The head of Chicago Public Schools said Friday he will not fire Jones College Prep’s principal despite the recommendation of the high school’s Local School Council because of “insufficient evidence of misconduct.”
The LSC voted 8-2 last month to request the start of dismissal proceedings against Principal P. Joseph Powers for allegations including violation of the district’s residency policy to failure to address “systemic” discrimination issues and mismanagement of misconduct reports and school financial matters. After the vote, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez had 45 days to decide whether to fire Powers.
“While the investigations are ongoing, based on a review of your materials and discussions with representatives of the investigative bodies looking into this matter, there is insufficient evidence of misconduct by Mr. Powers at this time on which to base an action for involuntary dismissal,” Martinez wrote in a letter Friday to the LSC.
“We all have a duty to Jones’ students to work collaboratively to ensure that they are successful in school and in life,” Martinez said. “I encourage the Local School Council and Dr. Powers to hit the reset button on their relationship and focus their energies on productive actions that will advance the interests of students.”
Powers did not immediately respond to a Tribune request for comment Friday, but he has defended his 13-year tenure to the school community. The LSC vote about him came after hours of debate in which many parents and teachers offered support while others said it is time for change at the selective enrollment school in the Printers Row neighborhood.
Three parents who sit on the LSC wrote an 11-page letter to Martinez and Inspector General Will Fletcher in February that outlined their concerns about Powers. One of the major charges was that Powers rents an apartment in Chicago but owns a residence in Missouri and uses that address for his driver’s license, and car and voter registration.
CPS’ residency policy says employees hired after November 1996 are required to be residents of Chicago, with some waivers granted. Powers told the school community he visits his wife on weekends at their home in St. Louis.
Another complaint is that Powers failed to report or discipline one teacher for alleged misconduct and another for inappropriate behavior involving students.
LSC chairperson Cassie Creswell, one of the letter writers, expressed disappointment in Martinez’s response to the LSC Friday.
“I’m surprised and, frankly, disgusted. It’s really, really disturbing that they would leave him in place,” Creswell told the Tribune. She said Martinez was presented with “an extremely strong case” for Powers’ dismissal.
“He is violating the CPS residency policy and has been for 14 years. And I think we provided a very strong case that he has been failing to report extremely serious misconduct and abuse against students,” Creswell said. “CEO Martinez said in the fall that not just abusers, and not just those who had committed the misconduct, but those who failed to report that misconduct will be removed from a school while investigations are ongoing. And now he’s gone back on that.”
Creswell and the other two letter writers, Sarah Ma and Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth, did not run for LSC reelection this week. The council will have several new faces when it is seated in July.
At a forum last month, LSC candidates talked of increasing the transparency of council activities, uniting the school community and making the school, which serves nearly 2,000 students, more equitable. Nearly 37% of Jones students are white, 29% are Latino, 15% are Asian, and about 12% are Black, according to CPS data.
When it was composed of different members, the LSC easily renewed Powers’ principal contract in December 2019 for four more years.