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Don Moore’s legacy

Don Moore’s life had an impact far greater than many more famous and powerful people:  more than anyone, he was responsible for creating and defending Chicago’s Local School Councils, while demonstrating their value as the most effective vehicle this city has seen for improving urban education.

He was among the first to push democratic school governance as the solution to Chicago’s schools crisis in the 1980s, and in the following decade, as politicians and CPS administrators sought to recentralize power – and brought the city’s business and philanthropic elites back under their sway – he defended LSCs from legislative attacks and mobilized community involvement in LSC elections.

Meanwhile, in a remarkable body of research, he demonstrated that while central office interventions from probation to turnarounds had little effect, the high-poverty schools that showed steady long-term improvement in Chicago were those with what he termed “school-based democracy.”

“It’s not a stretch to say that had he not been doing this work, Local School Councils would have disappeared from the scene – and we would have lost one of the most important engines of educational improvement in the nation,” said Ray Boyer, who directed public affairs for the MacArthur Foundation until 2004 and collaborated on projects with Moore after that.

As reported by Substance, Catalyst and the Sun Times, Donald R. Moore died last week at age 70.

In 1977 Moore founded Designs For Change, a multi-faceted organization that housed his rigorous research along with organizing, training, and advocacy efforts.  When a decade-long school crisis came to a head with the 1987 teachers strike, Moore seized the opportunity to rally community groups and business leaders to his vision of school-based democratic governance.

Critical role

Amid a vast and often conflicting array of groups pushing reform, Moore “played a critical role” in creating and pushing legislation that established LSCs in 1988, according to Mary O’Connell’s fascinating account of that struggle.  As Catalyst notes, when O’Connell asked participants in that movement who was “most responsible” for school reform, Moore was named most often.

He was “brilliant” in “bringing a theoretical concept into reality,” said Rod Estvan of Access Living, a former Designs board member, and he was commited to the idea that even in a society scarred by poverty and racism, “if people had some democratic control over their schools, they could make them better.”

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Charge CPS obstruction on LSC election info

Neighborhood new sites report they’re “fighting to get basic information” about candidates in next week’s Local School Council election.

Citing “privacy” concerns, CPS has required Center Square Journal and Austin Talks to file FOIA requests for lists of candidates, candidate statements and contact information, according to reports.  In the past that information was routinely released.

On April 4, after weeks of inquiries, CSJ and AustinTalks received lists of candidates’ names and addresses, but no candidate statements and no phone numbers, according to Ellyn Fortino at AustinTalks.

Mike Fourcher of Center Square Journal writes that CPS has “obstructed” efforts to promote LSC elections – and CSJ efforts to report on the election.

“Obtaining a list of candidates for public office is a basic right of the voting public and the press,” Fourcher writes. “It’s necessary for citizens to determine for whom they plan to vote, for the press to report on candidates’ qualifications, and for candidates to know their opponents.

“In elections for any other public office, local governments make candidate lists easily available as a matter of course.”

“This practice of demanding FOIAs for information that should simply be publicly available in the case of the elections is something we’ve never seen before,” Don Moore of Designs for Change told CSJ.

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Is CPS abusing probation?

The lawsuit filed last week against CPS closings and turnarounds highlights two central issues – the charge that the district is systematically neglecting neighborhood schools, and the longstanding contention that CPS uses probation to undermine local school councils.

According to the lawsuit, filed by nine LSC members with backing from the teachers union, CPS has failed to follow requirements in school code that LSCs at schools on probation be provided with plans that specify deficiencies to be corrected and with budgets targetting resources to carry out the plans. (This issue was first discussed here in November.)

According to the Tribune, CPS says they’ve “provided support to these low-performing schools over multiple years to boost student improvement.” Have they?

Tilden High, now slated for a”turnaround” by CPS, has been on probation for eight years. During that time there have been “drastic budget cuts,” amounting to a half-million dollars or more each year, according to LSC member Matthew Johnson, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Drastic cuts

The school has lost English teachers, math teachers, a computer lab teacher, a librarian. It’s lost funding for its auto shop and its woodshop – leading some kids to drop out, he said.

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Parents air concerns on longer school day

Parents in meetings on the West and North Sides this week discussing the proposal for an extended school day expressed a range of concerns far beyond the “for-or-against” terms in which the issue has been framed by Mayor Emanuel and the media.

