schools – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.12 Teach For America alumni organize ‘resistance’ http://www.newstips.org/2013/07/teach-for-america-alumni-organize-resistance/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/07/teach-for-america-alumni-organize-resistance/#comments Sat, 13 Jul 2013 01:42:23 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7562 In a major step for a growing “countermovement,” Teach For America alumni and teachers are meeting at a conference here this weekend to organize “resistance to TFA’s efforts to promote corporate education reform.”

Meanwhile  CPS, which is laying off hundreds of teachers, is stepping up its financial support for the controversial organization, which provides graduates of top colleges with cursory educational training and places them in classrooms in low-income urban and rural areas.

An assembly on Organizing Resistance to Teach For America takes place Sunday, July 14, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at Uplift Community High School, 900 W. Wilson.  It’s part of the national Free Minds, Free People conference, aimed at “promot[ing] education as a tool for liberation.”

Among the organizers is a group of New Orleans TFAers who formed a Teachers Roundtable to foster community discussions after they realized their training hadn’t prepared them for issues of racial justice and community displacement, according to the American Prospect.

The Sunday event aims to focus the efforts of an emerging group of TFA alumni and others who are critical of the organization’s role backing privatization and the charter school movement, said Kerry Kretchmar, an assistant professor of education at Carroll University in Wisconsin.  Kretchmar was a TFA teacher-intern in New York City from 2004 to 2006.

Contributing to inequality

While TFA “uses the language of the civil rights movement” and talks about ending educational inequities, the group “perpetuates systemic inequalities”  including the lack of certified teachers in low-income urban schools, Kretchmar said.  And while it started out a quarter century ago filling teacher shortages in poor districts, today its “corps members” are replacing veteran teachers.

TFA spokesperson Becky O’Neill said in an e-mail that research “shows that corps members’ impact on student achievement exceeds that of other teachers in the same high-needs schools, even when compared with veteran and fully certified teachers.”  According to Kretchmar, peer-reviewed research doesn’t back up that claim.  (More on the question here.)

It’s a sensitive subject in Chicago, where hundreds of teachers were displaced when Mayor Emanuel closed 50 schools recently, and hundreds more are expected to lose their jobs with cuts to school budgets now under consideration.

Meanwhile, Substance reports, CPS has increased its contract for TFA to refer teacher-interns to the district from $600,000 to $1.59 million, raising the number of first-year TFAers to 325, up from 200 two years ago.

That money is for referrals (some call it a “finder’s fee”) and for on-going support; CPS also pays TFA teacher-interns the full salary of a starting teacher.  (CPS did not respond immediately to a request for comment.)

It’s not like it’s particularly hard to find available teachers in Chicago.

No teacher shortage

“In Chicago, we don’t have a teacher shortage; we have a huge population of veteran teachers who’ve been thrown out of their jobs,” CTU president Karen Lewis told Newstips.  “It’s primarily middle-aged black women.  And it’s very difficult for them to find open positions.”

Chicago is not the only place that’s happening, either.

O’Neill argues that in Chicago, hiring decisions are made by principals, who “continue to hire our corps members based on the impact they make in the classroom.”

But Lewis point out that with the district’s shift to per-pupil funding, principals have a strong financial incentive to favor lower-salaried first-year teachers over those with experience — even though research shows that teachers with five or more years of experience are far more effective than novices.

She adds that TFA has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from pro-privatization foundations; the group’s total assets in 2011 topped $350 million, according to the Prospect.  “So why is CPS subsidizing them?  It’s ridiculous.”

Targeting communities

In May, local teacher/blogger Katie Osgood raised alarms about a TFA statement that “by 2017, we aim to create a network of eight or more neighborhoods with exceptional levels of student achievement….

“Through a focused influx of corps members and alumni, we will reach critical mass in the Near West Side, East/West Garfield Park, North/South Lawndale, Archer Heights, Brighton Park, Gage Park, and Englewood.”  The statement was included in materials for a gala, $10,000-a-table fundraiser at the Drake Hotel.

