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Parents stand up for teachers under attack

With Mayor Emanuel aligning himself with an extremist group focused on attacking teachers, a group of Chicago parents has decided it’s time to speak up in their defense.

“We’re upset with all the teacher-bashing that’s so fashionable today,” said Erica Clark of Parents For Teachers.  “It’s a complete distraction from the real issues facing our schools.”

The group, which started recently with a Facebook page, held its first action Tuesday, the first of several “phone-in days,” with members of parent and community groups calling CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard asking him to withdraw current plans to close and “turnaround” 16 schools. The group argues that a 15-year record shows that these policies don’t work.

“Whenever anyone talks about ‘school reform’ these days, the first thing you hear is some attack on teachers,” Clark said.

She points out that SB 7, which reduced teachers’ collective bargaining rights, “was heralded as the most important ‘school reform’ bill of the year – but it had nothing at all about what really matters: class size, equitable funding, less emphasis on standardized testing, a richer, more interesting curriculum.  It was all about attacking teachers.”

“If you listen to the rhetoric of so-called school reform, you would think there are no good teachers in the system,” she said.  “But if you talk to parents – if you look at the data CPS collects in the surveys where parents rate schools and teachers – there’s a lot of support for teachers.

“Parents deal with their kids’ teachers on a regular basis, they see how hard they work, they see that they are working in the trenches every day for their kids.”

Breitbart connection

Emanuel appeared in a video produced by the Education Action Group, based in Muskegon, Wisconsin.  EAG’s leader, Kyle Olson, blogs on the Big Government website of journalist-provocateur Andrew Breitbart, whose exploits include doctoring video to make U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod look like she was fomenting racial division.

Two years ago Olson was forced to apologize after he was exposed for videotaping an interview with Frances Fox Piven, the activist academic who was a frequent target of Glen Beck, under false pretenses.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fact check: Emanuel, Brizard, Pritzker

UPDATED – “We will have to come together as one” to solve Chicago’s school problems, said mayor-to-be Rahm Emanuel.

Then he announced the selection of a new schools chief who got a 95 percent disapproval vote from teachers at his current post. Catalyst cites sources in Rochester who say schools chief Jean Claude Brizard talks about collaboration but operates as an autocrat.

The rhetoric continues to outpace the reality: Emanuel praised Brizard for raising the graduation rate in Rochester schools. In fact, though, the 12 percent increase claimed by Brizard occurred before he took his post, according to his predecessor.

Chicago News Cooperative reports that Rochester’s graduation rate has actually declined over four years. A Rochester reporter notes that Brizard seems to confuse graduation rates with absolute numbers – not a good sign in a top executive, whether he’s spinning or not. (PURE points out the Tribune seems to have the same problem.)

On Emanuel’s part, his false claim continues a reign of error, with repeated misstatements regarding performance and graduation rates at charter schools.

Brizard is a product of the Broad Foundation’s superintendent training program, which has recently placed trainees at the top of schools systems in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Denver.  (Eli Broad donated $25,000 to Emanuel’s campaign, Ramsin Canon points out.) Broad trainees have also been run out of several towns, according to a new guide from Parents Across America:

“A hallmark of the Broad-style leadership is closing existing schools rather than attempting to improve them, increasing class size, opening charter schools, imposing high-stakes test-based accountability systems on teachers and students, and implementing of pay-for-performance schemes. The brusque and often punitive management style of Broad-trained leaders has frequently alienated parents and teachers and sparked protests.”

[Eric Zorn offers corroboration from several Rochester parents, who say Brizard “lacks people skills,” “didn’t listen to parents and doesn’t like being challenged,” is “arrogant and autocratic.”]

“Parents Across America considers Broad’s influence to be inherently undemocratic, as it disenfranchises parents and other stakeholders in an effort to privatize our public schools and imposes corporate-style policies without our consent.”

Broad has published a guide to closing schools; Brizard closed half the city’s high schools without consulting communities. Broad came up with the idea of the “parent trigger,” which Emanuel has praised.  Its philosophy of management is to “invest in disruption,” to promote instability in a system in order to generate “innovation.”

Exciting times ahead.

Brizard clashed not only with teachers and parents but with Rochester’s board of education, which unfortunately for him was elected by Rochester voters. He won’t have that problem in Chicago.

