Challenging times in large urban districts are not uncommon. Reflecting over previous years at CPS, I recall difficult financial times years ago, when the school district faced extreme financial hardship and was unable to pay its bills. As a result, the School Finance Authority was created to oversee, scrutinize and monitor all district expenditures.
We do not want to have to return to that situation. We must all face this harsh reality and be in control of our financial destiny as a district. Currently, people question why so many difficult decisions had to be made, with the closing of schools and the reduction in school budgets. No one can deny the pain when employees lose their jobs and have to look elsewhere or retire. As a former principal of a community school and a father whose children attended their CPS neighborhood school, I understand and empathize with this dilemma. But whether we accept it or not, there is a big financial deficit and it must be addressed now.
In spite of these challenges, CPS must provide equity and excellence in education to all students, but especially to the students, families and communities who have the greatest need. The quality of an urban school district has to be based on the success rate of all children, but especially those who have to overcome the greatest number of challenges.
Many positive signs have emerged and others will be unveiled which will lead to an improved school district for all students. Among the positive signs:
Many more initiatives are being implemented, including a single accountability system for all schools, including charter and contract schools, based on academic growth. Several charters have been placed on the academic watch list. Big investments have been made in many neighborhood schools.
For success to continue, leaders in all types of schools must collaborate to serve entire neighborhoods and engage community partners. They must also be instructional leaders and school community activists so that poverty and inequities can be ameliorated.
Successful neighborhood and community schools must be replicated. Schools must also establish outside partnerships instead of lamenting the outside, adverse influences on students. Perhaps some of the closed schools can be re-purposed along these lines as community service centers. Overcrowding relief in neighborhood schools must also be a priority.
Getting parents involved
But whatever changes are made in the system and in schools, there is another essential ingredient for achieving equity and excellence for all students: parent engagement.
Parent engagement can bring positive results such as higher grades and achievement, higher graduation rates, and more student motivation and self-esteem. Research has indicated that family participation is twice as predictive of students’ academic success as socio-economic status. The most consistent predictors of students’ academic achievement and social adjustment are parental expectations of academic success and parental satisfaction with their child’s school.
For parents to engage in their child’s education in meaningful ways, they must be aware of what students should know at different stages of learning and the support that is available to address learning gaps. Parents also need to know what support they should give at home. And the earlier parent involvement begins in a child’s schooling, the more powerful its effects.
But parents must perceive that their school wants them to be involved and will provide the guidance and support to make parent engagement happen. Local School Councils should also become fully aware of their school’s academic achievement status and share it with their school community, in order to fulfill their school governance responsibilities in a proactive manner.
We have to continue to address the disparities in opportunities which exist for so many students. Better articulation between grades, with appropriate staff development between middle grades and high schools, must be implemented.
We must also capitalize on our students’ cultural identities, to develop their academic identities and prepare them to be successful in post-secondary education. Academic identity is nurtured by how students perceive their school, their sense of personal connection to their education and their social interactions. It is a critical factor for academic achievement and motivation to succeed.
It is up to us as a broad school community to counterbalance the pessimism in some circles and concentrate on what education is about – optimism and hope, with concrete results. We must be engaged, not only during good times but also in challenging times. We must also take a stand for the quality of our public schools. After all, CPS has the highest-achieving schools in our state.
As Elizabeth Harrison, founder of National-Louis University said, “One of the chief joys of life has been to watch the sweep forward from the idea of education as a formal acquisition of materials and facts and philosophic theories to the most vital work of creative activity and the significance of community responsibility.”
Carlos M. Azcoitia, board member, Chicago Public Schools
Distinguished Professor of Practice, National-Louis University
Chicago Public Schools unveiled Wednesday a comprehensive black studies program that will be rolled out at its schools next month. The district is also working on a similar program for Latino studies, officials said. (Sun-Times)
The curriculum will be interdisciplinary and be implemented in different classes — literacy, math, science, social science, arts and physical education and health — from kindergarten through 10th grade , officials said.