Osgood wrote that TFA was targeting “the very same communities being traumatized” by massive school closings.

“And TFA wants to go into those communities after mass layoffs — where many quality veteran teachers will be displaced and many may not be rehired,” among them many teachers with deep roots in the community – “and offer them uncertified, poorly-trained novices, many of whom have never even been to the Midwest, much less know the varied individual neighborhoods of Chicago.

“It’s like TFA is kicking these communities while they are down.”

Commented O’Neill, “Based on the success that our corps members have had teaching in some of our highest-need communities and feedback from principals in these areas, we’re open to the idea that it might be worth increasing the number of corps members we recruit, train, and support to partner with kids and families in these communities in particular.”

Since up to 70 percent of Chicago TFAers work in charter schools, including the politically-connected Nobel and UNO chains, it could be yet another sign that the school closings weren’t about “underutilization” or saving money after all — they were to lay the ground for charter expansion.

Guinea pigs

More recently, Osgood has scored TFA for using CPS summer school classes — for students who failed courses during the school year — as training sites for their interns.

“These are the children most in need of expert teaching and support; many may have or eventually may need special education services,” she wrote. “Instead, TFA partners with certain schools where students are used as practice tools the entire day, as novices have their very first experiences working with a group of children.”

According to Osgood, a veteran teacher she knows reported his class was taken over, and he “was told to sit silently in the back of the classroom” as “five novice TFAers fumbled their way through lessons for four whole weeks of a five-week summer term.”

“They are using my kids as guinea pigs,” he told Osgood.

“The organization is working to deprofessionalize teaching,” charges T. Jameson Brewer, a former TFAer who’s now a PhD candidate at Univerity of Illinois at Urbana-Champagn

“The assumption is that anybody can teach — that if you went to a good school and got good grades, then you can teach,” he said.  “I can assure you that’s not the case.”

Brewer took a curious route into TFA.  After university training he was certified as a secondary school history teacher in Georgia — but at the height of the recession, a two-year job search was fruitless.  He joined TFA thinking, “anything to get in a classroom,” he said.

Burnout

He took notes and even volunteered as a staffer for summer training institute his second year to gain more insight.  (TFA trainers are not a whole lot more experienced than their trainees.)   His account of his experience will be published in a forthcoming issue of Critical Education devoted to TFA.

He’s also written on burnout among TFAers: he thinks the combination of minimal training and the ideology that every student failure is solely the teachers’ fault is a powerful factor, and contributes to low retention rates for the organization.

Brewer recalls witnessing a TFA adviser yelling at an intern who’d sought his guidance regarding a student who consistently failed to bring a pencil to class.

The adviser excoriated the intern, according to Brewer, “insisting that if the corps member had properly ‘invested her students in their learning’ that the student would bring a pencil.  The corps member was brought to tears and quit three days later.”

Time to fold?

Another local blogger who’s a TFA alum has suggested it’s time for the organization to fold.  A recent TFAer in Colorado, Matt Barnum is now a student at University of Chicago Law School; he seems generally supportive of mainstream “reform” goals.

But he argues that TFA is now replacing veteran teachers, and points to the “wasted investment schools make in teachers who leave within a few years.”  He questions TFA’s cost-effectiveness, pointing out that the group’s annual budget in 2009 amounted to $38,000 per intern, more than double what it cost in 2005.

Barnum says his five-week training was “close to useless” and the support he received through the school year was perfunctory and “little help.”  Considering the group spends over $200 million a year, perhaps there is a better use for that money, he writes.

Osgood has called on TFA members to quit, saying the organization claims to fight inequality but in fact contributes to char it.

“I have nothing against the corps members,” says Lewis.  “They’re young people who have a lot of empathy and want to do something, want to give something back.”

