Blocks Together – 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 AUSL turnarounds called ineffective, expensive http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/ausl-turnarounds-called-ineffective-expensive/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/ausl-turnarounds-called-ineffective-expensive/#comments Fri, 17 May 2013 01:19:45 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7214 Why is deficit-challenged CPS proposing to spend over $1 million a year to “turn around” each of six schools, using a program that’s produced mediocre results — especially when teachers at four of the schools have voted to support a far cheaper and more effective turnaround proposal?

Could the political connections of the Academy for Urban School Leadership — whose big-dollar donors include major contributors to Mayor Emanuel, like David Vitale, Penny Pritzker and Bruce Rauner — have something to do with it?

***

Of twelve turnaround schools listed on AUSL’s website which the group took over between 2006 and 2010, ten of them are on academic probation today.    Only one of them is rated as Level 1 — “high performing” — by CPS.

Of those twelve schools, eleven were below the CPS district-wide average for ISAT composite scores.  AUSL’s top-scoring school had a composite score that was equal to the CPS average, which is lower than half its schools.

Three AUSL turnarounds at CPS high schools are abject failures, with scores far below district averages and negligible growth.

AUSL did not respond to a request for an interview.

A study last year by Don Moore of Designs For Change of Chicago elementary schools with poverty rates above 95 percent — there were 210 of them — found 33 scoring above the CPS average on ISAT reading scores (the most rigorous test and the most fundamental skill, experts say).  None were AUSL schools.

All the successful schools followed what Designs called the “school-based democracy” model, with Local School Councils selecting principals, approving the budget, and monitoring school improvement — a stark contrast to the “top-down” strategy represented by AUSL.

Only three  out of ten AUSL schools were among the top half of high-poverty schools in reading achievement, Designs found.  That’s despite over $1 million a year in additional resources given to AUSL turnaround schools.

The additional money includes management fees and annual per-pupil payments, in addition to large capital investments in turnaround schools.  The CPS supplementary capital budget for this year includes $11 million dollars for improvements to six schools slated for AUSL takeovers.  Among other resources, AUSL schools get a second assistant principal and a full-time social worker.

A couple years ago, annual spending on turnarounds was $20 million.  It’s growing steadily.

“The resources now used for turnaround schools need to be shifted to helping effective schools become resources for other schools,” Designs concluded.

***

Moore’s study was released shortly after a report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, which found that turnarounds and other aggressive school interventions in low-performing schools had “closed the gap in [reading] test scores with the system average by almost half.”

This was touted by editorial writers and politicians as proof of AUSL’s success.  But was it?

Citing statisticians, Catalyst said the report “showed only a small amount of progress,” particularly given “the upheavel and financial investment in turnarounds.”

Pressed by the Sun Times to clarify the report’s results — which were given only in terms of standard deviations — one author explained that after four years of intervention, sixth graders in a turnaround school are 3.5 months ahead of their peers in the lowest-performing schools.

That’s what the Tribune calls “dramatic academic progress,” and what Mayor Emanuel calls “academic excellence.”

The school board went on to approve six AUSL turnarounds.

***

There’s another model for turnarounds in Chicago — one which has often outperformed AUSL, without replacing teachers and principals, and at one-fifth the cost.

Strategic Learning Initiatives developed its “focused instruction process” approach in a demonstration project with CPS that started in 2006, the same year as AUSL’s first turnaround.

In the four-year program, involving eight low-income elementary schools in Little Village and Garfield Park — each of which had been on probation for ten years or more — each of the schools dramatically increased their annual achievement growth rates, most within one or two years.

The program is based on decades of management studies of high-performance organizations and on the “five essential supports” identified by Moore and validated by the Consortium — effective leadership, family-community partnerships, supportive learning environment, ambitious instruction, and a culture of trust and collaboration.

(The Consortium has found that schools measured strong in all five supports were ten times more likely to achieve substantial gains in reading and math; remarkably, in CPS reports on the five supports, only three AUSL turnaround schools are rated “organized for improvement” or “highly organized.”  Its oldest turnarounds are rated “not yet organized.”)

Working with SLI, principals and teachers get in-school coaches, and teachers run their own problem-solving sessions in school and across school networks.  A family engagement component focuses on teaching parents how to support their children’s learning.  The whole process aims at developing a sense of ownership among school community members, says SLI president John Simmons.

According to Simmons, the biggest lesson from the group’s collaboration with CPS was that, far from being the root of the problem, existing staff and parents “form a large and untapped reservoir of energy, ideas and commitment” for school improvement.

“The idea of replacing the entire staff is completely foreign to the corporate turnaround model,” he points out.

SLI won’t come into a school unless 80 percent of its teachers vote for the program in a secret ballot.  (Because it doesn’t replace the staff, the program is eligible for federal funding as a “school transformation” rather than a “turnaround.”) Teachers at four of the six schools slated for AUSL turnarounds have voted to request that CPS let them apply for an SLI-led transformation.

***

CTU activist Debby Pope, who attended hearings for five of the school proposed turnarounds, says she noticed a pattern:  most of the schools being targeted had new principals who seemed to be inspiring the staff, and who were achieving significant increases on test scores.

An analysis shows that annual reading score gains at the six proposed turnarounds are eight times higher in the past two years than they were over the previous four.

The change is particularly striking at four of the schools:  under new principals, Barton went from an average yearly decrease of -0.1 percent for four years, to an average yearly gain of 4.7 percent in the past two years; Chalmers went from 0.4 to 4.5; Dewey from -1.9 to 3.2, and Carter from 0.4 to 2.3.

Could it be that, in an effort to goose its own success rate, AUSL is looking for schools where a turnaround in student achievement is already under way?

At the hearing for Chalmers, Pope said, “As a union representative I have to say, it’s not every day you have a staff extolling the leadership of a principal the way you do here.”

Parents and teachers praised principal Kent Nolan, a focused, intent young black man who cuts an impressive figure.

One mother expressed her amazement on coming home and finding her 13-year-old son reading a book.  “My six-year-old daughter reads books,” she said.  “This school has been excellent.”

