Henry D. Lloyd Elementary School parents, staff and children prepare their final goodbyes after the local school council formally announced its decision not to renew Principal Fernando Kim’s contract, which expires June 30.
Some say the decision, announced on Feb. 1, was a result of the school’s low Illinois Standards Achievement Test, or ISAT, scores. However, some parents worry it’s about ethnicity. Kim is Asian American and the school is predominantly Latino.
“I’m still asking the same question, wondering too,” Kim said.
Kim, of Korean decent, has been the principal at Lloyd for four years. The school has a 94.7 percent Latino student population, according to the Chicago Public Schools website.
He said there were five votes for renewal, four votes against renewal, one abstention and one absence. For renewal, he needed a majority of the voting LSC members and was short by one vote.
Supporters of Kim went to the Feb. 22 Chicago Public Schools board meeting to protest. They chanted outside the downtown central offices, “Who is your principal? Mr. Kim!”
Parents walked in circles on Clark Street holding brightly colored signs with student-painted hand-prints that read, “Mr. Kim is the best principal. We love him.” and “We want Mr. Kim back.”
Jose Garlegos, parent of third-grader Jose and first-grader Isaac, walked around the crowd wearing a sandwich-board saying: “Elmo says, ‘Mr. Kim is a world-class educator who was evaluated wrongfully.’ ”
“I don’t want a new principal,” Garlegos said. “I want to stay with Mr. Kim.”
Kim’s work with students pushed Lloyd parent Paula Bermudez to protest and support her fifth-grade son, Alex.
“I don’t care if he’s purple with three heads. As long as he does a good job, I really don’t care. I just want my kid to be safe when he comes to school,” Bermudez said. “[Alex] feels safe and school should be a safe haven.”
Garlegos and Bermudez said they fear that Kim’s Korean ethnicity may have been taken into consideration during the voting process.
Bermudez said the principal’s performance should be based on his interaction with the school community and some members of the LSC “don’t agree with [Kim] running the school because of his nationality.”
Kim speaks both Spanish and English fluently.
“By genes, I’m Korean. My parents are Korean. Culturally, I was raised Latino in Argentina until the age of 14,” Kim said.
Kim and Mauricio Alvarado, a fifth-grade teacher and LSC secretary, said that they have never heard direct complaints about his nationality being a negative despite hearing second-hand information that some parents were concerned.
“I heard it from parents. I didn’t hear it directly from the council,” Alvarado said. “If I did hear it from them, then I would approach them.”
According to the LSC Reference Guide, the LSC must formally send a list of explanations if the council votes for non-renewal.
“There were some different statements that, in my opinion, were not based on facts,” Kim said. “They haven’t been up front with me. The explanations I received on paper was just from four of the LSC, so it’s technically not from the LSC in my opinion.”
He said the only explanation that was based in fact was that the school is currently on probation with a Level 3 rating. The CPS performance ratings are based on current, past and projected ISAT scores.
Alvarado, who voted for renewal, said bilingual and special needs scores were included in the overall ISAT scores after Kim arrived at Lloyd due to a policy change. This explained the dip in scores, he said.
“They didn’t see that perspective. They just looked at the numbers and they didn’t know what the numbers meant, what was behind it,” Alvarado said. “Basically, in my opinion, they focused on the ISAT scores being one major indicator for non-renewal.”
Alvarado also said that past annual reviews of Kim were mixed and that he worked hard on the suggestions presented to him.
“Whether there is a lot or a little input, ultimately, still, that group decides,” Kim said. “I know that’s been a point of maybe frustration for many parents and staff members alike.”
Excluding Kim, 10 other people make up the council: community members Carmen Lopez and Maria Cisneros, teachers Alvarado and Laurel Salgado, staff member Rosa Vasquez and parents Henry Salgado, Rosalba Rodriquez, Benita Flores, Martha Carbajal, Lucina Lopez and Wilma Rivera.
During the principal review process, the LSC is responsible for obtaining opinion and comment about the principal’s performance from non-LSC members.
The LSC sent surveys to teachers and parents in addition to holding open forums, according to Alvarado.
“I just thought, from my opinion, there should have been more response from the parents to get the parents more engaged in the process,” he said.
Some parents, like Marcela Hernandez, said the council did not take some of the parents’ opinions about Kim’s performance into consideration when voting.
Hernandez said her fourth-grade son is learning a lot due to Kim’s leadership.
“We think that this principal is good,” Hernandez said. “This principal brings new technology.”
Kim obtained a grant for iPads last year after collaborating with four Lloyd teachers during the 2010-2011 school year. Lloyd teachers are now working on fully integrating fourth and fifth grade classes with iPads and other technologies.
“He’s pretty experienced in writing the grants so he worked with us to make it a good grant application,” said Lloyd teacher Nancy Han, who worked with Kim on the grant.
Alvarado said that he doesn’t know how the LSC will deal with the aftermath of losing their principal. Bermudez said that she thinks the students will fall behind in their education when a new principal is hired.
“[A] new administration has to get to know the staff, has to get to know the family members, has to know the children,” she said. “Instead of working ahead, we will go backwards.”
Kim has started the appeal process and is waiting for a response that will connect him with the American Arbitration Association, which mediates disputes for a final decision.
According to the Office of Local School Council Relations, a member of the LSC can enter a motion to renew Kim’s contract before it expires.
Kim said he has received tremendous support from teachers and parents. He does not know where or when he will be working the next school year but hopes he will be somewhere in Chicago Public School system.
“It’s a very committed staff,” Kim said. “That’s why it’s bittersweet to consider the fact that I won’t be able to continue to work with them beyond June 30.”