In fact, she says, “I came into teaching like they did” — graduating from an Ivy League school and going through an alternative certification program.  “I didn’t know I was going to make a commitment to teach, but I got the teaching bug.”

“I know that you are trying to help, but you are becoming part of a system that is destabilizing children’s lives,” she says.  “Realize that you’ve been sold a bill of goods.”

What should they do?  “Make a commitment, learn how to teach, check your egos at the door.”  By this she means questioning the organization’s Super Teacher fantasy, the notion that an elite education gives you special powers that mere mortals lack.

“And don’t buy into the finger-pointing at veteran teachers.  We have to do this together.”

***

CTU is a sponsor of Free Minds, Free People, along with Northeastern Illinois University, the University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program, the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education, and a number of national groups, including the Alliance for Eeducation Justice, Rethinking Schools, and the Brown University Department of Education.

Karen Lewis will speak as part of the plenary town hall meeting, Saturday, July 13 at 2:15 p.m.

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Championing neighborhood schools http://www.newstips.org/2011/11/championing-neighborhood-schools/ Mon, 21 Nov 2011 23:07:54 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4956 It’s now ten years since the launch of Renaissance 2010, the CPS campaign that closed scores of neighborhood schools and poured resources into scores of new charters.

The result?  Virtually no improvement in academic performance, according to the Chicago Consortium on School Research.  Better-resourced charters performing at the same level as neighborhood schools.  Worse, CPS’s racial achievement gap has only gotten larger.

The response from new city and school leadership?  They say they want much, much more of the same:  many more closings, many more charters.

What’s the alternative?  Nine community organizations are proposing a Neighborhood Agenda for Schools at an event on Tuesday.  They argue that since the vast majority of CPS students attend neighborhood schools, that’s where available resources should be focused.

The endorsers include groups that have long histories of involvement with schools, including nationally-recognized parent involvement, teacher training, community schools, anti-violence and student mentoring work.  Their recommendations flow from their extensive experience.

The groups include Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Enlace Chicago, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Organization of the Northeast, Southwest Organizing Project, and Target Area Development Corporation.  The College of Education of NEIU has also signed on.

The agenda will be released at a public event with 60 community activists from across the city, Tuesday, November 22, 10:30 a.m., at LSNA, 2840 N. Milwaukee.

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Remembering Chicago SNCC http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/remembering-chicago-sncc/ Fri, 21 Oct 2011 20:13:16 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4850 The story of Chicago SNCC – and of Freedom Day, a massive boycott of Chicago schools demanding desegregation on October 22, 1963 – will be discussed Saturday at an event marking the opening of the Chicago SNCC archive.

Chicago SNCC veteran Sylvia Fischer will interview comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, and the SNCC Freedom Singers will perform as part of the program, Saturday, October 22 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the DuSable Museum, 760 E. 56th Place.

The archive, which includes oral histories along with posters, photographs, and correspondence, is housed in the Vivian G. Harsh Collection of the Woodson Regional Library, 9525 S. Halsted.  An exhibit featuring items from the collection and videos of oral histories runs at DuSable through December 23 (reservations for Saturday’s event are full).

Chicago Area Friends of SNCC was one of  a number of groups in northern cities formed to support the work of the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee, which faced jailings, beatings and killings as it organized voter registration drives in the South.  In addition to raising funds and marshalling public sentiment, Fischer and others often housed activists who came north for a break from the constant tension, she recalls.  “It was a very busy home, with people coming and going,” she said.

The Chicago group went further than others, though, becoming involved in local struggles.

Following the March on Washington in August 1963, the group initiated a boycott of Chicago Public Schools that was backed by a broad coalition and joined by 250,000 students, demanding an end to segregations of Chicago schools.

As the city’s black population expanded into white neighborhoods, school boundaries were redrawn to keep black and white students separate,  Fischer recalls.  “You would have two schools side by side, one white and one black, and the white school would have empty classrooms and the black school would be overcrowded,” she said.  The black schools “sometimes had to resort to double shifts, and then they brought in Willis Wagons,” trailers used for classes and named for the school superintended, Benjamin Willis, who resisted all efforts at desegregation.

