Dear Mayor Emanuel: I resign my position as principal of the #1 rated neighborhood school in Chicago

Dear Mayor Emanuel:

In 2010 Chicago Magazine ranked Blaine Elementary School as the 16th best elementary school in Chicago, and the 6th best neighborhood school.  After being hired to lead Blaine in the fall of 2011, I told my Local School Council (LSC) I had a “six-year plan” to turn Blaine into the #1 neighborhood school in Chicago.

I have the pleasure of informing you that I lived up to my promise to the Blaine LSC, and I did so a year earlier than promised. Last Monday, Chicago Magazine released its elementary school rankings for 2016.  Blaine is now ranked as the #1 neighborhood school in Chicago, and #3 public school in the City overall.  In the process, working with motivated teachers and engaged parents, we increased the percentage of students meeting reading standards from an already high 79% to 89% in just our first two years.  That kind of growth from an already high performing school–without the addition of a selective enrollment program–is unprecedented.

Behind this significant accomplishment are a series of basic concepts based on empirical evidence regarding effective school practices and thoughtful consideration of how we might apply those practices at Blaine.  One fundamental element of improving the school was ending selective access to advanced curriculum.  When I arrived, less than 30% of students had access to it; today more than 90% have access. As is the case with most CPS schools, Blaine has a talented hard working staff.  Another critical element of our success was to involve that staff in an effort to create systems, relationships, and patterns of collaborative activity that are proven to improve teacher performance, and therefore improve student achievement.  In many ways, that was the easy part.  

The difficult part was mustering the will and stamina to remain steadfast in our commitment to use evidence-based practice in the face of tremendous pressure–from politicians like you–to adopt baseless “school reform” ideas like “tracking” (school based selective enrollment), “choice,” and the over-evaluation of teachers; ideas that are grounded in ideology and politics as opposed to proven effective educational methods. In a word, the biggest obstacle to Blaine becoming the #1 neighborhood school in Chicago was politics. And while many people contributed to this problem, nobody in our great city is more responsible for that political obstruction than you.  

I spent a lot of time fighting those politics during my first two years at Blaine. Some of the people I fought had good intentions, but it was abundantly clear that they did not understand effective education policy. Rather, they came with ideology and politics. We came, instead, with empirical research and evidence.  

I take my profession seriously and I practice it with integrity. I did not succumb to corporate educational fads. I did not pander and I did not bend to the selfish aims of a privileged few. If an idea was not in the interests of the school as a whole, it did not happen under my watch. However, during those first two years I kept my fight behind-the-scenes and between the walls of Blaine.  Like all CPS principals at the time, I took no public stances against your incompetent and uncaring mismanagement of our school system. It was my sincere hope that internal advocacy and leading by example could and would prevail.

Instead, the achievement gap steadily increased under your mismanagement as you and your appointees at CPS made one disastrous decision after another, in defiance of the evidence and research on educational practices.  You have made it increasingly difficult for principals and teachers to provide strong academic programs for our students.  

Accordingly, in the summer of 2013 I began efforts to ensure that the residents of our city understood the negative consequences of your administration’s backward and reckless management of our school district. I did so for the following reasons:

  • Decisions by you and the board you appointed and completely controlled had damaging consequences for our school system.
  • Although your board was unelected, and therefore unaccountable to the residents of Chicago, you were indeed elected and could be held accountable.
  • As a public servant it was my responsibility to ensure the public understood the negative consequences of your school-related decision-making so they could hold you and your board accountable.

So for the next three years, I consistently and publicly advocated for credible evidence-based education policies. This, in turn, made me also be a consistent public critic of the ideological and politically driven policies coming out of your office and implemented by your hand-picked board.

One might think that after witnessing the unprecedented academic gains of Blaine students, you and your appointees might call on my school leadership team to help you understand how we improved at such an incredible rate.  Instead, at your direction, your appointees are pushing forward with efforts to terminate my employment. It is clear that I am being punished for my advocacy, and that this retribution is more important to you than effective public education for Chicago’s children.

