What's Going On At Gunsaulus Academy?

Here's some information about Gunsaulus Academy that was presented to the Board last week, according to Gale Suwe, a parent there who wrote me this email:

"There are numerous problems at Gunsaulus Academy, 4420 S.

Sacramento which began with the installation of a new principal in the

fall of 2008 [Amy Kotz]. I am a parent of a student at Gunsaulus Academy, and I represented

the parents' issues at the board meeting. We have been complaining to

our area 10 instruction office [Isabel

Mesa-Collins], and to various CPS departments for

months, only to be rebuffed. I have personally presented proof of forgery, proof of

questionable disciplinary write ups for staff, only to be scoffed at by

the office of the inspector general."

Anyone know more about the situation, or how it's been addressed (or ignored) by the AIO in area 10 or at the Board? Are these personal conflicts, or major problems?

As you may know, the AIO was formerly the principal at Drummond. The new principal comes from Albany Park, and Cooper, via the UIC leadership program she is also an NBCT, apparently. In a March 20th letter to parents, she acknowledges some concerns and says she's meeting with groups of parents grade by grade.

Letter to the Board:

From Concerned Parents at

Gunsaulus Scholastic Academy

4420 S. Sacramento

Chicago, IL 60632

March 25, 2009

To the Members of the Chicago Board of

Education:

125 S. Clark Street 6th Floor

Chicago, IL 60603

We are reaching out to you to ask for

your help to save Gunsaulus Academy because we believe the school is

in a state of “Educational Crisis” in accordance with CPS Policy

Manual section 302.1.

Have you ever heard of Gunsaulus Academy?

Probably not because we have a history of being a fine school with excellent

teachers, higher than average standardized test scores, committed parents,

and a safe and stable environment in which our children can flourish.

In the past, the only attention our school had received was when our

students would win awards, or when our test scores would go up. Now,

we would be surprised if there is ANY CPS department who has NOT heard

of our school.

At the beginning of the 2008-2009 school

year the school community welcomed our new principal Ms. Amy Kotz. We

had been without a permanent principal for a year, and our local school

council was in a legal dispute, and we were ready to assist Ms. Kotz

in moving the school forward. However, in the last 7 months, we have

observed our fine school sink into a state of chaos, fear, and mistrust.

Parents and teachers have been contacting the Area 10 Office of Isabel

Mesa-Collins with repeated complaints, with no action. Parents and teachers

have been reaching out to various CPS departments, only to be met with

disbelief, indifference, and sometimes outright hostility, even in the

face of compelling evidence of misconduct. No one takes us seriously,

and we are tired of it.

Below is a list of items which we believe

support our case that the school is in educational crisis.

Criterion #2.

Repeated improper use of school personnel or school programs by a school's

principal or administrative staff, including, but not limited to the

abuse of disciplinary actions against school personnel or students,

the improper rescheduling or reassignment of school personnel, the improper

closing of school staff positions or programs or the improper expenditure

of school funds without local school council approval;

Principal Abuse of Power:

a. Intimidation:

-The principal routinely uses her position

of authority to intimidate staff, students and parents to keep them

in their place, and also to dissuade them from speaking out. Students

have been repeatedly summoned to the principal’s office during instructional

time in order to be interrogated about allegations about staff. Parents

are not notified that these interrogations are occurring, and our children

are being pulled into the middle of issues which should not involve

them.

-In January, the children of the PTO

board members were summoned from class during instruction time to the

principal’s office and coerced into signing a statement that they

had received a letter from the local school council and would pass the

letter on to their mothers.

b. Retaliation:

Teachers, staff and parents who question

operations at the school are routinely the subjects of retaliation.

Examples of this behavior include:

- Parents called the Area 10 office

to report that there was no security guard on the premises for several

consecutive days. As a result, the Chicago Police were summoned by the

school to ticket parents’ vehicles parked along the perimeter of the

school. When the principal was questioned about this, she replied that

since parents had called the area to complain about security, then “here

was our security”

-Recently, 6 excellent teachers were

given notice that they would not return next year. At the March Local

School Council meeting, numerous parents and students demanded answers

to explain the firings. Not only were the questions rebuffed, but in

the subsequent days, some of the teachers were disciplined for “unprofessional

behavior” because parents spoke up on their behalf.

