Parents and community supporters are asking why CPS has chosen Piccolo Elementary for a “turnaround” by the Academy of Urban School Leadership  next year, when a brand-new principal – herself a veteran of an AUSL school — has just begun an overhaul that has won widespread support and is already getting results.
Piccolo parents, teachers, and students will hold a press conference and rally at the school (1040 N. Keeler) on Friday, December 9 at 3 p.m. to highlight the school’s strategic plan and oppose CPS’s proposal.
Dr. Allison Brunson was named principal in July, after teaching at AUSL’s Dodge Academy in East Garfield Park. Before this year, CPS policy prohibited school actions where principals had been in place less than two years.
Brunson has developed a strategic plan for the school and implemented a new disciplinary policy, a professional development program, and a new reading curriculum, including a two-hour reading period each morning, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together , which partners with the school on parent engagement.
“She told the LSC she thinks we can bring scores up by 10 points,” and with the new curriculum and emphasis on reading, “I’m pretty sure we’re going to see results on test scores this year,” Carroll said.
Much of the new approach is similar to AUSL’s, Carroll said. It’s “very data-driven,” with constant evaluation of students’ grasp of concepts informing individual coaching by teachers, she said.
With the new conduct policy– which aims at reducing suspensions and increasing parent involvement with behavioral issues — “decorum in the school has improved a lot,” said one school staff member. “It’s quieter. There are not as many disrupting incidents.”
The new principal is “always in the classrooms, always talking to children, talking to parents,” she said. “The teachers are working harder – I’m working harder.”
As part of the strategic plan, community partnerships have been expanded, Carroll said. Youth Guidance  and Childserv  now provide supportive services, and Chicago Commons  has a youth service center in the building.
Blocks Together has worked with parents to develop a wish-list — and the school has been acting on items, decorating the parent room to make it more inviting, and requesting security cameras from CPS (CPS has yet to respond), Carroll said.
There are already significant indications of improvement, she said. Attendance is up to 95 percent, and 85 percent of parents came to school for report card pickup day – after teachers were told to call each parent twice, and students were asked to write a letter home explaining why it was important for parents to come to school.
“It’s really not in the best interest of the students to have another disruption in the school,” Carroll said. And it doesn’t make sense: it’s based on the performance of the school’s previous administration, and “what AUSL says they’ll do is exactly what’s already happening here.”
But because AUSL has done so poorly with its turnaround of Orr High School, she said, the management company now apparently thinks the solution is to take over Orr’s feeder schools – including both Piccolo and Casals, where 61 percent of students are meeting standards.
ACT scores at Orr have not improved since the AUSL turnaround – despite the fact that enrollment there has also dropped quite dramatically, from 1500 to 823, as students with challenges were counseled out, Carroll said.
AUSL has extensive ties to Mayor Emanuel’s campaign and administration, and his decision to give them more contracts has raised charges of the appearance of conflict of interest  from CTU. “Emanuel’s choice [of AUSL] to spearhead the school turnaround effort brought the word ‘cronyism’ into coverage of his administration,” Gapers Block  commented.
Carroll says no one in the school was informed of the impending turnaround until the day the press was told. The West Humboldt Park Community Advisory Council established by CPS, on which Carroll serves, met with CPS officials the previous week and was told nothing, she said.
CPS chief Jean-Claud Brizard recently told Catalyst  that the district “went beyond” requirements of the new state school facilities law and “did much more” than required.
But that law requires  that “decisions that impact school facilities should include the input of the school community to the greatest extent possible.”
That clearly hasn’t happened here.