PORTAGE PARK — A powerful alderman's sister who oversaw the closure of dozens of schools failed the Chicago Public Schools' principal selection test twice and is not eligible for the top job at Gray Elementary School in Portage Park, despite the support of its Local School Council, district officials said Tuesday.
Catherine Sugrue, the sister of Ald. Pat O'Connor (40th), has been an assistant principal at Gray Elementary School for a year. She applied to be principal and was picked by the Local School Council — only to have CPS officials block her selection.
Members of the Local School Council on Tuesday vowed to protest the district's decision, which they said was not in the best interest of the school's students or the Portage Park community.
O'Connor is Mayor Rahm Emanuel's City Council floor leader and one of the most powerful aldermen.
Heather Cherone discusses CPS' decision on DNAinfo Radio:
In 2013, Sugrue served as the district's director of school transition and oversaw 30,000 students displaced by the closure of 54 public schools in 2013, most on the south and west side.
O'Connor declined to comment on the matter, saying through a spokeswoman that he is not involved in his sister's career.
Nell McKitrick, director of principal talent acquisition for CPS, said Sugrue failed the two-part assessment twice in the last 12 months, and is not eligible to become a principal in a Chicago public school.
Sugrue can take the assessment again in three years, McKitrick said.
McKitrick declined to discuss what she called Sugrue's "deficiencies" on the assessment, but said Sugrue did not advance in the process after being interviewed by a two-person panel of experts.
The second part of the assessment requires the candidate to role-play a number of activities faced on a daily basis by principals, McKitrick said.
Anna Alvarado, the chief of elementary and high schools on the Northwest and Far Northwest sides, said Sugrue has "many strengths and skills" but does not "meet the district's standards for instructional leadership."
Local School Council member Sharon Donnawell said Sugrue was selected after a rigorous selection process that included 12 applicants and three finalists.
"We want her," Donnawell said, prompting loud cheers and applause. "We're not giving up."
The meeting turned contentious when parent representative Bob Brady told Alvarado and the other CPS officials they should leave Tuesday's meeting unless they could help the council find a way to hire Sugrue.
"We will fight this all the way to downtown," Brady said, to loud cheers.
If the council does not select a principal by July 1, Alvarado and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett will select an acting principal for the 2014-15 school year.
Protesting the decision to block Sugrue's selection and the board's principal selection policy would be pointless, Alvarado said.
"I'm going to be honest with you," Alvarado said. "You have to tell yourself this is not the time."
Sugrue, who also served as the No. 2 official in the district's Office of New Schools overseeing charters, could not be reached for comment Tuesday and did not attend the meeting.
If anything, Sugrue is overqualified to be principal of the school at 3730 N. Laramie Ave., said Elizabeth Miller, the council's community representative.
"She has had an amazing career," Miller said. "We didn't come up with anyone close to her during the selection process."
Sugrue spent 17 years as a CPS teacher before becoming an education consultant and working in the CPS central office, according to her Linked-In page.
The council knew Sugrue wasn't on the district's list of approved candidates for vacant principal positions when they offered her the job, Miller said.
"We believed it would be a formality with the LSC's support," Miller said. "I'm disgusted at the process."
More than 1,300 students attend Gray, which is ranked among the best in the city and offers a technology magnet program.
Principal Sandra Carlson, who has led Gray Elementary School for 15 years, plans to retire at the end of the school year to spend more time with her family.