School started early this year for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students. On Aug. 22, most students who entered school buildings citywide were filled with many emotions: anxiety, sadness that summer break is over and excitement for new beginnings.

However for the senior class at Robert Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School (LMSA) in West Englewood, emotions were mixed because Karen Fitzpatrick Carpenter was abruptly fired from her assistant principal position in late July by the high school’s new interim principal, Abdul Muhammad. 

That meant that Carpenter — affectionately called Ms. Fitz by the Lindblom community — was not there on Monday, Aug. 22 to greet students on the first day of school, a tradition that spans  more than 20 years. 

“Today, I definitely felt very uneasy, especially knowing that [Ms. Fitz] familiar face was not going to be here, and it was not her choice to not be here. It was somebody else’s choice,” Shelby Holloway told The TRiiBE. She’s a senior and a leader of the LMSA class of the 2023’s student council.

Holloway, along with fellow ‘23 student council leaders Alison Barker, Kennedy Ross, Saarah

Juarez-Demery, Arielle Warner and Dejia Brooks, organized a school walkout at 8:46 a.m. on Monday morning in Carpenter’s honor. The students expressed their frustration and hurt due to what they felt was an abrupt termination. They also collected signatures for a paper petition in support of Carpenter. 

More than 100 students were joined by parents, staff members and Lindblom alums. 

“She has been a pillar in the school and in the culture of Lindblom. So she physically embodies and represents what Lindblom is. To see her gone, to see her separated from the students, to see the students separated from her has completely been upsetting, and again, shocking,” Julie Simms Holder told The TRiiBE during the walkout. Simms Holder is the president of the Lindblom Alumni Association. 

“And so we wanted to better understand why the new principal would have let her go,” Simms added.

Earlier this month, LMSA’s Appointed Local School Council (ALSC) voted to recommend the Chicago Board of Education offer a four-year contract to Muhammad. Although there is not currently a contract in place, CPS staffed Muhammad as the interim principal at Lindblom in July 2022, CPS spokesperson Sylvia Barragan said in an email to The TRiiBE. 

“Lindblom has an ALSC, as opposed to a regular LSC. This means that they do not directly offer the contract to their principal,” Barragan wrote.

In an interview with The TRiiBE on Aug. 18., Carpenter said on July 27, she learned that Muhammad was firing her.

Carpenter said that assistant principals are considered at-will employees. So while she was both surprised and heartbroken to learn that she would not be returning to LMSA, she also knew it was a possibility that Muhammad would bring in a new administrative team.

“He called me up on that morning and said, ‘I’ve made my decision. I’ve decided to bring in my own staff, and you’ll be getting an email,’ and that’s what’s happened,” Carpenter told The TRiiBE, speaking about her phone call from Muhammad. 

After Muhammad terminated her, CPS temporarily assigned Carpenter to Corliss High School in Pullman, but she is actively looking for a permanent assistant principal position in the district. According to CPS, Displaced Assistant Principals are given 60 days to find a new job in the district with the help of its Department of Principal Quality (DPQ), which connects them to administration and teacher openings.

“After 20-plus years, even though I wasn’t technically out of a job, I would not be going back to my alma mater and the place where I have worked and invested basically most of my life,” Carpenter added.

Carpenter said she was working alongside Muhammad when he assumed his role in early July 2022. She said she was assisting him with everything from the school budget to hiring, and getting the school prepared for students to return in August.  

In response to numerous questions from parents, alums and students about why he fired Carpenter, Muhammad said the following during a virtual ALSC meeting on Aug. 15:

“When a principal is brought on to a school, that principal has the opportunity to bring his or her own administrative team to move the school forward. When I came to Lindblom, I made the decision to bring in my own administrative team, Mrs. Debra Kearney and Mrs. Adrienne Morales,” Muhammad said. 

Both women will be serving as assistant principals at Lindblom. Kearney will lead Lindblom’s Academic Center, which includes seventh and eighth-grade students as well as 9th graders. Morales will manage 10th through 12th grade, Muhammad said. 

Morales has been in education for about 17 years and was previously at the University of Chicago Charter School: Woodlawn Campus. She also taught at Wendell Phillips High School in Bronzeville. 

Kearney has been in education for 20 years. She previously worked at Frederick Douglass Academy High School alongside Muhammad as his assistant principal. Before Douglass, she worked at Hedges Elementary School in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. She also worked at Newton Bateman Elementary School in Irving Park. 

CPS echoed what Muhammad said through an emailed statement to The TRiiBE, adding that personnel changes made by principals aren’t unique.

“Chicago Public Schools (CPS) entrusts our principals to create a positive environment for students and staff. Principals work with district leaders as they develop their staffing decisions but it’s ultimately up to each principal to develop their team and determine how to best use their resources,” CPS spokesperson Sylvia Barragan wrote in an email to The TRiiBE. 

What Ms. Fitz means to Lindblom

Some students, parents and alums feel that Carpenter was slighted by Muhammad. They’re also concerned about Muhammad and his administrative team’s experience and whether they can help maintain the school’s success as a selective enrollment and high-performing high school. Lindblom offers a college preparatory curriculum with all courses being at the honors or Advanced Placement level. Its graduation rate in 2021 was 93 percent, and the college acceptance rate was 84 percent.