Instead of learning from our work at Blaine, your appointees attempted to suppress that work and silence my voice.  When CPS officials removed me as the principal at Blaine, I was already planning to relinquish my post to assume the office of president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA).  However, after being chosen by my colleagues to serve as CPAA president I decided to fight the removal on principle, and to use the administrative hearing process to demonstrate the charges against me are baseless.  Now, in light of the factors listed below, I will conclude that process by tendering my resignation:

  • Since I have taken on the role of CPAA President, I cannot return as Blaine’s principal, no matter what the outcome of the hearings.  Meanwhile, the Blaine school community cannot move forward and hire another permanent principal until my case is resolved. I cannot allow those for whom I have worked so hard in the last five years to suffer the consequences of your destructive political agenda.
  • The hearing process is, of course, a kangaroo court that ends with a determination by your appointed school board; the very school board that voted to censure me in the first place. I don’t expect your appointed board to deliver justice any more than I expect it to practice fiscal responsibility or competent educational management.
  • Thus far, during the hearing process, your appointees have failed to produce any of the requested communications to and from your office regarding me and my work at Blaine. Yet the records you produced to justify your refusal contain clear evidence that your office was involved in my removal. You confess that at a minimum the CPS legal office communicated with the City legal office multiple times regarding my termination. I will therefore have to fight for these documents outside of the hearing process through FOIA requests and possible litigation should your office continue its pattern of refusing to release information that, by law, should be publicly available.
  • The flimsy charges you’ve leveled against me–combined with the recent elevation of my school as the #1 neighborhood school in Chicago–makes it obvious that your actions against me have everything to do with politics and nothing to do with what’s good for students and families.  Therefore the point that I wished to make in the hearing process, has already been made–loudly and clearly.

With the above factors in mind, I hereby resign my position as principal of Blaine Elementary School.  However, my efforts to reverse your poor fiscal and educational management of our school system are just getting started.

In just six weeks since since I became its president, the CPAA has saved the Illinois Administrator Academies for principals after your appointees at CPS attempted to sabotage the program; made significant amendments to the Education Platform of the Democratic Party; worked with principals to form action teams that will influence city and state education policy; built relationships with elected officials in order to create access to the legislative process; created the foundation and framework necessary to build a democratic representative structure for both CPAA governance and input in CPS decision-making; joined with the engineers and teachers to oppose your wasteful expansion of absentee facilities management under Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, and started a news service that keeps school leaders informed by providing them with a thematic summary of the week’s education and political news.  We intend to build on this work for Chicago and its school children.

In closing, should you ever decide to prioritize student learning over the profits of your campaign donors, feel free to reach out to me and the principals I was elected to represent. We have an abundance of ideas for improving the system for the students we serve.  In the meantime, we will continue in our efforts to vigorously advocate for the kind of effective evidence-based education policies and practices that your office does its best to ignore and suppress.

Sincerely,


Troy LaRaviere, Former Principal
James G. Blaine Elementary School
Chicago’s #1 Rated Neighborhood Elementary School

@TroyLaraviere

123 thoughts on “Dear Mayor Emanuel: I resign my position as principal of the #1 rated neighborhood school in Chicago

  1. Mr. LaRaviere,

    I would have enjoyed the opportunity to address you as Principal LaRaviere, however, since your hand was forced in a polital game of “resign or be terminated,” I cannot address you as you so rightfully deserve.

    Yours is yet another story in the decline of our nation’s educational politics, and the triumph of those who serve not for gain, but because they realize that our future is not a bargaining platform.

    Twenty years ago, I was actively pushed away from a career in teaching by a wonderful teacher who wanted more for my future than to fight budget declines, overly hyped teacher evaluations, and increasingly violent classrooms. He told me that there was more to life than Pyrric victories.

    As a parent of a child in public school, I cringe at Common Core instruction and inflexible rules, such as the rules that force suspensions when a 1st grader chews a Pop-tart into the rough outline of a “gun” and plays at snack time.

