Gunsaulus LSC, Principal, leave parents, CPS official standing in front of an empty school ... Gunsaulus LSC meeting cancelled with no notification

The Gunsaulus Academy Local School Council Organizational meeting was scheduled to be held on July 1, 2009, but it was cancelled with no explanation, and no notification, leaving several parents and one official from the Chicago Public Schools standing outside a darkened school for more than two hours, according to a parent from the school. Gunsaulus is a Chicago elementary school located at 4420 S. Sacramento Ave. which has been facing major controversies similar to a few other schools. The controversies center around of the way in which the school's principal has been treating parents and many staff.

Gunsaulus Elementary School Local School Council President Bert Fanelli (above right, after speaking at the April 22, 2009 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education) illegally cancelled the July 1 organizational meeting of the LSC, leaving several parents, at least one LSC member, and a CPS official standing in front of a darkened school for three hours until the sun set on July 1, 2009. Fanelli has been supporting the school's controversial principal, Amy Kotz, in the face of mounting criticism inside the school and across blogs on the Internet. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."Several parents and Jose Villasenor, Deputy Director from the Office of Local School Council Relations, stood outside the school for 2 ½ hours," Gale Suwe, a parent who has been critical of the school's principal, told Substance. "Mr. Villasenor contacted several CPS staff members attempting to either gain the cell phone number for the Gunsaulus principal, Amy Kotz, or information on the meeting’s rescheduling, but was unsuccessful. He stated that CPS should have the principal’s cell phone number available, but he was not able to obtain it," Suwe said. When asked what his purpose was in attending the meeting, Mr. Villasenor stated that he was asked to come by Jose Alvarez, who has been serving as Chief of CPS Office of Local School Council Relations. Mr. Villasenor stated that he did not know who had invited Mr. Alvarez, but assumed it was either the school principal, Amy Kotz, or the LSC Chairman, Reid Fanelli.

The date of the July 1 LSC organizational meeting was established at the May 13, 2009, Gunsaulus LSC meeting, according to Mrs. Suwe.

"At that meeting, the full LSC voted unanimously to hold the organizational meeting on July 1 at 6:30," Mrs. Suwe said. "Since Monday, June 29, I have been attempting to confirm the date and time of the organizational meeting. I called the school on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings, but was not able to reach the main office. I drove to the school yesterday [June 30], but no notice of the meeting was posted on the main door. I rang the doorbell of the school three times, but no one answered the door, despite the fact that the lights were on and I could hear music coming through the open windows..."

Since Gunsaulus parents and others brought some of the problems at Gunsaulus to the attention of the Chicago Board of Education's March 25, 2009, meeting (above, Gale Suwe addressing the Board on March 25), the problems have dominated discussions on the Internet, prompted a special meeting with teachers and CTU President Marilyn Stewart on a Saturday morning, and demoralized most of the school's teachers as the school year drew to a close. Yet on July 1, 2009, nothing had changed at Gunsaulus — and the LSC president Bert Fanelli and Principal Amy Kotz saw nothing wrong with illegally canceling a public meeting and leaving a number of people waiting on the sidewalk outside the school for nearly three hours. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."This afternoon [July 1], I called the school and finally got through to one of the office staff," Mrs. Suwe continued. "The individual told me that he had no information about tonight’s LSC meeting. I asked that he inquire, and he did so, and then stated that he thought the meeting might be rescheduled to next week, but that he did not have a specific time or any specific information. I contacted two LSC members to try to confirm the meeting. I sent a text message to Maria Sudeikis, parent LSC member, inquiring as to the time of tonight’s meeting. I received a text in reply that stated that she thought the meeting started at 6:00p, but was not sure, and that she would call to find out the time. I asked her to contact me again when she had the time of the meeting. I have not heard from her since the initial text at 2:04pm, despite sending several more text messages and leaving several voice mails. I contacted LSC member Renee Costanza via email, and also asked another parent to call her to confirm the start time. Ms. Costanza replied that she knew the start time to be 6:30, and she had not received any notification of cancellation."

The lengthy narrative of problems at Gunsaulus has become almost legendary on the Internet during the past six months. While a growing number of teachers were reporting serious problems with the management style of the principal, parents began posting messages to the "District299" blog hosted by Catalyst magazine. By June 2009, the number of comments posted to District 299 had become so large that the blog host had to open a new thread. By the end of June, more than 800 comments had been shared across the Internet about the problems at Gunsaulus.

