Spring with all its surprises

Several news items below: garden stewardship schedule, workday accomplishments, prescribed burn update, and spring wildflowers! Please scroll, read and respond.

1. Garden days: Wednesdays 5pm-dark, Saturdays 10am- noon

Dear Friends, regular stewardship days have recommenced. Please join us whenever you can, for as long as you can. All are welcome and invited to share the work, learn and teach, share food and music. Don’t delay!

2. April 8 workday accomplishments

Contributed by Phil B.

It was a very productive Saturday, April 8, at the garden!

Things we discussed…

– breaking some of the ongoing jobs into small groups which may add focus to work days (thanks Brendon!) or allow people to work on projects outside of regularly scheduled workdays.

– completing a report after each (Saturday?) garden workday to keep gardeners not in attendance and Ms. Rovito/Waters School apprised of what has been done and possibly flagging items of concern. 

– a timeline and need to shorten and tidy up some of the larger beds veggie beds that impede on the circulation. Especially where walking path enters bed area.

Things we did….

An inventory was made of the cedar fencing that still remains in the tool shed. There is a need to purchase a few more posts so that we can continue the split rail fencing along the outermost path at south/east native planted area (just south of the community plots). We set a goal to add about fifty more feet of cedar fence this season.

Mostly we all teamed up to repair and replace the temporary fencing that has been trampled over the winter. We made good progress. The understory bed along the large shed is now protected. Jeremy and Ewan did a great job putting up temporary fencing near the Serviceberry/Amelanchier to help protect the delicate and very low growing trout lily/ Erythronium americanum. Please take a look on your next trip to garden and let’s all help maintain these soft, protective borders. Please take a moment to pick up sticks, branches and bricks that have been scattered around. Store in cedar shed.

Trash was collected, the hoses got dragged out and the tool shed needs organizing. Poppy diligently uncovered the spiral herb garden and unwintered the roses! Melanie helped organize the composting brown(s) bins, keeping the trash isolated and separated—also, clearing a path for passing by. We made sure everything but the trash had a brick on it to keep folks from throwing garbage on perfectly good leaves. 

Things we’re concerned about…..

When the potato patch was dismantled, the concrete reinforcement steel (6×6’) grids were removed and  leaned up near the greenhouse. We attempted to make them as orderly and safe as possible by adding ribbon and bending in any projectiles. There may be a better place or solution or maybe we need to ask ourselves…does it makes sense to keep them? (Planting in that area is impossible without protection for the growing plants. The steel cages, staked and set teepee style did a great job protecting and trellising the plants. P.L.)

We’ll see you next time or on Wednesday.

3. Prescribed burn

Contributed by Meredith L.

On Monday April 3 at 8:00am, an email popped up from the school with notification that a prescribed burn of the Waters Garden would begin just an hour later at 9:00am! This came as a great surprise because the school and contractor had promised that garden stewards would be alerted in advance so that someone with specific knowledge of the garden’s native plants could be present to consult with the contracted burn crew. Despite the late notice, lack of coordination with garden stewards, and the fact that many volunteers were out of town for spring break, we were able to pull together a group of gardeners to arrive by 9:00am.

While this initial communication oversight was quite concerning, everything went great with the burn itself! The Davey Trees crew very much welcomed garden stewards’ input on which areas to burn and which areas to skip because precious spring ephemerals (like Virginia bluebells, trout lily, and Dutchman’s breeches) have already started to emerge. Fire would kill these beautiful early spring flowers, and it could take years for them to recover, if ever. The whole process only took an hour or so: the 3-person crew showed up around 9:15-9:30, gardeners were able to do a walkaround with them, they had fire on the ground at little before 10:00 and were finished up by about 10:30. The weather wasn’t the most cooperative, with barely any wind and drizzle starting midway through, so the burn ended up being a bit patchy. Excitingly, the crew was even able to burn the swale despite the construction–this was a high priority for us due to the buildup of grass fuel in that space! At the end, the contractor’s burn boss even asked about our background because it sounded like we had industry experience, so it seems like they found the volunteers’ contributions valuable. Cheers to a successful burn!