The black schools had the newest teachers and the oldest textbooks, books that had been handed down from white schools, sometimes in inadequate numbers, she said.  At the time the Chicago Urban League found that teachers in black schools earned 85 percent as much as teachers in white schools, and operating budgets for black schools were 66 percent of those for  white schools.

The boycott and a demonstration by thousands of students and supporters in the Loop was a huge success.  The outcome was somewhat limited, though:  Willis was forced to resign, but school segregation continues to this day, Fischer said.

In 1980 a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice resulted in a court ordered desegregation plan, but by then many white familes had moved to the suburbs, and many others had moved their children to private and parochial schools.  By the 1990s, two-thirds of Chicago’s white students were in private schools.   Today the city has a majority black public school system and a majority white private school system.

The court order was lifted in 2009 over the objections of civil rights groups and students, who pointed to continuing inequities in Chicago schools.  In a blow to school desegregation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007, in a 5-to-4 decision, that using race as a factor in public school admissions is unconstitutional.

Chicago SNCC’s story is relevant “as an example of the kinds of things that can be done,” Fischer said.  “It’s a model for young people in search of answers.  They have to come up with their own answers, but there is some guidance from what’s been done in the past.”

She and her colleagues have spoken in several high schools – some of them with entirely African American student bodies, she notes – and she’s concerned that “there is just no history being taught, there is no African American history being taught.  Whatever they know is what they get from television.”

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‘An amazing convergence’ http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/an-amazing-convergence/ Thu, 13 Oct 2011 22:34:42 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4821 It’s been a remarkable week in Chicago, a nonstop whirl of protests targeting the financial industry and government collusion with corporations, and demanding action on jobs, housing, and schools.

Coming Friday:  a rally for “jobs not cuts,” with MoveOn, Stand Up Chicago, Chicago Jobs With Justice and Occupy Chicago joining forces, at noon at the Federal Plaza.

Occupy Chicago gets much credit for capturing the public’s imagination – and for their 24-7 commitment and important organizational innovations.  But it was community groups and unions that staged some of the most dramatic and creative actions here this week.

“It’s an amazing convergence,” said Adam Kader of Arise Chicago.

It was activists from National People’s Action who kayaked down the Chicago River, past the Mortgage Bankers Assocation meeting, dressed as Robin Hood, on Monday.

It was Rev. Patrick Daymond of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation and others who “embedded” themselves in an MBA session and took the floor there.  “We asked how they could sleep at night,” Dayden said, according to Progress Illinois.  “We asked how they can show their faces in Chicago knowing the devastation they have brought to our communities.”

On Tuesday, it was Action Now members who dumped garbage taken from a foreclosed, bank-owned inadequately-secured West Side home on the floor of Bank of America (five women aged 56 to 80 were arrested in the action).

Also Tuesday, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council members boarded up a vacant home owned by JPM Chase and brought a bill for the work to the bank’s downtown office; Albany Park Neighborhood Council members protested at the Chicago Association of Realtors.

Outside the MBA meeting, members of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs erected a sukkah, inviting MBA participants inside the ritual shelter (constructed for Sukkot, the holiday which marks the Israelite’s period of homeless wandering in the desert) to hear personal testimony from victims of the housing crisis.

Members of SOUL were arrested trying to enter the MBA conference.

On Wednesday, it was the Grassroots Collaborative which set up a giant Slushie – symbolizing the use of TIF as a corporate slush fund – and then held a “corporate welfare” trolley tour of downtown TIF subsidy recipients.

Also Wednesday, 100 teachers marched through the lobby of Bank of America, demanding the bank renegotiate “toxic rate swaps” they say are robbing Chicago schools of millions of dollars.

