Group says course steady after firing, resignations

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Despite the firing of its executive director and the resignation of two board members, the Chicago Association of Local School Councils (CALSC) will stick to plans to work more closely with individual local school councils, according to the remaining leadership.

At its Dec. 14 meeting, the CALSC board voted 3-2 to dismiss Executive Director Sheila Castillo and then to appoint Advocacy Director James Hammonds as the acting head of the organization. Two weeks later, Lorraine Straw and Darlene Perlstein, the dissenting members, resigned in protest, calling Castillo’s termination questionable, careless, surprising and untimely.

The moves came as CALSC began to shift its focus away from broad educational policy issues to direct support of individual local school councils. A program started last fall to train 30 facilitators to work with individual LSCs will continue and expand, says Hammonds.

The circumstances of Castillo’s ouster sketch a picture of relationships gone awry. At the beginning of the Dec. 14 meeting, Castillo, who acted as the board’s secretary, presented minutes from the most recent meeting even though minutes from two prior meetings had not been written. That angered some board members, and a heated, 30-minute debate ensued over the presentation of minutes. Finally, board president William Roberts, a former member of the Lindblom High LSC, handed the gavel to another board member and offered a motion to dismiss Castillo. It passed with little discussion. Members who voted both for and against Castillo agree on this version of events.

Board members who voted to dismiss Castillo say that Castillo’s handling of the minutes was part of a larger pattern. “On the face of it, if you would say, ‘This was a problem with the minutes,’ then this would be ludicrous,” says Cheryl Aaron. “You could almost say that this was the final straw out of a lot of straws. … The minutes themselves were not the reason for her removal. That’s categorical.”

Roberts says the primary reason was a longstanding lack of communication and attention from Castillo. “There were things that [Castillo did in CALSC’s name], and the first any board member knew about it was reading it in the newspaper or hearing it on the street,” he says, adding that he had to ask repeatedly for information he saw as basic. “We’re supposed to be training LSCs to manage their meetings, and if we can’t do what we’re training others to do, then we’re giving the wrong impression.”

Straw says she doesn’t know why Castillo was fired. But she acknowledges that tensions on the board had made recent meetings “quite unfruitful. We did seem to get bogged down in matters that didn’t need to be hashed out at length. … And yet, we usually came to consensus. … That’s why I [would say] that this sudden split was abnormal. It was shocking.”

Pearlstein characterizes the majority’s action as “a premeditated power grab,” adding that Castillo’s job performance was never formally evaluated by the board.

The opposing factions accuse each other of an array of uncooperative, unreasonable behavior, some dating from before Castillo’s dismissal, some since. Each side holds the other responsible for the board’s failure to meet a commitment to expand board membership from five to 11 in the last year; each side says that the other has failed to provide important financial information.

Restored financial health

Under Castillo’s leadership, the association had quickly rebounded from the financial collapse of the Latino Institute, which owed CALSC over $167,000 when the Institute halted operations last summer. “Obviously, … the fact that I had raised over $232,000 in two months to put the organization back on its feet did not weigh in my balance,” says Castillo. “There was no other information forthcoming” from the board members who voted to dismiss her, she says.

Aaron confirms that the organization is in good financial shape and credits Castillo’s fundraising efforts. “She did some very good things,” says Aaron. “Bringing us back from the brink of disaster, that’s one good thing. Financially, she did do that. I love her speeches. I love the articles she writes. But the problems were so overwhelming that we just had to finally call a halt to it.”

Hammonds says that all of CALSC’s funders have been contacted and none has indicated it might withdraw support because of Castillo’s dismissal.

Among the group’s major funders, The Joyce Foundation declined to comment. “We don’t at this point feel it’s appropriate to talk about the CALSC board’s decision to remove Sheila,” says program officer Reggie Lewis. “Joyce continues to believe in the work of LSCs, and it’s important to have a strong organization supporting the work of LSCs. But otherwise, it’s not appropriate for us to comment on that.”

No search planned

The board has no immediate plans to search for a new executive director, according to Aaron, who says that Hammonds will probably serve three to six months before the board considers the question.

Meanwhile, Hammonds says the group plans to expand its staff, recruit more member LSCs and move its headquarters to a new downtown location. For now, CALSC remains in the offices it shared with the Latino Institute, which has vacated the space.

Organized in 1992, CALSC supports LSCs through training and advocacy. Local school councils at 136 schools have joined CALSC, says Aaron. Castillo was the organization’s founding director.

Wanda Hopkins, the fifth board member, was unavailable for comment.