Read all about it…

Today’s newsletter topics:

1 Waters Ecology, Pete Leki, and the school in the news…

2 LSC meeting mark your calendar Tues, Sept 20. Stand up! (see below)

3 Send us your questions, your comments, your brainstorms, and your letters.

4 Who’s Managing this Garden? Cucumbers and tomato plants ripped out!

5 Saturday, Sept 17 9-12 Garden Stewardship morning.

6 Gardeners invited to join Riverbank Neighbors Sunday

7 Sunday North Center Sustainability Market



  1. Click on the image to link to the article. See below for essential quotes.

“Leki himself used to be a Waters parent and is now a grandparent to a student there. Three decades ago, while heading the Waters’ Local School Council, Leki led the effort to transform the school’s asphalt into a lush area that is now said to be home to more than 130 species of native plants.
Not long after, Leki became director of the school’s ecology program, overseeing the school’s natural spaces, supervising students as they harvest crops and leading field trips to places such as Sauganash to hunt invasive European buckthorn and Montrose Point to cast a pole for gobies. He has spearheaded compost and recycling initiatives as well. This work led him to be featured in CPS’ climate action plan for 2021-23.”

“In an email provided to the Tribune and the Board of Education, Leki told Rutkowski and LSC chairperson Liz Chandran on July 15 he would accept the offer, either as a CPS vendor or employee, and that he would seek to restore the other 30% of his salary through grants and fundraising through an independent organization. Chandran declined to comment to the Tribune.
“The entire community was under the false impression that I had refused the salary reduction and refused to be a CPS employee,” Leki said in an email to the Tribune. “There’s written proof, yet the entire recorded LSC meeting shows the principal did not correct this misinformation and later doubled down on it multiple times in writing to the community and it was later repeated to the press by CPS.”
Nathan Hunter, an LSC member who participated in negotiations, sent an email to Leki and Rutkowski shortly after the July 20 schoolwide announcement to express his disappointment in the abrupt turn of events. Hunter told the Tribune it’s not too late to find common ground and extend another offer to Leki.” read more here

2 LSC meeting mark your calendar Tues, Sept 20. 6:30 in person. (if you can’t attend, see #3)

3 We know that many of you can’t attend the meeting on Tuesday. Many of you are deeply concerned, but unsure and still have questions, so you aren’t ready to speak out. And, we know that many many parents, students, and teachers are afraid of retaliation if they speak out.

So, you are invited to send in your questions, your comments, your letters. We’ll share them. The LSC won’t share letters until a month later, and then, only in the minutes, where they won’t be seen. We especially want to hear your questions and your feelings about all this. The community wants to hear from you, even if you don’t want to share your name, you could share how your family feels about all this.

4 Who’s Managing this Garden? Cucumbers and tomato plants ripped out!

Who is in charge of the garden?? According to Stuart L., of the LSC, the Principal is in charge of the garden. So I suppose it was he who gave the OK to rip out the tomato and cucumber plants in the plot just west of the synthetic turf field. These plants were grown as part of a 3rd grade project. The kids learned about seed varieties, their needs and timeline. They planted them in February and we raised them under grow lights. The students did observations and recorded their progress. When April came we set them out doors to harden in the garden greenhouse. And in May, the 3rd graders planted them, and tied them to stakes and the wire trellis, Later, gardeners, parents and children added cucumber seeds in between. This tomato / cucumber patch  produced fruit all summer long and into the school year, watered daily by the Waters Waterers. They were in full production at the start of school, as planned.

Funny thing about school community gardens: they may seem to not have any fruit. That is because the grounds are open and public, and we have 650 students. Every tomato, and every cucumber that is discovered, is eaten by our students. The plants are producing, but the fruit disappears. This is okay. This is the idea. Like with raspberries. They are all eaten. This is good.

Thus my dismay when I arrived at school one day last week and saw that all the plants had been removed.  Who did that? Who made that decision? What planted bed will be destroyed next? Who is in charge?  The Principal?? This plot had been reclaimed from an ill-informed planting of cultivar flowers by a contractor. They were quickly obliterated by the relentless energy coming off the sportsfield. They were unprotected. We ended up with a big dirt/mud patch. What to do? We planted turf grass along the sidewalk, and behind it created a long planting area. For some years kindergarteners planted potatoes there. Because the area was under constant assault by balls of all sorts, we came up with a good strategy. We would plant the potatoes, then set up an A frame over them with  those 5″ square wire concrete reinforcement  things. So the plants would start in the spring, balls would be deflected, and by mid June when the plants were reaching the trellises, the pressure came off, school ended. Through the summer the plants would grow and when school returned in Fall they would be ready for harvest. Who did this??

