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Teachers organize with community to force out abusive Nightingale principal

by ctu communications  |  11/01/2017

Former Nightingale teacher Christina Jennings speaks at a press conference prior to the October 25 board meeting.

Solidarity is powerful – and at Gage Park’s Florence Nightingale Elementary School, it’s won the struggle against an abusive principal, who was forced out of the school last Friday. DNAinfo reported today -- Wednesday -- that Margaret Kouretsos 'retired' from her $143,000 position, after facing allegations that she "verbally abused employees, retaliated against those who took sick days and kept a "black list" of enemies, according to teachers, a petition, Board of Education testimony and a lawsuit filed against her." A Daily Beast report also said the principal 'screamed' at those speaking Spanish in the overwhelmingly Latinx school.

Teachers came together to organize parents and the school community and win this battle. Teachers held union meetings, did outreach to parents, met with the network chief, set up an online petition, and spoke out at LSC meetings. Nightingale union members also conducted a staff survey which showed persistent levels of abuse and harassment by principal Margaret Kouretsos.

Teachers used the CTU contract to file a series of grievances documenting the principal’s chronic mistreatment of teachers and school community members. And teachers joined parents and neighborhood residents at monthly CPS board meetings, where they laid out evidence of Kouretsos’ appalling pattern of bullying and abuse. The teachers’ online petition, which was signed by more than a thousand people, became a vital public tool to air complaints and make the case for why Kouretsos had to be removed.

At the October 25 board meeting, teachers and parents once again organized to testify to the board about Kouretsos’ disturbing unprofessionalism.

Nightingale parent Rebecca Lopez delivered searing testimony of how Kouretsos had sought to undermine education for special needs students at the school. “This behavior shouldn't be tolerated –  especially for someone who's in power as a principal,” said Lopez. Art teacher Christina Jennings also spoke, testifying for many former and current teachers and students. “This principal has been allowed to verbally and psychologically abuse teachers, parents and students for far too long,” she said, documenting Kouretsos’ shocking treatment of staff and parents.  

This was not an easy or short fight – in no small part because Mayor Emanuel continues to thwart accountability and undermine democratic governance in CPS. Top CPS management had chronically refused to hold this principal accountable for her bullying and abuse, instead rewarding Kouretsos in 2016 with less paperwork responsibility and more ‘flexibility’ as a participant in CPS’ program for ‘Independent School Principals’.  

Yet teachers ultimately prevailed – a powerful testament to what CTU members can achieve with strong organizing, including union-organized solidarity and support from the community.   

Current and former CTU teachers at Nightingale issued the following statement after learning that Kouretsos had at last been ousted: “When union teachers, parents and students stand together to protect our schools, we can move mountains and make the impossible real. That’s what we’ve done together with this victory – moved the mountain that is CPS bureaucracy and forced the impossible: the removal of a bully principal favored by top management but opposed by all who care about the quality of education at this beloved neighborhood public school.”

Chicago Teachers Union