    I applaud the courage to stand by your values. I hope that you see the change that we all pray is coming.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Dear Mr. LaRaviere: Please send your letter to Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, and senators Bernie Sanders, Bill Nelson and Elizabeth Warren. As a retired teacher, I want your explanation of the harms that politicized education
    (e.g., No Child Left Behind and even Obama’s recent educational policies) is doing to our US educational system. Send Arne Duncan and Michelle Obama a copy, too! These Democrats really don’t know the full story of “educational reform” in this country. They believe the lies that Jeb Bush, W, and others have pushed through. I’m a retired Florida teacher and my heart aches for our children! (I’m also a Democrat, and believe the Party would get behind you if they knew the truth! Delia Anderson

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The sad part is even if you sent your letter to every member of the Democratic Party, they would scoff at it and laugh because they are doing their best to change the education system to common core nonsense, and they are succeeding in their efforts to dumb down the American People. It starts early in life with false teachings, and television, but their real agenda is the fact they don’t want free thinkers. That would be a detriment to their plans. I applaud you Mr. LaRaviere for standing up to educational injustice. I am truly sorry for you having lost your school after having done so well at restructuring a mediocre school into the greatest school in Chicago. If you attack your new position at the CPAA with as much determination and style as you did your school, you have the potentio to change every Chicago school into a place of higher learning. Keep up the fight Mr. LaRaviere, and may God bless you.

      Sincerely,

      Glenn McPhail

      Like

  3. “…should you ever decide to prioritize student learning over the profits of your campaign donors…”

    Sadly, it has come down to this–the Democratic Party, supposedly the party that represents working people–has at all levels become just another bastion of the wealthy and privileged.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mr LaRaviere,
    I am a CPS parent. My twins are in competitive selective enrollment high schools here in the city. I am grateful to you, and inspired by you. I am glad the rankings emerged as they did, because the proof that we need to make our point isn’t always timely, and I’m glad that you have (even more) authority when you speak. (This town really seems to love their school rankings!) I considered commenting to encourage you to keep fighting the good fight, but you clearly know how! Instead I will encourage you to not grow weary in doing good. I am so glad you are in the ring. I thank you, on behalf of parents, students, scientists, readers, patriots, and sane people.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I long for the day I have your courage. I agree with everything you stand for & hope Clinton, Obama & the rest of the world hear you. Our future generations need leaders like you; the education they deserve from teachers like us who should be treated as professionals not just administrators of senseless tests. You are the epitome of “Be the Change”! You rock!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. You must run for Mayor!! People like you are one of a kind!! You are a great leader and God has great plans for you!! God bless you and your family with more !!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Eloquently stated, and hope inspiring. Growing up in the 50’s, it seems my education was so much broader and more relevant than what I observe with our grandchildren’s experiences today. Please continue your work AND sharing…you will make a difference. So many of us are tired of decisions being made by those with the most money to corrupt. Bravo for your dedication and resolve.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Replicate,replicate,replicate! The time to stop is not now! We need this type of guidance now more than ever before,not only in Black schools,but across the nation! Go for Secretary of Education position! If parents and educators all see the merit,perhaps we can build a grassroots consensus to accomplish that goal. Are you up to that challenge? The youth are our future.Anbody agree that we need people like this to make America GREAT again?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for helping to expose the myth of capitalistic, neo-liberali education policies and practices. Our children are worth more than just being labor for the wealthy class. How beautiful if we didn’t teach kids to think learning is boring and irrelevant.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Your letter needs to be the #1 topic of the news on each and every news.channel. What you’ve done is no small miracle and these so called candidates should be tripping over you to effect policy change in education based on your accomplishments. What a blessing to the world that you will continue the fight.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. As a life-long Democrat as well as an educator it bothers me that the Secretary or Education for President Obama was his basketball buddy, Arne Duncan. A man without a masters degree who would not be qualified to teach in many states. But, of course why not hand a department we do not take seriously over to a friend as a patronage job.
    I hope for change but alas neither side seems willing to tackle the issue, but both sides are willing to take money from the corporations making money on testing and textbook purchases…….

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Your story should definitely go citywide. There are parents and educators who need the truth. They all vote and this will enable us to make an informed, intelligent choice.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Dear Mr. LaRaviere,
    I wanted to thank you for your service and dedication to your students and the City of Chicago. Unfortunately I live in the not so great state of North Carolina where teachers salaries and lowered student expectations are destroying the fabric of education here. As a parent and a veteran who’s understands the importance of education for our national defense and the future of our children I have one ask. Can you please provide me a road map so we can be better advocates for the educational changes you are advocating in Chicago. I am not certain if you have a YouTube channel or there is more information on your blog but parents need to better understand what type of changes we should be fighting for to better support our students educators. Thank you in advance.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Blaine is rated #3 in the Chicago Neighborhood School list by Chicago Magazine, September 2016 issue. Are you referring to a different database that names Blaine as #1?

