As Lawrence Calloway gears up to head out on the road for a month-long tour with Chicago’s own blues singer Joanna Connor and The Wrecking Crew, he is torn between a mixture of excitement and disillusionment as his request for an unpaid leave of absence has been denied by Oak Park’s District 97 elementary schools, leaving him without a job upon his return.
Calloway, 35, has been directing students through the halls of Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School for the past four years as a hall monitor, building relationships and creating rapport with students.
Hannah C. Boudreau, social worker at Brooks and the Oak Park Teacher Association’s co-president, opposed the school board’s decision during the public comment portion of the March 14 school board meeting.
“Losing Mr. Calloway would be a tremendous loss to our school community,” Boudreau said during the meeting. “He consistently goes above and beyond to serve our students and staff and is an integral member of our Brooks family.”
Boudreau praised Calloway’s relationships with students, saying he is an asset to the structure of the school.
“He manages our hallways which can often times be quite congested and rowdy, it is a middle school, its normal, but the relationship and rapport that he has with students by getting them to go to class and to get them to want to be successful and do their best, that is huge,” Boudreau told Wednesday Journal.
A longtime musician, Calloway began playing the bass guitar at the age of 12 and it wasn’t long before he was hitting the stage to perform with other musicians. Calloway, who has been performing since he was 16 years old, said he has shared the stage with Dexter Walker & Zion Movement Chorale, in Europe, and the touring jam band, The Great I Am.
“It’s a great experience, it’s the hospitality, it’s the adrenaline of being on the big stage,” Calloway said. “You work hard. This leads up to what you’ve worked hard for.”
Recently, Calloway was afforded another opportunity to showcase his musical talents and promote the album he helped produce; however it came at the price of his job with the district.
“I was denied. I was very shocked,” Calloway said. “I have gone above and beyond my job description here, always. I couldn’t believe it.”
Calloway originally submitted his request for the unpaid leave on Feb. 14, requesting unpaid leave from April 4 through May 7, 2023. According to Calloway, the board did not give him a specific reason as to why his request was denied.
When reached for comment, Amanda Siegfried, the district’s communications director, said the district does out publicly comment on personnel matters out of respect for employees privacy rights.
“Decisions are made with careful consideration of relevant facts and with a focus on the district’s commitment to our students,” said Siegfried.
“I don’t think silence is the appropriate response either,” said Boudreau regarding the district’s lack of explanation. “Say something or explain your decision to basically terminate this person because of an opportunity.”
Boudreau said she believes the district is missing a great opportunity to not only have another talented musician perform, as according to her Joanna Connor offered to do a free performance for students, but they are also letting the opportunity to create a more accepting culture in their schools.
‘“We want to have this diverse district and have more staff members that look like our students and people of color and then they are going to force this man to resign,” Boudreau said, adding that Calloway’s leave will be hurtful to their black and brown students. “It is sending the wrong message. It shows that we do not value this person, that he is expendable. We have the option of doing the right thing and we are just choosing not to.”
While Calloway has cherished his time and relationships with everyone at Brooks, he has decided to take the opportunity to showcase his musical talents. After the tour has wrapped up, Calloway said he hopes to be able to reapply for his current position and be able to continue to work for the district for the next couple of years to help inspire students to reach their goals. “I am also doing it to be an example for our kids here. You can have whatever you want, be whatever you want to be if you put your all into it,” Calloway said.