Thursday there was a series of protests at low-wage employers – and in the afternoon, Stand Up Chicago set up a casino outside the Chicago Board of Trade while demanding a financial transaction tax to pay for a Chicago Jobs Fund (discussed here last Saturday).

“It feels different,” said Kader, who’s been involved with Stand Up Chicago in planning the week’s actions – timed for two financial industry summits – for several months.  “In the past we would turn out our members,” but this time he’s been struck by the number of unaffiliated folks and passersby joining in.  “There’s something out there, and we just have to say here’s a time and place to come together.”

Media attention was notably greater than past protests – for example, see this Newstip on “anemic” local coverage of NPA’s 5,000-strong demostration at the American Bankers Association here in October 2009.

Only Mary Bottari of the Center for Media Democracy notes another convergence, tying the week’s protests to Mayor Emanuel’s efforts “to balance budget deficits on the back of public workers.”  (She also notes the recent revelation of Emanuel’s role as White House chief of staff in dissuading President Obama from his initial inclination to break up big banks, which progressives argue became dangerously oversized after the wall between commercial and investment banking was torn down in 2000.  Since then they’ve gotten bigger.)

What happens now?  Van Jones of Rebuild The Dream sees a period of “innovation and improvisation.”  He tells Alternet that Occupy Wall Street “is a huge, big deal; there will be other huge, big deals. There is a big thaw happening.  People have gone through a grieving process, and people want to fight.”

“The economic crisis [will get] worse,” says Jones, and “you’re going to have a lot of people suffering due to the economy.  That’s going to create a need for a response….That’s going to be a driver of innovation, the economic crisis.  People have to eat.  People have to live indoors.  People aren’t going to just lay down and die because Wall Street wants to hold up the economic recovery.”

His group has called for nationwide actions – leaving the details up to local groups – on November 17 on the theme of “jobs not cuts.”  Before that, according to Think Progress, a new group  has called for actions around the world to “demand true democracy” – on Saturday, October 15.  They report actions planned in over 800 cities in 71 countries.

And they’ve posted a short video highlighting the year in protests: Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, Israel, New York.  Who knows what’s next?  And as Phil Rosenthal points out in the Tribune, “one can only imagine what will greet visiting leaders in Chicago for the G8 and NATO summits next May.”

Take Back Chicago shows what can happen when diligent, energetic organizing, rooted in communities, aligns with the zeitgeist.

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This could be the start of something big http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/this-could-be-the-start-of-something-big/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/this-could-be-the-start-of-something-big/#comments Fri, 07 Oct 2011 19:57:14 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4789 New and old strands of youth, community, labor and peace organizing – voicing growing anger over the state of our economy and our democracy – will come together in a series of events here over the next week, with thousands expected for a major Columbus Day demonstration.

Holding their ground outside the Federal Reserve on LaSalle Street, Occupy Chicago – one of many ongoing actions inspired by Occupy Wall Street, which is now backed by the AFL-CIO – has brought new momentum and visibility to concerns that labor-community coalitions have been pressing since the 2008 bank bailout.

The Tribune reports that Occupy Chicago’s numbers are growing; In These Times has the inside story. We Are The 99 Percent offers the demonstrators’ own pointed and poignant tales.

On Friday, October 7, Stand Up Chicago and the Chicago Political Economy Group are releasing a report analyzing unemployment in Chicago and proposing a Chicago Community Jobs Fund to create 40,000 jobs (more below).

Also Friday, Chicago Jobs With Justice (which celebrates its 20th anniversary Tuesday) is holding its monthly unemployment report event, pointing out that of 100,000 jobs added last month, half were striking Verizon workers returning to their jobs.  “The private sector cannot create jobs in a weak economy with little demand,” said Susan Hurley.  “We can only create jobs with major federal investment.”

