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Former Faculty Had 'No Confidence' in Ross School's Interim Head

Thu, 10/07/2021 - 11:30
Christine Sampson

The Ross School has appointed as its interim head of school a veteran administrator whose previous employment at a private school system in Chicago was marked by a no-confidence vote by the faculty he led.

 Charles Abelmann will step in as interim head of school beginning Monday. Bill O'Hearn, who has been the head for about 10 years, will continue to oversee the high school until he retires at the end of December, Ross said in announcing the appointment.

 Mr. Abelmann was previously the director of the Laboratory Schools at the University of Chicago for almost three years, and before that was at the Barrie School in Silver Spring, Md., for eight years. Earlier, he was an education specialist, program leader, and acting manager for the World Bank for more than 10 years.

 In February 2019, the faculty of the Laboratory Schools held a no-confidence vote in an attempt to oust Mr. Abelmann, charging that he "has attempted to divide the community by damaging the relationships between families and faculty," and that his decisions "are poorly planned and cause disruption to the schools." Fifteen months later, in May 2020, the schools' administration announced that Mr. Abelmann was "leaving the university to pursue other opportunities."

 He "worked tirelessly for the Lab community since his appointment in 2017," the administration added in a press release. "His accomplishments include leading Lab's comprehensive strategic framework planning process, expanding initiatives in health and wellness, and strengthening efforts in diversity and inclusion."

 The Hyde Park Herald, a Chicago-based newspaper, reported at the time that during his tenure at the Laboratory Schools, Mr. Abelmann had fired a gay teacher who was later reinstated after an arbitration procedure ruled there had been no just cause for the dismissal. The article also noted that the schools' Black Students Association said some of its members had experienced "hostility."

 According to his LinkedIn profile, Mr. Abelmann has degrees from Duke University and the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. He could not be reached for comment this week, but on his LinkedIn profile he says he is "dedicated to improving the experience of children in schools and increasing access to education and improving opportunities for development of youth, as well as adults."

 Ross's board of trustees emailed a statement to The Star on Tuesday, saying it had done an employment check and knew about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Abelmann's tenure at the Chicago schools.

 "We are aware of the circumstances of Charlie's previous employment and unanimously agree he embodies the character and values a leader of Ross School should possess," the board said. "We also understand the nature of the job for which we are hiring him and the challenges that any head of school will inevitably face. Charlie's skills and accomplishments are highly impressive, and we feel he is the best person to lead Ross during this transition."

 Mr. O'Hearn, the former head, "has been the embodiment" of its "culture and values," Ross said in announcing the changeover, "and has contributed to the evolution of Ross on a fundamental level with integrity, vision, intelligence, humility, and a great sense of humor."

 Ross has retained the search firm Carney, Sandoe, and Associates to find a permanent successor to Mr. O'Hearn, and said the school anticipates Mr. Abelmann will be a candidate for that role. Ross has pledged "broad community involvement" in the process.


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