HUMBOLDT PARK — The Chopin Elementary School Local School Council voted Wednesday to retain the school's interim principal, to the relief of parents and staff who feared they'd be seeing their fourth principal in as many years.
The school's last principal, Michelle Garcia-Jones, left last year after just one year to take a job in Las Vegas. CPS named Frederick Williams to be interim principal for the 2013-14 year, making him the school's third principal in three years.
Additionally, Chopin is the welcoming school for the shuttered Lafayette Elementary School, whose parents and staff also saw three principals in three years due to that school's closure and the 2011-12 principal's contract ending.
"We definitely need some continuity after a year like this," said Rosemary Maurello, a second-grade teacher at Chopin who had worked at Lafayette. "We have two communities, even though they're similar communities, but it's two groups of kids coming together and they need continuity."
Williams has been well liked, and teachers feared he was going to be booted when they caught wind that the council was looking at other resumes.
In addition, the council was keeping the process behind doors, "which is their right," Maurello said. "It just made us nervous because we didn't know what's going on."
It is up to a local school council to decide how much — or how little — it involves the community and staff, but those who'd come from Lafayette felt doubly left out because the council had been elected last year and so only had representatives from the old Chopin.
"The LSC was already in place before we ever got here," Maurello said.
Still, even teachers who have long been at Chopin were uneasy before Wednesday's vote.
"That's been the conflict," said third-grade teacher Beverly Allebach, now in her 16th year at Chopin. "We've had know idea which way they [the LSC] were going."
Once Wednesday's meeting got started, council Chairman Maria Sotello wasted no time telling the dozens of parents, teachers that they had decided to give Williams the four-year contract, prompting the obviously tense crowd to erupt into cheers.
"This is a huge relief," Allebach said when it was all said and done.
Sotello said she and the other council members knew tensions were beginning to brew over the principal selection process, but said they were just trying to do things right.
"We just had to follow the process, and we wanted to go by the book and do things the right way," she said.
She also acknowledged that some from Lafayette felt left out and said she looked forward to electing a council for next year that represents both schools.
"It was a hard transition and we tried to bring unity to the parents," she said. "We want all parents to be informed."
As for Williams himself, he said he was just glad to be staying on at the school.
"It's been really hard as a welcoming school, bringing the two schools together, finding common community and common ground, but being given the chance to continue that work with my staff and my students — it's an honor. It's truly an honor," he said.