By word of mouth and social networking sites, students organized the massive protest in less than 12 hours. By 8 a.m., students sat together in the Kenwood neighborhood school’s foyer before they moved to the gymnasium, where they spent hours before being told to go back to class.Student leaders stayed behind to speak with school administrators and a CPS representative. But by 2:30 p.m., other students began a smaller version of the sit-in in the school’s hallways.
The teens say they want their principal, Shontae Higginbottom to resign. The same principal who imposed some key changes this fall, including closing the new media center where students used computers after school, and locking students outdoors after they’ve left the building during the day.“I want the rules to change,” sophomore Joshua Phillips said. “And if things can’t change, I guess it’s time for a new principal.”
Students outside the school Thursday spoke about the changes they said affect all : “She took the door handle off the back doors so we couldn’t get back in,” one sophomore said. “You could go out, but you can’t come back in.”
The student’s mother deemed the rule unnecessary: “We have always had a very open campus. Our kids have always felt really safe here,” she said. “Our kids love to be in this environment and she has changed that and made rules that are so restrictive.”
Higginbottom came from Avalon Park Elementary School, where she was principal for five years. Her experience in moving Avalon Park from a Level 3 to a Level 2 school was touted when she was chosen to replace Jeffrey Wright.
But her current students and at least one teacher say they want someone with the experience of dealing with high school students, not grammar school students.“She came in and did exactly what was expected,” senior Sebastian Moore said. “She spoke to people in remedial tones, treated them like third-graders. These are seniors. These are 18-year-olds. These are registered voters making informed decisions. You can’t speak to them like they’re German shepherds, or border hounds.”Students and teachers say Wednesday was a fiery day at the school.
Higginbottom allegedly got into an argument with a student at an assembly for student government. When a student teacher stepped in to break up the argument, students say the principal turned on the teacher, to the point of tears. When the student teacher’s supervising teacher also tried to help, she was also yelled at, in front of the students.And parents say Higginbottom once used a sexual connotation at a parent meeting. It prompted an apology letter to parents soon after.
Students aren’t the only ones fed up. One teacher who did not what to be named said the atmosphere was filled with “bullying and innuendo,” “rules everywhere, special favors for specific teachers and threats to others.”
Higgenbottom was reached via email Thursday evening: “Things are really crazy, but I appreciate your email. Please give me time to digest, I plan to meet with parents as soon as I can.”
CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said a representative spoke with student leaders on Thursday, separately. The representative also had a separate meeting with Higginbottom.
“From what we were told by our representative, the students felt like they were not given notice, that she [Higginbottom] did not communicate with them about why these changes were being made,” Sainvilus said.Students did not bring up Wednesday’s public confrontation to the CPS representative, but Sainvilus did confirm student and teacher reports that a coach was removed from his coaching duties on Wednesday after an altercation with Higginbottom.
She said CPS will work with Higginbottom in “communicating better with the students” and to reinforce the importance of respect within dialogue for both students and administrators.
But the peaceful sit-in did get CPS’ attention: “They got their point across,” Sainvilus said. “…Their voices were heard and we’re going to work with the student leadership.”