BRIDGEPORT CHARTER PLAN QUESTIONED: The team of teachers looking to start a new independent charter school in Bridgeport opened up their plans for scrutiny, but the crowd that gathered at a South Side union hall wasn't eager to hear them out. The design team from the prospective Be The Change Charter School include former CPS teachers and graduates of the University of Chicago's Urban Teacher Education program, said much the school's mission can be boiled down into their tagline of "peace, voice and action." But many in the standing-room only audience — made up of faculty from Bridgeport and McKinley Park schools, neighborhood activists and Chicago Teachers Union reps — criticized the plans as vague. At one point, someone in the crowd asked everyone opposing the charter school to stand up. Almost everyone did. (DNAInfo)
A DISTRACTION: Juan Rangel was a “distraction from the mission” of the United Neighborhood Organization and did the right thing by resigning as the clout-heavy organization’s chief executive, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday. (Sun-Times)
ARTS COLLABORATION: Mayor Rahm Emanuel appeared at Symphony Center with CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, plus cellist Yo-Yo Ma and soprano Renee Fleming — creative consultants for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera, respectively —to discuss the creation of the Creative Schools Fund, a collaboration among the arts-advocacy organization Ingenuity, the Mayor's Office, CPS and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. The fund has plans to award grants in support of certified arts instructors working to boost the schools' arts curriculums. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
CHIEFS FOR CHANGE: The group of "anti-establishment" state schools chiefs remains firm on common-core accountability even as individual members chart their own course through implementation of the standards. (Education Week)
Most teacher colleges appear to spend at least some instructional time on classroom-management techniques, but it's often incomplete, not based on research, or divorced from the student-teaching component of preparation. That's the gist of a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, which used a sample of the syllabi and other materials collected for last summer's teacher-preparation review for the analysis. (Education Week)
During the 2011-2012 school year, three students from one public high school in west suburban Naperville died from drugs. Kelly McCutcheon was a senior at Neuqua Valley High School at the time, and she started asking her classmates questions about their drug use. The project turned into a documentary that stunned the well-to-do, family-focused community. (WBEZ)
IN THE NATION
GEEKED OUT: Millions of students from kindergarten through 12th grade are learning computer code this week as part of “Hour of Code,” a nationwide campaign embraced by President Obama and featuring free tutorials by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft titan Bill Gates that are designed to get U.S. students interested in computer science. (The Washington Post)
TEACHER REVIEWS FROZEN: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's bid to link teacher job reviews to the growth of student achievement has been sidelined until after he leaves office. The provision, which Jindal pushed through the legislature in 2010, has been set aside until at least the 2015-16 school year, in part because of a state board decision to soften the impact for students and teachers when Louisiana adopts the Common Core. (Baton Rouge Advocate)
VERIFICATION SCRAMBLE: Major California school districts fear they will be shortchanged millions of dollars in funding for their low-income students under new state rules requiring them to verify family incomes every year. Officials in Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno and elsewhere are scrambling to collect verification forms but said that hundreds of families have not yet turned them in — potentially jeopardizing funding that school districts are counting on this year. At stake, for instance, is $200 million in L.A. Unified and $6 million in San Diego. (Los Angeles Times)
Computer science is to be elevated from elective to core curriculum in all public high schools and be offered at elementary schools — the latter unprecedented elsewhere — CPS announced Monday. In the next three years, every high school will offer a foundational computer science course, and within five years, CPS plans to be the first urban district offering kindergarten through eighth-grade computer courses, officials said. (Sun-Times)
PARTNERS AND DONORS: The district has partnered with Code.org, a Seattle-based nonprofit promoting computer science education that will provide free computer science curriculum and professional development for teachers. Code.org counts Microsoft's Bill Gates, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter creator Jack Dorsey and PayPal co-founder Max Levchin among its founding donors and offers coding tutorials online while already partnering with school districts in New York City, Boston, Florida and Washington, said Pat Yongpradit, director of education at Code.org. (Tribune)
ELECTED BOARD VOTE BLOCKED: For the second time in two years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s allies have used their political muscle to keep off the ballot a referendum asking Chicago voters whether they favor a switch to an elected school board. Instead, the City Council’s Finance Committee decided Monday to ask March 18 primary voters whether:
--They favor a cab fare hike
--The Illinois General Assembly should ban high-capacity magazines.
--Gun owners should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in restaurants.
