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McPherson LSC Renews Principal's Contract, With Strings Attached

By Patty Wetli | January 16, 2013 12:36pm | Updated on January 16, 2013 5:03pm
 Carmen Mendoza's contract was renewed for another four years as principal of McPherson Elementary.
Carmen Mendoza's contract was renewed for another four years as principal of McPherson Elementary.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

LINCOLN SQUARE — McPherson Elementary's Local School Council has renewed Carmen Mendoza's term as principal for another four years, but added a set of goals to her existing contract: work toward wall-to-wall International Baccalaureate and expand communications both inside and outside the school.

McPherson already boasts an IB Middle Years Program, which fosters critical thinking, for sixth through eighth graders. The LSC's reference to wall-to-wall — extending IB to the primary grades — was listed as a long-term target, with communications clearly being placed on the front burner.

The contract charges Mendoza with, among other things, increasing traffic to the school's website, developing a plan to recruit more parent volunteers, and fostering collegiality among administrators, staff, parents and the community.

"These were very similar to the goals she had. These were also things critics pointed out that she had to work on," said Bob Farster, parent representative on the LSC and member of the council's principal retention committee.

The decision was announced at Tuesday night's LSC meeting.

The communications goal addresses McPherson's ongoing struggle to engage parents and community members. Tuesday's LSC meeting drew fewer than 20 attendees, the vast majority of them teachers.

"With 600-plus students and this is all the parents we get?" said Mike Carlson, LSC parent representative and the council's chairman.

"It's not a knock on anything that's happened in the past," said Farster. "We're asking Ms. Mendoza to say, 'These are my big things.'"

The renewal was the culmination of a review process notably more rigorous than in previous years, a practice questioned by some attendees.

The LSC gathered surveys from parents and community members, conducted a straw poll of McPherson's teachers and held a public forum in December. Mendoza's prior evaluations were taken into account.

Sarah Evans, a McPherson parent and member of the retention committee, explained that the group adhered closely to guidelines set forth in the official LSC handbook "so McPherson ends up with the best possible person in place."

"It's a huge process and I imagine [previous councils] skirted most of this," said Michael Gallagher, LSC teacher representative.

Evans even shadowed the principal for a day.

"You get to learn a lot about how she prioritizes," said Evans.

Ultimately, Mendoza received seven "yea" votes for retention. One council member abstained and one voted "nay."

"I think we're lucky to have Ms. Mendoza here," said Farster.

Mendoza has spent 28 years at McPherson, 4728 N. Wolcott Ave., the past 12 as the school's principal.

Speaking about her new contract's goals, Mendoza admitted that when she took over as the school's top administrator, she focused too narrowly on students.

"Marketing and promotion never occurred to me," she said. "You do have to market yourself."

The lack of parental interest has been a difficult nut for her to crack.

Parents filled the school's auditorium to capacity during McPherson's winter program — "They show up for their kids" — but when it comes to an information session on policy or curriculum, she's lucky to draw 30 parents.

"I can't pinpoint" the reason, she said. "I want to pack it in."