ANDERSONVILLE — Three finalists are vying to become the next principal of Helen C. Peirce elementary school, a "divided" North Side school that experienced tragedy a little over a year ago when a student committed suicide.
After four months of deliberation, the Local School Council has narrowed it down to the following candidates: Denise Makowski, who has worked in Chicago Public Schools for 23 years, including as vice principal at Peirce, Ginger Hiltz, who has taught for 17 years, including at an International Baccalaureate School in South Carolina and Lori Zaimi, a parent of a Peirce student and, most recently, the assistant principal at Daniel Boone Elementary School in West Rogers Park.
One of them will replace Nancy Mendez, who served at the helm of the North Side school at 1423 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. for seven years before the Local School Council voted to part ways with her earlier this year in the wake of 12-year-old McKenzie Philpot's suicide.
McKenzie's parents said bullying at the school was to blame and filed a lawsuit against Chicago Public Schools. But CPS found "no credible evidence" of bullying before McKenzie committed suicide in May of last year.
A community representative on the Local School Council previously told DNAinfo Chicago that Mendez's response to the tragedy was a "catalyst" in the decision to part ways, but said there was also a lack of communication, failure to meet yearly goals and accessibility issue.
The decision left some parents feeling "blindsided." They thought Mendez was a great principal.
At a school forum Thursday, the division between parents and teachers was addressed by the three hopefuls, who shared their visions for the school and answered written questions from parents in attendance.
When asked what her top three priorities would be, Hiltz named "healing the community and bringing everyone together" as number one.
If given the job, Makowski said she would organize representatives from each organization to meet once a month with the principal and other stakeholders to make it a more "united community."
Zaimi shed tears when asked about the tragedy.
"I want every student to feel that there's an adult in the building and have the confidence that they can go to them," she said.
Everyone who attended the forum was given a sheet to provide feedback on each candidate. The Local School Council will use the feedback to select one of the candidates as the next principal at a public meeting scheduled for Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. in the school's field house.
Joe Dunne, a member of the council and the chairman of the principal selection committee, called the feedback from parents a "critical component" to the selection process, which is also being determined by interviews and site visits by the Local School Council.
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