LSC mulls retirement of principal
by KEVIN GROSS
The Wildwood School Local School Council at its meeting June 12 discussed efforts to replace former principal Dr. Mary Beth Cunat who suddenly retired on June 6, with some residents suggesting that she was allegedly forced out.
"Dr. Cunat leaving was a personal decision. It was not a forced option at all," said Julie McGlade, CPS Deputy Chief of Network 1 Schools. "Again, it was personal. We are going to respect that, even though we don’t like the timing and anything like that."
In the interim, Robert Guercio, former principal of Bell School who also recently served as interim principal at Taft High School will serve as the administrator in charge.
"We’re at the end of the year, it’s a tough situation, we’re going through a transition here … I’m committed to making this transition work as well as it can work," Guercio said. "But you’ve got a great school. I’m proud to be here, I feel privileged to be here."
Guercio is authorized to serve for up to 100 days and should the LSC search process take longer, McGlade said that CPS has measures in place to ensure another interim principal can serve.
At the public meeting, some residents said that the resignation was prompted by a string of personal attacks and harassment, well before a controversy relating to the school’s "Career Day" event held on May 25 that many suspected was a reason for the resignation.
Speaker Ethan Ethos, who describes himself as a "vocalist, organizer and abolitionist" on Facebook spoke at the school on May 25, and drew criticism from some residents over his anti-police opinions.
His Facebook page includes the term "CPDK," which is an acronym for "Chicago Police Department Killer" and also uses a profane hip-hop slang term against the police. The term has since been removed from the Facebook page.
During his talk at the school, Ethos reportedly said that the police had killed his friend. The Wildwood community is known to have a significant number of police officers and other first responders living there, and many of their children attend the school.
"There were a group of parents who did not like her, who filed complaint after complaint about her, to the district. And then she started receiving personal threats … and when the threats became personal, she had no choice but to resign," a resident said. "She wanted to make it to the end of the school year, she loved being here, she loved her teachers, and it’s an enormous loss for the community."
Some residents said that they forgave Cunat for "making a poor judgment" regarding the speaker and others said that there would need to be more vetting when looking for a new principal.
A resignation letter by Cunat made no mention of personal harassment or the "Career Day," attributing her resignation to health, new granddaughters and "less demanding but very compelling opportunities."
"What I would ask of CPS is that there be an investigation into how this gem of a principal was pressured to resign, and what was the role of the Chicago Police Department in what happened here. Because what we know from experience is that the police department will not tolerate any criticism of the police force," a resident said. "We hear police, very prominently on social media, taking success for the takedown of this principal."
Fraternal Order of Police second vice president Michael Prieb, who was invited to speak following the "Career Day" event, said he didn’t push for a resignation.
"When this first broke (and) I first met Dr. Cunat, she was torn up about this. I immediately realized she made a mistake vetting this guy. As I got to know her I could see she loved the kids, she cared about the kids and she wanted the kids to learn," Prieb said. "So I’m really torn. I’m very offended this guy was here, but I don’t really want to see her lose her job … I would love to see her get another chance."
Cunat recently released a statement on her own behalf. It said:
"After eight years of serving as principal of Wildwood IB World Magnet, Dr. Mary Beth Cunat accomplished what she had been hired to do in making the tenants of the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, "real" in the bones and blood of the school culture. IB is a world-wide, world-class program committed to progressive, internationally-minded educational approaches to curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Through developing teacher leadership and bringing numerous grant-funded educational innovations to the school, Dr. Cunat led her team in making Wildwood an exemplary IB school known for its personalized approaches and visited by educators from across the country and world.
"As deeply committed as Dr. Cunat was to the Wildwood students and staff, she became aware early in the school year that a small but vocal group of parents were hoping for a new principal. Dr. Cunat had cultivated teacher ownership of the work and knew that IB approaches which value student inquiry, student choice and voice, academic rigor, and civic action would continue without her.
"Thus, she began to explore other options for herself in late 2017. Although she had accepted a four year contract from the Wildwood LSC hoping to turn things around, a few controversial incidents occurred over the course of the winter and spring, which, though resolved well, confirmed in Dr. Cunat’s mind that it was time to move on at the end of the school year.
"When parent outcry over a career day speaker resulted in hateful social media and anonymous threats to her and her family, she decided to expedite her retirement from Chicago Public Schools, which she did on June 6, 2018."