“I am more concerned than ever that my son doesn’t need to go here,” said Robert Davis, whose child attends the selective-enrollment school at 4445 S. Drexel Blvd.
Davis was one of more than 40 parents and students to complain at a meeting earlier this week about changes at King since the arrival of Principal Shontae Higginbottom in September.
At the Local School Council meeting, parents voiced their frustrations to Higginbottom as new revelations surfaced that she made a sexually loaded comment in front of parents and students at a Back to School Night event.
At that event, in reference to school rankings, she allegedly said that the only thing she wanted to be on the bottom of was her husband. She is married to Eric Higginbottom, whose brother Elzie was a top fundraiser for former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
The principal declined to comment Thursday.
Students' discontent with the principal peaked on Dec. 13, when the majority of the nearly 900 students at the school staged a three-hour sit-in protesting Higginbottom’s administrative style, which some consider abrasive and dictatorial.
“If a large group of kids in a community feel they’re not being heard, that’s a problem,” said Kiela Smith-Upton, the mother of a King senior. “The more and more they feel like they’re not being heard, the less likely they’re going to hear you or be engaged.”
Higginbottom has tightened security and increased academic accountability at the school. Parents have praised the move, but were upset that they were left unaware the changes were being made.
“When you say communication, we hear you,” Higginbottom said, adding that her office would work to improve outreach to parents.
Parent Reginald Lomax said communication was the LSC's responsibility as well and had harsh words for LSC chairman Lance Williams.
Williams opened the Wednesday night meeting with a presentation on school performance data not previously shown to parents that he said drove the decision to hire Higginbottom to fix a struggling school.
“As the LSC, you guys have a commitment to give us this information,” Lomax said, echoing other parents’ concerns that the council was avoiding its responsibilities to parents.
Members of the LSC urged parents to be more involved at the school.
“Parents, if you find communication is lacking, make the extra effort to find out what is going on,” said Reggie Jones, a parent member of the LSC.
Some parents were concerned that the council was trying to deflect the criticism from its pick for principal.
Since being hired by the LSC, Higginbottom has repeatedly been accused of making derogatory and inappropriate comments to students and teachers, in addition to the Back to School Night remarks. After a coach left the back door of the school open, she allegedly cursed at him — a confrontation some students heard — and had him arrested when he responded with derogatory language.
Higginbottom has reached out to students and parents since the sit-in, including two sessions open to the entire student body last week, which she said were poorly attended.
Masani Bediako, a parent of a senior, was critical of Higginbottom’s efforts, noting that the assemblies were optional and scheduled during other popular events at the school.
“This is almost planned to fail,” Bediako said.
Bediako and Lomax’s comments were unheard by Higginbottom, who left after the first hour and a half of the town hall. She said she had to care for an ill family member.
Katie Hickey, a spokesman for CPS, said in an email that Higginbottom "has been working on improving the line of communications between her and her students and their families. Relations are improving and we continue to provide support to keep the dialogue flowing."