Because only three referenda can be placed on the ballot, that guarantees there’s no room for the elected school board question. (Sun-Times)
PENSION PUSHBACK: Ralph Martire of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, and Amanda Kass, a pension specialist, write that the pension bill that Gov. Pat Quinn just signed "ultimately will make the state's poor fiscal condition even worse," and the "legislation is most likely unconstitutional." (Crain's)
THE POWER OF PARENTS: Logan Square Neighborhood Association, a community group in northwest Chicago, has turned hundreds of hesitant parents into capable classroom helpers, role models and leaders by tapping into strengths many don’t realize they have. (Seattle Times)
IN THE NATION
'DAY OF ACTION': Thousands of teachers and students ralled in cities across the nation Monday for the National Day of Action, a movement organized by the American Federation of Teachers union that seeks to reclaim their vision of the nation's public education system. Participants signed onto The Principles That Unite Us, a set of beliefs that acknowledges the need for equitable and progressive public education and is viewed as a requirement for a healthy democracy. (PBS Newshour)
SUPPORT FOR EARLY LEARNING: More than 500 state lawmakers from 49 states have signed a letter urging Congressional budget writers to increase federal spending on early childhood education. A bill, the Strong Start for America's Children Act, would create federal-state partnerships to provide prekindergarten to low- and moderate-income children. Meanwhile, a new ECS report shows that states have forged ahead with early learning policies. (Stateline.org)
Under a new rating system that takes student test scores into account for the first time, one in five elementary principals and about one in four high school principals earned scores of “developing”—the second-lowest level of the rating system.
Yet fewer than 1 percent of principals received the lowest rating of “unsatisfactory.” At the opposite end of the spectrum, just 18 percent of elementary principals and fewer than 7 percent of high school principals were rated “excellent.”
Most principals were rated somewhere in the middle, with 60 percent of elementary principals and 66 percent of high school principals earning “proficient” ratings.
This is the first year that principal ratings include student achievement as a factor, a change mandated by state law. Achievement growth among students from “priority groups”— English learners, special education students, Latinos and African Americans—is a separate factor.
CPS says that the goal of the rating system is to give principals better feedback and help them improve. But it’s still not clear what consequences principals with low ratings may face: CPS is still revising its principal disciplinary process to line up with the new evaluations.
Broadly, the evaluations are based half on network chiefs’ observations of principal practice, and half on student growth, includes “on track” data.
Five percent of high school principals’ ratings are based on the “freshman on-track” measurement, which is the percentage of students who earned at least 5 credits and failed no more than one core course.
Also, 10 percent of elementary principals’ ratings are based on a brand-new on-track metric for 3rd through 8th grade students. Students are considered on track if they have a “C” or higher in math and reading, an attendance rate of at least 92 percent, and fewer than 3 misconducts.
For most elementary schools, the ratings include the following factors under student growth:
● 10% NWEA reading scores
● 10% NWEA math scores
● 15% “priority group” growth
● 5% 8th grade EXPLORE scores
For most high schools, the student growth component includes the following:
● 20% EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT test growth
● 15% “priority group” growth
● 10% graduation, dropout and attendance rates
Feedback for growth
Judith Sauri, the principal of Edwards Elementary, says that she sees the new principal evaluations as a step forward. “Now I know how I can better myself,” she says.
For the observation part of the rating, Sauri explains, principals get to pick just two competencies to have the evaluation focus on.
“My boss visited me on my literacy night,” Sauri says. “He was taking pictures, he was videotaping, and then he did a thorough evaluation of how are my skills with parents and with the community.”
The deputy chief of schools also observed a local school council meeting, and Sauri says that although she picked her strongest areas to be observed on, she still ended up with useful suggestions.
Areas for improvement were “how to create systems,” Sauri notes. “I want to make (programs) more intentional.” For instance, in addressing students’ social emotional development, she wants to create a clear protocol to follow when children are bullied at school and similar systems to address academic problems and truancy.
However, Sauri says, the inclusion of student growth lowered many principals’ evaluations.
Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, says the principal evaluations were marred by logistical problems.
“Everything rolled out extremely late. They didn’t get the information about the evaluation until February of 2013,” Berry says.
Also, Berry says, many of the principals did not receive their schools’ NWEA test score growth targets until long after CPS was supposed to have sent them out.
She is demanding that CPS count principals’ first ratings as a “practice” year, just as it did with tenured teachers.
