Lori Bitar’s short and tumultuous tenure as principal of Community Prep, an alternative charter school in Colorado Springs School District 11, has ended with her resignation after less than three months.
The board accepted her resignation Wednesday night.
“Ms. Bitar accomplished a lot of great work for Community Prep School in the relatively short few months she was with us,” board President Joe Southcott, said in a news release issued Thursday. “She hit the ground running and made worthwhile changes to aspects of our educational and operational program. We are indebted to her for her good work.”
Bitar said in a statement that she was grateful she was able to “contribute to the long-term success of a very needed school in our community.”
The board named Gayle Hinrichs, who had been working as exceptional student services and literacy coordinator at Community Prep since July, as interim principal.
A search for a replacement could take months, Southcott said, and a permanent principal likely won’t be named until next spring.
Bitar led a multitude of changes to address security issues, lagging student academic performance, attendance inconsistencies and other problems she said she uncovered after accepting the job in July. She also spoke with D-11 administrators, who expressed concern about the state of the school.
The 23-year-old alternative school serves students who have not done well in traditional schools and have backgrounds that involve personal or family dilemmas, such as parents in prison or parents who have died, child abuse or neglect issues, a history of alcohol or drug abuse, criminal activity, mental illness or learning difficulties.
Parents and students strongly objected to Bitar’s changes, which included banning students who are parents from bringing their babies to class, setting stricter attendance rules instead of having flexible schedules to accommodate students’ jobs, locking the school during the day, getting rid of a student advocacy program and raising the academic bar.
Bitar had not been at work since a heated board meeting on Aug. 29.
Enrollment has plummeted from 340 students last school year, according to Colorado Department of Education statistics, to 210 this school year, as cited by Southcott.
Shatona Thomas, who graduated in 2004 from Community Prep and whose son attended there until she pulled him out a few weeks ago, said while some of the rules had been too lax and improvements were in order, the changes Bitar made were too much.
“I got extremely upset when my son told me what was going on at the school,” she said. “I always spoke very highly of Community Prep, it wasn’t like a regular high school, it was a great atmosphere. Students got along with teachers and were respected. Redesigning the school and turning it into a regular high school isn’t what it needs.”
Bitar also recommended that the board close Landmark Community School, a sober high school for students recovering from addiction to substances that Community Prep started as a pilot program in January 2017 at a former church school, Immanuel Lutheran, 846 E. Pikes Peak Ave.
Bitar cited financial unsustainability and a lack of progress toward becoming its own school as reasons it should not continue, after operations ceased in August after the director resigned.
The board instead allowed the school, which has 14 students, a reprieve, relocating it to the same building as Community Prep and giving it time to address the concerns.
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