CHICAGO – To many community members in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood, Blaine Elementary School Principal Troy LaRaviere’s “reassignment” to a different position during spring break smelled like retribution for the outspoken and popular principal’s public criticism of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. During an April 25 public hearing on the matter, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) representatives, who offered only vague accusations against LaRaviere, made little headway in dispelling that notion.
Given LaRaviere’s objective success at leading Blaine, the disciplinary action by CPS came as a surprise to many teachers and parents, who suspected political motivations could be behind his removal. LaRaviere earned the Chicago Principal Merit Award Bonuses three years in a row and raised the school’s reading standards from fourth to first out of 600 neighborhood schools.
Despite this, the chief education officer of CPS, Janice Jackson, told the confused and angry crowd of about 300 at the hearing that she thinks “you can be high-performing and still break the rules.”
What rules did LaRaviere break? The twelve specific charges were not revealed, despite desperate requests from parents. The only information given was that the charges fall under three broad categories: dereliction of duties, ethical violations, and insubordination.
Parents and teachers, and even a student, pressed Jackson to reveal any details, sometimes resorting to lawyerly phrasings, all to no avail as she continued to stonewall.
Blaine parent Sandra Hamilton summed up the frustration, writing in a press release, “CPS has removed our principal against the school community’s wishes as a part of a political vendetta and without explanation. What kind of lesson is it for our children when their principal disappears over spring break for the crime of daring to speak truth to power?”
LaRaviere keeps a blog where he has been highly critical of everything from the education budget and state budget crisis to standardized testing. When his school’s PTA sent letters encouraging parents to opt their children out of the Common Core-aligned PARCC test (just one of many standardized tests students must prepare for), LaRaviere sent out a letter of support, citing the importance maximizing of students’ “instructional time.”
This brought a warning resolution from the Board of Education. After continuing to speak out, he received a written reprimand in December that cited his “unethical political activity” during the 2015 mayoral race.
It was this sort of outspokenness that endeared LaRaviere to so many in the community. People outside of the school before and after the meeting sold t-shirts reading, “I stand with Troy.”
But it was this same outspokenness that may have doomed him, as he has been a critic of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his appointed school board at every turn. He has criticized Emanuel’s privatization of janitorial services, endorsed Emanuel’s opponent Chuy Garcia in the 2015 mayoral race, and criticized the Mayor’s Democratic superdelegate vote for Hillary Clinton (even appearing in a Bernie Sanders ad).
Without an elected school board, the mayor of Chicago wields near-total power over school policy through his appointments to the board. Despite the denials from Chicago Public Schools, this is the connection that many parents are beginning to make when it comes to LaRaviere’s removal.
Amy Jacobson, a mother of Blaine students, called it a “witch hunt.” She speculated, “I think that this is all about him writing his blog during school hours, but I suspect that many teachers do.” She continued, “I think this is a dog-and-pony show. What’s going to happen next is whatever they want to happen next. Their job is to show up and act like they care, but they don’t care.”
For parents like David Kraven, who has two children in Blaine Elementary, what unfolded during the meeting was exactly what he expected.
“The CPS sent someone whose primary job was to not answer questions. They have put administrative formality over children. It was a typical decision from the CPS, I’m disappointed but not surprised.”
People’s World has reached out to Principal LaRaviere for more information on the specific charges. He has responded in an email that he is writing a response to the charges which will be “detailed and comprehensive” and that a press conference will be announced when his “statement is finalized.” This Friday, Principal LaRaviere will attend a “pre-suspension hearing” where he will be able to provide evidence and witnesses in his defense. That hearing is closed to the public, but People’s World will be following the story closely.
Photo: Patrick J. Foote/PW