrong with that. How is it possible to select a principal for an elite high school without a battery of formal interview processes allowing the LSC to truly ascertain the credentials and abilities of the candidates?

Furthering the discussion of the LSC at Brooks, other concerned faculty members and parents have noted issues that are disturbing as well.  The interpersonal and professional relationships that exist on that council are contentious.  Meetings that are formal often delve into personal attacks and defense of personal positions.  Committee meetings to discuss the process for selecting the principal excluded the teacher representatives on more than one occasion.  Voting members of the LSC were excluded from meetings.  This is very alarming.  The voice of the staff on the LSC has therefore been compromised.  The last act, selecting the principal in a haphazard call meeting held in the parking lot of the school, truly accentuates the lack of formal processes and the lengths the LSC will take to forward an agenda.  I must ask, is this how we build partnerships and establish working relationships between the LSC, the faculty, and parents of the Brooks Community?

Mr. Duncan, I share these thoughts and concerns with you to urge you to consider these facts as they lay before you.  I have no ill will toward Dr. Brown.  I am sure she is fine person and a fine elementary school principal.  I encourage you to read the minutes from that open forum of the candidates (should they exist) to get a feel for the passion the final three candidates have for working with the Brooks community to build upon the strong foundation that has been laid.  Brooks is one of the best high schools in the City of Chicago and therefore is deserving of one of the best principals as well.

cc: Don Pittman, Chief Officer, Office of High School Programs


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