Nine community activists who tried to save La Casita at Whittier Elementary School from the wrecking ball in August were found not guilty Friday on misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass to state-supported land. La Casita, a fieldhouse located next to the school in Pilsen, served as a volunteer-run community center owned by the Chicago Public Schools, which gave no notice to parents before having it demolished in August. (Progress Illinois)
A RISE AND FALL: Juan Rangel’s resignation last week from his $250,000-a-year job as head of the scandal-scarred United Neighborhood Organization that operates a network of 16 charter schools capped a classic Chicago tale of clout won and lost. As a boy, Rangel, the son of undocumented immigrants, lived in an attic apartment in Little Village. He went on to become an ally of, and then as a liability to, some of the state’s most powerful politicians. (Tribune)
CURRENT EVENTS IN WORLD HISTORY: A Whitney Young Magnet High School AP World teacher threw out her lessons plans for class on Friday and devoted her class discussions to Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy. (WBEZ)
TRUANCY TASK FORCE: Chicago school authorities are working on new strategies to address the city's crushing pattern of elementary grade absenteeism and truancy. Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is hoping to build on initiatives that have shown success in Baltimore, New York City and elsewhere, top aide Aarti Dhupelia said at the first meeting of the state's new elementary truancy task force Friday. (Tribune)
CPS DEBT SPENDING: The Tribune found that in 2011 Chicago Public Schools has spent more than a quarter of unrestricted state aid intended for education payments on debt obligations. Yet CPS still spent bond money as enrollment in the system decreased, as predicted by experts. (Chicagoist)
SCHOOL GARDEN PLANTED: Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined students at Helen C. Peirce Elementary School Friday to install Chicago Public Schools' 100th "Learning Garden." In 2012, the mayor pledged his commitment to working with a nonprofit organization, the Kitchen Community, to put 100 gardens in public schools across Chicago, a $1 million effort funded by funding left over from the NATO summit and Chicago philanthropists. (DNAInfo)
STUDENT DATA POSTED ONLINE: Roughly 2,000 Chicago Public Schools students who participated in a free vision examination program may have had personal information compromised when the data was inadvertently posted to the city website, where it remained for a few months. Letters are being sent to the parents and guardians of affected students. The student data was uploaded to the Chicago website sometime between June 18 and July 31. A city resident alerted officials on Oct. 7 that the personal information was available online. An investigation revealed that only 14 people viewed the information. (SC Magazine)
IN THE NATION
NATIONWIDE PROTEST: From Baltimore to Philadelphia to New Orleans to Chicago, parents, students and teachers will protest Monday against mass school closings, the growing practice of turning over management of public schools to private companies and other measures that disproportionately hurt low-income students of color, in what organizers are calling a National Day of Action.
Juan Rangel, longtime leader of the politically powerful United Neighborhood Organization, has stepped aside from his $250,000-a-year post as UNO’s chief executive in the wake of a scandal that cost the group millions of dollars in state funding and led to a federal investigation of its bond dealings. Rangel’s departure “by mutual agreement” with the board of the not-for-profit group is effective immediately. (Sun-Times)
OUT-OF-SCHOOL YOUTH: New data on truancy, chronic truancy and high school dropouts in Chicago and Illinois was released at a high-level policy briefing, "Hope & Opportunity: Creating Futures for Out-of-School Youth," with state legislators and Chicago Public Schools to frame discussions regarding future plans and opportunities for out-of-school youth. The collection of data released at the Hope & Opportunity briefing highlights comparative trends between truancy and dropouts and shows dropout rates in Chicago and Illinois ostensibly declining by nearly half between 2006 and 2012, while truancy and chronic truancy appear to have doubled between 2006 and 2009 and then after falling, shot up almost threefold in 2012. (PR Newswire)
IN THE NATION
SCORING SOME CASH: The school board in Huntsville, Ala., has unanimously decided to pay students for achieving benchmark scores on the ACT college admissions test in an effort, members said, to get kids to take the test more seriously. The cash incentives will work this way: Benchmarks scores will be set, and for each part of the test that the students hit the benchmark, $50 will be paid. If the student gets an overall score of 22 or higher — out of a total 36 — an extra $100 will be awarded. (The Washington Post)
BROADENING THE BANDWIDTH: The push to bring high-speed Internet to more U.S. schools drew high-profile support Wednesday, as a nonprofit that promotes that mission announced that it has received grants from an Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's organization, Startup:Education, and from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, worth a total of $9 million. The recipient of those investments, EducationSuperHighway, will use the money to help train schools to use and manage broadband connections while cutting down on costs. (Education Week)
The CPS Inspector General is investigating the district’s $20 million principal professional development contract with the SUPES Academy, Catalyst Chicago has learned.
