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Peirce School Votes To Part Ways with Principal in Wake of Student Suicide

By Benjamin Woodard | January 16, 2015 5:29am | Updated on January 16, 2015 12:46pm
 A Local School Council member said the handling of student McKenzie Phlipot's suicide was a "catalyst" for principal Nancy Mendez's (pictured) removal at the end of the year.
A Local School Council member said the handling of student McKenzie Phlipot's suicide was a "catalyst" for principal Nancy Mendez's (pictured) removal at the end of the year.
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Peirce School of International Studies

EDGEWATER — The Local School Council at the Helen C. Peirce School of International Studies voted Thursday to part ways with principal Nancy Mendez in the wake of a student's suicide.

Eight of the LSC's 11 members voted against renewing Mendez's contract, leading the Peirce principal of seven years to storm out of the meeting.

"The LSC did not take their decision lightly," said LSC chair Jeffrey Korte shortly before the votes were tallied at the school, 1423 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. "A lot of work has been done."

The LSC distributed surveys to parents and teachers over the last few months as it deliberated whether to keep Mendez at the helm, said Maria Rodriguez, a community representative on the LSC.

Rodriguez could not comment on specifics of the LSC's discussions about Mendez's contract, but said the principal's response to the suicide of McKenzie Phlipot, a 12-year-old whose parents claimed bullying at the school was to blame, amplified a lack of leadership.

McKenzie's mother filed a lawsuit against Chicago Public Schools in October about the alleged bullying. An internal CPS investigation found "no credible evidence" that McKenzie was bullied at the school before her suicide.

"I think it was a catalyst," Rodriguez said after the meeting.

But for years, she said, improvement goals set yearly for Mendez by the LSC were not met.

Some of the bigger issues included lack of communication with parents and a low morale at the school, she said.

"She's inaccessible," Rodriguez said. "I don't think there was any self-reflection either."

Rodriguez added that since McKenzie's suicide, Mendez and the community have come together to heal. Under Mendez's leadership, with the help of elected officials, an anti-bullying campaign has been implemented.

"Principal Mendez has worked hard to build these programs at school," she said.

A teacher and a parent, who declined to give their names, said the vote to part ways with Mendez was a "witch hunt" after the community wanted answers from the school after McKenzie's suicide.

"You can't stop bad things from happening," said the parent.

Before the vote, two teachers at the school voiced their support for Mendez and the progress Peirce had made over the years.

After the vote, Senn High School Principal Susan Lofton was in attendance and ran after Mendez, then returned and addressed the LSC.

"I know this has been a rough evening for everyone," she said. "She's obviously upset — it's hard for another principal to see."

Lofton said Senn would continue to support Peirce.

"We're your partner school, and we'll continue to help Peirce thrive," she said.

Now the search begins for a new principal, as Mendez finishes her final year at the school.

"We're going to rebound," said Rodriguez, of the LSC. "We're really going to be the gem of Edgewater."

The LSC voted to renew Mendez's contract as follows:

Parent representatives:

Jeffrey Korte, No
Joe Dunne, No
Jose Guadalupe Garcia, No
Bill Kennedy, No
Kathryn Ahitow, No
James Morgan, No

Community representatives:

John Albrecht, Yes
Maria Rodriguez, No

Teacher representatives:

Bridget Fabianski, No
Christine Drase, Yes

Non-teacher staff representatives:

Sandra Leander, Yes


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