In Spring, as soon as the ground thawed, community gardeners would dis-assemble the trellises, rake off the old mulch for composting, pull weeds and till the soil. They would add 8-10 inches of compost. The Kindergarten students would come out on a garden field trip to learn about, sing about, and plant potatoes. They also learned about compost and the bugs that help make it happen, and the first wildflowers of spring.

When all was planted, the gardeners returned and mulched the area with fresh straw, re-assembled the trellises, set up the irrigation pipe, and for the next four months weeded and watered the area, so that by Fall it was ready for harvest.

Who is in charge of the garden now. The Principal? These assaults on the garden are infuriating because they disregard the work of the 3rd grade teachers and students and parent volunteers, the community / parent volunteers, and the former Director of Ecology, who has developed a whole plan for engaging the school and garden. 

We need a budget for garden stewardship.  The Principal has alot of things to do. The Principal should not be in charge of wood chips and creeping charlie control. The garden is complex and has a synchrony to it, and a culture that appreciates the volunteers and the bustle of life that goes on there.  We need to have a Garden Steward that can assist and communicate with teachers on their plans to help make them successful. 

Meanwhile, the gardeners are available to answer simple questions, like, is there a free plot where we could plant something new. No need to destroy the work of the community, just ask. The gardeners will be supportive.

5 Saturday, Sept 17 9-12 Garden Stewardship morning.

There are signs posted around the garden saying that tomorrow morning, a contractor will be there to put in a steel pipe from the playspace to the sink on the ugly shed to provide a hose spigot.

This was not requested by the gardeners. There already is a spigot at the sink that was installed by the gardeners years ago.

6 Sunday, Sept 18, Riverbank Neighbor invite Waters Gardeners to join them. Stay tuned for more info. Join the Riverbank Neighbors list here. Riverbank workday (family friendly) Sunday 9-11. We’ll be volunteering to support the North Center Sustainability Market before and after our riverbank workday, as part of our commitment to be role models for our children. Gratitude to all. details below.

7 Sunday North Center Sustainability Market

Are you curious about how to reduce waste, but don’t know where to start? Are you interested in more resources to help you on your journey? Join us for The Sustainability Market, hosted by Reduce Waste Chicago and the North Center Neighbors Association.

Formerly the NNA Recycling Pop-Up, The Sustainability Market will feature RWC’s Reuse & Recycle Pop-Up for you to drop off common household items not accepted by the city’s Blue Cart program, as well as retail vendors, artists and exhibitors focused on environmental sustainability.

The Sustainability Market’s next event is at the Northcenter Town Square, 4100 N Damen, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, September 18. View all events and a list of accepted items here.

Mr Leki testifying at CPS board today at 10:30 (online)

 If you can tune in to the 10:30 CPS Board meeting at 10:30, Pete Leki will testify. There are also a total of 50 others from across the city who will testify on other topics.

Letter from Pete Leki below;

I’ll be testifying to the board of CPS downtown this morning at 10:30. 

You can watch it live at

In the time since the most recent news article, the principal sent a letter to me, which seemed, at first, to ban or restrict me from the garden. However, with the intervention of the alderman, I’ve been allowed to continue to garden as a volunteer.  This first year principal has stated that he now manages the garden. 

He underestimates the expertise, effort, and time I dedicated to my job.  He expects the volunteers that I managed to step up and do the job that I did, including managing themselves.  I also submitted a letter to the LSC, detailing suggested corrections for the minutes of the previous meeting, and asking to be allowed to comment in the August LSC meeting. Instead, they ignored my letter and seem to have violated the open meeting act by not admitting me to the virtual meeting until they made a motion to adjourn. My corrections about misstatements regarding my job and the ecology program were ignored. 

It takes good community relationships to manage hundreds of volunteers. The gardeners are doing the best they can, but they are deeply concerned about the future of the garden. 

Additionally, I’ve started a podcast, titled, Mr. Leki Radio, which is linked on our website,

Tonight, we’ll have garden night, 5-sunset, with the usual tasks, food, music. All new and old community members and school families are welcome to come enjoy the garden and learn. We’ll learn the latest flowers in bloom and in seed and will have a task list for young and old.