The contract is by far the largest no-bid contract that CPS has entered into in at least five years. And the contract has raised suspicion because CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett had a previous relationship with SUPES. Catalyst detailed those ties in this story, not long after the contract was quietly approved by the School Board.
CPS officials and board members said this summer that they did not ask for bids and gave the contract to SUPES Academy because of its ability to tap a bevy of school administrators to teach workshops and serve as coaches. The pricey initiative is called the Chicago Executive Leadership Academy or CELA.
However, a Catalyst analysis of the list of superintendents and other school administrators who work as coaches and lead workshops shows a web of ties between the educators, their school districts and SUPES or its associated companies.
Catalyst found that at least five of the coaches or workshop leaders, called ‘master teachers,’ work for school districts that have awarded contracts to one or more of these companies. Yet the full picture is unclear, since SUPES refused to provide professional biographies and fully identify all of its coaches and master teachers. (Catalyst identified several through Internet research.)
Because the coaches and master teachers are paid by SUPES, which is a private company and not subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, their compensation is not public.
Sources say that coaches are paid a flat fee of several thousand dollars for each principal they are assigned to coach, plus a lump sum for each day of master teaching. According to a log of coach contacts obtained by Catalyst, 34 coaches are working with an average of 10 principals each.
One of these coaches is Ed Heatley, who resigned from a suburban Atlanta school district and is now Commissioner of Education for the Bermuda Ministry of Education. During his tenure in Georgia’s Clayton County School District, Heatley was criticized for his harsh leadership style, his handling of budget cuts and the appearance of impropriety with a district employee.
Heatley coaches 29 CPS principals and all of his contact with them has been via e-mail, according to the coaches’ log.
Revolving door, lack of transparency
Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University, says that as an increasing number of for-profit businesses get involved in public education, more needs to be known about the relationships between the businesses and school district administrators. Much of his work has focused on educational management organizations that run charter schools and he has found several that employ former officials after receiving lucrative contracts from their school districts.
“It is disgraceful,” Miron says.
He notes that congressmen cannot be a consultant or work for a company that has a government contract for years after leaving their post. The ban keeps company officials from promising lucrative future payment to lawmakers as they negotiate government contracts.
Miron also notes that private companies lack transparency, so school board members might have no idea about the nature or extent of relationships with administrators.
In an emailed response to questions from Catalyst, SUPES Academy President Thomas Vranas wrote that the company adheres to each district’s guidelines regarding hiring and consulting, as well as the necessary disclosures in each district’s purchasing, procurement and legal processes. Vranas declined to be interviewed via telephone.
He also stated that the company’s selling point is access to “talented leaders” and therefore it should be no surprise that the coaches and master teachers are current superintendents and deputy superintendents.
“We take exceptional pride in knowing that we provide our participants with some of the most talented leaders in the country,” he wrote. “This access to current educational leaders, who intimately know the issues of the day, ensures a pragmatic and practical approach to professional development, instead of a theoretical basis for how to lead.”
Byrd-Bennett agrees, saying having coaches who are superintendents from districts that simultaneously have contracts with SUPES or its associated businesses is “totally not inappropriate.”
“They are renowned superintendents,” she says.
CPS, however, acknowledges a steady chorus of complaints from principals critical of the quality of training.
Web of ties
The for-profit SUPES Academy has two branches, one that trains superintendents and another that trains principals and other administrators. Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, the men who run the Wilmette-based SUPES, have two other companies—a school administrator search firm called PROACT Search and one that does turnarounds of school districts called Synesi Associates.
Vranas says that the “three firms all work to improve the quality of public education by providing the best professionals and resources to leaders, schools and districts.”
But with three inter-related businesses, school leaders can easily become entangled. An example is S. Dallas Dance, the superintendent of Baltimore County, Md. Public Schools, which serves 108,000 students. Dance is now serving and getting paid as both a master teacher and a coach for 11 CPS principals.
In 2011, Dance participated in the SUPES Academy superintendent training program. In July of 2012, he was hired for his current position. Five months later, in December of 2012, the Baltimore County Public Schools board approved an $895,000 contract to have SUPES work with a cohort of principals over three years, according to the district’s website. District officials say the contract was not bid out because they were “piggy-backing” on a contract that SUPES had with St. Louis Public Schools. The St. Louis superintendent is also a SUPES master teacher.