Perhaps Emanuel’s most noteworthy appointment to the board of education is Penny Pritzker, scion of the Hyatt hotel family that’s currently under pressure from religious and community leaders for mistreating its workers.

It’s worth recalling Pritzker’s recent notoriety as a subprime lender, which was probably a factor in her withdrawal from consideration as President Obama’s commerce secretary, after chairing his campaign’s finance committee. After the Pritzkers took over Superior Bank, she headed the board as they plunged into the subprime mortgage market, which eventually swamped the bank.  And under her lead, the bank played signal role in developing the mortage-backed securitization instruments which eventually swamped the nation’s economy.

These securities were call “innovations” at the time.

David Moberg’s 2002 piece has the best overview of Superior’s collapse, which he says was “tainted with all the hallmarks of a mini-Enron scandal.” Accounting tricks were used to turn growing losses into steady profits, allowing dividends to continue to flow to the banks owners.  Maybe Pritzker can help “fix” the CPS budget.

When she was getting bad press a couple years ago, her lawyer said the bank did subprime lending but not the “predatory” kind. According to Moberg, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition accused the bank of “engaging in a variety of predatory practices.”

It’s particularly worth recalling because, as the Tribune recently reported (thanks to PURE for the link), Penny Pritzker is now founding a private equity firm that will focus on buying distressed property.

It’s nice to have money.

In other management feats, Pritzker chaired the Olympic Village subcommittee in the city’s ill-fated bid for the 2016 games.  She bears some responsibility for the $100 million debt incurred in that disaster, which Emanuel is going to have to start paying off in a couple of years.

Pritzker is a major backer of Stand For Children, which pushed union-busting legislation in Springfield. While serving on Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, she split from the president by opposing card-check labor reform he backed. Add Hyatt to the mix and her anti-union record is complete.

It’s highly unlikely that these people will “bring us together as one.”

School closing impact report?

Parents United for Responsible Education filed a complaint with the Illinois attorney general today, after CPS failed to comply with an FOI request for reports on the impact of school closings.  Those reports — and their public availability — are required under CPS policy, according to PURE.

“We know that students who are moved from school to school can lose academic ground,” according to PURE’s complaint. “There may also be emotional and social repercussions from such moves. We need to know what has been happening to our children, some of whom have been subjected to multiple school moves under Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 program. Parents, the general public, and the board itself should have objective information about how school closings have affected children. This is especially pertinent in light of the board’s vote last month to close another eight schools.

“If these reports do not exist, the public has a right to know that the Board of Education is making decisions without having any information about the impact those decisions have on children, information that they themselves requested.”

Commented PURE’s Julie Woestehoff: “If Board members don’t know how their school closure decisions have been affecting children, they should stop approving these proposals.

“In fact, if they didn’t care enough about children to insist on having this information before they voted to close more schools last month, they should resign before they make one more irresponsible decision.

“This is yet another reason why Chicago needs an elected school board.”

School closings: ‘There’s no plan’

A legislative effort to require CPS to develop a comprehensive facilities plan addresses a longstanding concern of advocates for neighborhood schools: without public oversight and accountability, they say, the district’s decisions on building, repairing, closing and privatizing school facilities are arbitrary, opaque, and unfair.

State Representative Cynthia Soto — whose bill would enact a one-year moratorium on closings and initiate an open facilities planning process for CPS — said she’s responding to the concerns of her constituents. The CPS proposal to shut two successful neighborhood schools in her district due to “underenrollment” reveals some of the contradictions in the district’s facilities planning.

A Million-Dollar Location

CPS calculates space utilization by dividing the number of students by the number of classrooms. That doesn’t take into account the fact that Carpenter, 1250 W. Erie, has 90 special education students who require breakout sessions or smaller classes, said parent Maria Hernandez. Carpenter serves children with severe cognitive disabilities and is one of a small number of schools with facilities to accommodate children with hearing impairments.

One classroom is fully carpeted with low ceilings to help children with sensitive hearing, Hernandez said. Over the last decade, CPS has spent over $6 million on the Carpenter building, including $1 million in 2003 on ADA upgrades, an assisted listening system, and an expensive fire alarm system with lights throughout the building.