Both groups released surveys – one large, one small, neither scientific but both gauging the views of parents who are particularly active in their children’s schools.   How the longer day will be implemented and how it will be funded are major concerns.

But how long it should be is also an open question for parents.  The Raise Your Hand Coalition surveyed 1200 parents in 230 schools and found broad support for a longer school day – but little support for making it as long as Emanuel has proposed.

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Community hearing on LSCs

Community and school reform groups are co-sponsoring a legislative hearing on strengthening LSCs — the third in a citywide series — Saturday, July 19, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake (pdf).

Local groups that are participating include Blocks Together, the Austin Community Education Network, South Austin Coalition, West Side Ministers Alliance, West Side NAACP, and the West Side Educational Committee.

The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee is the sponsor, and among legislators attending will be State Sen, Kimbery Lightford, chair of the Senate Education Committee.  A grassroots legislative taskforce will compile proposals from testimony as it reviews school reform law later this year.

At the first hearing in April (see Newstip and follow-up post), veteran LSC members from dozens of schools called for more support for LSCs.  Many also called for an elected school board.

Elected school board?

At Saturday’s hearing on LSCs, speaker after speaker — grassroots activists working to improve neighborhood schools, some with many years of service — called for an elected school board.

With LSC elections Wednesday and Thursday, PURE has just announced a petition drive for a citywide advisory referendum on whether the Board of Education should be directly elected.  Supporters need to collect 40,000 signatures in the next four months.

Strengthening LSCs

The Kenwood Oakland Community Organization is hosting a legislative hearing on strengthening LSCs this Saturday, April 12 starting at 11:15 a.m. at Kennicott Park, 4434 S. Lake Park.

KOCO and allies successfully pushed for passage of a resolution last year which declared that the Illinois House of Representatives “support[s] the empowerment of Local School Councils as local, publicly-elected decision-making bodies” and authorized subject matter hearings on the needs of LSCs.

LSC members from across the city will testify Saturday about why LSCs are needed, how they work in particular schools, and how they could be better supported.

LSCs bring “community wisdom” — a grassroots perspective that is often lacking from CPS decision-making, said Jitu Brown, KOCO’s education organizer and a member of the Dyett High School LSC.

Brown cites the disastrous transfer of students from Englewood High to other South Side schools, disregarding community concerns about security and gang issues. “Dyett exploded,” he recalls. “Hyde Park exploded. Who do you hold accountable for that?

“The school district doesn’t understand community dynamics,” Brown said.

He also points to the closing of successful neighborhood schools which “should serve as models” for a system with a huge dropout rate.

More fundamentally, “As people of color we have to be sure there’s public accountability because there’s a demonstrated record of our not receiving the resources or the quality of services that we’re supposed to get, because of our color,” Brown said. “CPS has a disastrous record in terms of equity in distribution of resources.”

Some schools have a laptop for each student, others one or two computers in each classroom, he said. “Why is it OK that Harper High has to use discretionary funds to hire teachers and security guards, and doesn’t have money for a band or debate team or school newspaper, and Walter Payton College Prep is a world-class facility? Why is that acceptable?”

When Brown joined the Dyett LSC is 2003, “there were seven books in its library,” he said. CPS had made a high school of a former middle school “without giving it the resources to be a high school.” The LSC there has worked to get resources and “make the school parent and community friendly,” he said. Brown contributes a life skills program for male students that is successful and growing; next week a group is visiting UIC.

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LSC candidate deadline extended

CPS has extended the deadline for candidates to file for LSC elections to Monday, March 24.  The news was reported on PURE’s blog, and apparently nowhere else —  even the CPS website has no word of the extension.  Indeed, CPS still has the original March 12 deadline on its LSC election timeline (pdf) and on the nomination form available here.

There are currently just over 5,500 candidates signed up, according to Julie Woestehoff of PURE.  According to Catalyst (in an article on declining resources for LSC candidate recruitment), there are 5,700 open slots on 550 LSCs in the city.  CPS had set a goal of 8,500 candidates, a steep increase over 7,000 who ran two years ago, according to PURE.

“CPS is now completely in control of elections, and they’re not doing a good job,” commented Woestehoff.  “And groups that are committed and willing to do the work on recruitment don’t have the resources, and we’re seeing the results.”

This afternoon PURE posted a list of 59 schools reporting too few candidates to form an LSC (a council with a quorum can fill vacancies) — including 43 with no parent or community candidate at all.

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