A school divided against itself

Jones community weighs in on conflict between LSC and administration in special meeting

Conflict between the Local School Council (LSC) and Jones administration came to a head at the special meeting on Nov. 16, raising concerns in the school community about whether the LSC and leadership at Jones is really looking out for the school’s best interests.

The 5 hour and 30 minute long meeting consisted of public comments from students, parents, and teachers, as well as two 1 hour and 30 minute hour closed sessions in which the LSC discussed Principal Paul J. Powers’ leadership and conduct with LSC members. Although, the exact content of the closed session has not been made public.

The meeting was called after months of conflict between the LSC and school administration, who are accused of not releasing school documents necessary to the LSC in a timely manner.

The conflict reached its boiling point in a fiery exchange between Powers and LSC parent representative and Chair Cassie Creswell in the last regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 9. Powers stated “the demands for information are, frankly, repetitive and incessant,” and that “every meeting provides [Jones administration] with another opportunity for people to tell us what we need to do and how we need to do it.”

Shortly thereafter, Powers elected to leave the virtual meeting early, leading several LSC members to call a special meeting to discuss Powers’ conduct, leading some to fear the LSC was attempting to remove Powers from his position as principal.

News of this meeting spread quickly throughout the school community, and the livestreamed version of the Nov. 15 meeting has so far totaled nearly triple the number of views compared to other meetings on the Jones LSC YouTube channel. 

Many parents spoke up at the meeting in support of Powers, citing his positive relationship with community members.

“As it concerns Dr Powers, having been here for 8 years, it would be difficult to characterize his performance as anything other than superlative,” said Jones parent Norman Leon. “He is responsive and engaging with parents and he respects his teachers and staff.”

 In a letter signed by 79 faculty and staff members (with three signing after the LSC meeting), Jones teachers voiced support for Powers.  

“Any attempt to abruptly remove Dr. Powers from his position as our principal would cause tremendous disruption and is not in the best interest of the Jones community,” said teachers Michelle Parada and Emlyn Ricketts, who co-wrote the letter.

Parents and teachers speaking at the meeting also expressed concern about how disrespectful and divided the school environment had become as a result of the actions taken by the LSC.

“It is best for students when the LSC listens to all parent and guardian voices,” said parent Raquel Don. “Even if there is a difference of opinion, there is a productive way to respectfully work through it, especially if the student’s best interests are in your heart.”

Adding to this sentiment, teachers spoke about feeling unable to safely express their opinions.

“Teachers are afraid to speak up and ask questions,” said Parada in her statement at the meeting. “With 76 signatures of faculty and staff [in the letter], some people wanted to remain anonymous because they are afraid of retaliation by fellow colleagues and of becoming targets of the LSC.”

Though most teachers and parents spoke in support of Powers and school administrators, many students felt that administration and the LSC were using them to push their own agendas rather than giving them a genuine platform to speak.

“Both the LSC and administration put us in an unfavorable position tonight,” said Rev Martin ‘22, a student leader in the Black Coalition. “We, separate from other cultural clubs and student leadership, were asked to speak specifically about the principal, but administration communicated to us that that might be inappropriate.” 

Powers denied that administration ever discouraged students from speaking at the meeting, and Creswell said she felt “very sorry if anyone felt pressured to speak or not to speak.” 

It remains unclear exactly what communications administration and LSC members had with the Black Coalition, but Martin and fellow student leaders still feel school leadership isn’t looking out for their best interests.

“Black students have real concerns that need to be met,” said Railey Montgomery ‘22, leader of the Black Student Union. “And these concerns should not only be heard when it is beneficial to the LSC or any other group.”

Some students also spoke out against Powers specifically, feeling his political beliefs and response to student concerns to be antithetical to a progressive school environment.

Cole Francis ‘22, leader of the Black Leaders and Mentors club, said “Someone who embraces the ideology of police against Black lives, anti-immigration, and political figures that undermine the values of anti-racism Jones is working towards is not fit to manage a progressive school in the city of Chicago.”

Other students expressed concern that their perspectives were not adequately represented in school-wide discussions, especially since communication announcing the special meeting was never sent out.

“Students are fighting for information and for a voice,” said William Clancy ‘22. “I would appreciate it if all groups involved made more of an effort to include students in these conversations.”

Despite the conflicting opinions expressed at the meeting, LSC members called for greater cooperation and respect within the school. 

“We are hoping that this is a good basis for working together as an LSC, including the principal,” said Creswell. “It should be a partnership between the LSC and the school.”

School administration also felt the conversations they had in the closed sessions allowed both groups to resolve some of their disagreements.

“We had a very frank and constructive conversation ranging over a number of different things,” said Powers. “But the upshot of it is the need for us to build a more positive and functioning relationship based on shared values.”