On Saturday, October 8, Occupy Chicago will join scores of groups protesting the tenth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan.  They’ll rally at noon at Michigan and Congress; speakers include Alejandro Villatoro of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan; Mary Dean of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who spent a month in Afghanistan this summer; and former Chicago activist, Black Agenda Report editor Bruce Dixon.

They’ll march past Obama 2012 campaign headquarters at the Prudential Building, where they’ve held a two-day vigil, and end up joining Occupy Chicago at the Federal Reserve building at Jackson and LaSalle.

The cost of the war is now approaching $500 billion, by one calculation.

On Monday, thousands of Chicagoans – people “fed up with big bank greed and Wall Street corrupting our democracy” — will protest at two financial industry conventions and converge for a mass rally at the Art Institute, sponsored by the Take Back Chicago coalition.  Their goal:  “To begin taking back the jobs, homes, and schools stolen from us by the greed of big banks and big business.”

Local groups belonging to National Peoples Action will protest outside the annual conference of the Mortgage Bankers of America at the Hyatt Regency, Wacker and Stetson, at 4 p.m.  MBA includes the nation’s largest banks along with independent mortgage companies.

Protestors will demand that banks reduce principals on all underwater mortgages in order to stop foreclosures and spur the economy (see Newstips, Communities to Banks: You can fix housing crisis, economy).

Also at 4 on Monday, college students will protest at the Futures and Options Expo (which includes the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) at the Chicago Hilton at Balbo and Michigan.  “We’re going to the source – to the people who have hurt us in this recession,” said Haley Leibovitz, a Roosevelt University student active in Next Up Chicago, a network of young labor activists.

At the same time, the Chicago Teachers Union will rally at the Chicago Board of Trade, where $15 million of TIF money was spent on remodeling, and labor groups will rally for jobs at the Daley Plaza and the Federal Plaza – all marching to the Art Institute at 5 p.m., where the Futures Expo holds its opening reception.

Further actions, focused on taking back jobs, homes, and schools, will continue through the week.

A new report analyzes unemployment in Chicago and proposes a plan to add 40,000 jobs here.  Chicago has been particularly hard hit by the jobs crisis, according to the report; unemployment is double what it was five years ago, and remains in double digits.  “Chicago is rapidly losing its jobs base” and the stability it brings to communities and families, according to the report.

Over 272,000 Chicagoans are unemployed, with strong negative ripple effects – foreclosures up, vacancies and crime up, property values and local government revenues down, and cuts to education and public safety.  Nearly two-thirds of unemployed workers come from the service sector.

Researchers interviewed 14,000 unemployed Chicagoans and found they identified lack of jobs, particularly youth jobs, as a root cause of many community problems.

The report proposes a series of Chicago job corps focused on the social infrastructure – schools, health care, child care, neighborhood improvement and youth.

They’d pay for it with a financial speculation fee of 25 cents for each futures or options contract sold on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange or the Chicago Options Exchange.

Since the average contract is valued at $233,000, a 25-cent charge would have no impact on trades – but since over 12 million such contracts are executed each day, it would generate nearly $1.4 billion a year, based on last year’s trading volume.

It would be paid by traders, not by the exchanges;  it would cover financial instruments licensed to Chicago exchanges, which cannot be traded elsewhere.  (See Newstips 6-12-11 re. CME’s ongoing threats to leave the state unless they get a tax break.)

The Tribune recently reported that Bill Gates now backs a financial transaction fee, and in his new book, Ron Susskind reports that President Obama originally favored such a fee, but was blocked by advisers.

Last year 25 aldermen backed a hearing on a proposal for a voter referendum on instituting a financial transaction tax, but it was never brought to the Council floor.  Ald. Richard Mell proposed such a fee in the ’90s.

“Our city is facing a massive jobs crisis, one that requires direct and targeted job creation for those groups and communities hit hardest by unemployment,” according to the report.

“Our jobs plan will not only provide 40,000 Chicagoans with living wage, full-time jobs that match their existing skills and experience, but will serve as an investment in our communities, making them safer, stronger and more vibrant.”

