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PURE Celebrates 20 Years

Parents United for Responsible Education celebrates its 20th anniversary on December 3.

Born during a 19-day school strike in 1987, the group held classes for their children outside City Hall and ended up meeting with Mayor Harold Washington and championing the school reform legislation he backed just before his death. The group won a significant victory when its proposal that a majority of Local School Council members be parents was incorporated into the new law.

PURE has conducted trainings for thousands of LSC members and has mobilized to oppose a long string of attempts to undercut LSC authority. Their fact-sheet on the “real” Chicago model of school reform (pdf) emphasizes research showing that LSCs play a big role in sustained school improvement; central office intervention been far less effective.

PURE executive director Julie Woestehoff has warned that CPS’s Renaissance 2010 new schools program “reduces parent involvement, promotes privatized school management, and reinforces an extreme focus on testing.”

Keynoting the December 3 celebration will be City Clerk Miguel del Valle, long a champion of school reform in the State Senate. In May, del Valle spoke with Newstips, opposing efforts to Springfield to take away principal selection powers from LSCs.

Del Valle Backs LSCs on Principals

With grassroots concern mounting, City Clerk Miguel del Valle spoke out against a CPS push in Springfield to take away LSC principal selection powers.

“It would be a mistake for the board to try to take responsibility for hiring and firing principals away from local school councils,” del Valle told Newstips.

Del Valle chaired the education committee of the state Senate for many years – and was known as an LSC supporter – before being appointed city clerk by Mayor Daley last year. He won election to the office running on Daley’s ticket in February.

In March, Daley called on the legislature to curb LSC powers after Curie High’s council voted not to renew their principal’s contract, and last month CPS leaders were reported to be seeking a sponsor for legislation to give the central office control over principal selection.

School reform advocates are watching for a last-minute backroom deal to attach the proposal to other legislation. “They’ll try to slip it through with as few people knowing about it as possible,” said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education.

Such a major change should go through the full legislative process, including hearings in Chicago, said Don Moore of Designs for Change. That wouldn’t be possible for a measure introduced this late in the legislative session. Moore said that CPS officials he’s met with have refused to agree to postpone their proposal until it could be fully aired.

Del Valle pointed to a 1999 measure allowing principals to appeal LSC decisions. “There is a process in place” that “serves as a safeguard,” he said.

“When you consider that we have 600 schools and we don’t hear about many situations like Curie, I think that speaks well for the hiring process,” he said. “Most local school councils operate without controversy around the selection of principals.”

CPS should provide technical support and intervene in the rare cases where “errors are committed,” he said.

Prior to school reform, “principals were often selected based on who they knew and political clout,” del Valle said. “We don’t want to go back to those days.”

Moore said that next week a citywide group of community and school reform organizations will release a statement opposing any change in current legislation.

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