New King College Prep Principal Brian Kelly signs his contract at the school. Credit: Photo courtesy of Natasha Erskine

KENWOOD — After ousting the school’s controversial principal earlier this year, members of King College Prep High School’s Local School Council hope new principal Brian Kelly can shift the culture at King.

Kelly was welcomed at a block party celebrating the school year at the CPS selective-enrollment high school, 4445 S. Drexel Blvd., Wednesday afternoon. Before joining King, Kelly served as the assistant principal at Kennedy High School in Garfield Ridge and previously worked as a social studies teacher at Morgan Park High School and at Westinghouse College Prep High School.

Kelly’s arrival at King marks a new era for the school. In March, parents were notified that then-Principal Melanie Beatty-Sevier would be assigned to another position within the district. The move came after students, staff and parents called for the Beatty-Sevier’s firing, citing a culture of fear, chaos and retaliation at the school.

And before Beatty-Sevier’s reign, in May 2018, King’s Local School Council ousted then-Principal David Narain, a move that was unpopular with some parents and students.

At the block party, senior Janiya Bolden, a member of the school’s Jaguar Essence majorette team, said students sometimes felt the last principal was ignoring their concerns. She thinks that played a role in the council’s decision to find a new principal.

Bolden’s first impression is that things won’t be the same way under Kelly.

“For all the incoming freshmen and all the people that want to transfer here, he has some good ideas to bring to the school,” Bolden said.

After meeting with Kelly for the first time, senior Symone Rogers said she has confidence in his ability to listen.

He’ll be her third principal during her tenure at King, so she’s hopeful Kelly can avoid the “miscommunication” of past administrations.

“I think we’ll all get along with him and he’ll be very active with the students and the whole school,” Rogers said. “I wouldn’t say easier, I would just say it’ll be different.”

Community outreach during the principal selection process was the first step in improving communication, Local School Council member Natasha Erskine said in a press release.

“As a hard lesson learned from previous Councils who barred participation from school stakeholders, this LSC voted to empower a selection committee,” Erskine said.

King College Prep students, parents and faculty grab some food at the school’s July 24 block party. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

Given their involvement, the ultimate compliment from those stakeholders after his first year at the helm would be that he is “visible, touchable, real,” Kelly said.

King’s arts programs appear to be primed for growth under Kelly, and he praised the school’s band and Advanced Placement Art classes for giving him a strong foundation to build on.

There’s also the theater program at King, which has performed at the Illinois High School Theater Festival the last few years, theater teacher Krista Motley said.

The festival is a predominantly white, suburban event, and “there’s maybe only one other CPS school that’s ever been invited to perform,” she said. So when the school’s all-black cast debuted at the festival with an evening of one-act plays by Zora Neale Hurston, it was an important moment.

“We went up there, we killed it, and I was trying to help my students understand that we were a part of making history,” she said. “I think after they had the experience they definitely understood it.”

With strong academics and extracurriculars, Kelly urged parents to take note of King College Prep if they were undecided on where to send their kids after the selective enrollment exam.

“We’re looking to fill more seats,” Kelly said. “King is an option for their students if they want to have a college-like educational experience in a high school setting.”

Before she was ousted, Beatty-Sevier 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, she 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 in December 2018, when students launched a sit-in demanding her dismissal were threatened with the loss of National Honor Society memberships and a senior class trip.

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