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Wangari Maathai on the West Side http://www.newstips.org/2011/09/wangari-maathai-on-the-west-side/ Tue, 27 Sep 2011 21:59:55 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4767 The Center for Neighborhood Technology recalls a 2007 visit to a Chicago school by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai, who died Monday in Nairobi at the age of 71.

Maathai graced the Al Raby School for Community and Environment in East Garfield Park to attend the dedication of a natural garden that was named for her, one of CNT’s first green infrastructure projects.  The 1,500 square-foot native woodland garden at the school’s entrance  is “not only beautiful; it also connected the students to nature by providing a hands-on experience in landscape design, creation, and maintenance,” CNT writes.

“At the garden dedication, Ms. Maathai drew a connection between the work of the students on Chicago’s West Side to students around the world who ‘get down on the ground’ to plant gardens as a means of making the world more peaceful and just.

“Ms. Maathai said that the project was a microcosm of what can be repeated globally, from Chicago to Kenya. ‘It is this type of activity that should be replicated a billion times throughout the world,’ she stated.”

Obituaries in the Tribune and Sun Times recount the threats, jailings, and physical attacks Maathai endured as her Green Belt Movement moved beyond planting trees to pressing for democracy in Kenya.  (See this 2007 Newstip for more on Maathai’s visit to Chicago.)

Yes! Magazine recently carried an excerpt from Maathai’s 2010 book, “Replenishing the Earth”:

“After a few years I came to recognize that our efforts weren’t only about planting trees, but were also about sowing seeds of a different sort—the ones necessary to give communities the self-confidence and self-knowledge to rediscover their authentic voice and speak out on behalf of their rights (human, environmental, civic, and political).

“Our task also became to expand what we call ‘democratic space,’ in which ordinary citizens could make decisions on their own behalf to benefit themselves, their community, their country, and the environment that sustains them.”

Ultimately Maathai inspired the planting of millions of trees; as she taught, it’s an action so basic and yet so transformative.  How wonderful that Chicago students planted trees and built a garden in her honor – a most fitting tribute to this heroic visionary.

 

Related:

Nobel laureate to dedicate school garden

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On Whittier, the Tribune is duped http://www.newstips.org/2011/06/on-whittier-the-tribune-is-duped/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/06/on-whittier-the-tribune-is-duped/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2011 22:24:16 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4504 The Chicago Tribune wants to hold Whittier parents to account for the costs of delaying a new library at the Pilsen elementary school.

There’s another way of looking at it.  You could also hold CPS leadership to account for commencing the project in a manner that seemed designed to foment a confrontation.

You might even ask about contracts being let before the Board of Education approved the project.

And it would be interesting to get a breakdown of the $150,000 that CPS officials claim as the cost of the construction delay – quite arguably due to their mismanagement of a delicate situation.

Gapers Block has its own questions.

One central fact is disputed.  The Tribune is incorrect in reporting that there was an agreement to build the library inside the school, Whittier Parents Committee organizers say.

As Newstips reported yesterday, they maintain that negotiations were cut off when Ron Huberman resigned as CPS chief last year, before the parents committee’s proposal could be considered.  (As the Tribune reports, they have videotapes of the meetings; they say these back them up.)

Aside from that, the Tribune employs a good bit of innuendo (and a bit of red-baiting) suggesting the Whittier parents are dupes.

There’s a dark, vague allusion to the past involvement of two activists with the Pilsen Alliance (which is actually a well-regarded organization, now mainly focused on environmental issues).  This is curious, since it fails to mention that Whittier was a community school, with Pilsen Alliance as its community partner.  Funding for the partnership came through CPS.  That meant ESL and GED classes, along with a women’s economic development project.

There’s a strange reference to a ten-room expansion the parents supposedly “wanted,” which would supposedly cost $1.5 million.  That never happened, said Alejandra Ibanez, former executive director of the Pilsen Alliance and program director at the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation since 2010.

