'Rock Star' Principal Resigns to Launch New Charter High Schools
WICKER PARK— A beloved local principal described as "a rock star" is resigning, leaving to head up a Chicago charter school effort funded in part by Bill and Melinda Gates.
Suzanne Velasquez-Sheehy, who has led LaSalle II Magnet School since its inception in 2008, said her work there "has been the highlight of my career" but that her new post is an exciting "growth opportunity."
Velasquez-Sheehy will leave as principal of LaSalle II on Friday to launch five Intrinsic Schools, a charter high school effort that won $450,000 in grants from Next Generation Learning Challenges, a school initiative funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Intrinsic School's first location is expected to open in August on the Northwest Side, Velasquez-Sheehy said.
Velasquez-Sheehy, 47, who's been with CPS since 1987, announced her resignation on Monday during a Local School Council emergency meeting.
"I would never leave my school for just another elementary school. This is a whole new experience, helping to open five new schools. They are using a blended model, integrating online learning with traditional learning and that's at the forefront of education, utilizing technology," Sheehy said.
Velasquez-Sheehy said she was nevetheless sad to move on from the school she helped transform into an international language academy modeled after LaSalle Language Academy in Lincoln Park.
"It has been the highlight of my career to open LaSalle II and make it through the consolidation. It was challenging and rewarding and I will miss all the students, teachers and parents," she said. "I believe LaSalle II is on its way to becoming one of the best schools in CPS."
According to the district's 2012 School Progress Report, LaSalle, 1148 N. Honore St., was rated "Level 2," which is a middle rating at CPS. The school earned "above average" ratings in student growth and performance and the school's culture and climate was rated as "well-organized."
On Tuesday, Local School Council chair Tom Tomek, 55, a parent of two LaSalle II students, referred to Sheehy as "a rock star" and expressed sadness over her departure.
Tomek said he is not aware of any candidates to replace Velasquez-Sheehy but that the LSC will do its best to "get the job done" during the next six to eight months.
"We will certainly miss her. She was so receptive to parents, so easy to work with. She would go out of her way to accommodate any issues that a parent had," Tomek said.
By 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, shortly after dropping their children off at LaSalle II school, five parents were congregating at Lizzie's Bake Shop, 2136 W. Chicago Ave. and digesting the news.
One of the parents, Elizabeth Cohen, said that there "is no animosity toward Ms. Sheehy whatsoever."
"We loved her, she was great. We understand she has to move on. We are excited to see who we get next, but we wish her well," said Cohen.
Cathy Micinski, a Ukrainian Village parent of two fourth grade twins and a parent rep on the LSC, called Sheehy "a very smart woman and no one expected her to stay forever."
Micinski described Assistant Principal Bridget Malinowski as a "very capable" person who will supervise the rest of the school year "with the same culture and structure."
"We have plenty of time to find a new principal for next year," she said.
Reached by phone, Julie Dickinson, 41, a realtor and parent of two LaSalle students, said she worked closely with Velasquez-Sheehy in fundraising. She recalled how Velasquez-Sheehy was one of the very last people to leave the lawn of the school after a "snowmen" fundraiser event in December.
"She is incredibly hardworking and was there at the snowmen event all day until 5 p.m. and was sweeping up. She's not afraid to get her hands dirty," said Dickinson.
Dickinson gave props to Velasquez-Sheehy for being "smart, straight, and not dodging difficult issues."
"She is focused on taking the kids to next level. She helps support her teachers and grows them so they can in turn grow our kids," Dickinson said.
Wendy Weingarten, who teachers fourth grade, has worked with Velasquez-Sheehy since LaSalle II's beginning.
"Mrs. Sheehy has a created a wonderful foundation for the staff, students and families at LaSalle II. She will be greatly missed. I am honored and feel extremely fortunate to have worked with her from day one of LaSalle II’s inception," said Weingarten.
Velasquez-Sheehy "has made a lasting impact on me and I will continue to use what she has taught me throughout my teaching career," Weingarten wrote by email.
The local school council's next meeting is 6-8 p.m. Jan. 28 in the school's gymnasium.