Felicia Clotworthy is the incoming principal for Infant Jesus of Prague Catholic School in Flossmoor. (Nuha Abdessalam/H-F Chronicle)
Education, Local News

IJP principal to depart after one school year

On May 2, Infant Jesus of Prague Principal Felicia Clotworthy penned a letter to the school community announcing her decision not to return for the following school year.

Clotworthy, the school’s first Black principal, said in the letter that she would have fond memories of her time there.

“I found our scholars made commitments to work hard, found support from many within our community and especially IJP families,” she said in the letter.

Felicia Clotworthy is the incoming principal for Infant Jesus of Prague Catholic School in Flossmoor. (Nuha Abdessalam/H-F Chronicle)
Felicia Clotworthy announced she will not return next year
as principal for Infant Jesus of Prague Catholic School
in Flossmoor. (Chronicle file photo)

She joined the school administration after three decades of experience as an educator, including time as a social studies teacher and dean of students at Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago.

Some of the positives she cited were connections with members of St. Veronica Parish (formerly Infant Jesus of Prague) who brought ideas and shared their time with students. She cited especially the parish Kwanzaa Ministry, which helped teach students the values of the winter religious observance.

“What I loved about those kinds of connections with the parish were that they offered our seniors  in this community a chance to come and give back to the school and the parish they love,” she said.

She values introspection. Her work with staff involved shaping shared goals based on the school’s values. She invited staff to examine their personal and professional identities and values and think about how they applied to their teaching.

“One of those goals was how do we bolster the rigor our curricular plans?” she said.

In an effort to explore new curricular directions, she taught a pilot course that she hoped would serve as an example of the standards, evidence and inquiry based approach she wanted the school to embrace. She guided students to use historical context and connections as they did case studies that would help them understand what citizen activism looks like.

The positive aspects of the experience were accompanied by two troubling incidents involving racist language directed at a member of the staff and at herself. Both women of color received letters that used the N-word.

Clotworthy said it was only the second time in her life the word has been directed at her, and she felt it deeply. It also caught the school community by surprise.

“I right away went into educator mode,” she said. She gathered her team together to start planning how to help the community not only deal with the impact of the racist comments but to learn and grow from the experience.

Her goal was to involve the whole school community in the process of healing and learning.

“It’s not just the work of BIPOC identities or LGBTQ+ identities,” she said. “It has to be the work of everyone involved. It’s all of us, right?” BIPOC refers to Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and LGBTQ+ refers to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Queer people.

The process she envisioned calls for deep exploration of systemic racism, a subject she knows will make many people uncomfortable.

“We have to acknowledge it … and not be afraid to name the problem, because if you don’t name it, it’s going to continue to surface,” she said.

She said she received welcome support from some members of the school community who were shocked by the letters and empathized with her.

Clotworthy also spoke in support of former Flossmoor police chief Jerel Jones during the March 4 village board meeting. She said his response to the racist letters was exemplary and that he had provided support and engagement the school community needed to help deal with the incidents.

Jones, Flossmoor’s first Black police chief, was dismissed two weeks later.

Although having the N-word directed at her has been rare, Clotworthy is well-versed in the role of education in addressing injustice. She was an instructional coach and program consultant for Facing History and Ourselves from 2016 to 2023 and she was a diversity, equity and inclusion liaison for The Latin School of Chicago from 2019 to 2022. 

In an interview with the Chronicle after being hired as IJP principal, Clotworthy said she hoped her DEI experiences could help strengthen IJP’s programs. 

Clotworthy has taken a position at Children of Peace Catholic School in Chicago.

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