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Lake View Principal Wants New Survey of Her Performance After Some Vanish

By Serena Dai | March 28, 2014 9:41am
 Lake View High School Principal Lillith Werner requested that the school council reissue evaluation surveys after some went missing.
Lake View High School Principal Lillith Werner requested that the school council reissue evaluation surveys after some went missing.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — Lake View High School's principal is calling for a redo of a staff survey rating her performance after several of the evaluation forms went missing.

Lillith Werner, who's been a divisive figure among some of the staff, said four school employees approached her saying they never received surveys, which were supposed to be distributed to all staff mailboxes. Several others told her they did not know surveys had been distributed at all, she said.

The survey is administered by the Local School Council, which uses the feedback in its evaluation of Werner.

She asked that the LSC make another attempt at issuing them, with better control to ensure each staff member receives one.

Any results from the current round would be "unfair," she said.

"The results aren't accurate," she said. "No matter what."

Henry Kurzynski, a member of the Local School Council, said the council was told that some staffers suspect surveys were swiped by teachers trying to game the system.

Diana Hershfang, a council member and attendance office employee, also said one teacher out on leave asked Hershfang if another teacher could fill out the survey for her, a request Hershfang wanted to run by the council before saying no.

"It's been skewed. It's been mishandled," she said. "Adults are playing these little games. I don't understand that."

Hershfang suggested surveys be given out in person during report card pickup on April 8 so that teachers could sign off on receiving them.

"We're trying to find a safeguard way of assuring that each individual has one," Hershfang said.

Werner's request is not the first sign of internal tension and distrust among staff at the school.

Teachers have been sending anonymous letters to reporters, local officials and council members since the fall, alleging that Werner has instilled a culture of paranoia and intimidation at the school.

DNAinfo has spoken to about ten current and former teachers across four departments who wrote or supported the anonymous letters. The mostly tenured teachers did not want to be named out of fear of retaliation.

Part of the anxiety stems from power administrators have in CPS's new teacher evaluation system REACH. Under it, Werner and assistant principals Rhonda Varney and Michael Cox extensively observe teachers during class to judge multiple aspects of instruction.

Professional Problems Committee and teachers union rep Melissa Zagorski told the council Wednesday that teachers feel like they have to be "mind readers" to succeed.

"People are at a loss," she said. "And they're not happy."

Werner acknowledged that the new evaluation system has been "very challenging for teachers," she said. No conclusion was reached at the meeting regarding how to address the teachers' issues with REACH.

In response to other allegations against Werner, CPS Network Chief Craig Benes told the school council at a December meeting that he didn't think anonymous letters were a productive way to solve conflicts — pointing to the Chicago Teachers Union and the Professional Problems Committee as resources.

"I want the adults to use adult means to resolve their concerns," he said.

Council members were also cautious due to the anonymity of the letters and options already available to teachers. Several members told DNAinfo that they had not personally seen proof of alleged problems.

"Obviously, if there is validity to this stuff, it's something we should know about," council chair and parent Monte Luzadder said. "I don't know how we're supposed to deal with it if the teachers choose to remain anonymous indefinitely."

A few other staff members approached DNAinfo to say they considered the letter writers to be a small group of "toxic" people who are resistant to change.

"It's an old guard of thinking," said Jennifer Sutton, the STEM program manager. "It's disruptive to anything innovative and anything forward thinking."

But some teachers said they've tried to tell union reps, school council teacher members and others about problems but have been ignored. Others have been too afraid to say anything due to mistrust of representatives who are supposed to help, they said.

CTU spokesman Michael Harrington said in a statement that the union does not publicly share information about grievances filed at individual schools.

"There are people who don't speak to each other," another English teacher said. "There is distrust. Some of them are seen to be tight with the administration, some are not."

Last year, many people did not fill out principal evaluations. Each survey had a number on it, making some staff fear they may be retaliated against for negative comments, teachers said.

Werner's overall evaluation last year was "positive," Luzadder said, though fellow council member Kurzynski said Werner did get "very low ratings" in areas of interpersonal relationships with staff.

Kurzynski, whose wife works at the school, said he found it "odd" that Werner was concerned about four missing surveys out of some 130 distributed.

"From what I hear, she has more to worry about than just mishandled surveys," he said.

Council members agreed to reissue the surveys under Hershfang's plan. Since the vote was not on Wednesday's agenda and they could not legally vote on the issue, they decided to meet for a special meeting on Friday to finalize it.

The meeting will be at the school, 4015 N. Ashland Ave., at 6 p.m. and is open to the public.

"What's fair is that everyone gets one," Werner said.