Whitney Young Principal Joyce Kenner speaks at a dedication for the Michelle Obama Athletic Complex at the school in August 2019. Obama is an alumnus of the school. Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago

WEST LOOP — The longtime principal of a prestigious CPS high school denies she knew about a former swim coach’s alleged scam to sublet the school’s pool for his personal gain, refuting a claim outlined in the latest CPS Inspector General’s annual report.

Joyce Kenner, principal of the elite Whitney Young Magent Academy High School, a selective-enrollment school in West Loop, denied she knew — or should have known — the school’s pool was being sublet to three groups by former swim coach Andy Parro. Parro allegedly pocketed nearly $30,000 in side deals between 2013 and 2016, according to the watchdog report released this week.

“The [Office of the Inspector General’s] report claims that I was complicit or I should have known that someone was stealing money from the school. I didn’t know that,” Kenner told Block Club. “I had no knowledge that our pool was being sublet. I had no knowledge of that.”

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Inspector General Nicholas Schuler released the 2019 year-end report detailing investigations earlier this week. The report described a case where a swim coach reaped nearly $30,000 in payments from three outside groups for off-the-books rental of the pool facility. Schuler wrote in the report — which did not identify Kenner, Parro or Whitney Young by name — that the school’s principal and assistant principal knew, or should have known, about the arrangement, citing email evidence. 

In 2016, CBS2 identified Parro as the coach in question after an initial investigation by the Inspector General found Parro was running a swimming business out of Whitney Young and the school only charged him a nominal fee of $1.20 to use the space.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago

In the most recently released Office of the Inspector General’s report, Schuler detailed a second investigation initiated by his office in 2017 and completed in fall 2018 after additional complaints were brought to the office about the same coach.  

The report alleged the principal, who was revealed to be Kenner, “maintained a very permissive approach towards the coach and his activities at the school.”

“In this case, the [Officer of the Inspector General] concluded that she was either complicit in the coach’s scheme to profit from his use of the school pool or willfully turned a blind eye to his dealings with outside groups,” Schuler’s report reads.

As a result of the second investigation, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office charged Parro with four felony counts of theft and a felony count of official misconduct and he was placed on CPS’ do-not-hire list. 

The Office of the Inspector General recommended severe punishment, including termination, for Kenner. As a result of the report, the Board of Education suspended Kenner for five days without pay, which she served in April 2019.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said the district was “committed to upholding the highest standards of operational excellence and employee conduct.”

“We take seriously our duty to hold accountable any  individual who commits serious breaches of district policy or seeks to cause harm,” she said.

With all OIG reports, the district evaluates the findings and recommendations and make an appropriate determination based on discipline, Bolton said. 

Kenner said “the district did what they were supposed to do.”

“I accepted the punishment, and I applaud them for how they handled it,” she said.

Despite the report’s findings, Kenner said the school made new guidelines for facility rental prior to any investigation from the Office of the Inspector General. There were instances where those policies were not followed, but because of investigations into Parro, “we certainly cleaned up everything we needed to clean up,” she said.

“We sent a notice to everyone at the school saying what the procedures were for renting out the space, which goes through the assistant principal and then the facilities department. Mr. Schuler has that email and it’s dated prior to Mr. Parro’s [2016] investigation,” Kenner said.

Kenner said Parro wasn’t fired following the 2016 investigation because “at the time there was no indication that he was subletting the facility.”

Schuler’s 2019 investigation states there are emails showing “a representative from one of the groups informed the principal and assistant principal that she rented pool time directly from the school’s swimming coach, not the school.”

Asked about the emails cited in the report, Kenner said she told Parro to see what the group wanted, “but in no way did I tell him he was supposed to sublet the pool to the organizations. Why would I do that?”

Schuler declined to elaborate on details of the emails, and instead referred to the summary of the report.

Asked about Kenner’s dispute of the Office of the Inspector General findings, Schuler said the principal in question denied any knowledge, but “we concluded otherwise.”

“She knew or should have known and that’s what we reported. CPS must have agreed [with our findings] because they gave her a five-day suspension,” he said.

As a high-profile principal who has won awards from CPS and been featured in documentaries, Kenner said she wouldn’t jeopardize her powerful position to allow someone else to rent the school’s pool for personal gain. She takes her job very seriously, she said.

“I love my job and I’m good at what I do. And my kids need me. I don’t need anybody out there trying to make me look like I’m a bad person. I’m not a bad person, I’m a great principal,” Kenner said. “… I wouldn’t be here for 25 years if I didn’t do something right.”

Kenner continued, “I have given my life to this school. I would never try to tarnish its name or mine.”

Parro did not immediately return a call or email Wednesday.

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Pilsen, Little Village and West Loop reporterrnrnmauricio@blockclubchi.orgnnPilsen, Little Village and West Loop reporterrnrnmauricio@blockclubchi.org Twitter @MauricioPena