Another described the turnaround in her two sons’ attitudes toward school.   A third told of being impressed when she saw Nolan disperse a group of drug dealers from a corner near the school.  “What other principal would do that?” she said.

Another parent pointed out that, with an LSC, “we have a say in naming a principal.”  Under AUSL they wouldn’t.

In thirteen years in five CPS schools, “I have never seen an administration as supportive and dedicated,” said a math teacher.  “The school was in trouble” before the new principal, said a case manager.  “We have a fresh start.”

Under Nolan, in two years, Chalmers’ ISATs have risen 10 points.  They’re still far below the district’s average, and the school is still on probation, but it’s only a few points from moving to the next level, according to testimony.

And in the CPS report card on the “five supports,” Chalmers is rate “highly organized for improvement.” It really does seem to have turned around already.

“I have experience with AUSL,” said one mother.  She said her daughter, a student at Collins Academy, was being told she had to find a new school “because of her behavior.”  (I asked her later what the behavior issues were.  “Girl stuff,” she said.)  “Are you going to kick out all the kids with behavior problems?”

She added later that she had a nephew at one of AUSL’s elementary schools who was being told to go to another school.

“We have homeless children, children with parents who are unemployed or incarcerated, parents with addictions; we have children who have been rejected from turnaround schools,” said third grade teacher Louis Lane during the hearing.  “As educators we rise to the occasion daily, we respect our students and care for them.  We are teachers who teach, not kick students out because they have problems.”

***

It seems immensely, tragically disrespectful to educators like Nolan and Lane and their colleagues to wantonly replace them in order to deliver a payoff to political cronies.

The only real purpose for firing and replacing staff in turnarounds appears to be “to discriminate against experienced educators, especially educators of color,” said CTU president Karen Lewis in a statement last month.  Younger teachers cost less.

CTU found that in six turnarounds of elementary schools with majority-black teaching staffs last year, including three by AUSL and three by CPS, the proportion of blacks on the staff dropped dramatically.  In AUSL’s turnaround of Stagg, the percentage of teachers who were African American dropped from 80 to 35 percent when AUSL took over.

More dramatic was the increase in inexperienced teachers.  While none of the schools had first-year teachers before the turnarounds, after the turnarounds a whopping 57 percent of their teaching staff were first-years.

On top of that, the Designs study revealed that AUSL has huge levels of teacher turnover.  Only 42 percent of teachers at turnaround schools in 2008-09 were still there three years later.

With Chicago taxpayers footing the bill for AUSL’s vaunted teacher training program, that’s s a concern.  In addition, “it creates a constant need to identify new teachers, and makes the goal of fundamentally changing a school’s culture more difficult,” according to Designs.

“High teacher turnover is damaging to a school’s ability to build collaboration among teachers, relationships with students and parents, and continuity in the school’s curriculum.”

Maybe that’s one reason AUSL schools are having trouble getting organized for improvement.

***

It looks like AUSL will emerge as the big winner in North Lawndale if proposed school actions are approved, said Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.

She says four of five school actions will benefit AUSL, which will end up controlling all the schools in Douglas Park, where its under-performing high school, Collins Academy, is located.

Pope Elementary is proposed for closing, with its students sent to Johnson, an AUSL school. Bethune, which was turned around in 2009, is slated for closing, allowing AUSL to jettison one of its more challenging schools, where results have not been impressive.  Leonard expects Bethune students will be encouraged to go not to the designated receiving school but to Johnson or to Chalmers, if it’s also taken over by AUSL.

And in a curious maneuver, current Henson students would be sent to Hughes, a Level 2 school, but Henson’s attendance boundaries would be redrawn with half its area assigned to Herzl, a recent AUSL turnaround that’s still Level 3 and on probation.

Leonard point out that even after being in place for several years, AUSL schools in North Lawndale still underperform Lawndale schools generally.  On ISAT reading scores, North Lawndale schools average 65.6 percent meeting and exceeding standards, while AUSL schools in the neighborhood average 51.7.

“The school action policy is being driven for the benefit of well-connected people,” she said.

One of AUSL’s strategies seems to be taking over elementary schools feeding the high schools where it’s under-performing, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, which works with parents and students at Orr Academy and local elementary schools.

“They seem to be thinking, if we can push out and counsel out students from the elementary schools, we can end up with fewer special ed and bilingual students and children with discipline issues at the high school,” she said. “They can get the cream of the crop.”

BT has dealt repeatedly with large numbers of Orr students who were told not to return to school after the turnaround there.  Carroll thinks that with BT’s persistent pushback, the school has backed off its strategy of dumping.

(Rod Estvan of Access Living has reported that the proportion of students with disabilities has dropped at AUSL schools; at Morton Academy, AUSL’s top-scoring school, it’s dropped by one-third since the turnaround.  He’s also noted that enrollment declined by 15 percent from 2006 to 2012 at ten AUSL schools, during a period when CPS enrollment declined by 4 percent.)

According to Carroll, school actions in BT’s area also seem to favor AUSL in curious ways.  School closings are passing by Piccolo, which AUSL took over last year, though it’s a Level 3 school with a 40 percent utilization rate (Carroll says it’s lower now) — and with $26 million in capital needs, according to CPS.

Instead two Level 2 schools with much higher utilization rates and lower capital needs assessments — Ryerson and Laura Ward — are being combined.

And while 53 schools are closed, two AUSL schools, Morton and Dodge, are co-locating.  That means that each school gets to keep its administrative staff — including a second assistant principal for each school, though with enrollments of 362 and 423 respectively, Morton and Dodge are no bigger than many schools that are being combined.

“This isn’t about money,” said Carroll.  “Clearly these decision are not dictated by what’s fiscally prudent.”

It doesn’t seem to be about education either.  It seems to be about money and power.

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Engaging communities and counting classrooms http://www.newstips.org/2013/03/engaging-communities-and-counting-classrooms/ Fri, 08 Mar 2013 01:43:47 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7025 If the “community engagement” hearings recently held by CPS were intended to rebuild broken trust, as Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said, they might be counted as the first failure of a long season.

“Up until a couple weeks ago, I  believed what CPS said about utilization and a budget shortfall, and that they had to close schools,” said parent Beth Herring at a recent meeting of Hyde Park parents and teachers.

