BEVERLY — Eric Aron Steinmiller wore cowboys boots as he introduced himself to parents and teachers on Thursday night at Sutherland Elementary School.
Hours later, the Arkansas native was offered the school's principal job and verbally committed to the post.
"I am really enthused about what I see throughout the building," Steinmiller told to the crowd gathered in Sutherland's auditorium at 10015 S. Leavitt St.
Steinmiller was one of two candidates who participated in the New Principal Candidate Forum. He was joined by Lisa Dallacqua, who currently serves as assistant principal at Inter-American Magnet School in Lakeview.
Steinmiller is the resident principal at North Lawndale College Preparatory High School — a position he's held since July 2013. Prior to his administrative role, Steinmiller spent a year as the English department chairman at Manley Career Academy in East Garfield Park.
Besides Arkansas, Steinmiller has also lived in Texas, Louisiana and a short stint in Italy before moving to Chicago. He is currently working toward a doctorate in urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"I'm not from Chicago. This was the worst winter of my life," he joked.
Sutherland's principal since 2006, Gannon has vowed to fight the decision through arbitration. If successful in proving her ouster was unfair, she could return to the school as principal, said Jose Villasenor, deputy director of local school council relations with the Chicago Public Schools.
"It's a completely unexplored subject because no principal has ever won arbitration," Villasenor said.
Parents, teachers and students packed Sutherland's auditorium for meetings in the months after the decision to dismiss Gannon. Her supporters made impassioned pleas to rescind the vote, while others questioned various stages of the process.
Many of these same critics arrived at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the office of Ald. Matthew O'Shea (19th). A meeting of the principal selection committee was scheduled to take place there immediately after the forum.
Several attendees questioned the late-night gathering as well as the location of the public meeting, which began in an room away tucked within a gangway and later moved to the lobby of O'Shea's office at 10400 S. Western Ave.
But the swift decision may have been driven by demand, as Steinmiller said he was also interviewing for administrative positions elsewhere.
Regardless, the decision to offer Steinmiller a four-year contract was made, and he committed via telephone shortly thereafter. Barring an arbitration ruling in favor of Gannon, he will become Sutherland Elementary's principal on July 1.
Sutherland parent Carolyn Wilbon of Beverly attended the candidate forum. She was impressed by Steinmiller and Dallacqua, saying they both promised to revitalize after-school programs.
"The current principal is good. She does a lot to really instill the core values in students. I feel like these candidates bring a fresh perspective," Wilbon said.
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