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Embattled CPS principal defies charges against him

Troy LaRaviere speaks about his removal as principal from Blaine Elementary and his run for the presidency of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association during a press conference at Wishbone North on May 12, 2016. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Fighting for his professional future with the Chicago Public Schools, embattled principal and longtime mayoral critic Troy LaRaviere doubled down Thursday as he denounced “politically motivated” charges the district filed with “reckless abandon” in seeking his termination.

Among CPS’ complaints against LaRaviere, who was abruptly removed from Blaine Elementary School last month, was that he didn’t finish extensive paperwork required for teacher evaluations — a process he considers a waste of time.

“They are right,” he said defiantly, all but pleading guilty to those allegations as he spoke for the first time about the charges. “I’ve never finished them all. And that is one of the reasons our school is so successful.”

The outspoken principal who has headed wealthy, top-rated Blaine since 2011, accused CPS of moving in on him to foil his current bid to head Chicago’s principals association. He said his boss had told him that skipping the evaluations would only lower his own performance evaluation. Suddenly, he said, the stakes jumped to grounds for termination.

“When I was a lone voice, the administration tolerated me,” he said, surrounded by Blaine parents in #StandWithTroy T-shirts during a press conference. “But when faced with the prospect of an organized group of education leaders speaking as one on behalf of students, they moved with haste and reckless abandon to prevent that from happening.”

He contended that City Hall doesn’t want him leading the association because he has promised to unite principals and amplify their voice in how schools are run.

“We see it all, and we have to have a voice in influencing policy. If you want good policy, why wouldn’t you bring that voice in?” LaRaviere said of fellow principals.

CPS and the mayor’s office have denied any political motivation in ousting a critic. District spokeswoman Emily Bittner said the district “routinely removes principals for a variety of reasons” — six so far this school year.

She said formal teacher evaluations are important so stronger teachers don’t get laid off before weaker ones.

LaRaviere had a formal disciplinary hearing on Wednesday at CPS, before a hired independent hearing officer who has not yet released recommendations. Next, the Illinois State Board of Education hears his case. Meanwhile, he is on paid leave.

The principal, who was awarded a performance bonus every time the mayor offered one, was already formally warned last summer that his behavior was under scrutiny, after he allegedly encouraged students to skip PARCC testing and got into a fight with a former CEO.

Among CPS’ formal accusations — which LaRaviere published on his blog — were dereliction of duties when he publicly opposed state PARCC testing of CPS students “in defiance of the CEO’s directives” and insubordination for publicly supporting the rejection of a January contract proposal with the Chicago Teachers Union as well as the CTU’s April 1 strike.

“As the principal of a Chicago Public School, you owe a duty of loyalty to the Board, the CEO and their designees,” read the letter signed by CEO Forrest Claypool and Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson.

They also chided him for using his office to support two politicians highly critical of Rahm Emanuel: Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who failed to unseat the mayor, and progressive presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“In Chicago, we have endured a corrupt political system,” LaRaviere said in a TV ad he recorded for Sanders. “And the chief politician standing in the way of us getting good schools is our mayor.”

CPS’ inspector general mentioned the ethical breach regarding the Garcia campaign in a January report and opened a probe into his activity for Sanders.

Speaking as if already running for higher office, LaRaviere offered anecdotes of his military service and childhood and rhetoric about free speech. He compared accusations lobbed against him about how he used CPS time and resources with how much time Emanuel spends with campaign donors.

But he would not answer whether he plans to mount his own campaign to lead the city, couching his reply as a politician would: “I have been asked that question every day of my life for the last three years. Today, my response is I’m running for president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, and that’s the only office I’m concerned with right now.”

The Chicago Principals and Administrators Association election is underway. Ballots are due to be mailed by May 16.

CPS dismissal charges against Troy LaRaviere