Then she went to a community hearing.

“It is not community engagement to invite people to come and beg to keep their schools open,” she said.   “Maybe some schools need to be closed, but there has to be a much more serious process, not just giving people two minutes to literally beg to keep their schools open.”

At a West Side hearing last week, an alderman put it more directly:

“This process is insane,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (29th).  “It pit schools against one another, it pits communities against one another.  This is no way to run a school system.”

***

This weekend, the Grassroots Education Movement and the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force are offering two alternative forums for school issues.  Perhaps CPS and the school board could learn something about open and respectful communications from them.

Point one might be holding meetings at times when working parents and teachers can attend them — apparently not the goal of school board, which postponed its March 27 meeting because it was during spring break.

On Friday, March 8, 6 p.m., GEM is holding a People’s Board Meeting at the First Unitarian Church, 5650 S. Woodlawn.  Parents and teachers from across the city will be speaking on school closings and other issues that CPS doesn’t address, like smaller class sizes, charter expansions, and an elected school board.

GEM is a community-labor coalition; the meeting is envisioned as the first of an ongoing series.  Elected officials have been invited.

On Saturday, March 9, 10 a.m., CEFTF holds its monthly Second Saturday session at the Humboldt Park Library, 1605 N. Troy, focused on the ten-year facilities master plan, another subject CPS isn’t discussing.  The district is required to produce a draft by May 1.

CEFTF, a task force of the state legislature, is asking schools to report on whether CPS has engaged them in the planning process, and the task force is soliciting the kind of fine-grained information about school use that CPS’s utilization standard completely ignores.

***

That’s one of the problems at the dozens of community hearings on school closings in recent weeks, where thousands of parents and teachers have turned out and make eloquent and emotional pleas for their schools.

CPS and the people in its schools are using different utilization standards.

Representatives from school after school have challenged the way CPS has rated their building’s utilization.  Often this involves listing classrooms that are used for special programs.

In many cases, principals and LSCs have done a great job bringing in community partners, outside agencies that offer the kind of crucial programming, from art and music enrichment to counseling and everything in between, that CPS has been unable to provide sufficiently to satisfy parents.

In many cases, they also point to CPS’s failure to take into account legal class size limits for special education classes.

One example of many: DNAinfo reports that at a Fuller Park hearing, Dewey Elementary principal Eric Dockery “said CPS labeled his school as 53 percent utilized. But Dockery has his own calculation, one that considers capacity for special education and pre-kindergarten rooms as well as the school’s emphasis on small class sizes and spaces for unique programs.

“Taken together, he said, that puts the school at 85 percent utilized. Dockery said he submitted that information to CPS and ‘hopefully I will hear back.'”

(Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, a member of CEFTF, says she’s heard from several principals who reported utilization discrepancies to CPS and haven’t heard back.  I asked CPS about the protocol for schools to challenge their utilization standards.  I haven’t heard back.)

***

The schools are actually arguing for a more accurate utilization standard.  While CPS bases its utilization standards purely on building capacity, schools are looking at their utilization based on program capacity.

It turns out that’s what the experts recommend.  It also turns out that using program capacity as a standard, more schools would be fully utilized and fewer seats would be “empty.”

Rather than just adding up classrooms and dividing by the number of students, this involves looking at how classrooms are used.   It’s much closer to what other cities use (we’ve linked to New York’s approach here).

In Seattle they use “functional capacity,” which (as cited by a report from the Broad Foundation, where Byrd-Bennett is a paid consultant) is “determined by a walk of each facility.” That’s something CPS doesn’t do.

“Functional capacity is defined as the target number of students per school based on each school’s particular programs.  This is different from planning capacity, which is a formula designed to identify a high-level average possible enrollment for each building.

“Both numbers are important: planning capacity provides a blueprint that can be used district-wide; functional capacity provides an on-the-ground number that is specific to a particular school at a particular time given the needs of its students.”

A report from BrainSpaces, an international educational design firm based in Chicago, for the Council of Educational Facility Planners International spells out different levels of capacity measurement, ranging from maximum capacity (the number of kids you can cram in a building) to building capacity (which also considers support facilities, from hallways to lunchrooms), to functional capacity (which factors in schedule flexibility) to program capacity, which includes program offerings.

The report recommends that while building capacity should guide district-level planning, school-level decisions should be guided by program capacity.

“Most people think capacity is a mathematical formula,” said Amy Yurko, BrainSpaces founder and chair of the American Institute of Architects’ curriculum design committee.  But when you’re dealing with education, the intangibles are critical, including the role of a school in its neighborhood, she said.  “Formulas are comfortable and safe but they’re not accurate.”

Here’s the thing: as you move from the broader to the finer-grained standards, the numbers change.  If you look at program capacity, your capacity will be smaller — and your utilization rate will be higher — than you get looking at building capacity.

The BrainSpaces report gives illustrative numbers for each type of capacity measure.  They’re not based on an actual school, but they give the idea: a school with a maximum capacity of 400 could have a functional capacity of 300 and a program capacity of 240.  The actual numbers will depend on the needs of students and the programs offered to support them, Yurko said.

***

So when CPS says schools are underutilized and the schools themselves say they aren’t, they’re both right — they’re just using different standards.  And the schools are using the standard that’s recommended by experts throughout the field for measuring utilization at the school level.

And CPS is using a utilization standard that gives them a larger number of underutilized schools.

As the Tribune reports, CPS is also goosing its underutilization numbers by using an “ideal” class size that is far higher than class sizes outside Chicago, and in fact significantly higher than actual class sizes in Chicago.

You’d almost think the standard was set in order to maximize the number of schools that could be subject to closing.  (And it’s a fairly new standard, as Rod Estvan points out — CPS used to consider any classroom which had teaching and learning going on to be “utilized.”)

***

That’s what’s so incredibly curious about the final report of the School Utilization Commission, released Wednesday.  It’s headline recommendation — CPS can close 80 schools — is based on building capacity numbers.  But within the report, the commission repeatedly makes the case for using program capacity.

