Chicago’s Wrongly-ousted Principal, Troy LaRaviere: Still on the CPAA Ballot
On April 20, 2016, Blaine Elementary (Chicago) principal, Troy LaRiviere, was informed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s appointed school board that he (LaRaviere) was to be removed and “reassigned.”
On August 26, 2015, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Forrest Claypool recommended to the CPS board that they adopt this warning resolution that maintains LaRaviere had “engaged in unsatisfactory conduct… that will result in the preferring of dismissal charges against Troy LaRaviere… if said conduct is not corrected immediately, and maintained thereafter in satisfactory fashion following receipt of the Warning Resolution.”
On August 28, 2015, LaRaviere offered explanation of the warning resolution in this post on his blog. LaRaviere prefaces his explanation with the following regarding his accomplishments at Blaine:
When I write and post, it is always about CPS policy; never about myself. However, it seems that it might now be helpful to tell you a few things about my record. After all, who am I to criticize CPS’ management, and why should anyone listen to me?
I am the principal of Blaine elementary school. When I arrived at Blaine in 2011, 79% of students were meeting standards—one of the highest percentages in the district among neighborhood schools. Just two short years later 89% we’re meeting standards—remarkable growth for an already high-performing school. Only 43% of African-American students were meeting standards on the ISAT test before I began my principalship. Just two years later almost 80% were meeting those standards (The ISAT was discontinued after two years).
Most importantly–according to criteria established by Rahm Emanuel himself, as a part of his principal merit awards–only three schools in the entire district have consistently met three or more of his four school excellence criteria—for three consecutive years.** That’s three schools out of more than 600. Blaine is one of those three schools. Although he calls it a “principals” award, Blaine’s progress has been the result of the collaborative work of a strong team of people. I lead that team.
One would think CPS and City Hall would pay more attention to the critiques of a principal whom their own criteria has identified as one of the district’s three most effective school leaders.
One would be wrong.
LaRaviere continues by noting the charges against him:
CPS is not interested in anything that contradicts its ideologically driven anti-public-school privatization agenda; an agenda which includes, among other things, over-testing students, and the diversion of public education funds away from students into the hands of private interests. It was action I took against both of these backward elements of the CPS reform agenda that led to the Board’s warning resolution against me. The resolution contains two warnings.
SUPPORTING PARENT CHOICE IN OPTING STUDENTS OUT OF TESTING
The first warning is in regard to actions I took in response to a PARCC testing Opt-Out movement initiated by Blaine’s PTA. It was the most successful elementary school opt out movement in Chicago, with more than 80% of our parents opting their children out of taking the test. It was a parent-driven effort and I fully supported their right to opt their children out.
Parents submitted forms directing us not to give the test to their students. CPS responded by telling principals that we must defy parents and sit the student down in front of a test—that only when the student refused it, could we allow him or her not to take it. …
CPS’ directive appeared to be a thinly veiled effort to pressure students into taking the test in defiance of their parents. It is blatant hypocrisy for a district that promotes itself as supporting “parent choice” to go to such great lengths to get children to violate the choices their parents make for them. I responded in an open letter to CPS stating:
“I will not be following ISBE’s ridiculous directives aimed at intimidating children and families into taking tests they do not want to take… No child under my watch whose parents have opted him or her out of the PARCC will be sat in front of any computer to take it, nor presented with any materials. The test wastes enough time on its own. We are not wasting even more learning time by engaging in CPS’ and ISBE’s test-driven political theater.”
This is the stance for which I was cited in the warning resolution.
Within the resolution the board plainly states that their reason for issuing the warning is because, “You publicly supported the Blaine PTA’s Opt Out initiative for the PARCC test.” …
INSUBORDINATION: VIOLATING THE NO-QUESTIONS POLICY
The second thing I was cited for was insubordination when I violated a “no questions” policy at a district principals budget meeting. I sat there at the meeting listening to CPS officials blame Springfield and teacher pensions for the budget woes, while they completely ignored their own well documented corrupt and reckless spending (e.g., $20 Million Supes Contract, $340 Million Aramark Contract, $10 million central office furniture purchase, etc. etc.). So I stood up and asked the question anyway, citing several questionable expenses. Then CEO, Jesse Ruiz, stood up and told me that I was being disruptive. It is a profound moment of truth and clarity when a CPS official gets up and makes it clear that he considers asking relevant questions “disruptive.” I have already written extensively about the details of this encounter in a post entitled, “Adding Insult to Injury: A Look Inside a CPS Principals Budget Meeting.” In the resolution, the board cites me for insubordination, in part, because Ruiz asked me why I worked for CPS if I were so unhappy with its leadership, and I responded, “To save it from people like you.” It is important to note that Ruiz asked me to come into the hallway where he called me a “loud-mouthed principal” and asked me that question. In essence, the board is attempting to discipline me for answering his question. If he didn’t want an honest answer, he should not have asked the question.
