Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 09 CH 48425 Honorable Michael B. Hyman, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cahill
JUSTICE CAHILL delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McBride and Garcia concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Defendant the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (Board) appeals the trial court's grant of a petition for writ of certiori and order reinstating plaintiff Darreyl Young-Gibson to her position as principal at Percy L. Julian High School (Julian). The Board contends that the trial court erred in holding the Board was required to terminate plaintiff in accordance with the procedures outlined in section 34-85 of the School Code (Code) (105 ILCS 5/34-85 (West 2008)).We reverse.
¶ 2 Plaintiff was selected as principal of Julian in 2008. Sections 5(b) and (g) of plaintiff's four-year contract with the Board provided that she could be removed for cause as principal before the expiration of her term under section 34-85 of the Code or removed "to the extent permitted" under sections 34-8.3 and 34-8.4 of the Code (105 ILCS 5/34-8.3, 8.4 (West 2008)).
¶ 3 On July 20, 2009, the Board's chief executive officer (CEO) sent plaintiff a letter informing her that he was considering removing her from her principalship at Julian and terminating her contract due to Julian's failure "to make adequate progress to address the deficiencies that have placed it on probation."
¶ 4 On August 24, 2009, a hearing officer heard evidence on behalf of the CEO and plaintiff. The CEO called three witnesses. Ryan Crosby, the Board's director of performance, testified that the CEO's recommendation that plaintiff be removed as Julian's principal was correctly based on section 34-8.3 of the Code. Crosby said Julian had been on probation since the 2004-05 school year and plaintiff had been principal since January 2008. Plaintiff was subject to removal because Julian had failed to make adequate progress in correcting the deficiencies that resulted in it being placed on probation. Crosby explained that the Board adopted a "Performance and Remediation and Probation Policy" for the 2008-09 school year. Under the policy, schools were assigned points for various levels of performance and improvement based on the "Prairie State Achievement Exam," the ACT, the "Freshman-on-Track Rate," the attendance rate and other performance metrics. Schools were placed into one of three "achievement levels" based on the points, with level three being the probation level. Julian received 30.6% of the possible points, placing it in the probation achievement level for the 2008-09 school year. Under the Board's policy, schools on probation must achieve a level one or two rating for two consecutive years to be removed from probation. Data from school years between 2004 to 2009 showed that Julian students were performing far below district averages and were not making significant progress in catching up. Due to this lack of progress, Julian was not eligible to be removed from probation for the 2009-10 school year.
¶ 5 Jerryelyn Jones testified that she had over 34 years of experience as a teacher and administrator in the Chicago public schools (CPS) and served 8 of those years as a principal. During the time plaintiff was principal at Julian, Jones served as the area instruction officer for "Area 24," which included Julian. Jones was the CEO's designee to oversee and assess the performance of principals at schools in her area. When plaintiff was selected as principal, Julian had been on CPS probation for five years, and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) was monitoring Julian's recognition status "due to a persistent failure to provide special education services to students consistent with state and federal law" and "a persistent failure to create and maintain a safe and healthful school climate." During the time plaintiff was principal she failed to address these concerns and to provide leadership and, as a consequence, Julian was on the "brink" of losing state funding and being closed by the ISBE.
¶ 6 Jones said that after plaintiff had been principal for eight months, the ISBE lowered Julian's status from "fully recognized" to "recognized pending further review." Plaintiff was ordered to appear at a meeting by the ISBE's division coordinator to discuss Julian's downgraded status, but plaintiff did not attend the meeting or send a substitute representative.
¶ 7 Seven months later the ISBE again downgraded Julian's status by placing the school on probation "due in large part to the inadequacy of [plaintiff's] leadership at [Julian]." Jones explained that the ISBE assistant superintendent notified the CEO that the State was placing Julian on probation due to " 'evidence of ongoing failure to serve students according to relevant legal and regulatory standards and prolonged non-compliance with legal and regulatory requirements in the area [of] Special Education Services.' " The ISBE found that plaintiff's failure to implement procedures to improve special education services at Julian " 'indicated a lack of intention to achieve progress.' " The ISBE also noted that plaintiff failed to demonstrate managerial expertise in improving student safety.
¶ 8 Jones said that as a result of being placed on probation status, the ISBE required Julian to develop and submit to the ISBE a corrective action plan to cure the existing deficiencies and effectively implement that plan. A failure to do so could result in the ISBE designating Julian as "non-recognized" and ineligible to receive state funding, effectively closing the school. Given the potential consequences, the CEO reassigned plaintiff to an administrative position and appointed an interim principal.
¶ 9 Jones testified that plaintiff lacked the knowledge, skills, abilities, leadership capabilities and collaborative working style required to bring Julian back from the "brink" of closure. Jones made four observations to support her opinion.