“Regarding the utilization formula, we conclude most importantly that it should never be used exclusively to decide which schools should be shuttered. Rather, it should be used as a starting point to decide where to look further.

“We found that factors such as annex space, students with disabilities and their needs, pre-Kindergarten classrooms, community-based health centers, and Head Start placements were critical to understanding how a school is used, and what its utilization rate should be.

“Most importantly, knowing the details of how a school is used and the needs of its students [is] critical for deciding what action, if any, to take.”

***

In one regard the CPS utilization formula fails on its own terms, since it’s supposed to reflect how resources flow into a school.  The formula simply ignores class size limits which determine how many special education teachers are allotted to a school.

Disability rights organization Access Living has consistently objected to CPS utilization standards, which “disregard legal limitations on class sizes in rooms designated for disabled children,” according to advocate Rod Estvan.

That shortcoming has several ramifications. It leads principals of neighborhood schools to be reluctant to accept special ed programs which could reduce their utilization rate, Estvan said.  (Another factor in their reluctance is that some of the cost of special ed programs must be borne by school budgets rather than the district.)

In addition, CPS’s policy of assuming the 25 percent allowance of classrooms for “ancillary uses” is sufficient to meet special ed needs creates an incentive to put self-contained classrooms in substandard rooms, he said.  Access Living has found self-contained classrooms placed in windowless basement rooms that are clearly inappropriate, he said.

Ignoring legal requirements also has the effect of reducing utilization rates in schools with larger special education populations.  Not surprisingly, a third of the schools listed as potential targets for closing in January were special ed cluster sites, providing specialized services that attract students from outside the school’s boundaries.  According to Catalyst, half of all schools with cluster programs were on the list.

Margie Wakelin of Equip for Equality told Catalyst that advocates are concerned the school closings could have a disparate impact on students with disabilities.

***

Asked by Raise Your Hand in January about the how CPS was factoring special ed into utilization rates and decisions about school closings, Byrd Bennett said CPS is “working with principals of underutilized schools to ensure that we understand any unique situations.”

That’s not good enough for Estvan — who points out that CPS already knows where all its special ed programs are located.

“It’s not a matter of ‘working with principals,’ it’s a matter of a fair calculation,” he said.

“CPS needs to do a complete functional survey of every school in order to get a reasonable estimate of utilization,” he said.  “They need to look at the function of each room.”

Estvan sharply criticized the utilization commission for inaccuracies in its interim report over how special ed classrooms are regulated.  The commission seems to have taken it somewhat to heart — and again, seems to agree that building capacity is an insufficient measure and program capacity is required:

“Given the large number of students needing specialized services and the complexity of accommodating every need appropriately, no simple formula will suffice,” according to the commission’s final report.  “Rather, CPS should look closely at each school and the needs of all its students.”

***

CPS should not be closing schools until it has an accurate measure of their capacity and utilization.  And currently it doesn’t have that.

That would require measuring program capacity, not just building capacity.

That’s one reason the school board should wait before making any decisions about closing schools.  Another is that a draft master plan is due May 1 and a final plan in October, and it makes no sense to make such huge decisions without that in place.

It’s not just for the big picture, either.  There are lots of pieces in motion right now.

Estvan argues that the system for distributing special ed cluster sites, established decades ago, needs to be entirely revamped — along with the system for funding special ed, so the district takes the burden off individual schools.

At the same time, CPS is completely redistributing its preschool programs, and 90 percent of the schools on the closing list were preschool sites, Catalyst has reported.

A complaint recently filed with the Illinois State Board of Education by Health and Disability Advocates charges CPS with failing to meet its legal mandate to evaluate thousands of children with disabilities and provide them special education preschool programs.  CPS has promised to do better — which will add to utilization.

And last week Mayor Emanuel announced he was instituting full-day kindergarten throughout the city.  That will affect utilization in hard-to-predict ways in the 25 percent of CPS schools that have half-day or no kindergarten programs.

According to a CPS teacher who blogs at CPS Chatter, all-day kindergarten at her school means the school will lose four classrooms, likely including the music room and art room, and possible driving class sizes up as high as 38.

***

If the timing of this decision were being driven by what’s best for the children and the schools — rather than the timing of the next mayoral election — there would be lots of reasons to step back and get things right.

And once again, the utilization commission wants to have it both ways, noting that “a variety of stakeholders — including communities, the CTU, newspapers, parents, families, academics, and others — who argue that CPS should delay closings for a year or more, using the extra time to do more planning and more community engagement.

“In a perfect world, CPS would have a district-wide master plan that included a detailed look at necessary capital investments before it tried to take on school closures, and would indeed take time to plan every detail of a school action.”

It doesn’t explain why that’s not advisable.

It also calls for considering anticipated demographic changes, noting that the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning predicts the Chicago area will grow by more than two million people by 2040.

“The utilization formula is a snapshot, and doesn’t account for demographic change over time.  While the majority of schools are in neighborhoods where populations are decreasing, it will be important to look on a block-by-block basis to identify potential changes that might alter the demographics of a school.

“In particular, we encourage CPS to work closely with the CHA and city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development to identify developments or other investments that might overwhelm what is currently a well-utilized school, or move an underutilized school into efficient areas.”

Funny, that kind of intergovernmental consultation is just what’s mandated by the state legislation requiring the facility plan.  And it doesn’t seem like something that can be done in a few weeks.

***

CPS says it must move in order to more focus classroom resources more effectively.  It’s not clear what that means, however.

It probably means larger class sizes in the low-income communities where the closings are targeted — and where small class sizes are considered particularly valuable.

It could mean two schools with half-time art teachers become one school with a full-time art teacher, but no art room.  The art teacher takes a cart from room to room — art on a cart, it’s called.

“I would think you’d want to have a sink handy if you’re doing art,” said Yurko.  “Or you can dumb down the programming because you don’t have the capacity to teach painting.”

 

Related:

Fuzzy math: the CPS budget crisis

The charter contradiction

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More questions: charters, partners, and planning http://www.newstips.org/2012/12/more-questions-charters-partners-and-planning/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/12/more-questions-charters-partners-and-planning/#comments Wed, 19 Dec 2012 15:35:27 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6842 (This is the second of two posts – part one looks at questions for the Commission on School Utilization including enrollment numbers and savings from closing schools.)

