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Parents Embark on Principal Search at Top-Rated Bucktown Montessori School

By Alisa Hauser | August 27, 2013 12:00pm
 The first local school council meeting of the year Monday was packed at Drummond Montessori School in Bucktown.  Principal Mark Neidlinger's resignation and the CPS protocol for conducting a principal search took up the first hour of the two hour gathering.
Drummond Montessori School August LSC Meeting
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BUCKTOWN — It might've been the first day of school for children, but Monday evening about 40 parents from one of three Montessori elementary schools in the Chicago Public School system got a crash course in "principal search process" protocol.

Filling the shoes of Drummond Montessori School's outgoing principal Mark Neidlinger and finding a "key ready" leader dominated the two-hour local school council meeting at the school, 1845 W. Cortland St. in Bucktown.

The city's first public Montessori school principal, Neidlinger announced his resignation in an Aug. 15 letter to parents.

Neidlinger, who will remain at the school through Sept. 27, told parents that Jane McDonald, a retired CPS principal, would be in charge during the search for his replacement.

Lynda Williams, chief of the CPS Fullerton Network, addressed questions from parents, while Eduardo Camecho, a senior compliance facilitator with CPS' Office of Local School Council Relations, circulated a seven-page presentation about the principal selection process.

The process requires the LSC to form a principal search committee and meet regularly to find a candidate that seven LSC members can agree upon.

The committee's meetings would be public under the terms of the Open Meetings Act, but certain matters such as the interviewing of the candidates would take place in private, Camecho said.

Describing Drummond as "one of the highest performing schools in the Fullerton network,"  Williams told the council members that they are going to be "undertaking a huge and important process of principal selection."

"Given you are a unique school with a unique curriculum, your search will look different," Williams said.

Williams said there were about 100 principals in the hiring pool of CPS principals, and there were  "about one dozen" Chicago public schools going through the principal search process.

While Drummond's LSC is welcome to conduct a nationwide search for a principal, that candidate would still have to go through CPS' principal eligibility process, Williams explained.

Williams said the process was "more rigorous" than in the past and "the pass fail rate is not as high as it used to be."

At the forefront of parent concerns was the future of Montessori education within CPS.  

"CPS wants to develop more specialty schools across the district but it will probably look different in coming years and the structure of specialty schools will change," Williams said.

Montessori education is more expensive, at least within CPS, with teacher take-home salaries at Drummond averaging $78,763, about 12 percent more than the average CPS district take home salary of $73,000, according to a minutes from a June meeting on the school's budget shortfall.

Meanwhile, the loss of Neidlinger has affected the small school's tight-knit community.

"On behalf of the LSC, we are devastated and want to thank you for your leadership and friendship," outgoing LSC chair Melissa Sterne told Neidlinger, who described leaving Drummond as "the hardest decision" he has ever had to make.

Also at the meeting, the 11 members of the LSC voted to place Jonathan Goldman back into the chair role, while Neidlinger announced that the school's assistant principal Michelle Masny would step down and become a reading specialist.

Michael Hannan, a Drummond parent, LSC member, and one of 18 volunteers to join the principal search committee, gave his personal thanks to Neidlinger after the meeting.

"I wish him well. He has qualities that are hard to find and he has the ability to provide teachers the space to be teachers. His love and understanding of Montessori and ability to work with the community will be missed," Hannan said.