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Peterson Principal Who Lashed Out at Rahm Gets Some Local Support

By Patty Wetli | May 15, 2014 12:54pm | Updated on May 16, 2014 9:46am
 Adam Parrott-Sheffer, outgoing principal at Peterson Elementary, says the Emanuel administration shows "disregard and disrespect" for educators.
Adam Parrott-Sheffer, outgoing principal at Peterson Elementary, says the Emanuel administration shows "disregard and disrespect" for educators.
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NORTH PARK — One of the voices in a recent chorus of school principals lashing out at Mayor Rahm Emanuel has some support on his local school council, with an LSC member saying "the folks in charge seem so disconnected from the boots-on-the-ground reality."

Adam Parrott-Sheffer, who just resigned as principal of of Peterson Elementary, a neighborhood elementary school with an "excellent" performance ranking, posted a lengthy opinion column on Monday to Catalyst, an independent, education-focused publication.

"Most policies enacted over the past two years demonstrate both a complete incompetence in the ability of this administration to implement anything effectively, and an intentional disregard and disrespect of those charged with improving the lives of our city's children on a day-to-day basis," wrote Parrott-Sheffer.

Parrott-Sheffer's comments came as Troy LaRaviere of Blaine Elementary and others publicly charged that the current district administration disregards educators' opinions and expertise in developing and implementing education policy.

LaRaviere was the first to break his silence in a scathing letter to the editor printed Saturday by the Sun-Times, titled "Under Emanuel, Principals Have No Voice." He has since created a blog where he's collecting responses from his peers — some anonymous, some signed, all of them echoing LaRaviere's assertion that principals' voices have been "ignored and even suppressed ... in order to push City Hall's political agenda for Chicago's schools."

Parrott-Sheffer wrote that "the lack of principal and teacher voice in this dialogue — which my heroic colleague Troy LaRaviere has written about in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed — has turned promising ideas into harmful practice. When this is coupled with implementation so poor it borders on malpractice, it is time for significant changes in our approach."

He cited the longer school day, a key initiative of Mayor Emanuel's first year in office, as an example of misguided efforts, saying the change made it "more difficult to run after-school or before-school programs, and we lost 30 minutes of collaborative time each week."

"After two years of implementation, I would be hard-pressed to claim that our students have reaped any instructional benefit from this increased time."

New mandates, including daily physical education classes, were handed down without resources to enact them, Parrott-Sheffer said said.

Carmen Rodriguez, a parent representative on Peterson's Local School Council, said, "I understand where Adam's coming from."

"The notion that the Board is dysfunctional, disrespectful and illogical in its rollout and use of otherwise potentially good practices is obvious to the naked eye," she said in an email.

"Schools having to shift the librarian, ELL [English language learner] lead teacher and other specialists into classroom detail because the luxury of a librarian or a pull-out bilingual class is absurd? Schools using walking down the hall as ‘transition’ time to eat up the longer school day?  You could work an SNL ["Saturday Night Live"] skit off of the truth and it would be hilarious if it wasn’t so awful," she said.

"The fact is, the folks in charge seem so disconnected from the boots-on-the-ground reality it is a wonder there still are talented, committed people in positions of leadership and instruction at CPS," Rodriguez said.

At the time of his resignation, Parrott-Sheffer told DNAinfo Chicago he made the decision to accept a principalship in suburban Burr Ridge "based upon some personal and professional changes which have occurred over the past year."

The administrator is the product of a Teach for America program in which promising TFA graduates complete a master's degree in school leadership through the Harvard Graduate School of Education and are placed first in an internship and then full-time CPS principal position.

In an email to DNAinfo Chicago on Thursday, Parrott-Sheffer said that, having previously taught in other urban school districts, including Philadelphia, he came to CPS with his eyes wide open.

"You don't go into urban education expecting roses and candy canes.... Many of the challenges we face in Chicago are true in cities across this nation. I think what makes Chicago unique is there seems to be an arrogance that those in schools aren't worth listening to and that policy should be primarily top-down instead of bottom-up," he said.

Though Parrott-Sheffer admitted that "grassroots and person-based policy is difficult" he said, "The result of those efforts, even when they are uneven, are more effective than efforts at command and control."

Rodriguez was a member of the principal selection committee that offered a contract to Parrott-Sheffer and said it will be a challenge to find a replacement.

"It will be tough to find someone who’s experienced, talented and ambitious. Peterson has a uniquely strong and engaged network of parents, teachers and alum so I think they’ll be fine. Schools in areas where those connections don’t exist? Their prospects will be dismal," Rodriguez said.

In response to the principals' complaints, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett told the Sun-Times she invited principals to contact her directly if they're feeling marginalized or intimidated. "That's not an atmosphere in which people can work and be productive for kids," she said.

On Wednesday, Emanuel told reporters he and Byrd-Bennett regularly meet with principals.

"We want to hear about it if there's concerns," Emanuel said.

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