Sutherland Elementary School Divided By Principal Catherine Gannon's Firing

By Howard Ludwig on February 19, 2014 8:44am 

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 Parents, students, teachers and alumni of Sutherland Elementary School feel their community has been divided by the firing of Principal Catherine Gannon.
Firing Divides Sutherland Elementary
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BEVERLY — Parents, students, teachers and alumni of Sutherland Elementary School feel their community has been divided by the firing of Principal Catherine Gannon.

A passionate crowd packed the school's modest auditorium on Thursday night for Sutherland's Local School Council meeting. The standing-room audience was largely in support of Gannon.

The council voted Jan. 10 not to renew Gannon's four-year contract. She's vowed to appeal the decision.

Gannon's supporters made passionate pleas for the council members to rescind their 6-4 vote against renewing the principal's pact during the public comments portion of the meeting. Others attacked the process, including calling out a group of six council members known as the Bulldog Slate.

Keeley Binion Davis was the only audience member to speak in support of the council. She has a second-grade student at Sutherland and has seen two other children through the school at 10015 S. Leavitt St. Binion Davis said Gannon has treated her family well but feels she's been slow to compromise.

"We — as a community — have built this school. Sutherland was a Tier 1 school even before Ms. Gannon came," Binion Davis said to quiet applause.

Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association, solicited a much louder response from the audience as she read an open letter to the council in support of Gannon.

Before she read her fervid letter, Berry said Gannon's chances at successfully appealing her contract non-renewal are slim. In fact, she's never heard of any principal retaining his or her position over the objections of a council.

"It's unwinnable," Berry said.

Members of the crowd continued to insist that council members rescind their votes against Gannon throughout the nearly hour-long public comments portion of the meeting.

Jose Villasenor, deputy director of the office of local school council relations, said such a vote is possible, provided it's done before Gannon's contract expires on June 30.

"Though frankly, I've never heard of" a council changing its mind on a non-renewal of the contract, Villasenor said.

Grace Zarzecki, 17, and Aidan McClain, 17, both graduated from Sutherland in 2011. The recent alumni provided the most eloquent comments of the evening. They both credited the school for giving them a strong elementary education.

Zarzecki said she's thriving at Whitney Young Magnet High School. McClain said he's excelling in advanced courses at Jones College Prep.

They both supported Gannon and said the council's decision has divided parents, teachers and even students.

"I came here in support of this school," McClain said.

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