-When the Gunsaulus PTO organization

questioned the actions of the principal in regards to the PTO functions

and accounts, rather than requesting formal mediation as the PTO requested,

the principal filed a complaint directly to the Office of the Inspector

General for reported malfeasance. An investigation is ongoing as we

speak. This year alone the PTO provided over $4000 in support to school

programs, only to be maligned and investigated.

c. Abuse of Disciplinary Actions/Investigations:

Teachers and staff are routinely subjected

to disciplinary actions based on hearsay, and word of mouth. When you

look at the written warnings, many of them are based on the statements

of the few same individuals over and over again. Teachers are disciplined

tor statements that were obtained from students under highly improper

and suspicious circumstances. These students were pulled from class

during instructional time and made to speak alone with the principal

or the assistant principal, and their statements were in turn used to

discipline teachers and staff. It certainly is the responsibility of

a principal to investigate inappropriate behavior, but these interrogations

are in the nature of a wide spread witch-hunt. In addition, parents

are not notified when their children are interrogated, as is required

by CPS.

Improper Release of Staff

On 03/06/09, 5 young non-tenured teachers

were given notice that their contracts are not being renewed. While

the principal is well within her legal right to not renew these teachers’

contracts, there is no valid justification to release them. Out standardized

test scores are continually on the rise. Our enrollment figures are

NOT declining, and in fact are increasing. Why would the principal release

excellent teachers who are committed to our children? These teachers

include a grant winner, the basketball coach who helped our boy’s

team reach the CPS finals, the drama sponsor, the gym teacher, and a

7th grade teacher. Parents and students value these teachers,

and are in fact outraged that they will not be with us next year. Why

would the principal want to replace young, committed, dedicated teachers

who have been shown to benefit our students?

Criterion #

3. Repeated failure or refusal by school staff, principal, local school

council or local school council member(s) to comply with and implement

the provisions of the Illinois School Code, all other applicable laws,

state and federal mandates, including but not limited to bilingual and

special education requirements, collective bargaining agreements, court

orders and Board rules or policies;

Principal not following ISBE rules

Prior to the March ISAT testing, teachers

were instructed in writing to violate the testing procedures requiring

that the students be allowed a 10 minute break during testing. Teachers

were specifically directed to only allow 2-3 minutes of break. Although

many teachers knew this violated the ISBE testing guidelines, they felt

compelled to follow the directive out of fear of retaliation. The teachers

who did allow the proper breaks, did so at the risk of being disciplined

for insubordination to the principal.

LSC Open Meetings Act:

The Local School council deliberately

violated the open meetings act at the December 3, 2008 Local School

Council Meeting. The LSC chairman mandated that the LSC board go into

a closed session, despite the protests of LSC board members and the

public. The council discussed issues which should have been brought

forward into the public forum, such as opening and closing positions.

In addition, complaints to the LSC group within CPS have generated no

response and no corrective actions.

LSC Abuse of Power:

The Local School Council has authority

to review all records of internal accounts. However, the Local School

Council deliberately requested information from the PTO organization,

for which they had no legal right. The LSC request referred to a portion

of the ILSC code which specifically references internal accounts, and

the PTO account is NOT an internal account. Subsequent to the request,

the PTO requested the issue be placed on the agenda for the next LSC

meeting, and they were denied the request. This is the situation in

which our children were removed from class, brought to the office and

made to sign a document that they were in receipt of the letter of refusal.

The LSC requested that the children be given the document to sign as

proof that the denial of agenda request was distributed.

LSC Names and Addresses are not available:

The names and addresses of Local School

Council members are supposed to be a matter of public record, according

to the ILCS. This information has not made available to the school community,

and in fact, not all members of the local school council have received

this information despite repeated requests for the information.

Criterion #7.

Inability of the school staff, principal, local school council, or local

school council member(s) to resolve disputes on matters which are fundamental

to the operation of the school or to structure programs conducive to

learning;

Failure to Resolve through Cooperation

Nearly every dispute that occurs in the

school is handled by the principal as a disciplinary or investigative

action. There is no effort on her part to resolve issues through discussion,

mediation or cooperative groups.

Statistically improbable increase in

reporting

Since the beginning of the school year,

an inordinate number of police reports, internal investigations, disciplinary

actions, and DCFS reports have been generated. Gunsaulus has always

been a peaceful school, where issues could be resolved through communication

and mediation. The principal routinely uses every agency at her disposal

to target groups and individuals who disagree with her or question her

actions. If a principal is able to effectively resolve disputes, is

there a need for so many agencies to be involved in school operations?

Since September 2008, the following have occurred:

-Surge in the number of teachers and

staff members targeted for repeated disciplinary actions.