 

Mayor Emanuel, CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett and utilization commission chair Frank Clark have taken the position that “right-sizing” the district has nothing to do with the district’s expansion of charter schools.

One has to do with declining enrollment and snowballing deficits, the other with choice and quality, according to this view.

The argument would work better if CPS’s enrollment and utilization numbers held up; if school closings actually saved significant amounts of money; and if charters consistently offered quality rather than undermining most parents’ first choice – a quality neighborhood school.

Even then, though, it’s hard to separate the proliferation of charters from enrollment declines at neighborhood schools.

[Based on revelations in Tuesday’s Tribune, the separation of school closings and charter expansions is purely strategic; when officials say they are unrelated, they are lying.]

 

A hundred new schools

In the past decade, as CPS lost 30,000 students, it’s opened more than 100 new schools with space for nearly 50,000 additional students, according to a new report from CTU.

While CPS closed scores of schools during that period, the number of schools in the district went from 580 to over 680.

“To the extent excess capacity exists, the main driver is the district’s aggressive charter proliferation campaign,” according to the report.  “The current ‘utilization crisis’ has been manufactured largely to justify the replacement of neighborhood schools by privatized charters.”

Throughout Renaissance 2010, “there was no facilities plan” and facilities decisions were “ad hoc and haphazard,” according to CTU’s report.  Adding to the confusion was the practice of approving charter schools without specifying their location, and some charters’ practice of repeatedly relocating their schools.

“CPS has opened charters haphazardly, without considering how they affect nearby schools,” according to a Sun Times editorial.

As Catalyst points out, new charter schools have been concentrated in the community areas with the largest number of schools listed as “underutilized” by CPS.  North Lawndale, with the most schools now rated as underutilized, has gotten more charter schools than any other community.

In general, those schools aren’t outperforming neighborhood schools, according to Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.

 

A new round of failure

While school closings and new charter schools have been concentrated in low-income African American communities, these students are actually better served by neighborhood schools, according to CTU, citing reading score gains 10 percent higher in traditional schools than in charters in such areas.

Meanwhile students in closing schools have suffered mobility-related academic setbacks, faced transportation and security issues, and landed in worse-performing schools – while achievement rates in receiving schools have been adversely impacted.

It looks like the very students whom CPS has failed for a generation – whose schools have been systematically neglected and underresourced – are once again being failed.

“CPS has to look at the damage they’ve caused to children and communities and be honest about it.” said Rod Wilson, education organizer for KOCO, whose members recently sat in at Emanuel’s office demanding a moratorium on school closings.  “First they have to correct what they’ve already done, then they can start correcting the rest.”

“A school is a community institution, it’s not just a unit of production where you can close one and open another,” said Wilson.  “They’re just providing children to charter schools that are creaming and pushing children out.”

Meanwhile, as the utilization commission was holding community hearings on school closings, CPS was approving four more charters – on top of nine approved earlier this year.

At a recent commission hearing, many speakers – including the education chair of the local NAACP — noted that school closings have been concentrated in the black community.  Many spoke of “our schools” to distinguish them from charters, asking why “our schools” are being targeted.

Now it turns out, according to CTU, that the utilization commission is sharing office space with three pro-charter advocacy groups including New Schools Chicago.  (In the members’ biographies on the commission’s website, chairman Clark is identified as a founder of the Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy but – perhaps in order to build “trust” – the fact that it’s a charter school and part of the Noble Street network is omitted.)

 

Room for partners

At the commission hearing last Monday at St. Sabina’s, 19th ward Ald. Matt O’Shea testified against closing Esmond School, noting that its 40 percent utilization rate would go up if its1972 addition were closed.  The 40-year-old addition is in disrepair, O’Shea said, while the original 1891 building is “in pretty good shape.”

How many of the 140 schools listed as eligible for closure due to underenrollment, O’Shea asked, have annexes that could be closed?  Before the commission starts recommending wholesale school closures, it should look at closing secondary buildings, he said.

Austin schools activist Dwayne Truss of Progressive Action Coalition for Education makes the same point.  “A lot of schools out here have one or two additional buildlings,” he said.

Indeed, hundreds of CPS schools have had annexes added in recent years. Many of these buildings would be perfect to house a range of the administration’s initiatives, such as early education and community college programming.

Extra space in schools could be productively used to support the newly-announced reinvigoration of the district’s highly successful Child-Parent Centers, or to replicate successful programs like school-based health clinics or community schools, which bring in community partners to offer after-school enrichment for children and ESL, GED, and computer classes for adults.

“Across the country, school districts are increasing utilization of their buildings by extending access to non-school users,” according to a report on joint use by the 21st Century School Fund.  Public agencies and nonprofit partners are offering program that extend schools’ curricular goals, address social, emotional, and health barriers to success in school, and help families provide more educational support at home.

In a school district struggling to meet parents’ demands for arts programming with a longer day, or to provide enough social workers and other support staff to deal with problems like truancy, extra space could make possible partnerships with the city’s many arts and social service agencies.

Indeed, it’s in the low-income communities with some of the higher rates of underutilization that these needs are greatest.

There are many challenges to managing such partnerships, according to the report, but some districts are succeeding at it.  Among the possible benefits:  “When school buildings are underutilized, a paying joint-use arrangement with either public or prviate partners can make continued operation of the school building fiscally possible.”

 

No plan

The large number of annexes in school buildings also demonstrates the need for long-range planning, said CTU researcher Sarah Hainds. In some cases, because it takes years to for approval and construction of such projects, additional buildings intended to ease overcrowding opened after school enrollments started going down, she said.

That’s because school facilities decisions in Chicago are made ad hoc and in response to political pressure, not based on any kind of plan, she said.

Earlier this year CPS officials said they hoped for early release of a ten-year facilities master plan, whichwas due in January under 2011 school facilities reform legislation.  But when Byrd-Bennett came in, she said the district needed more time, and a bill extending the deadline for announcing school actions also extended the deadline for the ten-year plan.