Pete Leki

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

Invitation to Garden night Wed Aug 3rd, 5-Sunset

Dear Gardeners and wider community,

Please join me in the garden tomorrow, Wednesday, from 5 until whenever, for stewardship, flowers tours, harvest, friendship and hope. 

Before that are two links.  One is a slide show of a portion of the diverse plants that are thriving in our native gardens. We will see some of them on our walk-around tomorrow.

The other is an impassioned beautiful short film by photographer, and former Waters School parent Alan Shorthall.

Below that is a portion of a message sent to our Alderman Matt Martin today. Please the main page of our website if you need background about what happened this month.

Gratitude to all.

Beautiful video about the Ecology program by Alan Shortall (thank you, Alan!)


Cooling off period for the garden.

Dear Ald Martin,

Thank you for your agreement to attempt to reopen negotiations.

This was written by Pete with the input of supporters in the community.

History shows that Waters Garden needs independent stewardship. It has always had that.  This arrangement needs to continue to protect it.  Pete will be seeking an agreement for stewardship and protection of the garden.

But first, most urgently, Pete and the garden community ask you please to reach out urgently to the principal to confirm that there will be no new construction of any size including fencing in the garden this year.

The reasoning behind this request is this: The gardeners suspect the community garden will be ripped out or that some new project will turn the garden into a construction site, betraying their trust in the safety of the garden they create and tend. The community remembers the last two times cps broke promises, lied to us, destroyed trees dedicated to students who had died, etc. We have film of it.  People were crying in the garden today with worry and stress. The community needs relief.  It’s sacred space to them. It’s where they raised their kids, tending the garden together… In our experience any crew in the garden needs close supervision or they destroy what was carefully built and betray the trust of volunteers.

People are on pins and needles watching the garden, expecting the principal to encroach on it with new “improvements” that destroy what was built by generations before, by students and parents who still live nearby.  There are rare plants there. In the future, after the cooling off period, to avoid destruction and to avoid upsetting and angering the volunteers, crews should never be sent in without supervision from Pete or one of the other trusted, skilled gardeners, who work in conjunction with Pete. While people unfamiliar with Waters Garden may not understand, the history is that there have been countless problems over the years. For example, a crew trying to dig a 5 foot trench unannounced or test drilling for a new building where people turned out in protest on a moment’s notice. There needs to be a cooling off period before anything happens so things can calm down.  We are worried both about the actual damage to the garden and about the gardeners themselves. There are so many stressors on people. They need to know the garden is safe.

Thank you,

Pete Leki (with input from community members)


Saturday..Garden Morning-9am to noon, July 30 2022

Dear Gardeners and Ecology Volunteers,

Tomorrow will be the last workday for which I will be a paid staff member at Waters. After that I will be a volunteer, just like you. But, just like you, I am dedicated to the continuation of this decades-long, generational restoration of a healthy, diverse and beautiful oak savanna ecosystem. 

The community, (newcomers welcome) will join together, tomorrow, to work, to learn, and after, to share food and to share music. 

We will gather up our joy and energy, and hear new ideas and initiatives being planned to take us to a new and better place. We need you, your family, your ideas and hope, your fun and energy. Bring it.

I keep running into people in the garden and neighborhood who ask “How are you doing?”, and didn’t know that the ecology program and my job no longer exist. It’s all been eliminated and replaced with something else and that the garden’s future is uncertain. Why did this happen? What can people do about it? Who will protect the garden from the continual onslaught of threats? Many people have raised their voice! Their voices are getting louder as the truth comes out. So, spread the word! Please go to to sign the petition (read the comments first and maybe leave your own when you sign too! and hear the latest news and ideas from the community in coming days.

Hope comes from the place of a heartache.

So, please, come ready to help us supervise kids, prep fire and food, play music during the whole morning(!), weed, chip. tie, water, and join the tour to learn how to ID some of our native plants. 

And please share these links widely on social media. Some Waters families aren’t getting the news.

of all times, Now? Surveyors in the Garden!

