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Video poker debates

A Chicago ordinance bans video poker; with the state’s new capital budget funded in part by the legalization of video poker, a push to repeal the local ban is expected.

And with scores of localities moving now to institute bans, “Chicago is the key whether video poker machines will exist in Illinois,” said Rev. Thomas Gray of the national organization Stop Predatory Gambling.

Three forums this week will bring together the Task Force to Oppose Gambling in Chicago and the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association, joined by Ald. Joe Moore and the Illinois Conference of the United Methodists — Monday, October 19, 7:30 p.m. at Humboldt Park United Methodist Church, 2120 N. Mozart [corrected]; Tuesday, October 20, 12 noon at Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington; and Wednesday, October 21, 7 p.m. at the Rogers Park Library, 6907 N. Clark.

An Ofrenda by Sandra Cisneros

“Camino a Casa: Coming Home” is the theme of the 23rd Day of the Dead exhibition at the National Museum of Mexican Art, and author Sandra Cisneros is returning to Chicago to create a traditional altar in memory of her parents at the museum.

It’s also the 25th anniversary of the publication of Cisneros’s acclaimed first novel, “The House on Mango Street,” based on her experiences growing up in Humboldt Park. It was the first novel by a Mexican American woman to be published by a mainstream publisher.

Speaking in Chicago this spring (as reported at Latina Voices), Cisneros recalled how teachers at Josephinum High School worked with her to develop her literary vocation, and how she treasured the quiet she found at the Humboldt Park library.

Cisneros graduated from Loyola University and taught at Latino Youth Alternative High School in Chicago. She now lives and works in San Antonio, where she founded the Macondo Foundation to support literary artists whose work is “part of a larger task of community-building and nonviolent social change.”

She is creating an ofrenda, an altar with offerings to the spirits of the departed, as part of NMMA’s Dia de Muertos exhibition.

In addition, a community ofrenda is being constructed in memory of long-time civic leader Arturo Velasquez Sr., who died in April at the age of 93. The exhibition also features works of art and ofrendas by local and international artists.

An opening reception takes place Friday, September 25 at 6 p.m. at the museum at 1852 W. 19th Street. The exhibition runs until December 13.

Related events in coming weeks include demonstrations of the traditional art of sugar skull making; Mexican artisans demonstrating traditional folk arts; a community night on November 1; children’s art classes and a holiday market.

Mental Health in Humboldt Park

week-long series of events to raise awareness of depression in Humboldt Park starts Monday morning at Association House with a play on the impact of mental illness, and concludes Saturday morning with a panel discussion and community resource fair at Casa Central. 

It’s sponsored by the Greater Humboldt Park Community of Wellness, a coalition of a dozen community service organizations, working together on athsma, diabetes, HIV, as well as health careers and other topics.

Depression is the most common mental illness, affecting nearly 10 percent of adults in the U.S. — and significantly more in Humboldt Park, according to the coalition.

Campout at Carpenter

[UPDATE – The Carpenter Campout has been rescheduled to start Friday, April 10 at 7 p.m. and end the next evening, after Ogden Elementary scheduled classes there for spring break. Details — and questions — at the PURE blog.]

Families from Carpenter Elementary School will camp out in front of the school (1250 W. Erie), starting Wednesday, April 8 at 7 p.m., and concluding two days at 1 p.m. later by joining a Good Friday procession to St. Addolorata Church, 528 N. Ada.

They want the Board of Education to reconsider its recent decisions to phase out Carpenter and move a new high school spun off from Ogden Elementary into the building, said parent leader Maria Hernandez. Board members admitted they never reviewed the testimony and documentation that Carpenter parents and staff presented at hearings on the fate of the school, she said.

“They’re making more money than I make all year,” Hernandez said — the board recently doubled its compensation to $2,000 a month, though their duties are minimal — “how is it possible they’re making decisions about our school without reading any of the documentation we submitted, the letters, the petitions.” (“I thought board members were volunteers,” said Hernandez, who’s a board member at Erie Family Health Center.)