A master plan “would give us an opportunity to look at population projections, housing development, long-term factors” that will impact enrollment down the road, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, chair of the master plan subcommittee of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force.  “But these are things CPS doesn’t want us talking about before they close schools,” she said.

Instead, CPS wants to shut 100 schools based solely on this year’s census and enrollment figures.

“I can’t believe they want to close all these schools without any kind of plan,” said Hainds.

Carroll suspects that doing ten-year projections would show that large-scale school closings are ill-advised.  And she worries that CPS sees the ten-year plan as merely a means to “right-size” the district without “a forward-looking strategy for sustaining and improving neighborhood schools.”

CPS wanted to put the draft plan’s deadline back to October, but the final bill gives them until May 1.  That means – if CPS meets its legal obligation — some kind of long-term plan will be on the table after school actions are announced but before the board can vote on them.

Carroll said there’s little transparency around the planning process, indeed little indication that it is underway.  For one thing, outreach to principals and LSCs – whose input with educational visions and long-term facility assessments for their schools is required by the facilities law – hasn’t taken place.

 

Time to wait?

Grassroots activists maintain the CPS should put school actions on hold until it’s developed a long-range facilities plan.  CTU has called for a year-long moratorium; KOCO has called for two years.

The Sun Times has called for waiting a year to “right-size” the district, based largely on eminently practical considerations: “There is no way CPS can humanely right-size its district, closing dozens of schools in just a few months….

“Even under the best circumstances, CPS rarely pulls off a complex task well.  We’re talking about relocating thousands of children and teachers, finding new schools for them, ensuring their safety and well-being.  The odds of that happening successfully in a matter of months are extremely low.”

In addition, the district is required to hold three hearings for each school action it proposes – that would be 300 hearings for 100 closings in little over a month — and school board members are expected to consider that testimony.  And the deadline for schools that require applications – a major reason the legislature pushed the deadline for school action announcements to December last year – has come and gone.

Will the commission consider the option, widely backed among informed observers, of waiting for a long-range plan before implementing whole-sale school closures?  Or are they just expected to collect community input, ignore it, and deliver a list of schools to axe?  Is this an “independent commission,” or is this a done deal?

There’s a larger picture:  school closings are happening in urban school districts across the country.  According to Diane Ravitch, districts like New York’s are “repeating the pattern that was established in Chicago.”

The idea of closing schools to improve education was also embodied in the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law, which mandated sanctions for low test scores.

The original rationale for closing schools came from the business world:  the way to improve education, it was argued, is to subject eductors to rewards and punishment based on standardized tests.  That logic hasn’t been validated by Chicago’s experience.

And while this year there’s a brand new rationale, presented with all the theatrics of an imminent crisis, the policy is the same.

Behind school closings, Ravitch writes, is “the dynamic of privatization: as public schools close, privately-managed charters open, accelerating the destruction of neighborhoods and public education.”

At WBEZ, Becky Vevea points out that if the district closes 100 neighborhood schools and opens 60 charters, the proportion of privately-operated charters in the system will double — to more than a quarter of CPS schools – dramatically reshaping the district.

Is this a decision the public gets to weigh in on?

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CPS pressed on discipline reform http://www.newstips.org/2012/03/cps-pressed-on-discipline-reform/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/03/cps-pressed-on-discipline-reform/#comments Tue, 13 Mar 2012 22:46:24 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5997 A City Council resolution will call on CPS to implement school discipline reforms, and students, parents, and community and faith leaders will release a report showing that a restorative justice approach could make schools safer and save the school district money.

The High Hopes Campaign will hold a press conference in the main entrance hall of City Hall at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14.  Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) will discuss a resolution he will introduce Wednesday’s council meeting, and students and parents who are implementing restorative justice in Chicago schools will describe their experiences.

CPS added restorative justice to its student code of conduct in 2006 but has never implemented the approach system-wide. The approach uses peer juries and peace circles to improve school safety and culture by holding students accountable for their actions and supporting them to get on track.

The report presents findings that restorative justice is more effective at improving student behavior and achievement than punitive discipline methods, including suspensions, expulsions, and arrests.  It reviews best practices and makes recommendation on what’s needed in terms of funding and staffing, as well as monitoring and evaluation. [Read the report.]

CPS could save money now spent on having police officers and large numbers of security guards in schools – and on expulsions and arrests — by focusing on approaches that improve behavior, said Ana Mercado of Blocks Together.

The High Hopes Campaign (it stands for Healing Over the Punishment of Expulsions and Suspensions) includes Access Living, Community Renewal Society, Enlace Chicago, Organization of the North East, Blocks Together, Trinity UCC, Southwest Youth Collaborative, and POWER-PAC.

Last week the U.S. Department of Education released findings confirming that African-American students in CPS face harsher discipline than other students.  It’s time “to figure out what’s working and what’s not,” said Secretary Arne Duncan at the time.

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Pushing out students: Noble, AUSL, and CPS http://www.newstips.org/2012/02/pushing-out-students-noble-ausl-and-cps/ Sun, 19 Feb 2012 19:47:39 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5670 There were two big school stories in the past week – the hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for minor infractions charged to students by Noble Charter Schools, and the sit-in at Piccolo Elementary by parents and supporters opposing a turnaround by the Academy of Urban School Leadership – and one issue that cuts across both is growing opposition to harsh, ineffective discipline policies that force kids out of school.

At AUSL, where the Board of Education will vote on six additional turnarounds on Wednesday, it raises questions about unstable school leadership, wildly shifting school policies, and failure to support programs promised in AUSL submissions to CPS.

Largely lost in the coverage of Noble (particularly in the Chicago Tribune’s editorial, once more attacking critics of CPS) was the actual source of concern – the campaign by Voices of Youth in Chicago Education to reduce the dropout rate, which has led them to focus on disciplinary policies which push kids out.

“We agree there should be consequences for minor infractions, but Noble is not doing it the right way, and as a result, students are leaving,” said Emma Tai of VOYCE.  She said Noble has acknowledged that 40 percent of entering students leave before senior year.  (Ben Joravsky has previously reported on Noble’s fines, demerits, counseling out of kids, and charges for make-up courses.)