¶ 10 First, plaintiff "demonstrated an inability to center the school around instruction" and "collaboratively engage and develop staff to deliver high quality instruction to Julian students." Rather than improving the delivery of services to students within the Julian attendance boundary, plaintiff focused her efforts on increasing Julian's enrollment from students outside the Julian attendance area, without admission criteria and contrary to Board practice. Jones provided the following examples of plaintiff's unwillingness and inability to focus the school on instruction and to collaborate with her staff:
(1) During the 2008-09 school year, plaintiff failed to give guidance counselors access to student programs so that counselors could advise students on graduation requirements to ensure senior students could meet them.
(2) Plaintiff failed to staff the school properly. For example, plaintiff allowed a teacher to teach a Spanish class who did not know Spanish and was not certified.
(3) Plaintiff failed to program the school properly when the school year started on September 2, 2008. As a result, students lost a great deal of instruction time as the programming problems were not remedied until early October.
(4) Many Julian teachers did not issue textbooks until October 24, 2008, due to plaintiff's failure to plan properly for the opening of the school year. As a result, students spent about two months without appropriate educational materials.
(5) Student ID cards were not issued until October 24, 2008, creating student safety issues.
(6) Jones received complaints from parents about the programing and textbook issues, and plaintiff initially failed to meet with the parents and address their concerns. When she eventually met with them, she was "terse and dismissive of [their] concerns." Jones was forced to "issue discipline" to plaintiff to compel her to respond appropriately to the parents.
(7) Plaintiff failed to submit teacher evaluations for the 2008-09 school year although she was trained to do so, received repeated reminders and Board policy requires it.
(8) Two weeks before graduation, about half of the 2009 graduating class was found ineligible to graduate because the counseling department had not kept adequate student records. After assistance from Jones and area staff, finally nearly 20% of the students were found ineligible to graduate.
¶ 11 Second, plaintiff demonstrated an inability to provide a safe and secure teaching and learning environment. Despite the support and resources offered by Jones and her staff, plaintiff resisted the assistance and refused to cooperate to improve the safety issues at Julian. Plaintiff continued to do so even after Jones took disciplinary measures against her and the Board issued plaintiff a formal warning resolution. As a result, the school climate further deteriorated, as evidenced by two safety audits conducted at Julian in April and December 2008.
¶ 12 Third, plaintiff demonstrated an inability to supervise maintenance staff to make Julian clean, safe and healthful for students, faculty staff and visitors. Plaintiff failed to properly manage maintenance personnel, exacerbating problems at Julian's facilities.
¶ 13 Jones' fourth observation claimed that plaintiff was unable to cooperatively or collaboratively work with parents and central and area offices. From the start of her appointment as principal, plaintiff resisted all efforts by Jones, the safety and security department, the operations department, the "Office of High School Programs" and the CEO to improve the environment at Julian. Plaintiff was dismissive of parental complaints about her failure to meet the needs of the students. On March 7, 2009, the local school council chairman, on behalf of the Julian local school council, asked the CEO to take steps to dismiss plaintiff. Jones concluded that plaintiff "has amply demonstrated that she is unable to do what is necessary to avoid [being shut down the by the ISBE] and must be removed."
¶ 14 John Cooke testified that he was employed by the Board as director of asset management. Cooke managed the facilities at 650 Chicago schools and developed and managed an annual budget of about $256 million.
¶ 15 Cooke said that plaintiff ignored and sometimes condoned her chief engineer's harmful behavior at the school. Of the 650 schools for which Cook was responsible, Julian was "one of a very small number of schools that routinely blocked the efforts of the Department of Facilities to maintain and/or improve the physical condition of their school buildings." The Julian administration often refused to allow contractors to enter the school to perform necessary work or allow CPS personnel to enter the building to assess and/or address conditions within Julian. Cooke cited a particular instance where plaintiff ordered a contractor trying to fix the school's fire alarm to leave the school, even when it was apparent that the school's engineer was incapable of fixing the alarm. Also, plaintiff's failure to correct a variety of deficiencies in the school, revealed by a December 2008 safety audit, showed "a pattern of neglect and inattention."
¶ 16 Finally, Cooke said that a review of Julian's maintenance budget for the 2008-09 school year evidenced "the administration's unwillingness to take the necessary steps to create a safe and welcoming environment for all students and staff at Julian." Cooke explained that each CPS school has an annual budget, and if the school fails to spend their funds during the course of the school year, they risk losing those funds the next year. For the 2008-09 school year, Julian's maintenance budget was about $112,000. In April 2009, with about 30% of the school year remaining, it was discovered that $67,000 remained in the school's ...