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South Side Principal Leaves After Lawsuit, Petition Calling For Her Ouster

By Joe Ward | November 1, 2017 6:21am
 Nightingale Elementary Principal Margaret Kouretsos has resigned amid allegations of verbal abuse from teachers.
Nightingale Elementary Principal Margaret Kouretsos has resigned amid allegations of verbal abuse from teachers.
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GAGE PARK — The principal of Nightingale Elementary has left the school after allegations — and a lawsuit from teachers and parents — who accused her of verbal abuse.

Principal Margaret Kouretsos retired Friday from the $143,000 position, according to a letter CPS sent to Nightingale families. Kouretsos faced allegations that she verbally abused employees, retaliated against those who took sick days and kept a "black list" of enemies, according to teachers, a petition, Board of Education testimony and a lawsuit filed against her. A news report also claimed that she lashed out at those speaking Spanish in the school.

A petition calling for Kouretsos' ouster gained more than 1,000 signatures, and parents and former teachers have gone to Board of Education meetings asking CPS to intervene. A federal civil rights lawsuit was also filed against her by a former teacher.

"The mental anguish many of the staff members at Nightingale have felt is unspeakable," reads the petition begun by four teachers at Nightingale, 5225 S. Talman Ave. "Many of the staff members and parents at Nightingale stand in fear of Mrs. Margaret Kouretsos and have expressed being afraid of her retaliation."

Kouretsos, who the petition said has been at the school for six years, declined to comment for this story.

Allegations against Kouretsos also include questioning the validity of sick day requests and punishing staff for speaking Spanish in a school, according to a report in the Daily Beast.

The school's 1,250 students are 98 percent Hispanic and 95 percent low-income.

A lawsuit filed against Kouretsos by a former teacher, Christine Brown, includes allegations Kouretsos treated the teacher "in an unusually hostile and abusive fashion."

The lawsuit said Kouretsos told Brown she was unwelcome at the school, accused Brown of smoking marijuana in the bathroom (despite a negative drug test) and then threatened to write up the teacher for an unexplained absence after she took the drug test, the suit claims.

The lawsuit was dismissed after a settlement was reached, court records show.

"It's a pattern we're seeing," Maria Moreno, a former teacher at Nightingale and the current financial secretary of the Chicago Teacher's Union, said at a recent School Board meeting.

Teachers "experienced unease and anxiety, significant reports of depression, mental health issues. They feared retaliation."

Moreno said one teacher even had the validity of her need for surgery questioned.

"She questioned, 'Well, I don't think your doctor's recommendation is necessary for surgery. I'm going to ask doctors who live in my neighborhood,'" Moreno said.

Another teacher at a board meeting said Kouretsos had an "infamous black list" for teachers she was mad at: "Not even God can save you. ... She takes pleasure in making you feel bad and humiliated."

CPS confirmed Kouretsos had left but did not respond to questions about whether there had been an investigation into her actions. A Chicago Public Schools spokesman had earlier told the Daily Beast that officials “take these allegations very seriously, and a thorough review of the situation is underway.” 

A CPS spokesman said the school was part of the Independent Principals Program, which allows for minimal oversight of principals at high-performing schools, but that the designation was removed Oct. 2.

The school has received high ratings. It has the second-highest CPS rating and is in good standing with above-average student growth. In surveys, teacher-principal trust got a "neutral" grade, about average for CPS schools. Community involvement was considered "weak" when parents were asked if they felt welcome at the school, however.

A previously retired principal, Joyce Bristow, will temporarily fill in while CPS and the local school council work to find a new principal, CPS official Elizabeth Alvarez said in a letter to parents.

"We, as a school, will continue to provide the best education for our children," the letter reads. "Please know the LSC and [CPS officials are] committed to the families and communities of Nightingale as we select the best leader for Nightingale."