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IG recommends punishment for two elite high school principals

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

The Chicago Schools Inspector General has recommended that Principal Joyce Kenner be banned for life from hand-picking kids for admission to Whitney Young Magnet High — a punishment Kenner calls “ridiculous” and one officials have ignored for seven months, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

At the same time last May, Schools Inspector General James Sullivan also recommended that Lane Tech Principal Antoinette Lobosco be banned for a year from making so-called “principal picks’’ at her school — another suggestion yet to be followed by Chicago Public School officials.

Both recommended punishments are mentioned in the IG’s annual report released Monday that blasts controversial “principal picks’’ at the city’s elite selective-enrollment high schools as being riddled with clout. Young, Lane and their principals are not mentioned by name, but a source identified them to the Sun-Times.

For her part, Kenner said she has used her picks over the last 16 years to build Young into a powerhouse of talented kids and wants to be considered by the next mayor for the top spot of CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

“I want to be the CEO,’’ Kenner told the Sun-Times. “I’m throwing my name out. I have the background and experience to take us to another level.”

As for her recommended punishment? “That’s absolutely unfair and ridiculous,’’ Kenner said. “It is January and I have not heard anything like that. . . . Nobody is going to make me a scapegoat. I did nothing wrong. I followed the procedure for the years it was in place.’’

Both Kenner and Lobosco say CPS officials approved the 5 percent of students they were allowed to pick outside a strict formula based mostly on grades and test scores during the two main years in question — 2008 and 2009 —when new rules were established for such picks. More controls were added in March following an audit.

“We had oversight,’’ Lobosco said. “Why wouldn’t they have rejected my picks if I did something improper?’’

However, Sullivan said, CPS officials did not always know the “underlying facts’’ behind the principal picks they reviewed. And, Sullivan said, “The problem is, when you select somebody based on clout, you’re passing over any number of kids who don’t have clout.’’

The IG investigation questioned several Lane students recommended by Ald. Gene Schulter (47th), who could not be reached for comment. Kenner was criticized for picks backed by current mayoral candidate Carol Moseley Braun, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), the late Board President Michael Scott, Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), and other politicians. She also was accused of admitting basketball and soccer players whose academic records were lower than most Young students, a source said.

Kenner said she also took calls from people without clout and spread her picks among her coaches and even the Young violin teacher to build a wide range of talent at Young. Kenner said only one pick in 16 years failed to graduate from Young.

Although the IG recommended principal-pick bans back in May, sources

said the possibility was discussed but not acted upon by CPS officials -- at

least not yet. Although the lifetime ban was recommended for what the IG

called “egregious’’ abuse, punishment was problematic, sources said, as

certain actions gave the appearance that the very highest levels of CPS

condoned such inquiries.

Under then-Schools CEO Arne Duncan, who now serves as U.S. Education

Secretary, the CEO’s office kept a clout-heavy log of callers about elite

school admissions and a top aide vetted such calls.

According to the IG report, of 69 students who were being tracked by the CEO’s office, 20 were ultimately

enrolled, including six the IG “directly attributed to influence exerted by

the CEO’s office.’’

The IG also found that politicians, CPS administrators and

others contacted elite schools directly, bypassing the CEO’s log. Even the

“Office of the Board improperly influenced’’ elite high school admissions

and the principal-pick process “to give preferential treatment to

politicians, public figure friends and others,’’ the IG found.

Duncan’s successor, Schools CEO Ron Huberman, commissioned an audit

after federal officials issued subpoenas about possible clout admissions in

July 2009. Afterwards, Huberman cracked down on the process last March but

kept principal picks in elite high schools -- even though the auditor

recommended they be scrapped because they created “the opportunity for fraud

or undue influence.’’

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