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    1. Smdh@U. Lol. No matter the Ranking! Here is a Man looking out for Our students in Chicago. Here is a Man who cares about them succeeding. You Should Be Thanking Him. I just hope other Principals jump on his bandwagon. What A Change They Can Make.

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    2. He says Blaine is the #3 public school in Chicago and the #1 Neighboorhood School, in his first paragraph. Which was the goal of his six year plan.

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  15. Well done, you actually care about kids succeeding! Time and time again, we hear about “education reform” and its generally a crock. People with boots on the ground such as yourself are the only ones qualified to determine what changes must be made. Here in Oregon, I have witnessed the collapse of the public education system from what it was when I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. People like to talk up a big story on how they are going to have a comprehensive plan to improve education but it’s bunk. I’m not in education, but I’ve seen the imperical data and that’s why the non profit I’m a part of has made its main focus, early childhood education. We need to teach kids to learn to read by 3rd grade so they can read to learn after that. If they aren’t proficient reading by 3rd grade, they are not likely to graduate high school. Politics has no place in education and the Federal government should abolish the Department of Education and allow local school districts to run their schools. Again, well done!

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    1. I disagree with the federal government comment but thanks. All of the worlds highest performing school systems have a strong central government component. Unfortunately ours is corrupt, so I understand and empathize with you on that point. If the choice was no Feds or corrupt Feds then I’d agree with you. But that’s not our only choice.

      Liked by 3 people

  16. Thank you, sir. I work for a foundation that is engaged in the global ‘fight’ for quality public education. Your example of how to tactically engage a highly politicized machine and deliver results by keeping children and teachers at the center is very encouraging. It’s this model that must be replicated. Thank you for documenting your experience and approach. Congratulations on your new role. I’ll pray your strength.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I worked for the NYC Board of Education, after a year I couldnt deal with the nonsense anymore. This situation in Blaine sounds no different. To say the least, these efforts are national at the schools that Black children attend. This why we need to build our own schools like the Freedom Home Academy in Chicago which now has a High School that opened this year and a second location in Detroit. No this is not a cheap plug, its a call to action.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you for this critique of reformers. I’m skeptical of “evidence-based” measures when the question that motivates the evidence isn’t clear (conquering rankings isn’t enough) and complex, but I’ve followed this struggle and commend your leadership and commitment. Our country needs to invest in institutionalizing models, programs like yours so that there is less burnout and so we get the benefits of large scale practices like Blaine’s. Thank you and best in continued struggle.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Rahm Emanuel can’t keep his own aide safe while on duty and he can’t keep his own son safe in front of their family home. No wonder he has failed at keeping Chicago safe. He just doesn’t “have it.” The city needs to fund its failing police force, schools, and basic social programs, not double property taxes in order to pay $1 billion of annual interest to Rahm’s megabank campaign donors.

    Chicago needs an economic reset similar to Detroit’s in order to shed its $30 billion debt load so the city can begin healing and rebuilding. It also needs an executive reset. Rahm is beholden to his bankster donors and refuses to do what is right. He is unqualified to be mayor of Chicago.

    Unions fear a municipal bankruptcy would result in a reduction of pension benefits. Nothing could be further from the truth. Detroit’s pensioners were largely unaffected by their city’s restructuring. Additionally, Illinois state constitutional restrictions forbid any pension adjustments in bankruptcy court. There would be ample cash flow from the $1 billion annual reduction in interest payments to cover any short-term pension shortfall. The logical long-term solution is for the public employees to negotiate a small pay raise post-bankruptcy and bail in their pensions.

    Chicago city pensioners would not miss a dime. In fact, municipal bankruptcy would benefit the unions because hiring and pay freezes would come to an end. It would be nice to have the city working again.

    Rahm Emanuel does not represent the interests of Chicago’s citizens. He represents the economic interests of Chicago’s municipal bondholders. His political agenda is directly opposed to the well-being of the city’s residents, homeowners, and workers. Enough is enough. Rahm Emanuel has got to go.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Loved the article, especially your lines “should you ever decide to prioritize student learning over the profits of your campaign donors”. The only purpose “public” education serves to a neoliberal like Rahm (& the Clintons) is a way to steal public money. They call it “privatization” but the public is waking up to the fact that it’s just theft.

    Liked by 2 people

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