Dear Gardeners, 
Surveyor’s are at the school! I stopped and talked to them and asked if they were surveying for the polling place access project (the one responsible for the raspberry scare). They said, “No. We’re here to survey the whole property. They want us to pinpoint the location of the big oaks, everything.”
Please take photos of the surveyors and post to social media. This is similar to the last time surveyors were in the garden to drill boreholes for the footprint for a new Annex. 
One would think that I, as Director of Ecology Programs (still), would have been notified. 
But I wasn’t, and in the current atmosphere of threats to ecology and the garden, I should have been made aware.
It just notches up the anxiety level for the whole community.
I asked them not to step on plants. They said they would be careful.
Just a couple months ago I encountered two workers gathered around the bur oak by the tool shed, and they explained they had been asked to give an estimate for tree removal. No one had notified me.  I went to the Principal and filled him in on the history of these oaks, and organized environmental organizations to help us stop the destruction of this 300 year old tree.  When the BOE person came to do his personal observations, he agreed with the professionals that the tree was sound, healthy, biologically significant, and culturally invaluable, and should be cared for, protected, and presented to the community as a treasure. I only engaged with this delegation by luck. I was not told of their visit by the Principal. I was being excluded.
We have to be vigilant. Think Meigs Field. We have to be ready to come out and speak up.

If anyone has a list of media contacts that they could send to me, please do. 
and here are links to two articles covering what’s happened.

Green fight at North Side school

Lincoln Square Parents Furious Over Ousting Of Longtime Waters Ecology Director

The LSC has been made aware that I had accepted the terms before the last LSC mtg by one of their board members who was present for negotiations. 

Much Love and appreciation to you Garden Guardians,
Pete Leki

anonymous comment from longtime friend D. R.

(taking a cue from the LSC anonymous letters and the retribution for these emails)

“Just read the latest. I did feel like, in the LSC meeting, one thing that stuck out was that Mr. R was setting the narrative to expand his control over what is currently community plots. He gave the #s — I forgot what they were — but it would be very easy for him to couch it as “expanding” the program for students by upping the percent of their plots v. community members. He also pointed out there’s not enough recess space for the kids, setting the scene for less garden. This drives the explanation more into him just wanting control of the property, in my opinion. And it definitely shows he has been focused on a goal he is not revealing this whole time. “

July 27 2022 Garden Night

Wednesday Garden Night tonight

New school families are especially invited to visit the garden and see 
what garden night is like.  Many school families participate every week, though 
some are on vacation now.  

We’ll have the usual task list. There are many pleasant gardening opportunities for parents and children to do together. 

We’ll have a PlantID walk especially to learn the flowers in bloom in this time of the summer.

And musicians are invited to serenade us while we garden or at the end! I hope they do!
More thoughts from Mr. Leki:

The days are passing and each passing day makes it less likely that the ecology program will return to Waters as we all have known it.
I am still spending hours each day in the garden, with the help of neighbors and parents, caring for the vegetable beds and native plants. Our Saturday work mornings have been warm and wonderful, with a trace of sadness always nearby. I would like to recommence Wednesday evening workdays to engage more of our community and to get the garden in tip top shape.  I will take time during each workday to lead plant ID tours with some of our other native plant experts. Many of our plants are very beautiful and many are very rare. It is good to get to know them, their curious ways, and needs. The mobile phone plantID apps are great for beginners, but most seem to enjoy learning our local Chicago native flowers with people and books.  The garden community includes quite a few native plant experts (environmental science and biology professors, a former native landscaping crew training and management leader, and quite a few others with decades of experience.)  We’ve been talking about how to tend the garden in the short term, with such uncertainty.  They understand how rare and special Waters garden is and can share that knowledge with you, so more people understand why we protect it and how it’s important to the ecology program at Waters.  We hope more people will want to learn how to care for this incredible garden.  We will also try to have more music during the workdays, as we have in the past, to lift our spirits and keep us strong. 

People have asked how they can help, what they can do.  

Please  keep reading the news as updates come. Other news articles are likely soon. 

Please spread this link so that people can get this newsletter or share our newsletters on social media and block clubs. 

I want to let people have time to learn what happened and have time to sort out the truth and notice where statements were misleading or worse, notice what incorrect assumptions have been made and reflect.  Perhaps some will be unmoved by the new information, but they will need to think heavily about their reasons because others will question them deeply. Lets let them have a little time. The news is still coming out. 

Stay tuned.  Meanwhile, see you in the garden. There’s lots of work to do! 
New neighbors can join this email list here.  
Please share the link with them and in places where they will find it. 

Gardening Saturday Morning 10-12 Saturday, July 16th

It’s been quite a week. We’ve shared a petition and need to get back to gardening.

