Outspoken Chicago Principal Is Out At North Side Elementary School | WBEZ
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Outspoken Chicago Principal Is Out At North Side Elementary School

A popular, outspoken Chicago Public Schools principal is being removed from his North Side elementary school. A district official sent an email to parents at Blaine Elementary School Wednesday telling them that principal Troy LaRaviere is being reassigned.

“We were blindsided while everyone was out of town for break. Disrupting our kids' school year, at one of the highest performing schools in the district, is not acceptable,” Gina Abbatemarco, Blaine Local School Council Chair, wrote in an email.

A meeting has been scheduled for Monday at 6 P.M. at the school to discuss the change in leadership. CPS has appointed an interim principal, Pedro Alonso, who previously served as the principal of Von Steuben High School.

In a statement, a district spokeswoman says CPS removed LaRaviere because of alleged acts of misconduct, including violations of a Warning Resolution passed by the Board of Education. That warning related to LaRaviere’s resistance to central office pressure for all eligible students to be given the state PARCC exam.

LaRaviere has been a frequent and harsh critic of Chicago Public Schools, and of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in particular.

History of speaking out

There is a “code of silence” in CPS administration, and principals are not often authorized to speak publicly or to members of the news media without permission from central office.

The 2012-2013 school year was particularly tumultuous--with the first teachers’ strike in 25 years and the closure of 50 schools. During that time, principals’ voices were largely absent from the public narrative.

But in the summer of 2013, after significant cuts to school budgets, LaRaviere gave a scathing criticism of CPS budget cuts, saying that programs that helped him turn Blaine Elementary into a high performing school were “decimated.”

Listen to the full speech below:

Then, in an interview with WBEZ in 2014, LaRaviere spoke out about his frustration with the “code of silence” at CPS, referencing his time fighting overseas in the military.

“You are fighting for democracy, a way of life, a principle,” he said. “One of those being the freedom of speech. Frankly, my perspectives is—there’s no way on Earth that I’m going to go 5,000 miles across the Pacific to fight for a freedom against the likes of Muammar Gaddafi and then come back to Chicago and 25 years later have to relinquish that freedom to the likes of Rahm Emanuel.”

Political involvement

LaRaviere recently has been involved with local and national politics. He supported Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia in his mayoral run, which forced Mayor Rahm Emanuel into the first runoff election for mayor in the city’s history. LaRaviere was also in a campaign ad for democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Sanders released a statement Thursday calling CPS’s actions “politically motivated retaliation because he dared to stand up to the mayor of Chicago.”

“The only explanation for his removal appears to be Mayor Emanuel’s unhealthy obsession with taking revenge,” Sanders statement read.

A member of that organization, who did not want to be named because the person still works for the district, described the news of LaRaviere’s removal as “shock, horror, and a tragedy for his school, his family, and for CPAA.”

“It’s punishment,” the CPAA member said. “He’s being punished because they (CPS) do not want him to be the president of CPAA. It gives him a platform.

Current CPAA president Clarice Berry did not respond to requests for comment and it’s unclear how LaRaviere’s reassignment and possible removal could impact his candidacy. The CPAA election is coming up in May.

Grounds for removal tied to controversy over testing?

The Chicago Board of Education issued LaRaviere a Warning Resolution in August 2015. 

That resolution cites two incidents of LaRaviere’s alleged misconduct. The first involved LaRaviere interrupting a meeting to ask then-interim CEO Jesse Ruiz a question. 

The second revolved around a much broader debate over standardized testing. LaRaviere told parents at his school that if they did not want their children to be tested, the Blaine administration and staff would accept a written letter of refusal and would not give the test to students. 

The district insisted that state law requires administrators and teachers to present every eligible child with a test and then it’s on the child to refuse.

Cassie Creswell is an organizer with the group More Than A Score, which advocates against the use of high-stakes standardized tests and the money spent on them. She said she was not necessarily shocked by the news of LaRaviere’s removal, but found it very disheartening.

“Unlike at many places, he was not going to pressure families into taking the test and participating,” Creswell said. ““People who are professionals in education should have the freedom to speak out and say this is a taxpayer boondoggle and we shouldn’t be complicit in pouring money down the drain.”

Becky Vevea is an education reporter at WBEZ. She's on Twitter at @beckyvevea

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