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Blaine Taps Angela Brito To Lead, But Former Co-Principals Remain A Team

By Ariel Cheung | January 25, 2017 8:32am
 Gary Norcross and Angela Brito, the interim co-principals at Blaine Elementary, are vying for the permanent top spot, but say they'll still work together regardless.
Gary Norcross and Angela Brito, the interim co-principals at Blaine Elementary, are vying for the permanent top spot, but say they'll still work together regardless.
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DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung

LAKEVIEW — If all goes as planned, few will notice a change in Blaine Elementary School's leadership next year.

While the Local School Council unanimously voted Tuesday to give Angela Brito the four-year principal contract, she intends to unofficially share the role with fellow interim co-principal Gary Norcross.

Prior to Tuesday's vote, both former assistant principals voiced their commitment to Blaine — and their close, chummy partnership — regardless of who received the official title.

"If you came here to see us duke it out and fight for who's the better candidate, I don't think that's what we're about tonight," Brito said. "We didn't get into this field because of a title or the money. You do it because you love the kids, and that's really what drives the work we do."

The council also hoped Brito and Norcross would continue to work together as co-principals, although LSC Chair Gina Abbatemarco noted the shared title would be unofficial, as Chicago Public Schools could not award a shared contract to both educators.

But, she added, the idea of sharing responsibilities as co-principals, albeit unofficially, is not unheard of in the district. 

During the meeting, parents and staff members quizzed the two finalists — selected from an initial pool of 10 applicants — on Blaine's middle school, how they'd face CPS budget cuts and whether they'd stay on as assistant principal if the other was chosen.

Both said it would be "an honor," as Brito phrased it.

"There are times in a career where there's something that clicks with the people you work with, and this is one of those times," Norcross added. "It's very meaningful work, and I wholeheartedly would want to continue that model."

Brito and Norcross first crossed paths four years ago, when then-Principal Troy LaRaviere plucked Norcross from Disney Magnet School and Brito from the shuttered turnaround school Bethune Elementary to be his assistant principals.

An Air Force veteran, Norcoss handles day-to-day operations and the organization of Blaine. His first tasks at the neighborhood fine arts school were revamping the after-school program and creating a staff schedule that allowed for better teacher collaboration.

Blaine Elementary School, 1420 W. Grace St. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

Brito oversees teacher development and staff synergy, the bigger-picture items like the two-year Continuous Improvement Work Plan. She studied education at the University of Wisconsin and taught nearby before working in schools in New York City, Portland and Chicago.

"We could do things independent of one another, but it makes it much more efficient and meaningful if we do it together," Brito said.

The two offered a shared vision for Blaine, with hopes of empowering students' voices and improving its offerings in science, technology, engineering and math. Both marked a collaborative and congenial faculty among their proudest accomplishments at Blaine.

Specific goals include expanding accelerated curriculum for middle school students who take math classes at Lake View High School and giving older students more choice in their elective classes.

The administrators would like to better prepare for budget cuts mandated by the district and said an additional assistant principal would not be part of their plans.

Particularly in the financial sense, "it just made the most sense that we continue in this model, just the two of us," Brito said.

Since July, Norcross and Brito have been leading Blaine as interim co-principals after LaRaviere's unexpected departure.

LaRaviere was yanked suddenly from Blaine in April, as the district sought to remove one of its most vocal critics two months after he entered the race to lead Chicago principals.

What began with a scorching op-ed in the Sun-Times blasting Mayor Rahm Emanuel escalated into a heated battle that drew attention from presidential primary candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, aldermen and the Blaine community.

Troy LaRaviere, Blaine's former principal, frequently spoke out about financial issues at Chicago Public Schools and the leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. [DNAinfo/Ted Cox]

The district accused LaRaviere of a pattern of rulebreaking and insubordination and ordered him to cease in a warning resolution issued at the start of the 2015-16 school year. LaRaviere denied any wrongdoing and blasted his dismissal hearing process as a "kangaroo court."

Ultimately, LaRaviere resigned in August with his trademark abundance of vigor, but not before he was elected to lead the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

There, he has set his sights on impacting school-level budgeting formulas, special education staffing, district revenue and spending habits and "absentee" facilities management — issues he previously spearheaded on a local level at Blaine.