Carpenter was deemed to be “underenrolled,” but Hernandez said that if class size requirements for special ed and English learning students — and the use of one of the school’s floors for overflow from Ogden — are taken into account, the school actually at capacity.

“We would have more students if they would restore our old boundaries,” said Hernandez. “They keep cutting the boundaries, cutting busing. They’ve been working to get us to this point, setting us up to fail.”

While the CPS contends that “underenrolled” schools aren’t cost-effective, Hernandez points out that they’ve spent large sums on training teachers and making the Carpenter building accessible for hearing-impaired students, and now they plan to spend $10 million on modifications to make it a high school.

Meanwhile, Near North Career High School sits vacant, she said. Located at 1450 N. Laramie, Near North is much closer to Ogden Elementary.

“They’re not spending money wisely,” she said. “They haven’t given us a valid reason for closing the school,” she added.

Hernandez is worried about families in the Carpenter area that will now have kids in two or more schools. Along with two children of her own in Carpenter, she has a nephew there — and a niece who was supposed to start there, but now can’t.

She’s also worried about putting elementary and high school kids in the same building. It will result in “kids trying to act big and tough — they can’t be looking like little children or they’re going to be picked on after school.” In addition, “some of our eighth grade girls look like they’re in high school, and we don’t want them going out with older kids.”

But her biggest concern is the message being sent by CPS.

“We’re suppposed to be teaching our kids that everything is possible, that they are our future,” she said. “But in reality, they’re teaching them that they don’t count — that your parents don’t make enough money, don’t have political connections, so they’re not worth listening to.”

The Carpenter case: School reprieves raise more questions

The announcement by CPS chief Ron Huberman that six schools are being removed from the CPS hit list was welcome news to those communities, but it raises more questions than it answers.

Leave aside the question of whether targetting neighborhood schools, moving children around and firing teachers wholesale serves the interests of education or rather other agendas, like privatization and gentrification, as critics argue.

Why were those six chosen?Many of the reasons given by CPS for saving them would have been apparent had a thorough assessment been done before the actions against them were proposed. In the mad scramble between last month’s announcement of proposed closings and “turnarounds” and tomorrow’s board meeting, these schools seem to have gotten their case across.(Last year, according to George Schmidt of Substance, hearing officers’ reports were not even available for all schools under consideration when the board voted.)

[As PURE suggests, one obvious benefit for CPS is reducing the number of protestors at tomorrow’s school board meeting.]

But why, out of all the small and struggling schools in the district, were they and sixteen others the ones put on that list in the first place?Would more attention to detail have spared some of the other schools?

A study of the CPS school takeover process released last week by UIC researchers (pdf) included case studies of three schools. Two of them, Peabody and Holmes, were granted reprieves by Huberman yesterday; one, Carpenter Elementary, wasn’t.

By CPS’s method of measuring “design capacity,” Carpenter has a space utilization rate of 23 percent.But according to the study, CPS does not account for smaller class sizes mandated for special education and English learning classes, nor does it consider space designed for classrooms that is used for educational enrichment programs CPS itself promotes, including technology literacy, hands-on science, arts activities, and parent involvement.

Carpenter has a student body that includes 14 percent English language learners and 28 percent students with disabilities, including large groups with hearing impairments or severe cognitive disabilities. The school is dedicated to providing quality education in the least restrictive environment.It’s part of the Hearing Impairment Cluster program — and CPS has spent millions on upgrades to the school including facilities to help children with hearing impairments.

Carpenter integrates arts throughout its curriculum, including programs provided by the Joffre Ballet and Adventure Stage Theatre, and last month the school mounted its first musical production, “Alice in Wonderland.”It was “a model of inclusion” according to the study, with students with hearing impairments and other special needs in major singing roles.

