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Kilmer Elementary School in 'Turmoil,' Say Parents, Teachers

By Benjamin Woodard | December 3, 2012 6:27am | Updated on December 3, 2012 6:50am

ROGERS PARK — Kilmer Elementary School Principal Lawrence White was suspended in March after two students claimed he mistreated them.

Although he was quickly cleared by police of allegations he shoved the students, White didn't return to work until September.

Chicago Public Schools officials won't say what took them so long to allow him back to work, and even claimed the September strike might have had something to do with it — even though teachers didn't hit the picket line for months after he was cleared.

Approached outside Kilmer last month, White declined to comment on the situation and referred questions to the school district's communications department, which said the allegations were "unfounded."

Teachers, however, say they have concerns about White's leadership separate from the student claims. They say the school is in "turmoil" in White's second year as principal of the Far North Side elementary school.

The school was put on academic probation this year by CPS for low test scores.

Laurie Mann, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade science at the school, said she and other teachers haven't had proper support from the administration.

“The morale is horrible,” she said.

She complained about a lack of school supplies and said the school's report cards weren't prepared on time. She said bilingual children "are getting nothing."

“The kids are really suffering," said Mann, a teacher for 23 years. "I’ve never seen this level of incompetence."

CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus acknowledged there were "a few problems with one of the bilingual tests being administered late" at the school. She said officials were working with the Local School Council and with the community to address concerns. But the district is unaware of problems with the report cards, she said.

Parents aren't happy, either. At a Nov. 20 Local School Council meeting, Sophal Vann was among more than 50 parents who voiced their frustration.

"I see nothing but failure in this school," shouted Vann, who interrupted the meeting and was eventually asked to leave by the LSC chairwoman.

"You're a failure! You're a failure!" Vann shouted.

Vann, a 30-year-old Marine veteran, has two children at Kilmer, and his wife is an LSC member. The family is considering moving to a different school.

Several parents and teachers said White had instituted an "English-only" policy in classrooms, even though 60 percent of the school's students are Latino.

District officials said they did not have such a policy at the district level, and said they were not aware of one at the school.

Kilmer alum Cesar Ayala, 19, has two brothers still at Kilmer. The senior at the Chicago Math and Science Academy graduated from the elementary school in 2008, and now he worries about his brothers' futures.

"You need to back the teachers," he said to White at the meeting. "They need help. They need support. They need a leader."

After more than two hours of parent testimony, White responded that the meeting was "not the forum to have us discuss these types of issues."

Carlos Malave, 65, who has been active at Kilmer for 23 years and was part of the council that recommended White for the job, hopes teachers and parents can work out their differences with White.

"I don't know if it's his administrative style or what," he said.

When asked whether he believed it was the right decision to recommend White as principal, Malave said White hadn't been in the position for a long enough period to evaluate him properly.

He did say, however, that problems at the school are "beginning to pile up. I think tonight you're just seeing the beginning.''

Meanwhile, Katina Brown, whose son Quinton Brown accused the principal of shoving him, is considering further action. She said she was never contacted by CPS or the police after her son claimed White "pushed him, causing his head to hit the wall and caused a bump to the back of his head," according to a police report. The report also said that White allegedly pushed another student, whose name was redacted from the report, "causing his tooth to fall out."

"I want the principal removed," said Brown, 40. "I'm not resting easy with him in the school strutting around there like everything is OK."

But Sainvilus said White was resinstated after both the state Department of Children and Family Services and police found the allegations to be false.

"We cannot comment on any legal matters," she said. "Again, both DCFS and CPD found the allegations of the students against the principal to be unfounded."