There was a brainstorming session with UIC architecture students where a three-classroom smaller expansion was one of many ideas, but it was never presented to CPS, she said.  It was never costed out, either, she said.

There’s an odd treatment of Ald. Danny Solis’s allocation of TIF funds for building improvements.  The Tribune says “the group appealed to Solis, who allocated $1.7 million in TIF funds.”

“That was a seven-year fight,” says Ibanez.  Solis finally agreed in 2009 – he actually allocated $1.4 million — at a time when he was getting additional heat from community outrage after CPS turned over the De La Cruz Middle School building to charter school operated by UNO, which Solis founded.  (De La Cruz students were sent to Whittier.)

None of this is in the Tribune’s account, which pretty clearly sets forth the version of events that CPS brass prefers.

Ibanez said she finds insulting the notion that the Whittier parents are being manipulated.  “There’s always been a strong core of parents,” she said. “They’ve been incredibly consistent all the way through.  They have always been the leaders there.”

It was the parents who insisted on maintaining the school’s fieldhouse, she said.

“It’s typical” of a certain mindset “to see loud brown women” and assume “they must not know any better; they must be being led astray.”

Finley Peter Dunne notwithstanding, a lot of journalism serves to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.  By such lights, something is just not right when people who are supposed to be powerless come together and demand to be heard.

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Whittier parents hold fast http://www.newstips.org/2011/06/whittier-parents-hold-fast/ Wed, 29 Jun 2011 21:00:36 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4485 CPS chief Jean Claude Brizard may have thought he could carry out a preemptive strike against the Whittier Parents Committee.  He couldn’t.

Construction crews arrived at Whittier last Wednesday morning. (Huffington Post reports they were set to start two days earlier but bad weather forced a postponement.)  The Board of Education didn’t actually rubber stamp the project until later that day.

Whittier parents who were downtown to testify at the board meeting rushed back to the school, organizer Evelin Santos said. They found police trying to seal off La Casita, the fieldhouse which CPS has promised to lease to a nonprofit operated by the parents, she said.

Everyone knows that the parents have been negotiating with CPS over the future of La Casita and over where to put a new library for Whittier – negotiations won after parents occupied the building for 43 days last fall.  The parents want the library in the fieldhouse so it can be available to students and the community after school hours.

Launching construction without informing the parents was a simple, straightforward act of bad faith.

Perhaps newcomer Brizard doesn’t know that this community isn’t going to be pushed around.  Perhaps he doesn’t know that this community won a new high school for Little Village with a two-week hunger strike in 2001.

Faced by the parents’ picket line, the construction crews withdrew.  Police pulled back.  The occupation of La Casita is back on.  And Brizard was forced to meet with parents.

A new focus is the decision to eliminate a special education classroom to make room for a library in the school.  That move might be illegal if a comparable space isn’t provided, one expert said.  A windowless room in the basement might not cut it.

At this point parents have no idea where – or if – pull-out sessions for special ed kids will be held.

That’s the problem with top-down, unilateral decisions about school facilities and programs that are made without community input.  Parents and community members have basic questions, and basic insights, that deserve attention.

The parents committee charges that “Brizard’s unilateralism represents an even more autocratic and unaccountable central office bureaucracy — one that puts the concerns of parents, students and teachers last.”

Negotiations between CPS and the Whittier Parents Committee were suspended last year when Ron Huberman quit as CPS chief – after he’d presented a plan for a library on the school’s second floor, but before the parents had presented their proposal, Santos said.

The plan, designed with a group of local architects and presented to the community several weeks ago, is quite impressive.  It’s already won an award from the local Design Makes Change group.  The parents have come up with sources of funding, too.

Their plan deserves a hearing.  Especially if Brizard expects his rhetoric about the importance of parent and community involvement in schools to have any credibility.

 

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