According to the study: “The proposed receiving schools are not equipped in the same ways to serve Carpenter’s students with disabilities and are likely to impinge on students’ lawful rights to a quality education in the least restrictive environment.”The main receiving school, Otis, is an ancient building with millions of dollars of unfunded capital needs.

Remarkably, the researchers report, CPS’s estimate of Carpenter’s utilization rate did not include the fact that Ogden Elementary has been using one floor of the school building for overflow from its Gold Coast school for two years.Ogden is even using four classrooms for offices.(And the politically influential constituency of Ogden apparently has its eyes on the entire Carpenter building.)

The study notes other factors CPS doesn’t take into account in other schools — rooms not designed as classrooms (such as gymnasiums and closets) but used to hold classes aren’t considered; mobile units and other temporary space itsn’t taken into account.The researchers propose an “educationally appropriate” enrollment standard that looks closely at how school space is actually being used.

Carpenter has computer and science labs and a dance studio.It holds classes after school and on Saturdays.It has a high level of parent involvement — encouraged with a parent room and with ESL and computer classes and other activities for family members.

It serves low-income students, many with special needs, and it is steadily improving academically.”Carpenter is an example of the kind of school CPS says they want,” according to the study.

That’s the kind of assessment that should be done at every school CPS wants to take over.

Instead there is a last-minute announcement of a list of targeted schools, with hearings held within a couple weeks, where CPS officials won’t answer questions.The evaluation binder presented by CPS to the hearing officer isn’t available to the public, or even to school staff.One principal asked for a copy and was told to file a freedom of information request.

As school reformers have advocated for years (see 2-10-09 Newstip) — and as a bill by State Representative Cynthia Soto would require — CPS needs a comprehensive school facilities plan to ensure equitable distribution of resources and public oversight and accountability. Without that, all these decisions have an aura of illegitimacy

TIF transparency

The Department of Planning postponed a presentation of the annual report for the Chicago-Central Park TIF, so TIF critic Mike Quigley will fill in at a Blocks Together meeting on Thursday night.

County Commissioner Quigley has been a proponent of TIF transparency, proposing legislation to require property tax bills to itemize TIF taxes as a separate category. Similar legislation was proposed in Springfield earlier this year by State Rep. John Fritchey.

Blocks Together is educating members about TIFs in preparation for an effort to win a community advisory board for the Chicago-Central Park TIF, said Carolina Gaete.

“There are a lot of concerns,” she said. “There’s a lack of transparency and accountability. There’s a need for community participation to assure direct benefits for residents.”

TIFs cut into funds available for schools — while allowing the city to funnel money to selective enrollment schools, Gaete said. “They took money from our TIF for Westinghouse (Achievement Academy), which is outside the (TIF) district. And a lot of our people won’t be able to go, because it’s selective enrollment.”

She notes that while other school districts have fought to hold the line on TIFs, Chicago’s appointed board of education has raised no objections.

Blocks Together is working with community groups in North Lawndale, Pilsen, Little Village (where a new TIF is in the works) and Bronzeville to prepare for a push for TIF reform, she said.

The Blocks Together meeting is Thursday, July 10, 6 to 8 p.m. at Mount Vernon Church, 3555 W. Huron.

Parents, Students Act on School Safety

While the City Council considers a proposal to fine families of children who get into fights at school, parents in Austin are improving classroom behavior and performance with an educational discipline program based on “restorative justice,” and students are discussing initiatives to reduce tensions at Clemente High School.

Earlier this year members of the citywide parent group POWER-PAC established the Austin Peace Center at Brunson Elementary School, with support from the State’s Attorney’s Project Reclaim.

POWER-PAC has called for education-oriented discipline programs as an alternative to excessive use of suspensions, which they say don’t improve behavior or address underlying issues.

At Brunson students facing suspension or detention were referred to the peace center, and one group of boys and one of girls each met for twice-weekly after-school sessions for several months. They learned conflict resolution strategies and got homework help and one-on-one time with adult mentors. A conflict resolution approach called “peace circles” was used to handle classroom infractions, bringing together everyone involved in a supportive conversation which holds offenders accountable.

