Principal at highly rated Chicago high school reveals bitter battle with Local School Council

Jones College Prep Principal Joseph Powers wrote to families this week about the local school council’s effort to oust him after 13 years at the selective enrollment school.

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Jones College Prep, 700 S. State St.

Jones College Prep, 700 S. State St.

Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

Tension between the longtime principal of one of Chicago’s most prestigious public high schools and the Local School Council that oversees him has spilled into public view this week as the administrator defended himself against calls for his removal.

Chicago Public Schools officials are investigating the principal, Joseph Powers at Jones College Prep High School, but have so far declined to remove him from the Loop school, according to the district’s general counsel.

In a stunning email Thursday to Jones parents and staff, Powers revealed he has considered retirement because the LSC is “openly attacking me and our school leadership team, generally doing everything possible to undermine my leadership at Jones.

“The current Jones LSC took their seats in January 2021. I have come to believe that it was with the express intention of forcing me out as principal of Jones College Prep and taking direct control of the school,” he wrote to the school community.

Joseph Powers, principal of Jones College Prep

Joseph Powers, principal of Jones College Prep.

Chicago Public Schools

“In truth, I do not know if I want to continue this fight. I could have retired years ago, but have instead devoted a great portion of my life and labor to the school that I love and the Jones College Prep family, to the frequent detriment of my own family and my own health. ... I do not want to spend the rest of my time as principal of Jones College Prep, however long that may be, fighting a rearguard action against this handful of agenda-driven malcontents. “

Three parent representatives on the Jones LSC, Cassie Creswell, Sarah Ma and Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth, have accused Powers of several policy violations, some of them constituting “irremediable conduct” that warrant his dismissal.

In a letter dated Feb. 18 to CPS CEO Pedro Martinez and Inspector General William Fletcher, the three LSC members accused Powers of violating the district’s residency requirement by maintaining a primary residency in Missouri; failing to report or discipline theater teacher Brad Lyons for student mistreatment years before a Sun-Times story detailed allegations against him last year; failing to report or properly respond to other student complaints; and fostering an unwelcoming environment for students and staff of color, among other allegations.

“Due to the serious nature of these charges, we request that you initiate immediate investigations and remove Dr. Powers from his position pending investigation,” the LSC members wrote. “We urge you to act with all due haste because of the serious risk of ongoing and future physical and psychological harm for the students of Jones College Prep and the chronic and systemic discrimination against Jones students, employees and families of protected categories.”

Cassie Creswell, a Jones College Prep Local School Council member.

Cassie Creswell, a Jones College Prep Local School Council member.

Brian Jackson / Sun-Times file

“The need to remove the principal is about student safety, both accountability for past harm and preventing future harm to students, staff and families,” Creswell, a frequent critic of CPS officials, told the Sun-Times.

CPS general counsel Joseph Moriarty wrote to the Jones LSC Wednesday that the district is investigating the complaints, but officials don’t see a pressing need to remove Powers from his $175,417-a-year job in the meantime.

“The District only removes a school leader if his/her continued presence at the school threatens the health and safety of students and staff or there is clear and convincing evidence of corruption or dishonesty in the handing of school resources. At this time, the investigative bodies have not indicated that circumstances exist to justify the removal of Dr. Powers,” he said.

CPS spokeswoman Mary Fergus said “parental concerns about an employee may lead to a school or district-level investigation which takes time as we strive to be as thorough as possible when gathering information. At both the school and district level, we always aim to respond to parental concerns and inquiries in a timely manner.”

In his email to the school community, Powers said the attacks on him have been personal and without merit, as Jones has significantly improved its academic standing since he arrived in 2018.

“They are now even attacking me for visiting my wife on weekends at our home in St. Louis and attempting to spend some time with my children,” he said of the residency violation accusation.

He noted that after more than a dozen years of receiving performance reviews averaging reviews of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale, the current LSC gave him a 1.7.

Powers accused the LSC members of aiming to have him removed in a bid for reelection this spring. “Even if I do retire, it will not stop the efforts of current Jones LSC leadership from undermining the work we have all dedicated ourselves to at Jones,” he wrote.

Powers didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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