Jones College Prep in the South Loop. Credit: Provided.

SOUTH LOOP — In a highly unusual move, a Chicago Public Schools principal is publicly blasting his school’s local school council and accusing the group of waging a prolonged campaign to “undermine” his leadership and force him out of his post.

Jones College Prep Principal Joseph Powers emailed parents Thursday afternoon to detail the ongoing battle between him and LSC members who took their positions in January 2021, according to a copy of the message obtained by Block Club.

Powers wrote he was prompted to send the message after learning three members of the LSC contacted CPS CEO Pedro Martinez and the Chicago Board of Education’s inspector general Will Fletcher in February, accusing him of issues like failing to prevent discrimination against students and teachers, financial mismanagement, and not addressing years of complaints of inappropriate behavior against two teachers, including a drama instructor who was suspended in October amid a misconduct investigation.

Powers, who has been principal at Jones for 14 years, said the LSC’s leadership has been combative and unfairly critical of him and his administrators. He said the LSC gave him poorer ratings for his job performance than previous boards, quickly implemented hours-long meetings and made unreasonable demands on their time.

LSC members have been “openly” attacking school leaders, improperly intervening in school operations, and “attacking me for visiting my wife on weekends at our home in St. Louis and attempting to spend some time with my children,” Powers wrote.

Powers said he felt this occurred “with the express intention of forcing me out as principal of Jones College Prep and taking direct control of the school” at 700 S. State St.

“The timing of this attack is not coincidental, as they have been making every effort to have me removed, suspended, force my resignation/retirement, or at the very least besmirch my leadership and the leadership of my team prior to the April LSC elections. “Powers wrote. “I am sure they are hoping that removing me and my team and the work we have done will help them get reelected.”

Powers touted his achievements since taking over the school, pointing to the expansion of the campus, accolades from the U.S. Department of Education and Jones’s rise in student rankings as proof of his success.

He wrote he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue in the post in the face of the criticism.

“In truth, I do not know if I want to continue this fight,” Powers wrote. “I could have retired years ago, but have instead devoted a great portion of my life and labor to the school that I love and the Jones College Prep family, to the frequent detriment of my own family and my own health.

“I do not want to spend the rest of my time as principal of Jones College Prep, however long that may be, fighting a rearguard action against this handful of agenda-driven malcontents” Powers wrote. “There is far too much work to be done every day to support our students, our talented faculty and staff, and the families who entrust their children to our care. Even if I do retire, it will not stop the efforts of current Jones LSC leadership from undermining the work we have all dedicated ourselves to at Jones.” 

LSC chair and Jones parent Cassie Creswell said sending the letter to parents and students illustrates “questionable professionalism” on Powers’s part.

“Our agenda is to ensure a safe, welcoming school for all students. It’s not a great school if we aren’t serving all,” Creswell said.

Creswell confirmed the group contacted district leadership asking CPS remove Powers as principal and investigate what they said was “irremediable conduct” that warrants his firing. Creswell wrote the letter alongside fellow parent representatives Sarah Ma and Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth, according to a copy provided to Block Club.

Among their criticisms was Powers’ response to complaints about theater teacher Brad Lyons, whom students accused of inappropriate conduct dating back years, according to the Sun-Times. The district suspended him in the wake of a controversy over play he wanted to stage, but it wasn’t clear which allegation triggered his removal, the Sun-Times reported.

The parents also detailed several accusations of sexual misconduct and grooming against another teacher, saying Powers failed to report or discipline the instructor who left the school in 2020.

Other complaints they made against Powers include him not resolving Title IX violations for sports teams, accessibility issues for trans and gender non-conforming students and discrimination against nonwhite teachers; and failing to properly report school finances. They also accused him of violating the district’s residency policy, saying he owns a home in St. Louis but rents an apartment in Chicago.

Separately, a “BIPOC at Jones” Instagram account launched in 2020 has dozens of submissions from students and alumni chronicling racist behavior from students and staff.

“We urge you to act with all due haste because of the serious risk of ongoing and future physical and psychological harm for the students of Jones College Prep, and the chronic and systemic discrimination against Jones students, employees and families of protected categories,” the parent representatives wrote.

An attorney with the school board told the LSC they would not remove Powers from the job as investigations continue. District policy for removing an administrator requires there be an immediate safety threat to students or staff, or clear evidence of corruption, General Counsel Joseph T. Moriarty wrote in a letter Wednesday.

“At this time, the investigative bodies have not indicated that circumstances exist to justify the removal of Dr. Powers,” Moriarty wrote.

In the meantime, a group of parents is rallying to Powers’ defense, and has made their own appeal to CPS to investigate the school council and intervene in the meetings to ensure they are constructive. In their own letter to CPS officials, parents say the relationship between administrators and previous LSCs had been largely productive, but the current board’s “antagonistic conduct” is derailing relationships among parents, the council and administration.

A parent who spoke to Block Club said she believes Powers leadership has been a net positive for the school, despite what his detractors may say.

“It seems like they’re really trying to dig in to micromanage the administration, and to me, it felt like they were bogging things down in a way that interfered with other initiatives we were working on,” said the parent, who asked to remain anonymous.

While the parent said she is glad that the LSC is doing what it can to support students, other efforts may be a little overzealous.

“There are no villains here. Everyone wants the best for Jones students. They just have different ideas on how to provide the best environment,” the parent said.

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