-DCFS allegations have been launched

against parents and teachers.

-Chicago Police have been summoned on

repeated occasions, few of which have to do with maintaining an environment

conducive to learning. Examples of these actions include the police

being summoned to ticket teachers’ cars in the school parking lot

for city sticker and license plate violations. Police were summoned

on another occasion to ticket parents’ cars for parking violations

which did not impact the school in any way.

We believe many of these actions were

based on claims which were spurious, fictitious, and even the result

of the principal being offended personally rather than based on true

problems. We request that the board look at the number of formal actions

generated since September 2008. Does the number of actions seem statistically

possible, given the history of Gunsaulus Academy? Does the number of

formal actions generated since September 2008 seem possible for ANY

magnet school?

Criterion #16.

Failure or refusal by a school's principal, staff, local school council,

and/or local school council member(s) to maintain an orderly school

environment that supports and encourages student learning;

-Shortened School Day for Children who

take the Bus

Children who take the bus home each day

are summoned from class very early so that the busses can leave the

school. Everyday, children are summoned beginning before 1:30pm to line

up for busses, even though our instructional day ends at 1:45pm. This

action does not support student learning, and in fact adversely affects

it, since students are not able to complete their full school day and

miss out on at least 10 minutes of additional class time.

-Communication between Parents and Teachers

is impacted

Teachers and Parents are not encouraged

to interact. Research shows that when parents and teachers work together

and communicate with each other, children have a higher success rate

in school. Teachers are afraid to speak with parents for fear of having

the principal discipline them on acting unprofessionally. Parents are

afraid to speak with teachers for fear of getting the teachers in trouble.

Criterion

17. Principal's failure to maintain orderly school operations which

poses a significant threat to the safety and well-being of students

or staff;

Safety-Security Guard:

-The security guard at our school was

suspended on March 11th. Since that time, there has been

no security guard at our school. Staff members are made to walk around

the building before and after school, but these are not individuals

who have been trained in security, and they are not a replacement for

a properly trained and experienced security guard. Gunsaulus Academy

is located in a neighborhood with evident gang activity, and statistics

from the Chicago Police Department clearly show that the crime rate

in our school’s neighborhood is very real.

Safety-Students at Large:

On several occasions, students were “lost”

from the after school program. Students were released to the outdoors

rather than sent to their after school programs. When parents came to

pick them up, the students were found outside the school unattended.

Safety-Bussing Students

The students who take the bus to and

from school are placed into an unsafe situation every day. In the afternoons,

the children are directed to line up in the hallways to find their bus

route number. The hallways become quite crowded and noisy, and there

is inadequate room in the foyer to properly accommodate all of children

who take assigned bus routes. In years past, and even earlier this year,

the children were seated in the auditorium and attendance for each bus

taken prior to the children being released to the busses. After a bus

aide’s position funding was removed by the local school council, the

children were not allowed to remain in the auditorium seated in a safe

and organized fashion. Instead, they are called down from their rooms

by bus number, and the students have to hurry to get in line to be rushed

onto their bus. Taking attendance to assure that each child is on the

proper bus is now quite difficult. There was no cogent reason to change

this procedure, and as a result, the children are put at risk each day

to either being hurt in the crowded foyer, or at risk for missing their

bus.

Well Being of the Teachers and Staff

Staff and Teacher morale is extremely

low, as they are afraid to speak with parents for fear of being disciplined

as “unprofessional”. Teachers are yelled at and chastised

at almost every staff meeting, and made to feel incompetent. When the

6 teachers were informed that they would not have their contracts renewed,

this was done during the regular school day, with no thought to the

effects on the teachers and the students. Teachers are in constant fear

of disciplinary actions up to and including termination, and they are

unable to effectively work with each other.

As parents we are amazed that our teachers

are able to teach our students at all given the climate of the school.

The teachers do their very best to maintain their high levels of instruction,

despite repeated efforts on the part of the principal to demoralize

them and belittle them to CPS, students, and parents. The parents of

Gunsaulus Academy value our teachers, and demand that they be treated

with respect and professional behavior. It is abundantly clear to the

parents that the current administration does not value teachers in any

way.