Bigger picture

But Noble is “just one piece of a much larger picture,” Tai said.  “Whether it’s demerits and fines at Noble or suspensions, expulsions, and arrests at [traditional] schools, there are practices in all our schools to keep students on lockdown and push them out.”

Concern over test scores may be a bigger driver of the approach than concern over safety, she suggests.

“We should be making sure that all schools are putting a full-faith effort into keeping young people in schools,” she said.  “What’s happening in all our schools [reflects] the real failure of our public officials to use our public dollars to make sure every child gets a quality education.”

At Piccolo, parents protesting the proposed turnaround charged that at other turnarounds, “AUSL has not lived up to promises  of increased support for at-risk students” and “AUSL has pushed out students through zero tolerance discipline” as well as “dropping students and counseling out low-performing students.”

One group backing Piccolo, Blocks Together, has worked extensively with students at Orr Academy, now in its third year as an AUSL turnaround school, and they report a variety of practices that seem to conflict with AUSL’s commitments to CPS.

AUSL and the CPS code

In its 2007 RFP submission to CPS prior to being given Orr, AUSL pledged to follow the district’s student code of conduct, to support students with behavioral issues, and to institute a peer mediation program.

Instead, Orr students are routinely given automatic suspensions for minor infractions, BT says.  “We get suspended for the pettiest things,” said Malachi Hoye, an Orr senior active with BT’s youth group.  “Being tardy, not wearing your ID – it’s two days.”  Cursing gets you an automatic two-day suspension.

The CPS code calls for an investigation of an incident with students “afforded the opportunity to respond to the charges.” That doesn’t happen at Orr, BT says.  The code indicates a range of consequences for first-time minor infractions (like inappropriate language), including teacher-student conferences, conferences including parents or administrators, and detention; suspension is reserved for repeat offenses.  That’s not the practice at Orr either, apparently.

“There are no steps, there’s no effort to look at the situation,” said youth organizer Ana Mercado.  She adds that, with constant administrative change at Orr – two principals in three years, and a revolving door for other administrators — disciplinary policies have fluctuated greatly. “The expectations and consequences keep changing on the kids,” she said.

Turning kids away

Orr also “turns kids away when they come to school without their uniform,” said Hoye.  “The tell them don’t come back till you have one.”  (He also complains about steep increases in the price Orr charges for its uniform jersey.)

The CPS code specifies that students who fail to abide by a school’s uniform policy may be barred from extracurricular activities but may not be given suspensions or detensions “or otherwise barred from attending class.”

And while the code requires parents to be informed of punitive measures, Orr got in trouble last year for dropping students without informing them or their parents.

AUSL also promised to institute a peer mediation program, but when BT trained students in restorative justice methods so they could serve as peer jurors, Orr administrators provided little to no suppport.  In the first year, administrators referred six cases to the peer jury; this year they’ve referred none, Mercado said.

“They said they would do it and then they just didn’t do it at all,” said Hoye, who was trained as a juror.  “The administrators are not following through on what they said they were going to do.”

CPS drops the ball

That’s mirrored on a district-scale by CPS, which included restorative justice language in a recent disciplinary code revision, but has failed to “put their dollars where their mouth is,” Tai said.

Last year VOYCE issued a report documenting many tens of millions of dollars spent on zero-tolerance strategies that are “not only ineffective, but counterproductive.”  Restorative justice programs in schools rely on local initiative and must scuffle by on one-year competitive grants, Tai said.

Research is clear that zero-tolerance approaches — and heavy use of suspensions — do not improve school safety or student learning, Tai said.  She points to a recent study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, which shows that it’s the quality of relationships staff have with students and parents that distinguishes schools where students and teachers report feeling safe.

“In fact, disadvantaged schools with high-quality relationships actually feel safer than advantaged schools with low-quality relationships,” according to the report.  And notably, schools with high suspension rates are less safe than schools in similar neighborhoods with low suspension rates.

The Consortium argues that “emphasis on punitive discipline approaches” is particularly unhelpful with “students who are already less likely to be engaged in school.”  “Schools serving a large number of low-achieving students must make stronger efforts to foster trusting, collaborative relationships with students and their parents.”

Notes Tai:  “When young people are given a five dollar fine for slumping in their seats, or when they’re suspended for a week for trying to calm down a fight, you’re eroding those relationships.”

“You’re forcing students out, and you’re not making schools safer.”

There’s another bottom line, she notes:  The fact that under zero tolerance, black students are given much harsher punishments than white students commiting the same infractions shows there’s something very wrong with the whole approach.

Increased accountability for charters, turnarounds, and other nontraditional schools – and a commitment by CPS to implement restorative justice system-wide – would make schools safer and help the kids who need the most help become better students, she says.  It seems clear – with 11.6 percent of Orr’s students meeting or exceeding expectations, and a steadily-declining attendance rate, now at 66 percent – the status quo isn’t working.

 

Related:

Students target discipline policies

School discipline reform advances

Mayoral candidates on CPS suspension rates

CPS high suspension rate challenged

Dropout crisis or pushout crisis?

School guards and culture of calm (on Orr)

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King Day: Occupy the Fed, foreclosures, schools http://www.newstips.org/2012/01/king-day-occupy-the-fed-foreclosures-schools/ Sat, 14 Jan 2012 01:29:58 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5448 The civil rights movement, the Occupy movement, and community organizations will come together for a series of events marking Martin Luther King’s birthday this week, including a demonstration Monday at the Federal Reserve led by African American clergy including Rev. Jesse Jackson.

At the time of his assassination, King was organizing an “occupation” of Washington D.C., and after his death thousands of people occupied Resurrection City there from May 12 to June 24, 1968, demanding jobs, housing and an economic bill of rights.

In other King Day activities, housing rights groups are stepping up the drive to occupy foreclosures, and teachers and community groups are demonstrating against school “turnarounds.”

Over a thousand community activists are expected for an Occupy the Dream event (Sunday, January 15 at 3 p.m. at People’s Church, 941 W. Lawrence), where elected officials will be called on to support jobs and tax reform, including closing corporate tax loopholes and instituting a financial transaction tax.

