Teachers and tensions 

Faculty offer their opinions on recent LSC meetings  

Various Jones faculty members voiced concerns regarding the conduct of both school administration and the Local School Council (LSC) during the community participation portion of the December 7 council meeting. 

The LSC holds jurisdiction over budgets, school improvement plans, and oversight of the principal. Recently, the LSC has become more involved in matters related to Friends of Jones (FOJ) fundraising and Principal Dr. Joseph Powers’ contract. As tensions continue to broil, community members have shared their opinions during the public participation portion of LSC meetings.

Multiple teachers submitted a letter in support of administration at the November 16 special LSC meeting, which was called to discuss Dr. Powers’ abrupt exit from a previous Nov. 9 council meeting. In response, a group of several other faculty members came forward in opposition of said letter, highlighting tensions amongst faculty members regarding administration and the LSC. At the most recent LSC meeting on Dec. 7, statements were read by teachers who expressed their frustrations over a lack of honesty, transparency and communication surrounding the Nov. 16 LSC special meeting. 

That special meeting, which had over 1,400 viewers, accelerated tensions between the LSC and administration, and displayed the ongoing conflict between these two parties in the most public fashion. The Nov. 16 meeting—which was over 5 hours long—included a myriad of public comments from parents, students and faculty. 

The end of the special meeting saw teachers Emelyn Rickets and Michelle Parada share a letter signed by 76 staff members, including teachers, security guards, and other Jones faculty, voicing their support for the current administration. 

According to Science teacher Peter Podlipni, who submitted a written statement to the Dec. 7 meeting, “the letter [from Rickets and Parada] contained misinformation which had the effect of instilling fear in staff members and sowing mistrust in our school’s LSC.”

Olivia Guerrero, an English teacher in her sixth year at Jones, also spoke against this email during the public comment portion of the Dec. 7 LSC meeting. 

“The truth is that the email sent out to recruit signatures was exclusive to certain teachers, [but] open to presumably all non-teaching faculty and staff,” Guerrero stated. 

In their statement, Podlipni emphasized the need for honesty among faculty members, administrators, and the LSC. 

“I must stress the importance of honesty. We teach our students how to write arguments supported by evidence. The claims these teachers [Rickets and Parada] made in their letter about the LSC, its intentions and its capabilities are false,” Podlipni stated. “Lying erodes away at our community’s integrity, and for me personally, my ability to trust my colleagues. There is no room for lying in civic engagement. There are ethical ways to organize and to make concerns heard.”

Podlipni also discussed the need for clarity, stating that the contents of Rickets and Parada’s letter feature contradictory statements. 

“This action is dishonest and encourages division. In order to move forward on our community’s issues, we have to have open, transparent communication,” Podlipni wrote. 

The signed letter’s contents and existence surprised Guerrero as well. 

“The presentation of this letter at the last LSC meeting caught many of the teaching staff by surprise, and was harmful to an already fragile culture rooted in low relational trust,” Guerrero said. “The process by which support for this letter was gathered undermines teaching staff’s ability to make an accurate and informed decision and is an attempt to play “gotcha” with the LSC.”

A graduate of Northside College Prep, Podlipni drew from their time in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) throughout his statement. 

  “I am not proud of the conduct I am witnessing in our community lately. I call on every adult to consider the importance of their role in our community and to commit to acting in accordance with our school’s chosen values,” Podlipni wrote. “We must commit to being positive role models – the most powerful lessons we can teach our young are modeled through our own actions.”

The teachers who spoke during public participation largely concluded their statements by circling back to a dire need of focus on student needs and resources. 

“This [the email sent by Parada and Rickets] is divisive by pushing an agenda at a time when the LSC has been accused of pushing an agenda. Most importantly, this puts multiple parties against each other at a time when there is a dire need to build bridges and build community for the benefit of the students,” Guerrero said. 

Katie Colby, a Vocal Music teacher in her fifth year and member of the instructional leadership team, also applauded Jones students for speaking at council meetings. 

“The student testimonies heard in the LSC meetings are from incredibly brave young people who have the guts to publicly expose their pain and ask for help or demand change,” Colby said. “When students publicly ask for help it’s a move of desperation. They think there’s hope for change but they don’t feel like they have any other options.” 

Overall, teachers’ messages included glimmers of hope and encouraged adults to take a stand. 

“Coming forward about harms is difficult. We must honor those who come forward by holding ourselves accountable and committing to change. When the path to accountability gets tough, we cannot jump ship,” Podlipni said. “We have to show our young that solving problems is possible and it is worth it. I call on every adult to consider the importance of their role and to commit to acting in accordance with our school’s chosen values.”

Colby offered community members a similar message. 

“Parents, students, teachers, how many times do we have to see our administration fail to act before we’re ready to admit to their negligence,” said Colby. “How many students and teachers have to share their trauma for you to understand that the lack of leadership at Jones hurts people?”