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Orr students have some questions for Bill Gates

Chicago students want to contact Bill Gates to make sure he knows how his money is being spent.

Gates’ foundation is giving $10.3 million to a plan to “turn around” two high schools and nearby elementary schools.

Orr students gathered outside the Board of Education meeting this morning pointed out that just two years ago Gates gave $21 million to fund curriculum improvements at 14 schools including Mose Vines Preparatory Academy on the Orr campus.

The “turnaround” is the third central office intervention at Orr, which has controlled the school for many years without much success.

>Several Orr students from Blocks Together’s youth organization spoke highly of their teachers, who will be fired under the plan.

“We want to keep our teachers,” said one.  “They know us, they understand us, and we trust them.”

They were among over 100 Orr students who travelled to the board meeting to voice opposition to the plan.  They came downtown following a school-wide rally against the plan.

The Orr students have hundreds of signatures on a petition to Gates asking him to work with the community.

One irony is that Vines principal Patricia Woodson is likely to lose her job. When the schools LSC wanted to fire her two years ago, CPS chief Arne Duncan told them they couldn’t, according to Vines LSC chair Rev. Charles Walker.

“It’s ridiculous,” Walker said. “It would be funny if it wasn’t sad.”

It might have also saved Bill Gates some money.

As Newstips reported in 2005 (when CPS was promising LSCs for small schools), Woodson was dismantling the school’s core curriculum.  It had been designed by a group of teachers led by Mose Vines, described as a visionary veteran Orr teacher, who passed away before the school opened.  Many of the original teachers left, unhappy with Woodson.

Now Vines LSC is one of three small school LSCs suing CPS to claim their full legal powers, including principal selection (pdf).

There are other inconsistencies with the plan Gates is funding, opponents say.

For one thing, Morton and Howe elementary schools, near Harper High, are among those being taken over by the Academy of Urban School Leadership, based on its claims of success after one year at Sherman elementary.

But rather than a dramatic difference, achievement gains were lower at Sherman than at the two schools AUSL is taking over.  Sherman has gone from 24 percent of students meeting or exceeding expectation in 2005 (and 26.8 percent when AUSL came in last year) to 34.6 percent last year; in the same time Morton has gone from 16.8 percent to 32.5 percent, and Howe from 20.8 percent to 36.8 percent, according to Julie Woestehoff of PURE.

And while the package deal is supposed to include Orr and Harper and its “feeder schools,” Woestehoff said CPS figures show that in reality the targeted elementary schools contribute only a handful of students to the high schools.

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Category: CPS, education, school closings

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