Stand up against retaliation!

August 16, 2022

Dear Waters Community,
Below is a copy of a letter that I sent to the LSC in response to the presentation that was given at the July meeting about the ecology program and my work. I hope that the current LSC will correct the inaccuracies and have an explanation for why I was fired after I had accepted the conditions that were offered to me. Based on the principal’s email and some LSC member’s comments on facebook, it seems clear that there has been retaliation for telling the truth in my emails.  We know that retaliation does happen in this world and in CPS.  I, too, was a hunger striker. We invite the community to reflect on the impact of the actions of those who appear to rolemodel, defend, and promote retaliation for truth and activism. We know that people are worried about retaliation for voicing their support of the Ecology Program. Many are also are deeply concerned about the disrespectful treatment of the gardeners, who are some of the most kind, gentle, hard working community members at Waters. More on that later.

I feel great disappointment and sadness that I will not be able to perform the ecology program with our students, parents and teachers this year. After 25 years, I will not be able to teach the lessons, lead the field trips, sing the songs, or tell the stories. I will not be able to witness Waters students develop during the school year, and learn to love and know our beautiful and endangered world.
I do hope to continue to be a presence in our school garden, to keep this treasure safe and healthy. It is the living legacy of thousands of Waters school students and parents, teachers and neighbors, over decades and generations. 

Please join us at the LSC meeting today at 4:30 to express your opinion and support:

Pete Leki

August 13, 2022

Dear Ms. Chandran, and all LSC members,

I just reviewed last month’s LSC meeting video and wanted to point out some errors and omissions. The most egregious one was that Principal knew that I had already accepted the salary offer and CPS employment on the Friday before the LSC meeting.  This is what most of the people who supported the Principal were asking for. Why didn’t the Principal acknowledge this? 

I want to point out very important errors and misunderstandings in your presentation and discussion.

Mr. Lange said that “nothing happens behind closed doors” and that the ecology program was discussed at six budget meetings. I was never told my program was being discussed, and was never invited to attend. It is improper for the Principal to discuss my employment, salary and program with the LSC. His job is to discuss it with me and then make a recommendation to the LSC. These were improper meetings. 

The April LSC meeting voted on a budget including the reduction of the ecology program, without the Principal  telling me about this startling bit of news. This is improper conduct for the Principal and LSC.

In one of your chart quotes, it says that the Principal said “Mr. Leki is happy to be a CPS employee”. This is not correct and improper. We had a 2 minute conversation in which he informed me about what he intended to do. I was given no details about this position or its salary. The Principal should have met with me, not had private discussions with the LSC.

The CPS employment graphic: If there was no way to pay me under a proper CPS category, then we should have gone back to a Vendor position: Director of Ecology Programs, even if the upper limit was $75,000, that is a lot closer than $56,000 to my regular wage.  The demand that I be shoe horned into the Misc. Employee category created an unnecessary crisis. And, at any rate it is not for the LSC  to decide or explain my job status. It is the Principal’s job to decide that with me. Rather than have that discussion, he acted without my consent to reduce the salary and scope of my work.

The Graphic looking at the funding for the ecology program is misleading for a  number of reasons. Regarding the composting income:  The composting income stopped because by 2015 the Central Office partner necessary to make the program possible was no longer there. The position was open for more than two years.  I can only provide this service if I have a Central Office partner.  In the year before the pandemic a new leader was hired and we had a very good relationship and were making plans to resume the Composting Cohort Program.  This is why the composting income stopped.

To correct another question about the CPS Compost Program, I was paid by CPS to do workshops, at Waters,  2-3 times a year, to be able to model our school and program. It built our reputation as an environmental school. If there were questions about my work (composting at other schools) they should have been directed to the Principal or to me. It is improper for the LSC to create data sets and charts without complete information and understanding. 

This same grant shows that the ecology program stopped receiving grants in 2015, and the insinuation is that I stopped writing grants to fund the ecology program. In fact,  I never wrote a single grant. Sometimes I was asked to write a paragraph describing some aspect of the program.  Waters Today had a group of skillful and willing parents who wrote all the grants. The most prominent was Julie Moore, who recently wrote a beautiful letter of support for my position and the ecology program.  Many others also wrote grants in past years. My gratitude to them all.   I have been asking WT to please resume looking for grants to take the fund raising pressure off families.  Writing grants takes a specific skill set and the ecology program is/was a full time job. And again, it is improper for the LSC to make a presentation with incomplete or misunderstood data. I should have been consulted by the Principal.