Carpenter — a neighborhood school with a fine and performing arts magnet program — also offers ESL and computer instruction for parents, and one floor is used for 6th through 8th graders from Ogden Elementary on the Gold Coast. Hernandez said parents believe Ogden wants the entire building; Ogden (which was built in 1953) was picked for a $30 million replacement under Mayor Daley’s Modern Schools program in 2006, and last October it was chosen to open a “performance” high school under Renaissance 2010 at a to-be-determined location. The selective high school will be open to any graduate of Ogden’s elementary school.

According to Ogden’s website: “The Board of Education is expected to officially approve all school closings, consolidations, turnarounds, and phase-outs at the February 25th board meeting. Potential sites for new schools, including [Otis International High School], will be announced shortly thereafter with final approval expected at the March 25th board meeting. In addition, as soon as available spaces are identified and approved, then the Central Office can determine the relocation site for our elementary and/or middle grades until our new building on Walton Street is ready for occupancy (expected to be September 2011).”

Carpenter “is near the expressway, the el, bus routes — it’s a ten minute ride from the Loop,” Hernandez said. “It’s a million-dollar location.”

Enrollment at Carpenter began declining several years ago after CPS made its boundaries smaller, she said. She knows children who would have attended Carpenter but now walk past the school to go to Otis Elementary. Enrollment is down to 324 from 437 in 2005.

If the CPS proposal is approved as expected, kindergarten-age children in the Carpenter will start attending Otis Elementary next year, and new enrollment will be closed at Carpenter, which will lose a grade each year. Hernandez fears enrollment will be further drained as families split between the two schools shift older children to Otis, and CPS won’t keep its promise to let current Carpenter students finish there. “They’re setting up the school to close before [the promised phase-out period of] seven years,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Otis building (parts of which date to 1879) has over $6 million in unfunded capital needs, including over a million for renovations to temporary units, according to a 2008 CPS assessment.

Classes in Coatrooms

At Peabody, CPS says the building should hold 750 children; it has 258. Principal Federico Flores says attendance was 700 when he first came there. “They were holding classes in coat rooms,” he recalls.

Now the school has two computer labs that teachers use throughout the day; parents can use them after school. It has an art room, a tutoring room, and a parent room. The building has no gym, and one classroom is used for physical education. There is space for four Americorps volunteers who provide small group instruction during school hours, as well as a guitar club, art club and dance club after school.

It has three programs for volunteers from Working In The Schools — an early childhood reading program, a power lunch program, where volunteers from Northern Trust read to children during lunch, and a Workplace Mentoring program with Smith Barney and the Baird investment company.

The school also offers ESL and computer classes — and a sewing circle — for parents.

“There’s nothing that says a small school can’t have a wide variety of programs,” said Flores. “But it takes space.”

It’s also meant steady achievement gains at the school, where 99 percent of students are low-income, and 63 percent are at or above standards, up from 30 percent in 2002.

Supporters of Carpenter and Peabody point out that with over 60 percent of student at or above standards, both schools are far out-performing Sherman and Harvard, two “turnaround” schools operated by the Academy of Urban School Leadership teacher training group. The two AUSL schools have only 40 percent achieving at that level, despite Gates Foundation funding and other additional resources not available to neighborhood schools.

“When they started Renaissance 2010 they said they were going to close the worst schools” (replacing the 60 lowest-performing schools with 100 new schools), said Don Moore of Designs For Change. “Now they’re closing schools that are doing better than the turnaround schools that are supposed to be a model for the future.”

A community hearing on Peabody’s closing doesn’t take place until tonight (Monday, February 9, 7:30 p.m. at Lozano School, 1424 N. Cleaver), and the board won’t act on the proposal until its February 28 meeting. But Soto says she was contacted last month by Noble Charter School about taking over the building (1444 W. Augusta), which is next door to Noble’s sponsor, Northwestern Settlement House. Last fall Noble was awarded three new charter school sites, with locations to be determined.

Former Peabody students will have to walk an extra eight or ten blocks to school, Flores has pointed out, speaking in the middle of a bitter winter. A CPS spokesman told Medill News that crossing guards would be provided at major intersections.

Capital mess

The two schools demonstrate longstanding complaints about arbitrary enrollment standards and facilities decisions guided by favoritism rather than need, often in the service of other agendas, and with no input and poor communication.