"I got to the school at 5:15, to find it completely dark, no cars in the parking lot, and no notice on the doors of a rescheduled meeting," Mrs. Suwe continued in her narrative to Substance. "At approximately 5:30, Jose Villasenor arrived. I introduced myself and told him the conflicting information I had. At that point, he placed a number of calls to various CPS staff members, but was not able to obtain any specific information on the meeting. As we were speaking, three other parents arrived, as well as two Gunsaulus students, and an LSC member — Renee Costanza..."

The problems faced by parents and teachers with a small number of Chicago principals who have been described as everything from "high handed" to "tyrannical" has become more public because of blogs and the Internet. Three weeks ago, CPS officials hosted a meeting with teachers from three of the schools facing serious principal problems at the TAMS center on a Saturday morning. The meeting involved teachers from Field, Gunsaulus, and Prescott elementary schools. Additional problems at Brooks High School have also prompted concern and monitoring by the Office of LSC Relations at CPS and by Mr. Villasenor himself.

"I texted and called Maria Sudeikis but was unable to reach her." Ms. Suwe continued. "Several people walked over to the house of a community LSC member, Dorothy Matusik, but there was no answer at her house. The parents and students spoke with Jose Villasenor about the situation with this meeting. He stated that legally neither the principal nor the LSC chairman can simply reschedule an LSC meeting that was voted on. The proper legal action is to hold an official LSC meeting to vote on the schedule change, and then post the change according to the guidelines. He said another alternative would have been for the chairperson to show up, and then determine if a quorum was reached, and take the appropriate action at that time."

Despite the fact that this situation is a clear violation of the open meetings act, Mr. Villasenor told those who wait outside the darkened building with him that there is little that CPS can do, according to Mrs. Suwe. "He stated that past legal proceedings have demonstrated that only the State of Illinois can take an action against a LSC that violates the Open Meetings Act," she reported. "According to the LSC rules, the organizational meeting must be held by July 15th. When asked how we would be notified of the new meeting time, Mr. Villasenor replied that the LSC must abide by the rules to post the meeting information at least 48 hours before the meeting. Despite the fact that this meeting was not changed in a legal fashion, Mr. Villasenor stated that there is little that the CPS Office of LSC Relations can do beyond reminding the LSC chair of the proper procedures." For approximately two and a half hours, the parents and students — joined by one LSC member spoke — with Mr. Villasenor about the problems at Gunsaulus as the cool July day turned to evening. A number of parents told Villaseñor that the problems have been occurring based on the actions of the principal Amy Kotz and the LSC Chair Reid Fanelli.

[img=659]Parents thought that Mr. Villasenor was concerned by some of the allegations he heard, and said he promised to bring the problems to the appropriate parties.

"Multiple examples were cited by parents of principal and LSC abuse of power and inappropriate and illegal actions," Gale Suwe said. "Gabriela Suarez and I have spoken at two Chicago Board of Educatoin meetings (March 2009 and May 2009) and we shared our experiences with Mr. Villaseñor. Mr. Villaseñor requested that some information with supporting documentation be forwarded to him for review..." Despite promises during the Board of Education meetings that more would be done, it was apparent to observers on July 1 that the Board had yet to pay serious attention to the problems with high-handed leadership (on both the LSC and in the principal's office) at Gunsaulus. "At approximately 8:00pm, we all left," Gale Suwe concluded. "One specific point I made to Mr. Villasenor was that this event was typical of the Gunsaulus LSC. This event is just one in a series of actions that demonstrates to the school community that the LSC does not value parent and community input is not encouraged, and demonstrates a lack of respect for parents. If some unforeseen event mandated that the meeting be cancelled, then common courtesy would demand that a note be placed on the door to inform the parents who came to attend the meeting. I made the point to Mr. Villasenor that I believed the meeting was cancelled long before today without going through the proper channels. When I visited the school yesterday, there was no posted notice of this meeting on the doors as required."

Mrs. Suwe said she also questioned the fact that Renee Costanza, a current LSC member, was never informed of a meeting change, and that another LSC rep, Maria Sudeikis had indicated via text as late as 2:00 pm on July 1 that there was a meeting.

"The only LSC rep who actually showed up was Renee Costanza," Gale Suwe continued. "How did the other members of the LSC know not to attend? It is obvious by their non attendance that they all knew the meeting was cancelled, but that no effort was made to contact LSC parent rep Renee Costanza to inform her of the meeting change. Apparently, the only way to know when the LSC meeting will be held is to keep calling and visiting the school until I can get a straight answer." 

Final edited version of this article posted at July 2, 2009, 1:00 p.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.