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Andrew Jackson Principal Leaving for Administrative CPS Role

By Stephanie Lulay | January 21, 2015 6:20am
 Matthew Ditto, principal at Andrew Jackson Language Academy, has announced he will leave the school early to take on a new CPS role.
Matthew Ditto, principal at Andrew Jackson Language Academy, has announced he will leave the school early to take on a new CPS role.
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DNAinfo/Chloe Riley

NEAR WEST SIDE — The principal at Andrew Jackson Language Academy will leave the school this month for a different job in the Chicago Public Schools.

In a letter to Andrew Jackson parents, Principal Mathew Ditto wrote that his last day at the school would be Jan. 30. Ditto previously planned to leave when his contract expired in July.

Ditto is exiting his contract early to take on a new CPS role, he said in the letter. CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey confirmed Ditto is transitioning to an administrative role within the district, "where he will oversee and support growing achievement at struggling schools."

"His proven track record at Andrew Jackson, a National Blue Ribbon school, will lend itself to enhancing both math and literacy performance in schools across the district," McCaffrey said.

Jackson Local School Council Chairwoman Angela Bryant said that the board knew it was possible Ditto could leave the grade school before the end of his contract.

"Principal Ditto has been the principal of our top-performing school for the past nine years. We knew it was very likely that he would be sought after," Bryant said. 'We're not surprised that he has secured another position at this point."

Citing personnel privacy, Bryant declined to further discuss Ditto's departure.

Andrew Jackson Language Academy, a lottery-admission school, is one of the toughest for a student to get into and has long posted some of the top test scores in the city.

Until Jackson's Local School Council selects a new principal, CPS will select an administrator to work with Jackson's Resident Principal Marilou Rebolledo to lead the school.

Bryant said the board expects to post the open job in the next month.

"We're very excited to see what's out there and we'll be accepting applications very soon," she said.

Ditto, who could not be reached Tuesday, said in the letter that it was a privilege "to support the progress of thousands of students, teachers and families in the Peace Corps and the Chicago Public Schools."

In August 2013, Ditto was one of 134 principals to win a $5,000 bonus from CPS for "excellent" performance — money he then donated to the school.

Sex slides

In November, Andrew Jackson Language Academy was at the center of a CPS controversy after racy sex ed slides were displayed at a school meeting.

In response to parent concerns, Ditto said the materials were "mistakenly downloaded" and displayed in a binder labeled as curriculum for fifth-grade students. CPS officials said that the slides were meant to be used as teacher reference materials and promised to "scrub" all CPS sex ed materials, removing questionable slides in the process.

Criticized by some parents as obscene and not age-appropriate, the shocking materials labeled for fifth graders at Andrew Jackson Language Academy contained phrases including "Once you pop, you don't have to stop!" and "Got issues? Lube! Lube! Lube!"

Unauthorized purchase

Ditto, whose contract was set to expire in July of this year, first announced he would step down at the end of his term at an local school council meeting in October 2013. The announcement came after he admitted he didn't get required approval from the council before buying new laptops for teachers this summer,

At the 2013 meeting, Ditto denied his decision to leave was connected to the computer purchase.

"It's the end of nine years at the school, and I think its time for me to move on," he said at the meeting.

Bryant said at the time that the board was "quite concerned" about Ditto's decision to spend $30,000 in school funds to buy 33 Dell laptops for teachers without telling the council or getting its permission.

Ditto was hired as principal at Andrew Jackson in 2007 after working for a year at the school under the previous principal.

Teacher survey

Despite the school's test scores, an annual survey conducted of students and teachers in the CPS system shows that teachers might have had issues with the school's culture and climate under Ditto's leadership.

The 5Essentials report developed by the University of Chicago summarizes teacher answers to those survey questions. In 2014, Andrew Jackson scored high in the collaborative teachers and strong families categories, neutral in the supportive environment and ambitious instruction categories and weak in the effective leadership category.  

Andrew Jackson's principal instructional leadership scored a 7 on a scale of 1 to 100 in the 2014 report. The CPS average in that category is 58.

In 2012, the school scored a 41; in 2013, a 34 in the principal instructional leadership category.

Andrew Jackson teachers surveyed in 2014 reported:

• 60 percent disagreed that the principal participated in instructional planning with teachers.

• 50 percent disagreed when asked if the principal knew what was going on in their classroom.

• 60 percent disagreed when asked if the principal understood how children learn.

• 60 percent disagreed that the principal set a clear vision for the school.

Teachers generally agreed that Ditto encouraged teachers to implement what they learned in professional development, carefully tracked student academic progress and set high standards for student learning.

In 2012 and 2013, the school scored neutral in the effective leadership category.

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