10-12 Saturday, July 16th, please join us for the usual garden tasks and to share music and food at the end.

While surely, there will be some discussion about current ecology program status, lets try to save discussion for a short Q&A around 11.. Its been an exhausting week. Last week over 70 people gathered and were so worried about the garden and ecology classes, they barely got any gardening done! The garden needs us! Lets not waste another garden day worrying. Instead, enjoy the garden, and be good and kind to one another. and please come at the beginning if you can.

more news soon. Hold Fast! The universe is large and many things are possible.

If you love the Garden and Ecology Program…Speak Up, Now.

Hello Dear Waters friends, 
This is part 2 of yesterday’s message answering some of the inaccurate  comments made on Waters Facebook page.

Don’t say the ecology program is being destroyed
“Mistakes” made by Waters Today
Voice and CPS Miscellaneous employee
Ugly Turn 

Before we go there, I need to tell you that I got a message from the Principal today saying that he is sticking with his decisions, and the ecology program and garden will go on with or without me. There you go. Bold statement. Can you make a bold statement? That the Garden and Program belong to US: The people who created it, fund it, the people who fund CPS? We are looking for any and every way to influence the LSC, the Alderman and State Representative and Senator to come to our aid. Me might say: we are the oak trees, these old and  beloved oak trees. Do not cut them down and plant new… “better” saplings.Please help.This is our hour of decision. Please help.We are asking school families to create video messages from their kids, asking, demanding, that the ecology program they know, will be saved. Sing. Sing your joy and resolve.  We can change things.
For more instructions, follow:
“Don’t say the ecology program is being destroyed.” 
I don’t know what misconceptions people have about the program, but I know that if I am forced out, and have no way to impart, hand off, the complexity of the programs, the relationships and agreements between many parties, the bulk of the field ecology trips will end. No more Mighty Acorns, Lake trips, our river partnerships will dissolve. There are complicated reasons. For example, Mighty Acorns trips are funded by the Forest Preserves ($9,000 last year).  This program is premised on students engaging in stewardship activities: brush cutting, seed collecting, weed pulling. These activities must be supervised by certified land managers. The Forest Preserve District does not have enough staff to provide supervision for all Mighty Acorns schools. But, because I am a certified steward, we are able to carry on. We also have a special status because of our history with Mighty Acorns (I was a founder, and wrote the introduction to the first manual 25 years ago). Without a steward, no trips. Similar for Lake trips.
So, if I am forced out, the school might be able to hire someone to teach ecology and “care” for the garden, but it will be unrecognizable from the current program. In that sense, the ecology program that I built over the past 25 years will be destroyed.

“Mistakes” made by WT
Recently, in defense of taking money donated by parents for the ecology program, it has been said that “mistakes were made” by well meaning parents on the WT board that overvalued my position, so that the pay level was inappropriate. First, let me say that I never once asked for a raise. I probably should have been more involved. But my interest was my work. I was very happy for WT to raise money, find grants, pay me and LET ME WORK. As I said yesterday, I am working up to my capacity, really over capacity. Things that distract me from my work make me unable to do the best job that I could. Even writing this, takes the place of other work I could be doing. But, this is important, I guess.

Liz Chandron wrote to tell me that:
 The prior pay structure under WT was based on the assumption that one day you would retire, and a teacher would be hired to take over the program, and this was the future cost of that position.

Well that’s not a mistake. It makes some sense. We asked Mr R what the average teacher cost was and he said $105- $110,000 per year.  The LSC cut ecology back to $56,000 with no benefits. At the same time they hired a new tech teacher at $105,000, at least $65,000 coming from WT, apparently money made available by cutting ecology. There was a mistake made. But, not by Waters Today.

Voice and CPS Miscellaneous employee
Last Fall the November Minutes of the LSC Budget Committee informs us under Ecology:
PR: Finally have a contact for procurement. Process would be six months for procurement. Instructed to create a description of what you want for the program and not what is already in place. CPOR (Chief Procurement Officer Requisition) best way to go – $75k threshold. If go bigger than that, would need to put program out for other bids (required by CPS).

That’s where I understood we were. After many months of effort, in August of 2021, I received a Vendor # and CPS verified insurance and background checks. I let Mr R know and he said that for now we would just keep doing things like usual, with WT cutting a monthly check. This was surprising because the LSC had been pushing and pushing for this Vendor # and now, all of a sudden, no rush, we’ll keep doing like before.

