KENWOOD — A controversial principal at Kenwood’s King College Prep High School has been ousted — and the search is on for her replacement.
Last week, students at the CPS selective-enrollment school were sent home with a letter informing parents that Principal Melanie Beatty-Sevier would be assigned to another position within the district. The move comes after students, staff and parents called for the principal’s firing, citing a culture of fear, chaos and retaliation at the school.
Students and parents crowded into the school’s auditorium, 4445 S. Drexel Blvd., Thursday night to get answers ahead of the principal search. Principal selection training began Friday for members of the Local School Council.
“This is a chance to re-image King,” said Tineeka Reed, vice chair of the Local School Council, who encouraged parents and faculty to give their input during the selection process.
The Local School Council does not yet have candidates for Beatty-Sevier’s replacement, and leaders said they would be open to considering any applicant that meets CPS requirements. The council hopes to have a contract offer ready for the school’s next principal by July 1.
Beatty-Sevier was King College Prep’s third principal in four years. She was hired as principal last year, taking the role after leaving her principal post at Englewood’s Paul Robeson High School.
Her brief tenure at King College Prep was marred by controversy as she instituted strict policies that limited resources for students looking for homework help. Students who used to depend on getting to school at 6:30 a.m. to catch up on work or have a place to go before classes began couldn’t get into the building until 7:15 a.m. under the new rules. Students were ushered out immediately after school as well, by 4 p.m., when they could previously stick around until 7 p.m. to do homework or get extra help from teachers.
And last summer, she received backlash for what CPS called “inappropriate comments.” When she announced changes to the school’s dress code ahead of the 2018-2019 school year, Beattie-Sevier claimed that her ban on provocative clothing would help to prevent sexual assault.
Beatty-Sevier also faced criticism for her “punitive” leadership style from parents and students who felt she ran the school “like a jail.” Things came to a head last December, when students who participated in another sit-in demanding her dismissal were threatened with the loss of National Honor Society memberships and a senior class trip.
The tumultuous relationship with Beatty-Sevier began before she was ever hired. Former principal David Narain was ousted by the former Local School Council, a move that was unpopular with some parents and students.
When teachers conducted a staff survey on who should be principal, Beatty-Sevier received the lowest support with only 2 out of 51 staff members supporting her nomination. Narain received 31 votes of support.
But it was too late — even though a new slate of parents ran against the old Local School Council and won, the old group was able to confirm Beatty-Sevier as the next principal at King before the new council was sworn in.
While Local School Council members tried their best to assuage fears Thursday night, some parents wanted assurance that stability, not change, would be the group’s focus.
“Stop saying change and create something stable,” a father of a King College Prep senior told the board’s members.
“This is the only predominantly black selective-enrollment school in the heart of the South Side of Chicago,” said Wiley Johnson, a parent of a King College Prep freshman. “We should’ve gotten a principal who came from a school that’s had success. They hired someone with not a lot of success, and from a failing school.”
Johnson said Beatty-Sevier’s leadership style was a wrong fit for the school, adding that his interactions with her left him unimpressed.
“She came in like she was a warden and the students were inmates,” Johnson said. “As a black father, my daughter who tested into a selective-enrollment school was treated like an inmate. It was really disappointing that her approach from the beginning was ‘I need to change everything’ and not try to find ways to actively work with parents and students.”
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