It’s sponsored by IIRON, a regional organizing network that includes Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, Northside POWER, and the Northwest Indiana Federation. Occupy Chicago has endorsed the event.

“We are organizing in the tradition of the civil rights movement,” said Rev. Dwight Gardner of Gary, president of the Northwest Indiana Federation.

“In Dr. King’s very last sermon, he warned us not to sleep through a time of great change like Rip Van Winkle,” he said. “This is a moment of great change and we must put our souls in motion to occupy his dream.”

At the Fed: National Day of Action

Monday’s action at the Federal Reserve (Jackson and LaSalle, January 16, 3 p.m.) is part of a national day of action to “Occupy the Fed” by the Occupy the Dream campaign, with African American church leaders moblizing multicultural, interfaith rallies in 13 cities.  They’ll be emphasizing racially discriminatory practices by banks which have resulted in high foreclosure rates, as well as the issue of student debt.

“There needs to be economic equality, there needs to be jobs for all, there needs to be opportunities for the next generation,” said Rev. Jamal Bryant of Occupy the Dream.

“It’s consistent with the Poor People’s Campaign of holding people accountable who have benefited from the labor of working people and used their influence to create inequality,” said Rev. Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago coordinator of the effort.

On Tuesday, Northside POWER and other groups will visit Bank of America (135 S. LaSalle) at 3:30 p.m. to demand help for a North Side family facing foreclosure; the bank has refused mediation for the family, which has applied for the Hardest Hit foreclosure relief program, said Kristi Sanford.

They’ll also visit Attorney General Lisa Madigan, demanding she withdraw from the proposed settlement of the robosigning fraud case by state attorney generals and the U.S. Department of Justice.  The settlement would fine banks “a pittance” and absolve them of all liability, Sanford said.  Attorney generals in New York and California have withdrawn.

Sanford said an effort to occupy a foreclosed home and launch an eviction resistance campaign is also underway.

Working the grassroots against eviction

Meanwhile, groups organizing against foreclosure and eviction have come together in the national network Occupy Our Homes, and they’ll go door-to-door Sunday and Monday, reaching out to families facing foreclosure and their neighbors.

Training sessions for canvassers will be held on Sunday, January 15 at 10 a.m. in Albany Park (at Centro Autonomo, 3630 W. Lawrence) and Monday at 10 a.m. on the South Side (Sankofa Center, 1401 E. 75th) and the West Side (a foreclosed property at 2655 W. Melvina and the Third Unitarian Church, 311 N. Mayfield), and volunteers will canvass those areas from 11 to 3 on the respective days.

Homeowners will be connected with legal resources and encouraged to consider staying in their homes after foreclosure, said Loren Taylor of Occupy Our Homes.

The foreclosure process is unfairly stacked toward lenders, banks have engaged in “massive, massive fraud,” and the banks which refuse to help homeowners have received government bailouts in the trillions of dollars, Taylor said.

Participating groups include the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction, and the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, which has worked with renters in foreclosed buildings.

School marches mark King’s Chicago legacy

Also Monday, demonstrations against educational inequality – and against school “turnarounds” – will take place in areas made famous by Martin Luther King’s 1966 Chicago campaign.

At 10:30 a.m., the Chicago Teachers Union and community allies will march for education justice and “quality schools for all” at Marquette Elementary, 6550 S. Richmond, just south of the park where King was hit by a brick while marching for fair housing in 1966.

Today the school is 99 percent black and Latino – and slated for a “turnaround” by Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL). CTU argues that all schools should have small class sizes, a well-rounded curriculum, and supportive services.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, Blocks Together and other supporters of Casals Elementary, 3501 W. Potomac, will go door-to-door to inform neighbors of parent efforts to stop the transfer of that school to AUSL.

And at 1 p.m. on Monday, North Lawndale residents including members of Action Now will hold a press conference and march from Dvorak Elementary, 3615 W. 16th, past the site where King lived in Lawndale in 1966, to Herzl Elementary, 3711 W. Douglas.  They’re opposing Herzl’s “turnaround” by AUSL – and they fear Dvorak is next, said Aileen Kelleher of Action Now.

Parents maintain that CPS neglects neighborhood schools serving low-income minority children, setting them up for failure so they can be turned over to AUSL or charter schools, Kelleher said

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Piccolo supporters say CPS is blocking a real school turnaround http://www.newstips.org/2011/12/piccolo-supporters-say-cps-is-blocking-a-real-school-turnaround/ Fri, 09 Dec 2011 03:27:02 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5006 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.

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Two new libraries represent community victories http://www.newstips.org/2011/09/two-new-libraries-represent-community-victories/ Fri, 23 Sep 2011 21:03:29 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4762 The official opening of the Richard M. Daley Library last month attracted lots of dignitaries (including the former mayor himself, as well as his successor) and lots of attention.  Now the community which fought for years to get the library is holding its own celebration.

Blocks Together is holding a march to promote reading and a barbecue to “celebrate our victory,” Saturday, September 24, starting at 12 noon at the Kelly YMCA, 824 N. Hamlin and finishing up at Kells Park across the street from the new library, at Kedzie and Ohio.

The march will revisit sites where protests were held in the long campaign for the library.  At the picnic there will be storytelling and kids’ games – and prizes for the best signs and the best chants promoting reading.  To get some barbecue, anyone without a library card will have to apply for one.

With 10,000 visitors in its first 14 days of operation, the Daley Library is the most heavily used of the city’s new libraries, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together.

The group will be collecting signatures on a petition to make sure the new library’s operating budget is not cut in the next city budget.  Recent reports indicate the city is considering closing some branches.

The heavy turnout shows that “this is a very badly needed library,” said Carroll. “We don’t want to see the hours cut. Ideally they should be expanded.”

Residents at Altgeld Gardens are also celebrating a new library – also a result of extensive community organizing, Residents Journal reports.  It’s the first public library in Chicago housed in a school building.

After the community’s library was closed over two years ago, People for Community Recovery sent 1,000 signatures on a petition calling for reopening of the community’s public library to President Obama.

In a press release from 2009, the group noted that as a young organizer in Roseland, Obama helped lead the fight for expansion of that library in 1996.

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