Well Being of the Students

Of all of the evidence presented in this

letter, the lack of concern over the well being of our children is the

most disheartening and frightening to the parents. Our children are

not well at all. Morale is low for all students, but particularly the

upper grade students. Many of these children have been at Gunsaulus

Academy since the beginning of their school career, and they are saddened

by the climate at the school this year. They have watched their traditions

be removed one by one. They have watched their favorite teachers be

disciplined, mistreated, and demoralized. Five non-tenured teachers

who are highly motivated and committed to our students are being released

at the end of this school year. The students are saddened to think that

they will spend next year without their gym teacher, their basketball

coach, and their drama sponsor. The lack of stability and the low morale

are affecting the students, and they can not effectively learn in an

environment in which they do not feel stable.

Well Being of the School:

Given the nature of the extreme conditions

currently at Gunsualus Academy, we as parents feel that our school has

a bleak future. What teachers would want to stay in this environment?

What teachers would want to come and work at our school? Many parents

are seriously considering removing their children from the school before

it becomes too unstable. Because there have been so many investigations,

and disciplinary actions initiated by the principal, staff are afraid

to speak to parents, and are afraid to speak up when they know something

is wrong.

Criterion #21.

Consistent failure by a school's principal, staff, local school council,

and/or local school council member(s) to maintain cooperative and educationally

supportive relationships with parents/guardians, and community members;

The principal and the local school council

do not have a supportive relationship with the parents. The principal

will not meet with parents in an open forum to discuss issues. Parents

want to have a voice in their children’s school. Parents want answers

about the decisions of the LSC and the principal. At our last LSC meeting

on March 11, 2009 over 100 parents attended demanding answers about

the high number of staff who have been released from the school since

September. Neither the LSC nor the principal would openly and honestly

address the concerns, and in fact were distanced and hostile toward

the parents who did attend.

The principal has cancelled or significantly

altered many of the long standing Gunsaulus Academy traditions, without

parents’ input, and in some cases, in direct opposition to what the

parents wanted. Our students used to be granted a few days each year

in which the uniform dress code was relaxed. These occasions made the

school feel festive and bright for the day. This tradition was eliminated.

Our PTO organization hosted an annual fun fair in which all students

were allowed to have fun and interact with each other to foster social

emotional growth, and also just celebrate together as a school community.

The principal’s actions made it impossible for the PTO to conduct

this event this year. When the principal attempted to prohibit holiday

celebrations, the students lead the effort to protest. They demonstrated

outside of the building, wrote persuasive essays and encouraged their

parents to advocate on their behalf. After weeks of outcry, the principal

finally relented. When these situations occurred, no effort was made

to peacefully and respectfully meet with the parents to discuss the

issues.

The principal has eroded her bond with

the parents, many of whom mistrust her. The principal has taken many

actions to eliminate and impede the PTO group from serving the school.

The school does not welcome parents in, nor does the administration

value parent input and ideas. As mentioned above, parents and teachers

have little opportunity to communicate with each other.

Summary:

Gunsaulus Academy has historically been

a high performing school with dedicated teachers, committed parents,

and well behaved and motivated children. Our school was a tight knit

community in which we all had the same vision-to maintain an excellent

environment conducive to learning. We were a stable environment in which

children could learn in a safe and orderly environment.

Gunsaulus Academy is a now bleak place

to send our children. The teacher, parent and student morale is low.

There is a feeling of hopelessness and despair which pervades the school

community. The parents do not have confidence that the current principal,

Amy Kotz has the best interest of our children in mind. The parents

do not have confidence that the school will not be diminished.

For months, the parents and teachers

of Gunsaulus Academy have been asking CPS for help. Repeated complaints

to the Area 10 Officer, Isabel Mesa Collins, go unheeded and unresolved.

We are tired of the indifference, disinterest and disbelief that we

have repeatedly experienced from CPS. We have contacted multiple departments

in CPS, only to be rebuffed, ignored, or referred back to Area 10.

Arne Duncan often said that CPS needs

to recruit the brightest and the best teachers to educate the children

so they can flourish. We believe that the actions of the principal and

the local school council at Gunsaulus Academy have plunged the school

into a state of educational crisis. We are pleading with this distinguished

board to step in, fully review our situation at Gunsaulus Academy, and

take corrective action.

We are requesting that someone with an

OPEN MIND, lack of preconceived notions, and open eyes will evaluate

the facts of the case, speak with parents and staff, and honestly and

impartially assess the school. We are afraid for the future of our school.

We are tired of being ignored. We are frustrated with the level of indifference

from CPS. We are PLEADING with you to fully investigate our concerns,

and help us restore Gunsaulus Academy to the fine school that we knew

and loved. Help pull us out of this educational crisis.

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