Before it closed shop in 2007, the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group led the charge for a comprehensive school facilities plan that would rank projects by need, ensure resources are distributed equitably, and provide oversight and accountability.

The group pointed to research showing that school closings set children back educationally, and that smaller schools and small class sizes are particularly helpful for students who are struggling academically. They warned of a two-tier school system, with capital and educational resources showered on a relatively small number of “schools of choice” while neighborhood schools are stiffed.

And they pointed out that local school councils are not informed or consulted when their schools are being shut down — and that schools with LSCs are being closed and replaced by schools without LSCs. [Most also lack union representation for teachers.]

“We keep saying we need fair notification and CPS needs to think more strategically,” said Smyth School LSC member Adorthous McDowell at a 2004 NCBG press conference. “CPS is not accountable to the taxpayers for how it’s spending capital dollars.”

The situation has grown more confused with Renaissance 2010 forming new schools that need space, while capital funds have not been forthcoming from the state for several years — and especially with Mayor Daley instituting his own $1 billion Modern Schools program, outside the CPS capital budget, to build new facilities with TIF and bond money.

Two former education staffers at NCBG, Andrea Lee and Dion Miller Perez, recall the days when CPS would publish a weighty volume detailing capital needs throughout the system. Today they release two or three pages listing only which schools are getting their projects funded.

“They don’t show what repairs are needed, how much money is in the works for capital programs or how it’s being prioritized,” said Miller Perez. “There’s no plan,” said Lee.

The CPS measure of space utilization doesn’t account for “program capacity,” said Miller Perez. It disregards federal requirements for smaller class sizes for special education and bilingual students. It doesn’t take into consideration art and music programs, computer and science labs, all of which reduce CPS utilization rates.

Lee points to the Washington D.C. schools facilities plan, which uses square feet-per-student ratios and includes considerations for things like auditoriums and gymnasiums. NCBG found that using that measure, a number of CPS schools listed as “below capacity” were significantly overcrowded.

The lack of a comprehensive plan means that the motives for decisions about construction, repairs, and closings are often suspect.

In 2004 NCBG showed that eight schools being closed for underenrollment had higher occupancy rates than 50 other CPS schools. All eight were predominantly African American; six schools with significant white populations had lower occupancy but remained open, raising concerns about disproportionate racial impacts — which would violate the Desegregation Consent Decree. The closing schools were all in the path of the CHA Plan for Transformation.

The group noted another disturbing phenomenon, which was concentrated on the Mid-South Side: nearly half of all schools that received students from closed schools had ended up on the closing list themselves within a year. (That problem continues, as the Chicago Journal reported last week.)

As CHA developments closed, especially in the Mid-South Side, families that liked their schools but had moved away continued to send their children there, said Don Moore. Those schools were closed, and the families’ last connection to the old neighborhood — to which many thought CHA had promised they could return — was severed.

Last year UIC researchers looked at data on housing and school closings and found evidence of “a connection between school closings and gentrification.”

In with the new

There’s also a clear connection with Renaissance 2010. Last year then-CPS chief Arne Duncan proposed 20 new Renaissance schools, most of them charters. The vast majority were to be sited in locations “to be determined.” Of the subsequent announcement of shutdowns, Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education said: “These schools are just being closed so they can provide buildings for Renaissance 2010.”

CPS has also heavily favored Renaissance 2010 schools for repairs. In 2007 Catalyst reported that Renaissance and charter schools serving less than 4 percent of CPS students were getting nearly 20 percent of funds for renovations. (CPS currently has 576 neighborhood schools, 67 charter school sites, and 24 other Renaissance 2010 schools.)

Not surprisingly, the repair backlog for neighborhood schools was much greater than for charter and Renaissance schools.

Catalyst told of schools receiving long-deferred repairs — at Calumet High, nearly $12 million worth — only to learn their building was being handed over to charter schools. Advocates say the pattern of schools getting repairs just before or after closing is all too common.

In Bronzeville, CPS closed Raymond Elementary in 2004, saying ADA renovations required there were too expensive. Then it spent $6 million upgrading the building and leased it to Perspectives Math and Science Charter School, according to Lee.

Raymond students had been sent to Attucks Elementary, which also received students from Hartigan when it closed. Last summer CPS suddenly shut down Attucks, saying boiler repairs needed there would cost too much.

In 2006, when Daley announced 24 new schools to be built under his Modern Schools program, 15 were Renaissance schools — and nine schools that had been promised new buildings weren’t on the list, according to NCBG at the time.

“People get excited when they’re told they’re on the list for a new building,” said Miller Perez. “You could be on the list for years and years.”

Miller Perez is now executive director of the Telpochcalli Community Education Project, the community partner for the Telpochcalli Community Elementary School, a small, fully bilingual community school in Little Village. The school is awkwardly housed in the industrial arts wing of the former Harrison High School at 24th and Marshall Bvd.

With an estimated $23 million in needed repairs, the old Harrison building (shared with Saucedo Elementary Scholastic Academy) is near the top of the list of CPS schools for deferred repairs. Telpochcalli serves 300 children, as well as 300 parents and community members who take ESL, literacy, computer classes and GED tutoring. They hold additional classes at two other schools and at Assumption Church across the street. “We maxed out this space a long time ago.”

Telpochcalli has discussed sharing a new building with nearby Community Link High School and brought in urban planning interns from UIC to help develop plans. They’ve given presentations to CPS annually for several years, Miller Perez said. He said CPS officials “have been receptive,” but they say no funding is available.

A community school utilization plan

Andrea Lee, now education organizer for the Grand Boulevard Federation, has brought her NCBG work to the grassroots in Bronzeville, working with residents to form a community task force on school utilization. Since the rash of school closings in the wake of CHA demolitions, there are now no neighborhood schools between 26th and 43rd Street east of the Dan Ryan; but there are four within a one-mile radius at the south end of the neighborhood. And several of those buildings are nearing the end of their lifespan, she said, which will mean “some tough decisions.”

“We need to establish criteria for high-quality schools — and support neighborhood schools instead of shutting them down and giving them over to schools that don’t even take our kids,” she said.

Right now Lee is working with parents to save Abbott Elementary, 3630 S. Wells near Wentworth Gardens, where CHA’s redevelopment is nearing completion. Abbott was slated for closing last year but survived, when the hearing officer was outraged that CPS officials neglected to inform her that the school shared a building with two other programs. (That’s the only time in 62 closings that a hearing officer has not endorsed a closing recommended by CPS, and the only time the Board of Education has voted against a closing.) Now one of the building’s occupants, the Choir Charter Academy, is closing.

But Abbott parents are conducting an enrollment drive and have signed up 140 parents — including many Choir Academy parents — who want to send their children to Abbott. And Lee said Wentworth Gardens has 120 vacant units that are expected to be occupied by June. That could provide 50 to 150 children, she said.

Lee points out that when Attucks — at 38th and Dearborn, about four blocks from Abbott — was closed last year, students weren’t given an option of attending Abbott but were bused to Farren at 50th and State. CPS now proposes busing Abbott students to Hendricks Elementary at 43rd and Princeton.

According to Lee, CPS officials testified that an Easter Seals pre-school housed at Abbott was planning to move, while GBF understands the pre-school would stay if Abbott remains open.

Abbott has a large number of students with severe educational needs, including 20 with autism, Lee said.

Broken promises

Soto’s bill would block any school closings, “turnarounds,” consolidations or phaseouts for a year, even if the Board of Education approves them later this month. Then a legislative commission would hold a series of hearings in Chicago and “develop a new set of fair requirements” for planning school repairs, construction, closings, “turnarounds,” consolidations, phase-outs, and boundary changes.

Soto says she acted in part because CPS did not follow through on promises made two years ago, when Duncan asked her to withdraw a bill that would have mandated six months notice for school closings, guarantees for community involvement, and protections for students.

That bill had passed the House unanimously. CPS promised to implement its protections as policy, Soto said. “That has not happened,” she said. “They do not keep their word.”

This bill seems to have broad support, too. In four days it has attracted 17 cosponsors including 10 Chicago Democrats, among them legislators where schools are closing. Legislators outside Chicago — where school districts often have facilities plans, and always undertake extensive public debate before any school is built or closed — are very supportive, Soto said.

