WEST ENGLEWOOD — When students, teachers and staff return to Charles Earle STEM Elementary School from their holiday break on Monday, they will be greeted by a new principal.
Demetrius Hobson is the interim principal at Earle, 2040 W. 62nd St., until a permanent principal is named to replace Ketesha Melendez, who was abruptly removed last week. Previously, Hobson was acting principal at Woodlawn Elementary School.
Joel Hood, a spokesman for Chicago Public Schools, said Melendez would be reassigned to an “unspecified position within the network” on Monday.
“CPS has decided a change in leadership at Earle Elementary School is in the best interests of the students, parents and teachers,” Hood said. “CPS will continue to work with the new principal and the school community to ensure a smooth transition that will ensure the highest quality of education for every student at Earle.”
Some faculty and members of the Local School Council said they were stunned by the announcement.
“It came as a shock to me when I found out Mrs. Melendez was gone," said Janette McNair, an LSC member at Earle and the school's dean of students. "She was doing a great job improving the school if you look at our test scores,” McNair said. “This sounds like something personal because why else would CPS remove a principal doing a fine job in the middle of the school year?"
McNair said she was supposed to meet with the new principal Thursday, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute.
In September, a group of parents complained about Melendez's leadership style and her efforts to have students meditate at school.
Hood said the principal change was made “after carefully evaluating community input."
"[It] was one of many factors CPS took into account before making this change," he added.
However, local community organizations, such as Sustainable Englewood Initiatives, Pastors of Englewood and the Residents Association of Greater Englewood, said they were unaware of the principal change at Earle.
"STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] schools bring in a lot of 'outside influences, so that could have played a part in her removal," said John Paul Jones, president of Sustainable Englewood Initiatives. "I am surprised to see her go because I thought she had things stable over there."
While local school councils normally hire and fire principals, Hood said Chicago Public Schools took that responsibility away from the LSC at Earle in 2005, for reasons he did not explain.
The Illinois School Code allows for a school district's CEO to remove a principal at a probation school, such as Earle STEM, if academic progress is not shown "within one year."
Melendez has been principal at Earle since 2011, Hood said.
Hobson and Melendez were unavailable for comment.