So the whole purpose of this graphic is misleading. Suggesting that I should have or could have raised the money for my own salary. The grant writing, the grant money, the composting money all were handled by Waters Today, which had as its Mission, until June 2022, to raise funds, primarily to support the ecology program.

Outrage at my huge pay rate. It is improper for the LSC to be discussing my salary in a public meeting. It is the Principal’s job to discuss and negotiate with me and make a recommendation to the LSC.  The Principal acted improperly in analyzing my work without my knowledge or participation, resulting in a gross distortion of my work time. He then improperly shared his analyses with the LSC without my knowledge to lay the groundwork to cut my salary.  The Principal improperly discussed my salary with the LSC and public using flawed and incomplete information.  He told the LSC that I was being offered an hourly pay rate of $125, the highest CPS rate possible. Since he arbitrarily reduced the number of hours I allegedly worked to 56% of a full time job, the net pay was a 30% reduction. The effect of this presentation is to pit me against my CPS colleagues when in fact I was being offered a wage way below that of a new teacher. Some members of the LSC sadly amplified this distortion of reality. You need only check the website

  to see staff salaries, that of any new or veteran teacher, and  compare them to mine. I work all summer and on weekends. This public spectacle of discussing my work and its value is improper and divisive.

When I first got a hold of the Principal’s pie chart analyzing my time,  I attempted to correct it by providing a more detailed and realistic depiction of my work, crediting essential prep work for our very unique, complicated,  and renowned ecology program. It showed that I  actually worked about 150% of a full time job. He took this information, reduced it to a pittance, assigning it a very low pay rate (112 hours per year in garden maintenance), raising the salary by $2,000 a year.  The reduction in salary  amounts to a reduction of garden maintenance, and is therefore a threat to the garden. That is fact, not hyperbole.

The Interim Principal  told me that she heard “that students aren’t allowed in the garden”. Where, from whom, did she hear this?  She said she heard that “only community members are allowed in the garden” From whom did she hear this? She said, “Do you actually teach children??”  From where did she hear this??? And, when our current Principal picks up this thread and says that I don’t spend enough time with our students, an outside person might wonder: who is orchestrating this attack on the ecology program, the garden, and me? It was improper for LSC members to pass on incorrect and defamatory information to the Interim or present Principal. Questions about my work and garden organization should have been addressed to me, by the Principal. This was improper.

The Principal’s  statement that only 17 of 56 garden beds were dedicated to students is wrong and misleading. Students’ engagement in the garden is not limited to “planting” or the number of beds. The Principal is sadly ignorant about what agricultural gardens and their planting and care looks like.  Gardens need care.  A lot of care, every day.  I would like to remind the LSC that I met with every teacher, at every grade level, to welcome them into the garden: that I would provide space, tools, seeds, compost, and CARE for any garden initiative that they had. The third grade team stepped up and said they wanted to do a whole unit, with all three classes doing multiple lessons on seed germination, learning about different plant varieties and their needs and life cycle. I found time to do this. But I had to make time, before and after school to care for 90 pots with living seedlings. The plants survived and thrived. Every tomato, pepper, eggplant and marigold in the garden today come from the initiative of these three teachers, assisted by me. That’s how  teachers act when they want to access our incredible garden. They make a proposal and we talk and plan.  

On the other hand, one second grade teacher said, during our meeting, that she wouldn’t take her students to the garden because she didn’t feel safe there.  I cannot explain why a teacher would feel unsafe. If I did, I would  do everything I could to address any concerns. That said,  Kindergarten comes to the garden multiple times a week. So do many other grade levels. The garden is a place where families, students and neighbors go to feel safe and calm. The garden has open doors, but we have had almost no problems over the past 20 years. Teacher engagement with the garden, with me or on their own, is guided by their own interest and initiative.  The garden is a blessing to teachers who take that initiative.

Finally, the Principal states that he has been “in conversation with me” for the last month and a half”. This is simply not true. I had no idea what the Principal and the LSC were planning and doing about my job, the ecology and garden program, until the middle  of June. This was improper and unprofessional behavior by the Principal and the LSC.

Waters School is famous for its prize winning ecology and garden program. This program has already been damaged and may be beyond rescue because of improper and unethical action on the part of the Principal and the LSC.   The fate of the garden is uncertain, and it is without a doubt, under threat. Please read the comments of the 900 people who signed petitions and the scores who wrote impassioned notes on the web site. Please listen to our community and change course.

Pete Leki

Former Director of Ecology Programs

Waters School