Concerns were also raised during the Aug. 15 LSC meeting about whether Muhammad can adapt to the school’s culture of amplifying and respecting student voices, and also sustain long-standing traditions such as Class Sing, one of the activities for the senior class at Lindblom. During Class Sing, senior students wear red and white, remix the lyrics of popular songs and pay tribute to their parents, teachers, school staff and the junior class. After Class Sing, seniors head to their senior luncheon. 

There were also concerns about whether Muhammad and his new team could handle a school with enrollment the size of Lindblom’s. 

Muhammad previously served as principal at Frederick Douglass Academy High School in Austin. According to CPS data from the 2021-2022 school year, Douglass had 44 students in total.

LMSA, which has a 7th and 8th-grade program in addition to 9th through 12th grades, had more than 1,300 students during the 2021-2022 school year. 

“It is absolutely no slight to the person or people that came before the new administrative team. I have been on that side of an administrative decision when the new principal came and they decided to bring in their own team. So that is what happened,” Muhammad said on Aug. 15. “In this case, when I got to Lindblom, I decided to bring my own administrative team in. But, we definitely appreciate the work that all of our predecessors have put in.” 

Carpenter has served as assistant principal at LMSA for seven years. Prior to that role, she was a counselor at the high school for 18 years. She graduated from Lindblom in 1985, and is affectionately named “Mama Eagle” after Lindblom’s eagle mascot.

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With Carpenter’s termination, students like Alison Barker expressed how her presence brought a sense of stability to the school that was interrupted due to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic and the exit of their previous principal Wayne Beavis, who resigned and took another position within the district in July 2021. 

“These past couple years have already been rocky with COVID-19, previous principals leaving, having interims in and out and whatnot. So for us to come into our senior year and not have that main person we trust and love is just an abomination. We miss her and love her, and we want her here,” Barker said. 

For the 2021-2022 school year, Lindblom didn’t have a principal. Although assistant principal at the time, Carpenter wasn’t named an interim principal, but she worked in a similar capacity. Instead, she said the district brought in an administrator-in-charge, Dr. Linda Coles, and another assistant principal. 

“I was the only one who knew all of the systems and what was happening within the school. So that’s why a lot of people ended up saying I was interim principal, but I didn’t technically have that title,” Carpenter explained. 

Before becoming a high school counselor, she taught middle schoolers at two CPS elementary schools: Harvard Elementary School in Greater Grand Crossing and Gershwin Elementary School in West Englewood. She said that ending up back at her alma mater wasn’t something she planned to do, but by working at Lindblom, she was committed to uplifting and continuing high school traditions like Class Sing or the school’s rallying cry: “Swoop, Swoop.” 

“I made sure to try to instill in the students that as eagles, we soar, and that they maintain that it’s important for every aspect of their life academically, socially, emotionally, and college and career-wise. That’s something that was instilled in me,” Carpenter said. 

In total, she’s been an educator, counselor and administrator with the district for more than 25 years. She imagined the final step of her career would be becoming the principal at LMSA and eventually retiring in that position.

A screenshot from Muhammad's Facebook page.

During the Aug. 22 walkout, students also said they felt ignored by Muhammad and the new administration, which didn’t involve them in the decision-making process. Additionally, students feel that the school year is starting on the wrong track without Carpenter’s presence and her constant communication with students about upcoming school events.  

“Her biggest thing was hearing student input,” Barker said about Carpenter. “So I’m not used to having an admin here who doesn’t care what we have to say. Everything that he does affects students the most. And I don’t think he understands that. So if he doesn’t understand that, then we have to make him understand that.”

LSCs in the CPS district typically have 12 members for elementary schools and 15 for high schools. Traditional LSCs for CPS high schools consist of a principal, six parents, two community representatives, two teacher representatives, one non-teacher representative and three student representatives. LSC elections take place every two years. People allowed to vote in the LSC elections include parents, school staff and community members that reside within the school’s zone. 

Adult LSC members serve two-year terms, while high-school student representatives serve one year. Elementary school student reps will serve a one-year term. There’s no limit on how many terms an LSC member can serve. Read more information on terms here.

However, some schools have appointed LSC members — like LMSA and Collins Academy High School on the West Side. The district appoints LSC members based on recommendations from the CPS Chief Education Officer, and it has nine LSC members instead of 15. ALSCs consists of the principal, six parent representatives, two teacher representatives, two advocates and one student representative. 

Because LMSA has an appointed LSC, Muhammad will go before the Chicago Board of Education, which will consider Lindblom’s ALSC’s recommendation to extend a four-year contract to him.

Lindblom students plan to attend the Board of Education monthly meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 24, to appeal to the board, asking them not to grant Muhammad a contract and that they reinstate Carpenter.

“I felt I did as best I could to keep the nest in the tree. No one fell out. No one got lost. No wings were clipped. We made it through from beginning to end on a successful note,” Carpenter said. “I did my best, and I’m proud of that.”

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.