The principal of a Southwest Side elementary school whose contract was not renewed by the local school council is fighting back.
The LSC for Sutherland Elementary in the Beverly community voted 6-4 to not renew Principal Catherine Gannon’s contract at a special meeting Jan. 10. Gannon has been principal at Sutherland since 2006.
The LSC contends that Gannon’s work “does not meet expectations” — even though Sutherland’s test scores have remained high and Gannon won a $10,000 merit award from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett that Gannon used to benefit the school.
Gannon is taking the LSC to arbitration to try to keep her job. Her lawyer, Victor Henderson, said the process is in its early stages, but he’s optimistic that Gannon will win her case.
“It is not so much about the evaluation, but the people who did the evaluation,” Henderson said. “The focus is on the local school council. Given all the significant progress [at the school], people are questioning, ‘why not renew the contract of an overperforming principal?’ ”
LSC member Luke Somerville would not comment on Gannon’s situation, citing the advice of the LSC’s attorney, Elaine Siegel, who also declined to explain the council’s decision.
“This is a personnel matter and highly confidential,” Siegel said. “We are at the beginning of the process.”
Gannon would not say why she thought she was being dismissed, but Henderson said there’s no professional justification for it.
“The school is on firm footing, test scores are increasing, and all objective data supports the renewal of her contract,” he said. “The [issue] is the people who are doing the evaluating.”
The situation has upset many Sutherland parents who are trying to get answers from the LSC.
“Part of the reason why my husband and I bought our house seven years ago was because of the strength of the school,” said Corinne Rose, who has two sons at Sutherland. “There are a number of parents who feel that we have to be on guard here.”
Several parents have created a Facebook page in support of Gannon, are circulating a petition to keep her on the job and are urging parents to write letters in support of Gannon, attend upcoming LSC meetings and vote in the April 7 LSC election.
During the Jan. 10 meeting, the Sutherland LSC discussed Gannon’s job review in closed session for nearly 90 minutes and then voted to terminated her contract as of June 30. Voting against renewal of the four-year pact were Somerville, Laurie Ach, Laurie Cleary, Laurie DelFavero, Tom McGourty and Julie O’Connor. Supporting Gannon were John Griffin, Cheryl Kite, Melissa Boyd and Debra Barnum.
The meeting was then opened to public comment, and 17 people spoke, all expressing anger at the council’s decision.
“It’s appalling that six parents and community members (on the council) can make a decision against what educators want,” parent Connie Grason said, according to the record of the meeting.
Another parent, Ron Traylor, told the LSC, “Maybe you should be congratulated because you accomplished what you set out to do. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Some of you had axes to grind.”
At the Jan. 21 regular LSC meeting, Gannon passed out a letter to the members, asking for reasons in writing why her contract was not renewed. During public comment at that meeting, only one person out of 11 defended the LSC’s decision.
Henderson, who has a son in eighth grade at Sutherland and another who graduated from the school, said he volunteered to represent Gannon.
“Multiple parents are asking if Chicago politics is finding its way into this neighborhood,” he said. “The decision wasn’t passing the smell test. Everyone’s curiosity has been piqued.”