BUCKTOWN — An educator who one parent described as "the heart" of the city's first Montessori magnet school is joining the ranks of elementary school principals who have resigned from top-rated Chicago Public Schools in recent weeks.
Mark Neidlinger, 45, at the helm of Drummond Montessori School at 1845 W. Cortland St. in Bucktown since 1999, helped to transform the school into Chicago Public School's first Montessori school nine years ago.
"We didn't have any idea he was going anywhere anytime soon," Jonathan Goldman, a local school council member, said of Neidlinger's departure, which was announced by the veteran principal in an Aug. 15 letter to parents.
"Mark is the heart of the school and has been great. He deserves a lot of the credit for the progress we have made at the school and the success of the Montessori program," Goldman said.
Goldman added: "It would seem there's an environment in CPS that, for whatever reason, people have been leaving, good people going out the door."
Drummond is one of only three Montessori schools in the Chicago Public School system and the first to offer a "whole-school" Montessori program for grades K-8, according to the CPS Office of Access and Enrollment.
Additionally, Drummond, which will see budget cuts in the 2013-14 School Year, has a waiting list of 2,700 students and an involved community with 12 parent-led committees, sources said.
The news of Neidlinger's departure from Drummond came just 11 days before students are scheduled to return to classrooms Monday.
In an heartfelt letter to parents, Neidlinger said he "regrets the timing of the notice."
But, added, he is confidant that "this community will circle around our collective beliefs in education and child development to hire the best principal possible to bring Drummond Montessori and our students the phenomenal future that we have begun."
To that end, Neidlinger plans to stay at Drummond through Sept. 27, to see students back to school and help the local school council begin the process of the search for his successor.
Neidlinger told parents he was leaving Drummond to take a position at a Montessori school "nestled in a small lakeshore town in western Michigan" not far from where he has had a cottage for the past 20 years.
Neidlinger said he was "profoundly grateful" to the CPS Central Office "for their ongoing commitment to Montessori as an offering within Chicago Public Schools" and made it clear that his resignation was not driven by "the rough road that our school system has found itself upon."
"This decision is solely based on a change of location, not at all on our school system," Neidlinger said.
Neidlinger's resignation joins a string of other CPS elementary school principals who've opted to leave the Chicago school system in the past year.
In July, Ravenswood Elementary School principal Heather Connelly announced her decision to take a job in Iowa and cited "the stresses of the constant turmoil that has plagued CPS" as one factor in her career move.
Also in July, Michelle Garcia-Jones, the principal of a East Humboldt Park's Chopin Elementary School, a CPS "welcoming school" that is scheduled to absorb students from a shuttered school, resigned as well.
Last winter, Lasalle II's principal, Suzanne Velasquez-Sheehy, left the Wicker Park elementary school at 1148 N. Honore St. to start a new charter high school and has been replaced by Lauren Albani, former principal of the now-closed Lafayette School.
Later Thursday, CPS' Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are scheduled to host a press conference highlighting "the achievements of CPS principals."
Goldman said the LSC members plan to discuss the Drummond principal search during their next Meeting at 6 pm. on Monday.