Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

There was blood in the water at Edison Regional Gifted Center on November 9, 2015.

The Local School Council was holding a special (and sparsely-attended) meeting to discuss its upcoming evaluation of the school's principal, and I was one of the few non-LSC members to show up for the festivities. Over the course of 75 minutes that night, I did a lot of listening, I offered a couple of comments, and I quickly concluded that a movement was afoot to ride the principal out of town on a rail.

And that upset me greatly.

My youngest daughter is an eighth-grader at Edison, and she's been there since kindergarten. I served on the school's LSC from 2008-10 (when the current principal was still the assistant principal), and I generally stop by the building several times a week, either to help out with the girls' basketball team, chaperone a field trip, or give presentations to classes on everything from constitutional rights to the history of rock-'n-roll. The security guards and most of the staff know me by name.

And I'm able to do what I do at Edison because the current administration works hard to make the building a place where parents feel welcome.

Don't get me wrong. Over the years, I've questioned and even disagreed with some of the principal's decisions -- particularly in the area of staffing -- but I understand, thanks to her open-door policy, why, in each particular case, she decided to do what she did.

My daughter is fortunate to attend Edison, and she's benefited greatly from the vision, wisdom and kindness of our current principal and assistant principal.

That's why she'll be crushed to learn that a divided LSC will almost certainly vote Monday night to send her principal off to an early retirement -- and since the principal hires the assistant principal, next week's vote will likely mean that the two strong, intelligent women who run my daughter's school will finish their tenure at Edison in June, when my daughter, too, will leave the building for the last time.

Even the number-crunchers at CPS's central office will be shocked by next week's anticipated vote, because Edison outperformed nearly every public school in Illinois on Arne Duncan's much-loved PARCC test in 2015, and it's ranked by the district as a Level 1+ school.

I know how the principal evaluation process is supposed to work, and I know it varies not only from school to school, but it can also vary from year to year within the same school. I took part in the process when I served on Edison's LSC, and I've worked through it several times since then as an LSC member at Rogers Elementary School, where I've served since 2010.

For reasons I'll never understand, principal evaluations are often filled with education jargon and riddled with acronyms like CIWP, PPLC and STEM. Clever LSCs (like the one that will vote Monday night on the fate of Edison's principal) know enough to stick with those education buzzwords, so that an imminent discharge won't appear personal, arbitrary or capricious.

And they also know they can turn a principal loose without having to answer questions from parents, teachers or reporters, simply by singing the "it's a confidential personnel matter" refrain.

Elections have consequences -- even LSC elections, where a mere 30 or 40 votes will usually get you a seat at the table.

Pay attention, principals. If Monday's Edison vote goes the way I sensed back in November that it would, you may want to think twice before suspending a kid whose parent sits on your LSC. And you may also want to look around before hiring an otherwise great assistant principal who once butted heads (at another school) with that same parent.

You want to keep your job in a high-maintenance CPS school? Remind yourself that it's never the kid's fault. It's live and let live, because the helicopter parent is always right. And just to be on the safe side, make sure everybody gets a trophy.