LaRaviere notes in this April 22, 2016, post, the details leading to his April 20, 2016, removal and advice for those who wish to assist him in fighting it:
Thank you to the thousands of people who have expressed support for me and my work. For those who plan on taking some kind of action, please ensure it is purposeful and well-informed. With that said, any action should take the following information into account.I STILL HAVE NOT BEEN INFORMED OF THE CHARGES AGAINST ME.At this point, this should be at the core of any effort to support my case. Any protest or other efforts should focus on forcing CPS to tell me what they’re charging me with. Here is some background information that should inform such efforts.CPS officials claim I missed a “hearing.” The claim is misleading to say the least. On Tuesday—the day before the “hearing”—they sent me the following message in an email:“We have scheduled an important meeting with you at 2pm tomorrow regarding ethics and other matters. Please come to the Law Department on the 9th floor at 1 North Dearborn. Thank you.”First–As you can plainly see–there is no mention of any possible discipline or misconduct violations. There is no reference to my “employment status” in this message or even any direct indication that I had violated any policy. Just a vague discussion of “ethics.”Second—it was sent on short notice the day before the meeting.Third—it was sent via email. No phone call. No letter. Just a vague email the day before the meeting.
Unfortunately I didn’t receive the email on time because I took a sick day on Tuesday to take care of my son who had a minor surgery scheduled that day. I therefore could not attend a meeting that I didn’t know about. Based on the last minute email-only notification, it appears this was the result CPS officials were hoping for.
Again, since we don’t know what the alleged violations are, I believe ANY EFFORTS TO SUPPORT MY CASE SHOULD FOCUS ON FORCING CPS TO TELL ME WHAT THEY’RE CHARGING ME WITH. After they reveal the charges people can then decide what next steps need to be taken.
Chicago Reader journalist Ben Joravsky notes that the ouster of LaRaviere appears to be an effort by Emanuel’s CPS board to thwart LaRaviere’s future election as the next president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association:
If you want to know why Mayor Emanuel picked this moment in time to punish Blaine Elementary School principal Troy LaRaviere, consider this: LaRaviere’s running for president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association [CPAA] and the election’s in a few weeks.
The last thing the mayor wants is to give this outspoken, fearless school critic—who knows a thing or two about the system—an even bigger platform than he already has.
If such were the Emanuel-CPS-board goal, their drawing such attention to LaRaviere in the weeks prior to the CPAA election seems, well, stupid. Though LaRaviere is not allowed to visit schools in order to campaign, the CPS board has effectively made LaRaviere both local and national news.
As Joravsky writes:
In 2014, LaRaviere criticized the $260 million janitorial contract that Emanuel’s handpicked school board doled out to Aramark, and the $80 million one they awarded to SodexoMagic.
LaRaviere was right to critique those contracts, as the schools have been filthy since the deals went down.
He also spoke out against the $20.5 million principal-consultation contract Rahm’s board forked over to Supes Academy back in 2013.
He said it was a waste of time and money. He was right about that too. In fact, LaRaviere was one of the few people who criticized the deal before the feds broke the news that Supes had given kickbacks to Barbara Byrd Bennett—Rahm’s handpicked schools CEO.
Imagine the problems LaRaviere could cause Rahm if he could rally Chicago’s public school principals against these kinds of privatization deals.
It would be like having two Karen Lewises in town. And you know Rahm can barely take one of her.
Moreover, in removing LaRaviere for a “reappointment” to nowhere, Emanuel’s CPS board not only placed LaRaviere squarely in the public eye, but it actually freed LaRaviere’s schedule so that he might become even more of an activist, as reporter Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune reflects:
I thought the headline “CPS Principal Troy LaRaviere Whacks Rahm — and Still Keeps His Job” over a column by Chicago magazine’s Carol Felsenthal earlier this month spoke well of the mayor’s ability to tolerate vigorous dissent in the education ranks. And that it was smart of Emanuel not to amplify LaRaviere’s influence and underlying points by turning him into a martyr.
Now LaRaviere is a cause celebre. Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders issued a statement from the campaign trail Thursday: “The only explanation for his removal appears to be Mayor Emanuel’s unhealthy obsession with taking revenge. It is absolutely unacceptable that a school principal is facing politically motivated retaliation because he dared to stand up to the mayor of Chicago. I condemn Principal LaRaviere’s reassignment and call on Democrats around the country to stand up against Mayor Emanuel’s pettiness.” …
By swinging the axe, Emanuel’s Board of Education risks elevating a man who was not particularly well-known outside of activist circles into a prospective 2019 mayoral candidate. …
This “reassignment” highlights LaRaviere’s complaints about CPS, and seems likely to land him in a position — with a think-tank or other organization — where he’ll be able to devote himself full time to coalition-building, networking and advocacy of an anti-Emanuel political agenda. It also makes the mayor look like a thin-skinned bully.
I wondered if LaRaviere’s being removed from his principalship might have affected his ability to run for president of CPAA. I found nothing definite in the CPAA constitution and bylaws; so, I spoke with CPAA office manager, Kent Lau to find out if LaRaviere were still eligible to become CPAA’s next president.
Lau confirmed that LaRaviere is still on the CPAA ballot, which is scheduled to be mailed to CPAA membership on May 02, 2016. Lau sad that the election results would be released on May 20, 2016.
In other words, LaRaviere could still become CPAA’s next president.
It would be like having two Karen Lewises in town. And you know Rahm can barely take one of her.
May it come to pass.
Coming June 2016 from TC Press: