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Pushing out students: Noble, AUSL, and CPS

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

LSC Summit

Hundreds of local school council members will gather Saturday for an LSC Summit, culminating a series of legislative hearings on increasing support for local school governance.

Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, will give a keynote address. Organizers say Berry is a strong supporter of LSCs — and that her participation reflects widespread support among many principals who have positive relationships with LSCs and value parent involvement.

The event is sponsored by school reform and community groups along with the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee of the Illinois House. State Representative Esther Golar, chair of the committee and a former LSC member, sponsored three hearings in recent months where LSC members called for increased resources for LSCs, including improved professional development, as well as defense of local school governance, which CPS is eliminating at many new schools.

Many also called for an elected school board.

The summit comes at the start of the 20th year of school reform in Chicago. “The strategy of involving parents and the community in local school management has been an amazing success,” said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education. While local school councils “don’t get a lot of credit from the Mayor and his team,” they are recognized nationally as a model — and while business and foundation support has turned toward privatization, “community support is still very strong,” she said.

The hearings represent “an acknowledgement on the part of legislators that LSCs need a lot more help than they’re getting,” she said. Recommendations from the hearings are expected to form the basis for legislative proposals.

The LSC Summit takes place Saturday, August 23 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at UIC’s Illinois Room, 750 S. Halsted.

Blocks Together : An LSC at Orr

Blocks Together, one of several community groups participating in the hearings and summit, is fighting for an elected LSC “that has real powers” at Orr High School, said Irene Juaniza. This year Orr was designated a “turnaround school” to be administered as a teacher training academy by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, with an appointed advisory council.

“With Renaissance 2010, CPS has a strategy of taking away powers from LSCs,” Juaniza said. “We are looking for LSCs that have full power and authority in all schools including charter, contract, and small schools.”

“We believe real parent and community involvement can only help improve the quality of education in our schools,” she said.

Blocks Together is concerned about the connection between school closings and gentrification, as well as the diminishing number of neighborhood schools, Juaniza said. “We feel like the West Side is under attack,” she said. “The number of schools that are open to our children is smaller and smaller.”

The group has leaders and members with long histories of involvement in local schools at many levels; having seen what became of previous CPS plans — particularly at Orr — they tend to be skeptical of new ones, Juaniza said. “There are so many discrepancies” between promises and actions, she said.

Orr’s new managers “have not been transparent,” she said. “Only after we started pushing have they been more transparent.”

“If they’re trying to work in partnership, why is there so much secrecy? Why are they alienating teachers and staff?” she asked.

Most recently the group heard of Orr students being told they were now outside the schools boundaries — despite earlier promises that no one would be turned away. “We asked the [new] principal about the boundaries, and he said he didn’t know — he said we should ask CPS,” said Juaniza. The school has now said any student who was at Orr last year can return, she said.

Participating in the LSC Summit has helped Blocks Together “get a perspective on what’s happening citywide” and develop relationships with other groups, Juaniza said. “We’ve made some great allies,” she said.

Orr students have some questions for Bill Gates

Chicago students want to contact Bill Gates to make sure he knows how his money is being spent.

Gates’ foundation is giving $10.3 million to a plan to “turn around” two high schools and nearby elementary schools.

Orr students gathered outside the Board of Education meeting this morning pointed out that just two years ago Gates gave $21 million to fund curriculum improvements at 14 schools including Mose Vines Preparatory Academy on the Orr campus.

The “turnaround” is the third central office intervention at Orr, which has controlled the school for many years without much success.

> Read the rest of this entry »

School closings 4

Expect a lot of outrage at tomorrow’s Board of Education meeting, with groups across the city organizing against proposals to close, consolidate, or “turn around” 19 schools that are on tomorrow’s agenda.

School supporters will speak at a press conference Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m. at CPS, 125 S. Clark, backing a Chicago Teachers Unionproposal for a moratorium on the proposals in order to consider improvement models for regular neighborhood schools that don’t involve disruption for children and job loss for teachers.  PURE and Designs for Change are coordinating the press conference.

Blocks Together and the Save Orr Schools Coalition is circulating a petition calling on board president Rufus Williams to oppose the “turnaround” plan for Orr — they say an Academy for Urban School Leadership takeover will fire teachers with masters degrees and replace them with inexperienced trainees who lack teacher certification, using a model the groups say is unproven.

They’re also asking Bill Gates, whose foundation is funding the move, “to honor the will of the community and make an investment with people versus for people by stopping the AUSL proposal.”

Like many community sources interviewed by Newstips in recent weeks, BT organizer Carolina Gaete characterized CPS hearings on the proposals as completely inadequate.   “We are not satisfied with that being the only outlet for our opinion,” she said.  While CPS chief Arne Duncan called the hearings a chance to “ask the hard questions,” in reality “the hearing officer had no answers for us,” Gaete said.

“They have been very disrespectful, imposing this decision with no outlet for us to even ask questions,” she said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Small Schools to Get LSC Choice

More than a dozen small schools will begin a process to choose whether to have elected or “alternative” local school councils this fall, according to Jeanne Nowaczewski of the CPS Office of Small Schools.

The announcement comes in the wake of unsuccessful efforts by parents at several small schools to form LSCs.

At Mose Vines Preparatory Academy, a small school on the campus of Orr High
School, 730 N. Pulaski, the parent advisory committee filed papers requesting an LSC last year, spurred by difficulties with a new interim principal.

Teachers and parents who interviewed and approved interim principal Patricia Woodson now say she misled them when she agreed to support the school’s intensive curriculum and its collaborative management.

“The school’s curriculum is being dismantled and its core teachers are leaving,” said parent advisory committee chair Roger Steels. “What was promised to parents has not materialized.”

Woodson sharply scaled back the freshman mastery math and reading programs, which teachers had designed, and eliminated a sophomore composition course. The mastery reading program had been “wildly successful” in raising reading levels, according to English teacher Cindy Zimmerman, who helped plan the school. “It’s been very frustrating.”

After the parents sought assistance in forming an LSC, “we were told by the principal that it was not going to be,” said Steels, and the CPS Office of School and Community Relations “refused to acknowledge us.” In May the committee submitted a petition calling for Woodson’s removal.

Principals at Mose Vines and other schools will form committees with representatives of teachers, parents, students, community members and school partner groups, which will submit statements of preference for elected or non-elected councils, said Nowaczewski.

The Board of Education will make a decision on the basis of the committees’ statements and CPS chief Arne Duncan’s recomendations, she said. Those schools chosen for elected LSCs will participate in the Spring 2006 LSC election.

Wanda Hopkins of Parents United for Reponsible Education, who has been advising parents at Mose Vines, said CPS hasn’t followed its own policy requring a governing body at all small schools from their inception. Such independent bodies, and not principals or the Board, should be making decisions about schools’ governance structures, she said.



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