STREETERVILLE — Ogden International School of Chicago Principal Kenneth Staral and his assistant principal, Anthony Vandarakis, have been abruptly "reassigned" and will be replaced by a retired administrator standing in until the school can find new leadership.
Parents and community members were livid at a public meeting called by the North/Northwest Side High School Network Tuesday evening, where Chief of Schools Leslie Boozer explained that the circumstances surrounding Staral's departure stemmed from a "personnel matter" and were confidential.
Without knowing the details of Staral's reassignment, parents and students were quick to defend his positive impact on Ogden International.
T.J. Bernahl, 16, a senior-to-be, said he'd take the necessary exams to graduate early if Staral isn't the school's principal next year.
"This was the best principal you could ever have at this school," he said. "He would try to make everything personal to you, he'd come up to you and shake your hand and remember every single name. I've been here since first grade, and he's the best principal we ever had. ... He was the heart and soul of this school."
LSC members, parents and guardians were notified of the decision in a letter from Boozer dated July 1 that promised the network office will provide administrative support "to minimize any disruption to the staff and students."
Staral and Vandarakis are on "temporary reassignment" while a legal team conducts an investigation, but Boozer could say no more. In response to a parent question, she said the matter "had nothing to do with any type of student endangerment," but noted that neither reassignment involves working with children.
Boozer said it's possible Staral will return to the position after the investigation is concluded, but said there's no way to know how long that would take.
"It can be short or sometimes they go on for a long time," she said.
Parents were alarmed at the sudden change in leadership as the school prepares to fill 14 vacant positions, and while the east campus awaits its International Baccalaureate authorization.
“This is a dramatic, sudden change to the school, and most of us aren’t happy about it," parent Greg Rubinsky said at the meeting, which was attended by more than 60 parents, students and faculty members.
The school's been growing steadily. East campus assistant principal Matthew Swanson said next year's incoming kindergarten enrollment is expected to fill six classrooms with 28 to 30 students per class.
The hunt for possible replacements for Staral kicked off Monday at an emergency, closed-session LSC meeting, according to parent member Karen Vincent. But Boozer said Tuesday that LSC members requested other candidates be considered, delaying the process of instating the network's pick, retired administrator David Domovic.
Staral made the news more than once during his tenure at the two-year-old school.
Early in the 2011 academic year, Chicago Public Schools launched an investigation into his expenditures on a district-issued credit card, finding nearly $17,000 charged at high-end restaurants and hotels overseas.
Last August, Staral was in the spotlight amid allegations that a staff member inappropriately touched a 6-year-old student with developmental disabilities.
Boozer encouraged parents to share their thoughts with her via email at email@example.com.