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Principal Nate Pietrini Leaving Hawthorne Scholastic Academy

By Ariel Cheung | June 21, 2017 7:10am
 Principal Nate Pietrini greets students walking into Hawthorne Scholastic Academy on the first day of school on Sept. 6, 2016.
Principal Nate Pietrini greets students walking into Hawthorne Scholastic Academy on the first day of school on Sept. 6, 2016.
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DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung

LAKEVIEW — Another Lakeview school — the seventh in three years — is losing its principal after Nate Pietrini's announcement that he would be departing Hawthorne Scholastic Academy in the fall.

After five years at Hawthorne, 3319 N. Clifton Ave., Pietrini will become the executive director at High Jump, a nonprofit that enrolls more than 360 low-income Chicago middle school students each year in its two-year enrichment program.

High Jump provides intensive summer sessions, field trips and Saturday seminar classes where participants build roller coasters and test experiments. Nearly all High Jump alumni graduate high school, and nine in 10 go on to college.

Pietrini said the position aligns perfectly with his commitment to children in Chicago "who were denied opportunities that were afforded to the rest of us."

"I have always had a hard time picturing myself working anywhere but Hawthorne," Pietrini wrote in his Friday letter to the school community. But given the chance to lead such a "trailblazer" organization as High Jump, "I felt called to take it," he said.

Pietrini got his start within Chicago Public Schools as an assistant principal at Ogden International School. After two years, he arrived at Hawthorne and helped it climb the ranks to become a top elementary school in Chicago and one of the top 10 middle schools in Illinois.

Once he got to Hawthorne, he was willing to go to any length to help students achieve — even if it meant sleeping on the school's roof, which he did in 2013 as a reward for students who met their reading goals.

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Pietrini has recommended assistant principal Marisol Negron to replace him, both in an interim capacity and for the permanent role leading the literature and writing magnet elementary school.

The process to replace a principal within Chicago Public Schools can be swift, particularly with early consensus from the Local School Council on the best person for the job.

Across Lakeview's eight elementary schools and Lake View High School, all but two have changed principals in the past three years — a turn that mirrors what some consider a city-wide exodus with uncertain state education funding to blame.

RELATED: CPS Lays Off 34 Preschool Aides As District Changes Preschool Programs

Starting in July 2015 — the first month Illinois went without a state budget — Cindy Wulbert left Nettelhorst Elementary, 3252 N. Broadway, after eight years of overseeing the school's parent-led "remarkable turnaround."

Like others in her cohort that followed, Wulbert departed for a leadership role outside of school administration. Then-resident principal Yasmeen Muhammad-Leonard took on the lead role on an interim basis in time for the 2015-16 school year and was awarded a four-year contract in March 2016.

Following her were Lake View High School's Scott Grens, who headed to the suburbs in 2016, two years into his contract. His replacement, Paul Karafiol, is the third principal at Lake View in five years.

Principals at six of the nine CPS schools in Lakeview have departed since the start of 2016. Clockwise from top right: Diego Giraldo, Scott Grens, Troy LaRaviere, Nate Pietrini, James Gray and Carlos G. Azcoitia. [DNAinfo]

The most controversial turnover was the ousting of Blaine Elementary principal Troy LaRaviere, who was yanked suddenly from Blaine in spring 2016 as the CPS sought to remove one of its most vocal critics two months after he entered the race to lead Chicago principals (which he eventually won).

In his place, co-principals Angela Brito and Gary Norcross lead the school after serving together as assistant principals under LaRaviere.

Last year, Diego Giraldo departed from Inter-American Magnet School and Carlos G. Azcoitia — not to be confused with former Board of Education member Carlos M. Azcoitia — left after almost a decade at Greeley Elementary School that included a speech at the school by then-president George W. Bush in 2008.

Seeking a "new challenge," outgoing principal James Gray decided in December not to seek a third contract at Hamilton Elementary, 1650 W. Cornelia Ave., and will step down in July.

The educator will leave the district to launch Coach House Consultants, through which he plans to coach administrators at schools and nonprofit organizations in the education sector on policies based on his eight years at the helm of Hamilton.

While Gray hoped to tap assistant principal Yolanda Luna-Mroz as his replacement, Luna-Mroz instead accepted a principal contract at Decatur Classical School in West Ridge.

RELATED: Hamilton Principal Stepping Down After Fighting To Save His School

In April, the Hamilton Local School Council chose Wells High School assistant principal Amy Vondra to lead the school next year. Before her four years in West Town, Vondra was the resident principal at Infinity High School in Little Village and the executive director of America SCORES Chicago.

The now-departed Lakeview principals take with them their years of experience weathering the 2013 city-wide school closures, teacher strikes and repeated budget slashing that took tens of millions of dollars from neighborhood schools.

CPS Principals (from left) Scott Grens, Mira Weber, Katie Konieczny, Nate Pietrini and James Gray speak Monday, May 23, 2016, at a forum focused on changing how Illinois funds its school districts. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

Mira Weber and Catherine Plocher will be the only principals left in Lakeview who were there to rally parents in 2016 as the district faced "doomsday" budget cuts.

Weber's 10 years as principal of Agassiz Elementary now make her the longest-running administrator among the Lakeview neighborhood schools. At Burley Elementary, Plocher is entering her sixth year as principal.