Volunteer parents and community residents serve as Peacemakers, staffing the peace center during school days. “Kids can ask to talk to a Peacemaker if they’re getting upset,” said Lynn Morton of POWER-PAC. “They can sit and talk and calm down, and then go and have a great day.”

Discipline problems have gone down and grades have gone up for participating students, Morton said.

Several Austin school are interested in joining the program, she said, and next year they will expand to Howe Elementary, 720 N. Lorel.

Students participating in the Austin Peace Center will be recognized in an awards ceremony on Thursday, June 8, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at Brunson, 932 N. Central.

Backed by Community Organizing and Family Issues, POWER-PAC is also pressing to reinstate recess in CPS elementary schools, in order to improve behavior and learning.

At Clemente High School, students are discussing starting a welcoming committee for students transferred from Austin High as it is phased out, said Freddie Calixto, executive director of BUILD Inc., which has worked with Clemente students on gang and violence issues for several years.

Fights went up dramatically at Clemente after Austin students were transferred there this year.

Of the welcoming committee Calixto said, “They could have done it this year,” but information about the student transfer “didn’t funnel down to the community level. People didn’t know what was going on, so they didn’t know how to respond.”

Clemente students are also planning to reach out to parents from the Austin area, and they have called for more security at the school and better training for security personnel, Calixto said.

They’ve also won administration support for scattered dismissal times, reviving a proposal that had been rejected in the past, he said.

School Closing Moratorium Backed

Humboldt Park parents will meet Tuesday, May 23, as part of a citywide drive to ask aldermen to support a proposed ordinance for a moratorium on school closings.

Local Aldermen Billy Ocasio (27) and Walter Burnett Jr. (28) both serve on the City Council’s education committee. Advocates hope to win the committee’s approval this week for an ordinance proposed by Ald. Michael Chandler (24) calling for a moratorium on school closings until the impact on affected students can be studied.

The May 23 meeting is sponsored by Blocks Together, a West Humboldt Park community group in an area where two schools have been closed in the past two years. According to Blocks Together, CPS’s school closings are “displacing students and families of color” and “taking away local control from parents.”

“A lot of receiving schools have the same issues” as the schools that are being closed, said Blocks Together organizer Jennifer Dillon, and shifting students add stresses, including more fights and larger class sizes.

Two-thirds of students displaced by school closings have ended up at schools on academic probation, according to a recent analysis by Catalyst; only a fifth landed at higher-performing or newly-opened schools.

About half of the neighborhood schools closed and reopened since 2002 are no longer required to accept neighborhood students, according to Catalyst.

Local parents will speak at the meeting along with students from Blocks Together’s youth council and representatives of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and Teachers for Social Justice. The meeting is part of a citywide effort led by the labor-community coalition Chicagoans United for Education.

KOCO has opposed school closings in the gentrifying Mid-South area, saying they shift resources away from local low-income students. The group has complained about students being repeatedly displaced by closings. This year CPS agreed not to close schools which have received students from other closed schools in the past two years.

KOCO has launched a study of the impact of school closings and is working with LSCs, parents and community leaders to develop a community education plan, said Shannon Bennett.

“The sad part is there is no input from communities or students who are being affected,” said Rev. Robin Hood, an organizer for ACORN, which is mobilizing thousands of members to call their aldermen to support Chandler’s ordinance this week. ACORN members in North Lawndale and Englewood have seen a number of school closings.

“The Englewood [High School] community has been going to them for 20 years, saying, ‘We need books,’” Hood said. “Now they say the school’s is no good and they’re closing it. There’s no accountability.”

Hood said part of the reason communities are excluded from planning is that the CPS is concerned with more than just improving schools. “They’re trying to cut the union and privatize the schools,” he said.

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