PILSEN — In an emotionally-charged meeting, Orozco Elementary's local school council moved to fire the school's principal Thursday.
On a 9-0 vote, council members recommended the dismissal of Orozco Principal Nancy Paulette-Aguirre. The fine arts and performing arts neighborhood school, which houses a regional gifted program for Spanish-speaking English-language learners, serves students from kindergarten through eighth grade in Pilsen.
The 100 parents who attended the meeting Thursday were split on the board's decision, but teachers largely backed the board's move.
In the 2½ years that Paulette-Aguirre has served as the school's leader, Orozco's academic rating by CPS moved from good standing to excellent standing. Attendance has also improved, she said at the meeting.
But Miriam Arriaga, chairwoman of the council, said the principal's lack of rapport with the council, parents and teachers has created "a toxic environment of division and apathy." The current council has been in place for about three months.
In Spanish, Arriaga said Paulette-Aguirre submitted the school's 2014-2015 budget to her supervisor Theresa Plascencia without ever consulting the board. That budget, under a previous council, was not approved due to lack of votes, Arriaga said. Because of that, books and other materials were not ordered and the board ultimately blames Paulette-Aguirre, she said.
The school has faced a number of problems under Paulette-Aguirre's tenure, the Arriaga said. Among other complaints, Arriaga blamed the principal for "chaos" and constant turnover: She said the school has had four different bilingual coordinators and two assistant principals in the past two years. Instructional time is constantly "unexpectedly interrupted" by the principal, Arriaga alleged.
Now that the council has requested Paulette-Aguirre's removal, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett will have 45 business days to approve or deny the recommendation, according to a source familiar with CPS protocol. Bennett could also decide to move the principal to another school or role in the district.
Despite the vote, council members said they expected the principal to be in school on Friday. Because her current contract runs through 2016, Bennett must approve the council's request.
Paulette-Aguirre said in the meeting that she is being "convicted" and removed by the board without knowing what she is accused of doing. Sources close to the administration said that the principal did not know the board was going to move to remove her until this week.
"As an American citizen, I feel my rights have been totally violated," she said. If Bennett approves the board's request, Paulette-Aguirre plans to seek legal action, she said, but declined to discuss the situation further.
Prior to coming to Orozco, Paulette-Aguirre served as principal at Barry Elementary School on the city's Northwest Side, she said.
Before the meeting, about a dozen parents picketed in front of the school in protest of the council's impending action. Parent Jose Hernandez, who said he believes the principal has done a "great job," said too many questions surrounded the dismissal.
"Orozco Academy is considered one of the best schools within CPS," said Hernandez, who has a daughter at the school.
Parents supporting the principal said that the new council has created tension in the school and with Paulette-Aguirre, not the other way around.
Alyssa Dons, one of two teacher representatives on the council, said the school achieved its excellent standing rating because of the hard work of teachers, not the principal.
The Orozco Local School Council typically has 12 members including the principal. Before the controversial vote and fighting back tears, member Eva Gomez, an educational support employee at the school, resigned from the council. Another member was absent, and Paulette-Aguirre, who also functions as an council member, abstained from the vote.
About 600 students attend the school at 18th Street and Damen Avenue.
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