Transforming Marshall: One principal ousted, another takes over

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Marshall High School Principal Juan Gardner and his entire administrative team were removed this summer, three years after Gardner took over at the long-failing East Garfield Park school. There’s no official word as to why, but Gardner had two strong marks against him: The school failed to improve, despite extra resources and new curricula; and he was accused of falsifying a document related to a lawsuit against him that cost the district $500,000.

Marshall High School Principal Juan Gardner and his entire administrative team were removed this summer, three years after Gardner took over at the long-failing East Garfield Park school.

There’s no official word as to why, but Gardner had two strong marks against him: The school failed to improve, despite extra resources and new curricula; and he was accused of falsifying a document related to a lawsuit against him that cost the district $500,000.

Reached at his home in south suburban Crete, Gardner wouldn’t say much, except that the district decided to go in a “different direction.” He added that former Lane Tech Principal Keith Foley, who was brought in for $120,000 a year to mentor Gardner and his assistant principals, was also removed.

Marshall and Gardner were featured in the February 2008 issue of In Depth, on problems with the district’s High School Transformation project. Through the project, the school got new textbooks, laptop computers, professional development and subject-area coaches to help teachers, and new curricula with pre-written lesson plans and assessments.

The new principal of Marshall is Sean Clayton from Marconi Elementary, a small elementary school with rising test scores (although it also has a shrinking student population). Every year, Marconi sends a fair number of graduates to Marshall. The latest available data, from 2005, shows that 40 percent of Marconi’s graduates went onto Marshall.

Gardner’s biggest problem most likely stems from the 2007 firing of basketball coach Lamont Bryant. In a lawsuit, Bryant alleged that Gardner dismissed him “in retaliation for his efforts to bring to light the fact that (well-known girls’ basketball coach Dorothy Gaters) was undermining the boys’ basketball team and wasn’t treating the boys’ basketball team on an equal basis.” In January, CPS settled the case for $500,000.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the judge in the case contacted U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald about Gardner’s alleged fabrication of a letter in the case. No charges have been brought against Gardner in connection with the case.

The mess with the basketball team wasn’t Gardner’s only stumbling block.

Marshall joined the district’s transformation project in the 2007-2008 school year, so Prairie State scores for the first group of juniors to participate in the program since freshman year won’t be available till next year (those students will be sophomores this year).

However, other available data gives some insight into why CEO Ron Huberman might have wanted new leadership. (CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond did not respond to questions about why Gardner was replaced.)

In 2008, Marshall’s attendance rate was 47 percent, a significant decline from 72 percent the year before; a paltry 4 percent of juniors met standards on the Prairie State exam, a drop of three percentage points since 2005; and the dropout rate was 47.5 percent.

Marshall’s academic difficulties might seem almost insurmountable, but it is interesting to note that Manley High—less than a mile away and also in an impoverished community—is doing better. Although just 7 percent of Manley’s students met standards on the Prairie State exam in 2008, the dropout rate—once higher than Marshall’s—fell to 40.5 percent. Manley’s attendance rate is 78 percent, a good 30 percentage points higher than Marshall’s.

The principal of Manley, Sean Stalling, was promoted this year and is now a chief area officer.