4. Spring wildflowers!


This a photo of Bloodroot, a native ephemeral wildflower. You can walk for blocks and miles around our neighborhood and not witness this plant that was once an integral part of the spring native plant community. It lives at Waters!!!! Its blossom time is short. Hot days cause it to drop its petals. But the plant continues to draw in sunlight and CO2 and to grow, its roots and bulbs. In years when the weather is cool, they will put out a spectacular show! We are blessed. Pleeeeeease protect them.

Check out this animation that shows the progress of bloodroot blooming as the season progresses. We are part of a worldwide movement monitoring the changes brought about by climate change. These bloodroot blossoms are helping us to learn and understand. Thanks to Jeremy A. for the photos and animation.

Spring Beauty

This is Spring Beauty. It is small and hidden. Can you find it? It is rare, outside of the forest preserves. It is a jewel. It has taken us 20+ years to re-introduce it to our neighborhood, our garden. Please look for it! Ask for a guided tour. Or come to our stewardship days, to get acquainted.

Community News Update


1. Principal Evaluation survey

2. Waters Garden stewardship days begin today, Wednesday March 29, 5:30 pm

3. Recent Waters Ecology education and activities

1. Click here to take the annual Principal Evaluation Survey for Families & Community by Friday, March 31st. The Waters School Local School Council will use your input to inform Principal Rutkowski’s formal performance evaluation. This CPS mandated process supports the principal in identifying professional growth priorities to improve his leadership of our school, ultimately benefiting experience and outcomes for students, staff, families and broader school community. Your survey results are anonymous.

2. Spring Garden Stewardship begins today, Wed, March 29, at 5:30 with the first garden night of the season. We will be pruning, and teaching how to prune fruiting shrubs, like gooseberry, currants, raspberries and grapes. Pruners provided. If anyone would like to start a fire in the fire circle and bring campfire food to cook and help with that work and cleanup, they are welcome to do so.

3. Recent Ecology education and activities Although the old ecology program is no more for Waters School since the current Principal and certain members of the LSC decided to re, the ecology community continues to be active and would like to share some news. Recently Mr. Leki’s been leading/co-leading activities at the Riverbank, Sauganash, the “Nature at the Lake”, and more. here’s a few reports back and a few photos…

On Sunday, March 5, more than 50 people, including some Waters families, showed up for a stewardship day at Sauganash Prairie Grove. We cut brush and burned it in big brush piles. We shared food and friendship.  Larry Hodak and Pete Leki, the longtime stewards of the rare protected ecosystem at Sauganash, were able to share some of the natural and social history of the site. One Waters student, who happened to discover a deer skeleton,  asked his dad: “When can we do this again?”  (info on that below photos)

Although Saugnash has been a Waters School Mighty Acorns site since 1993, Waters’ formal relationship with Mighty Acorns ended last fall.

Families from Waters also attended a prescription burn training on March 14, to gain a better understanding of the reason for and methods for conducting prescribed ecological fires. 

Mr. Leki was able to introduce students from another school to the Montrose Dune ecosystem and Lake Michigan last week. One group was lucky enough to come upon a roosting barred owl. The trip included a reading of the book, “The Fight Between Quiet and Noise” and a number of songs. (See fotos below).

Last weekend Riverbank Neighbors, including Waters School families, took part in the celebration of the Spring Equinox and the prescribed burning of sections of the riverbank.  Successful and beautiful burn. Ready for Spring.

On Friday, students from Lane Tech, including former Waters students, visited Sauganash / LaBagh to cut brush and burned it in a big brushpile . Other teams hauled logs to line pathways, while others constructed fencing to protect newly planted shrubs. 

There’s more news to share, but that’s enough for now. Please write back with encouraging notes! We appreciate hearing from you. These emails are put together by several community members including Pete Leki.

Ecological and Community Restoration remain essential to saving our Planet

Future Sauganash info:

We will post another work day within a couple weeks. In the meantime,  LaBagh / Sauganash stewards sent out this invitation:

Our next volunteer workdays are Sunday, April 2 and Saturday, April 15, from 10 am – 1 pm. Our exact meetup locations are TBD but we think we’ll be at Grove 3 on April 2 – look for the yellow “volunteer” signs in the parking lot.

Please let us know if you can join us by filling out this form, if you haven’t already: https://forms.gle/qehTr4jRV153QbRP9 Your RSVP will help us plan and make the most out of our workday. Regrets are not necessary. Feel free to pass along this email along to others who might be interested in joining.

Saturday Morning Celebrate the End of Winter

Dear community, you are invited to 2 campfire celebrations of the end of Winter!