In early spring Mr. R called me and announced that he thought it would be easier to just hire me as a CPS employee, that I would get benefits, insurance coverage. Easier. And he said he had talked to Sandrine Schultz, head of CPS Sustainability, who was also, by the way, my sponsor for my Vendor Status. She is also a supporter of the ecology program, garden, and our composting program. So, I thought, “Well, maybe that would work”.
But, there are downsides to working as an “employee” for CPS. One was that there is no category that could represent what I actually do in my job. The one Mr. R presented to me sounded like a first year teacher’s aid. It in no way represents what I do. 
Being a Board employee also restricts my ability to speak up and speak out when necessary on school, garden, and broader social and environmental issues. I am very willing to restart the Vendor process which would allow me to be compensated for the broad scope of my work.

Ugly Turn
In a particularly ugly and maybe even libelous turn, several FBers equated the need for me to be under CPS control, to the recent conviction of a former Waters teacher. BAD THINGS HAVE HAPPENED.  But, the bad things happened in the school under CPS and Principal supervision, with a licensed and insured teacher.  Bad things did not happen in the Garden. 
As a Vendor I am registered at CPS, have insurance, and background checks. I, of course, work with the Principal and the teachers, parents and students every day. Please shut down this toxic bit of writing.

Finally, let me end with beautiful words of inspiration, passion, hope, and urgency from members of our community:
Letters of support 
Dear Waters Community,

I am shocked and very saddened to hear about the challenges the ecology program is facing at our school. My daughter was fortunate enough to have been accepted to Waters through the lottery and we were so happy when we got the news she could go there. One of the core reasons we selected Waters was because of the ecology program as it offers such an enriching educational experience that is vital for young people to have. Mr. Leki not only teaches the students about the natural world around them but allows kids, parents, teachers and the local community to play an important role in supporting and sustaining this planet. And through his work we can all realize that this is no easy task but through years of dedication, perseverance and above all, team work, that we can all benefit our natural world together no matter how old you are.  

The garden is a special space that inspires the students and community to pay attention to nature. It provides a gathering space for all people and so many different kinds of wildlife that need this area. Our world is facing a climate crisis and the city does not offer green play spaces that are easily accessible or utilized by many people. The Waters garden offers a place for everyone in the Waters community that they may not otherwise experience. It has taught and will continue to teach many generations how vital our appreciation of the natural world is and inspire these students to take control of the climate crisis and become a more thoughtful and respectful person to our planet and all of the living things in it. As a concerned and active member of the Waters community I respectfully ask how can we risk taking this away from the students? What is the motive behind this change and who does it benefit? 

The La Pratt Family

Dear Members of the Waters Local School Counsel and Principal Rutkowski:

We are incredibly fortunate that the Waters Ecology Program is at our school. It is not justa class. The Waters Ecology Program and Garden makes our school unique across all the schools in Chicago—it makes it a special place to be, where children are uniquely supported and nourished.
My family and I moved to this neighborhood so our children could attend Waters Elementary School. We chose Waters and this community specifically because of the Ecology Program and the Waters’ Garden. We have learned that we are just one of many families who, over the years, have put down roots here to in order to be a part of the Ecology Program, Garden, and the school community that thrives as a result of these critical resources. We are in a time of crisis for our common home. The climate crisis has been called the “defining crisis of our time,” but it is one of many crises we are experiencing all at once.1 There is also the sixth mass extinction happening currently (the biodiversity crisis), a pollution crisis (ofair, land, and water—by chemicals, plastic, heavy metals, radioactivity, noise, and light), and deforestation and natural resource depletion (we are using our natural resources faster than they can replenish themselves).2 There is also a gun  United States, including, as we know, here in Chicago.3 This is the context in which we must raise and educate our children.

1 United Nations, The Climate Crisis—A Race We Can Win (2022),,a20race%20we%20can%20win%E2%80%9D.
2 Robert H. Cowie, et al. The Sixth Mass Extinction: fact, fiction or speculation?, BIOLOGICAL REVIEWS, Vol. 97
pp. 640-663 (2022), available at,; United Nations,
As Humanity’s Environment Footprint Becomes Increasingly Unsustainable, Global Leaders Recommit to
Joint Climate Action, at Opening of Stockholm Summit, (“[H]uman demand on natural resources has
become unbearably heavy, with ecosystem degradation compromising the well-being of over 3 billion
people and a growing tide of pollution and waste costing some 9 million lives annually.”); Laura Parker, The
world’s plastic pollution crisis explained, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, (2019), available at (“Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic
products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them.”).
3 Statement on Gun Violence Crisis from 60 National Organizations, June 6, 2022, available at,