“Chicago gets away with murder,” she said. “Enough is enough. You have to listen to the people who live here.”

For Soto, the bottom line is that closing schools in black and Latino low-income neighborhoods is part of gentrification. “That’s what this is about,” she said. “And this community and these voters are not going to stand for gentrification and racism.”

But it’s also about education. “We want to focus on learning from the good schools that we already have and improving the rest, not this constant, annual harm to students that’s created by the Board of Education,” she said.

Charters, Renaissance 2010, and accountability

With a new round of school closings and “turnarounds” under Renaissance 2010 just announced – and charges last week of student abuse as well as manipulation of grades and attendance records at one charter school – a recent report highlights the failure of charter and ‘new’ schools to meet legal requirements for public accountability.

And while charter school supporters tout long waiting lists as the greatest evidence of their success, the report shows a significant proportion of Chicago’s charter schools are actually struggling with declining enrollments and facing difficulty recruiting students.

Parents United for Responsible Education submitted Freedom of Information Act requests seeking copies of bylaws and minutes as well as lists of governing board members to Renaissance 2010 schools in April. Only one reponded with the requested materials within the seven-day period mandated by the state’s FOI law.

Following a subsequent request which included letters from the Illinois Attorney General informing the schools that they are required to respond, only 18 — one third of 57 charter networks, contract schools and other Renaissance 2010 schools contacted — responded with the requested documents.

ASPIRA Charter School, where misconduct charges emerged last week, was among 15 charter schools that failed to respond.

PURE will pursue its request for the documents, and the Attorney General’s office is investigating the schools’ failure to follow the law, Julie Woestehoff of PURE said.

In addition to widespread FOIA violations, most of the bylaws submitted by responding schools failed to meet the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, according to the report.

Lists of governing board members that were submitted showed the schools weren’t meeting legal requirements for parent involvement in governance, according to the report. Most charter schools that responded reported no parent representatives.

Minutes that were submitted showed “significant accountability issues regarding testing [and] discipline,” problems with teacher attrition, and perhaps most significantly, problems with student retention, low enrollment, and “push-outs.”

“Many of the responding schools do not have waiting lists,” according to the report. “Some struggle to keep up their enrollment.”

“So much information we get from CPS and the media regarding Renaissance 2010 has turned out to be false,” the report says.

“Because we found the public accountability in Renaissance 2010 schools to be highly questionable — and because local school councils have provided Chicago with nearly twenty years of effective public school accountability — we concluded that all CPS schools, including any Renaissance 2010 schools, should have the proven accountability system of elected, parent-majority LSCs,” Woestehoff said.

Last month a PURE lawsuit, which charges that CPS has evaded requirements in state law for LSCs in its small and alternative schools, was reinstated. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sophia Hall reportedly expressed frustration over the inability of CPS lawyers to provide legal justification for disbanding LSCs in Renaissance 2010 schools.

CPS is set to announce a dramatic expansion of school closings and “turnaround” schools, which feature school-wide teacher dismissals, under Renaissance 2010 next month.

On Saturday Chicago teachers and parents will meet at Malcolm X College to discuss “turnaround” schools, charters and privatization, in a forum organized by the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, which has joined calls by teachers and by parent and community groups for a moratorium on school closings and “turnarounds.”

[UPDATED 1-12-09]

Chicago Parents Union launched

A newly-launched Chicago Parents Union is recruiting members, with plans to have a parents union steward in each of the city’s public schools.

A parents union is needed because parent empowerment is under attack in Chicago, said Steve Ross, founding president of CPU. Elected, parent-majority local school councils are being eliminated as traditional schools are replaced by charter and other alternative schools without LSCs, he said.

“Parents need a power base that can’t be stripped away by CPS or City Hall.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Faith in charter schools

In a Tribune op-ed today, Eden Martin of the Commercial Club’s Civic Committee repeats the conventional wisdom that “charter schools generally outperform traditional CPS schools in their neighborhoods.”  Sounds great.

Unfortunately, in a letter on the opposite page, Julie Woestehoff of PURE notes that of charter schools touted by the Tribune that have track records, “not one has made adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act or met the citywide or even the area standard for the percentage of students scoring over 20 on the Prairie State exam.”  She points out: “This is a dismal record.”

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.



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