Saturday, March 18th 10-12 at the garden, there will be a warm campfire with hot chocolate and a few songs shared.  Water School families and neighbors are invited to join and learn about spring care that’s needed to keep the garden raspberries, currants, and other berries growing and plentiful…

…and Sunday, March 19, Riverbank Neighbors will celebrate the Spring Equinox with a campfire at the riverbank (at Berteau) from 4-sunset after a riverbank workday from noon till 2.

Check back for updates due to weather.

A Garden and A Community Needs Constant Care

Caring for the land, like caring for your home and neighborhood, is a never-ending, on-going task. We do it because we love these places. So it is with a farm… so it is with Waters Garden. In each season, and through the winter, the garden needs care-givers monitoring, fixing, guiding and caring. 

Soon spring will arrive, and our 25 year ritual of burning the native garden will, with good conditions and luck, take place, but, for the first time since the garden was re-created in 1993, the  burn is being contracted out to a private company with no links or history in the neighborhood. The dozens of people that have been trained, certified and had experience in this work have been set aside. Instead, money that was fund-raised for the school will be paid to a private corporation.  We hope that the company will honor the knowledge and experience of the Waters Garden Stewards and consult closely to conduct a safe and successful burn. Do no harm!

But other tasks loom large.

Last fall we managed to shortstop 10 bales of straw from being sent to the landfill, and instead dry-stored it for use as mulch. Fencing has been broken and knocked down. It needs to be reinstalled. The greenhouse was vandalized (and repaired). Wheel barrows were repaired. (Editor’s note: who do you think did this work?)

In late winter the fruiting shrubs need to be pruned: black and red currants, gooseberries, grapes and raspberries. This pruning requires knowledge and experience. Improper pruning can cause zero production of fruit. This is work that the gardeners have been trained for and a task we have performed for many, many years. This is part of our community culture, built by the existing longtime creators and stewards of Waters Garden. Pruning is a skill that must be taught and supervised. It’s easy to get it wrong. And when it goes well, a bountiful harvest of berries is available for Waters students, as has been for many many years.

Trellises need to be repaired. Raised beds need tending.  The cold frames will need to be monitored and tended to. Will they produce a spring crop of veggies? Do they need repair??

Hope is the promise of spring, when the “sap” begins to flow in tree and human alike. The endless promise of a good year.

Invitation to Sauganash

Dear Friends, 

Waters Ecology, Riverbank Neighbors, and the North Branch Restoration Project,  would like to invite you to:

a winter restoration workday at Sauganash Prairie Grove  (the traditional site for Waters School Mighty Acorns)

Sunday, March 5, 2023, 10-1:00 for community volunteers including families of Waters Students who missed out on the Waters Ecology program with Mr. Leki this past fall.

With good luck we will have beautiful wintery weather. Afterwards, we’ll share some food around a campfire. All are welcomed to participate, and to learn from and with the longtime experienced and skilled restoration stewards supervising the event. Children need to be accompanied by their responsible adults. 

This nature stewardship opportunity is co-led by Pete Leki and Larry Hodak and co-hosted by other leaders from Riverbank Neighbors and the North Branch Restoration Project.

Please let us know if you can join us by filling out this form for the Sauganash/LaBagh Woods Volunteer Workday. Please ignore the other date listed and the part about certifications, which doesn’t apply.


Your RSVP will help us plan and make the most out of our workday. Regrets are not necessary. Feel free to pass along this email along to others who might be interested in joining. 

Generations of Waters ecology students and families have participated in the stewardship of the rare and precious ecosystem of Sauganash and LaBagh with the Waters Garden and Riverbank Neighbor community and co-leaders. Expertise and skills exist in our community. Many children have been raised by parents who make stewardship of the native ecosystem part of their family and community culture. It’s a joy. We invite you to join us. Gratitude to all who’ve kept their determination to protect our special havens for rare Illinois native flowers and birds, who’ve protected the land and the stewards of the land. We hope to see you at this special stewardship event. Spring is around the corner!

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 https://www.cpsboe.org/

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, WatersEcology.org

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 watersecology.org 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!)


Phenology https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1IOVJHR8Cjta1HgM8wrbf8D-3oS9pwFQsfxrQsnVHe48/edit?usp=sharing

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 watersecology.org. 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.