There is no escaping that this is the world they have inherited, from those who came before and those who are still here now.
The Ecology Program and the Waters Garden are a refuge in this storm—for Waters students, Waters parents, and the community members who surround our school. Having such a refuge is important in and of itself. A rich body of research now formally demonstrates what many of us have long known—
spending time in nature has both physical and psychological benefits for human wellbeing.4 Green spaces near schools promote cognitive development and self-control behaviors in children. Exposure to natural environments improves working memory, cognitive flexibility, and attention control.5 The impacts of green space on the brain is profound, students briefly gazing out at a garden during an academic task results in them making fewer mistakes!6 Exposure to green space also reduces the risk of psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, mood disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and substance use disorder.7 Time in nature also increases children’s ability and likelihood to engage cooperatively with others.8 Research has also found that it is the more wild spaces that have the greatest ability to strongly reduce stress hormones like cortisol and α-amylase.9 We give our children an enormous gift each day by sending them to school in a building surrounded by a garden—not just any garden, but a garden they tend themselves, that the community members around them tend, and that their grown-ups and their friends’ and classmates’ grown-ups tend. A  garden where soil is cultivated for food. A garden where Mr. Leki and community members carefully tend wild spaces to allow them their wildness (with all its amazing benefits!) and to support our precious native plants, which bring beauty and inspiration, home for incredible insects like butterflies, and build our soil for continued sustenance. The children have a place to explore, where there is wonder and awe, and also care and security.ations.aspx; Sarah Owermohle and Krista Mahr, America’s Gun Violence Crisis, POLITICO PULSE (2022),

available at,
4 Kirsten Weir, Nurtured by Nature, AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION MONITOR ON PSYCHOLOGY, Vol.51, No. 3 (2020), available at
5 Kathryn E. Schertz and Marc G. Berman, Understanding Nature and Its Cognitive Benefits, CURRENT DIRECTIONS IN PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE, Vol. 28, No. 5 (2019), available at,
6 Kate E. Lee et al., 40-second green roof views sustain attention: The role of micro-breaks in attention restoration, JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, Vol. 42 (2015), pp. 182-189, available at
7 Kristine Engemann et al., Residential green space in childhood is associated with lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood, PNAS, Vol. 116, No. 11 (2019), available at
8 Raelyne L.Dopko et al., The psychological and social benefits of a nature experience for children: A preliminary investigation, JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, Vol. 63, No. 1 (2019), available at,
9 Alan Ewert and Yun Chang, Levels of Nature and Stress Response, BEHAVIOR SCIENCES, 2018 May; Vol. 8 No.
5 (2018), available at

The Garden is an irreplaceable asset. But this letter is not about the garden alone. It is not only the exposure to natural spaces that is good for children’s wellbeing—it is the connection they feel to nature itself.10 Waters’ Ecology Program gives our children that connection. For over a decade, Mr. Leki has designed and executed a holistic program that teaches children to (1) observe and work to understand the living systems of which they are a part, and on
which they depend; (2) contribute meaningfully and with care to those systems; and (3) build sustaining community across differences. These are precisely the skills that our children most need to successfully navigate these challenging times and the ones to come—and to build healthier, safer, and more vibrant future for themselves and one another. I have witnessed first-hand Mr. Leki’s powerful work with the Ecology Program. This year I volunteered to help with the annual first grade play, which tells the legend of turtle and snake.
Through song and drama, first graders get the opportunity to teach the history of their school—how the Chicago River once flowed through the school grounds, the way people moved the river a few blocks away to be deeper and straighter, and the way a group of students stepped up and took action to build the garden they wanted to see and play in and explore at their very own school. It is a beautiful story, and the children are in awe to learn of their special place in their school’s rich history. First-graders then get to teach this history to the kindergarteners and pre-K students,who then too are able to feel connected to this history, their fellow students, and the garden that surrounds their very special school—including the amazing animals that live there. This experience gives the students a deep sense of belonging and connection—something Mr. Lekifosters throughout all his work with the Ecology Program.
Mr. Leki regularly invites parents to be a part of Ecology Program experiences. This means students get to see their grown-ups and their friends’ grown-ups in the school and in their classrooms. This helps foster community and a sense of care among the students that I value immensely as a Waters parent. It is this sense of community and care, of knowing one another, and feeling connected to one another that helps us keep our students safe. As a result of these volunteer opportunities, I have connected with other parents, and my son has connected with a wider array of students across multiple grades, building new friendships and acquaintances that make our community stronger. The Garden Stewardship Days provide ways for the larger community to be involved with the garden and further build connections between the school and the community that help build a safe and thriving community for our students.

