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Heated Cassell Principal Selection Meeting Ends Without A Decision

By Howard Ludwig | May 4, 2016 7:57am | Updated on May 4, 2016 9:23am
 A heated meeting at George F. Cassell Fine Arts School in Mount Greenwood ended late Tuesday evening without the selection of a new principal. The meeting included passionate testimony from teachers and students in support of both candidates.
Cassell Elementary School
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MOUNT GREENWOOD — A heated meeting at George F. Cassell Fine Arts School in Mount Greenwood ended Tuesday evening without the selection of a new principal.

Parents, teachers and staff gathered at 5:07 p.m. in the auditorium at 11314 S. Spaulding Ave. The Local School Council was planning to vote on one of two candidates for school principal.

The two candidates addressed many of the same faces at a public forum Monday evening. Interim principal Cory Overstreet is in the running for the position, along with Eileen Scanlan, the former assistant principal at Cassell and current principal at Kate S. Kellogg Elementary School in North Beverly.

The principal selection process began with the mid-year retirement of longtime leader Denise Esposito, who announced her plans Feb. 16 in the wake of budget cuts handed down by Chicago Public Schools.

Cassell was facing $63,262 in cuts or 3.17 percent of its overall budget. Esposito said she opted to retire rather than cut staff at the school with 403 students. She also said Tuesday that her decision was made easier knowing Overstreet would fill her vacancy.

Esposito was principal of the school for 12 years. She was one of several people to address the crowd publicly Tuesday night. Her comments were critical of the principal selection process, took aim at the rumor mill that had been swirling ahead of the decision and supportive of Overstreet.

"Good luck, people," was Esposito's final statement as her minute-long comment period came to a close. She then abruptly dropped the microphone down on the council's table.

After the meeting, Esposito said she never would have retired had she known the principal selection process would have taken such a contentious turn. She added that she's worked with Overstreet for 3½ years as assistant principal at Casssell and firmly supports him for the job.

Meanwhile, Esposito also worked with Scanlan for six years in the same role. And she believes that a small, vocal group of parents and teachers have been working behind the scenes to bring her back since the opening was announced.

A group of students at George F. Cassell Fine Arts School in Mount Greenwood played outside while parents and teachers waited for word on the selection of a new principal. The meeting ended at 7:35 p.m. Tuesday without a decision. [DNAinfo/Howard Ludwig]

Ann Donovan of Mount Greenwood was one of about a dozen teachers to publicly support Overstreet as part of a group at Tuesday's meeting.

She has taught special education courses for 11 years at the school, working with both Overstreet and Scanlan. She said the tension throughout the building has been "disgusting" in the lead up to the principal selection.

"The LSC is constantly leaking information. There is a lot of gossip going on," Donovan said.

Following the public comment period, LSC chairwoman Mary Fahey Hughes announced the results of a vote that was taken among audience members at the principal forum on Monday. Of the 167 votes cast, 91 were for Scanlan and and 76 were for Overstreet.

Parents overwhelmingly supported Scanlan with a 68 to 32 vote, and community members favored her by a margin of 16 to 12, said Hughes, adding that she was making the information public since most of the crowd had already heard the results of the poll through the grapevine.

Meanwhile, teachers voted 20 to 5 in favor of Overstreet. The school's non-teaching staff also supported Overstreet by a 12-2 margin, Hughes said.

Donovan said the teachers' vote should speak volumes. And she believes Scanlan's edge likely comes from her roots as a lifelong 19th Ward resident. Overstreet hails from downstate Champaign and lives in Pilsen.

She too reiterated Esposito's claims that support for Scanlan is being driven by a small but influential group of parents and teachers. But she believes that Overstreet is a better fit and said other teachers feel similarly — though some are afraid to say so publicly fearing reprisal.

"Cory is very level-headed and a leader," she said.

But Patti Swistowicz of Mount Greenwood said Scanlan simply stood out as the better candidate after the presentations Monday night. She brought three of her four children to the selection meeting Tuesday.

Her kids stood up as their mother made made a tearful plea for LSC members to choose the best candidate for them. She was also critical of the gossip that had been swirling about both candidates and their supporters in recent days.

"It's a great school. And the great legacy that was here, and it is going to sh--," Swistowicz said.

She later added that her tenure at Cassell has included interaction with both Overstreet and Scanlan. And while she has nothing bad to say about either principal candidate, Swistowicz said she preferred dealing with Scanlan.

At 7:35 p.m., Hughes addressed the few remaining parents, teachers and media. She said no decision was going to be reached that evening. A follow-up meeting is being planned, and the details are pending, she said.

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