10 John M. Zelenski and Elizabeth K. Nisbet, Happiness and Feeling Connected: The Distinct Role of Nature Relatedness, ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR, Vol. 46, No. 1, 2014 (2012), available at (finding that a feeling of connection to nature is
a significant predictor of happiness even after controlling for general connectedness). Cartwright, B.D.S., et
al., Nearby Nature ‘Buffers’ the Effect of Low Social Connectedness on Adult Subjective Wellbeing over the
(“Results confirmed the importance of nature exposure for wellbeing in itself, and highlighted its potential
role in offering socially isolated individuals a way of satisfying the need to feel connected.”), available at

The value of Mr. Leki’s holistic approach in creating and implementing the Ecology Program cannot be overstated. The way the Program works up through the grades—starting the younger children at home in the garden at a place of learning and awe and completing manageable tasks, continuing out to explore the wider world, first the river and then the larger Forest Preserves, and then returning back home to contribute more richly to the garden—gives the children something to look forward to, something to aspire to, and a great sense of pride. It teaches them a remarkable sense of scale, allowing them to work and contribute over time and at varying levels and degrees as their own abilities and knowledge grows. This ability to see over the long-term, to have the firm understanding that small tasks repeated over time lead to enormous changes and incredible fruits, and to know in their bones that our world is alive and there for them, just as it is dependent on them, is what will make our children successful and great in this particular time.
Mr. Leki’s skill, dedication, and hard work is what brought the Waters Ecology Program about and made it consistently outstanding for over a decade. He designed something truly phenomenal and new and made it work. For this, he is also an outstanding role model for our children who will hopefully also learn to design and implement amazing new ways of doing things.
As a Waters parent, of a rising second grader and rising kindergartener, I fully support the Ecology Program. I ask that Mr. Leki’s work be sustained at the full level it deserves, with funding that recognizes (1) the executive role he has played, and continues to play, in designing and sustaining the Ecology Program, (2) the profound skill and knowledge he brings to the cultivation of native and agriculture plants in the Waters Garden, (3) his skills as an educator, and (4) the skill, coordination, time, and care he uses to build a strong and thriving school community.
Mr. Leki’s work with the Ecology Program has made Waters Elementary School a destination for many and has attracted valued parents and students to our school. He should be fully supported to ensure the Program continues to thrive.


Megan M. Hunter
Waters Parent

Save Waters Ecology request for videos

Quick Take: Please record yourself reading your letter or telling how replacing Mr Leki is not right. With smartphones, long letters lose impact, but short videos work well.

More about the request for videos: First, a heartfelt THANK YOU to all who wrote letters, showed up, shared solutions, and spoke to Principal Rutkowski about how the proposed cuts to Waters Ecology affect you.  You can find your letter and all of the testimonials posted here on the Waters Ecology website:

Now, we need to tell all of the Local School Council (LSC) members – who will vote on the cuts to Waters Ecology this month – how we feel about the Ecology program with Mr. Leki.

We are inviting community members to make short videos to support Waters Ecology. This is your chance to tell the Local School Council (LSC) members how you feel before they vote on the proposed cuts to Waters Ecology with Mr. Leki. 
Remember, please only submit videos of your own self or family and please email Mr. Leki ( to let him know that you want him to put the video on the Waters Ecology website/facebook and that you give permission.

How you can help:
1.Record a short video with yourself or family sharing how you feel about the value of Mr. Leki in the Ecology Program and for the garden. Read your letter or simply speak from the heart!
2. Give written permission for the video to be used by sending Mr. Leki an email at
3. Go to this link to upload your video: Dropbox Upload link for Waters Ecology
4. Then post the video online wherever you feel your message needs to be heard!
5. You can also add the hashtag  #savewatersecology

*If you prefer to send your written letter directly to LSC members, you can email them at:
The LSC needs to hear from you before they vote this month! Let’s make our voices heard!

Thank you! 
Waters Ecology