Mychael Dickerson, spokesman for Baltimore County schools, says Dance has yet to be paid for any of his work with SUPES, but that, except for travel expenses to Chicago, Dance plans to turn his payment over to the non-profit Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools.
Dickerson would not specify how much Dallas expects to be paid.
Baltimore County School Board President Lawrence Schmidt says Dance’s contract allows him to do consultant work as long as it doesn’t interfere with his duties as superintendent. Also, because the school district entered into the contract with SUPES before Dance began working for the firm, Schmidt does not think it is a conflict of interest.
“It is fairly common for superintendents to lecture or serve as a mentor and I don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing or inappropriate,” Schmidt says.
However, Schmidt did not know of Dance’s relationship with SUPES until being told by Catalyst and seemed unclear that the pay is significant. At times during an interview, Schmidt called Dance’s work a volunteer position or one that pays a “small honorarium plus expenses.”
When the School Board hastily approved a $20 million contract for SUPES Academy in June, they said it needed to be done quickly to get the principal professional development program up and running. Within a month, principals were called to workshops.
But almost from the start, principals grumbled that the training was too elementary and a waste of their time. Heeding the criticism, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett now says principals can opt out if they don’t want to attend, has formed a committee to offer suggestions on how to make the training better and hired one of her former colleagues from Cleveland to oversee the training.
While some praise Byrd-Bennett for being willing and open to make changes, others are critical of the fact that the expensive program—easily the biggest no-bid contract CPS has approved in at least five years—needs so much fixing and that administrators are having to put so much time into overseeing it.
According to the contract, SUPES Academy does not have to show that its training leads to measurable school improvement. The contract states only that SUPES is responsible for “leading through change, developing effective practices, enhancing critical thinking and response and helping principals create work plans.”
SUPES Academy President Thomas Vranas declined to be interviewed via telephone. In an e-mail response to questions, he wrote that the company is “very pleased with how CELA is going” and maintains that qualitative and quantitative response has been “very positive.”
CELA, for the Chicago Executive Leadership Academy, is the name for the SUPES professional development initiative.
But CPS officials admit they are hearing a steady chorus of complaints. Board member Carlos Azcoitia says that he has heard both negative and positive reviews, but that “it is what one would expect with staff development.”
Azcoitia notes that the three-year SUPES contract will be re-evaluated each year and that he will be looking to see that they have adjusted based on criticisms.
Byrd-Bennett says that she thinks the workshops and one-on-one coaching are “going well.” During school visits, she says some principals thank her for investing in them.
Other principals, she concedes, provide “feedback” for how it could be more useful. Based on that input, as well as input from the evaluations, Byrd-Bennett says she is meeting with SUPES officials in mid-December to discuss how the program can be “tweaked.”
Byrd-Bennett turned former colleague Rosemary Herpel, whom she worked with in Ohio and Detroit, to improve the initiative. While Byrd-Bennett was chief academic and accountability officer for Detroit Public Schools, Herpel worked as a consultant making $11,000 a month.
In CPS, Herpel will earn $140,000 as the executive director of executive leadership, and will also managing the Chicago Leadership Collaborative, the district’s principal preparation initiative.
CPS also has a second job posted related to SUPES, for a Senior Leadership Development Program Manager, who will “drive the establishment and ongoing refinement of all relevant, standardized curriculums for the Chicago Executive Leadership Academy.” According to the October 1 CPS employee roster, the position will pay $94,000.
Questions of participation
Principals have told Catalyst Chicago that the workshop sessions are not well-attended and that attendance has declined over time. CPS did not respond to Catalyst’s Freedom of Information Act request requesting attendance data for each session, one of the “deliverables” required in the SUPES contract.
The CPS Office of Communications said the district only has data on “average attendance,” which ranges from 68 percent to 80 percent, according to CPS.
Clarice Berry, head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, says principals have been calling her office to see if it is true that they can get out of the training. One principal told Catalyst that she feared opting out.
“Got to be a gutsy principal to put it in writing and say, ‘No, I won’t go anymore,’ ” she says. “Some network chiefs will take it out on you if you don't go.”
And even though Byrd-Bennett says she has no problem with principals turning the training down, she emphasizes in a Nov. 22 letter that she thinks it is valuable.
“I strongly believe this opportunity not only exposes our leaders to experts in the field, but also provides each principal with a coach who has experience and success in leading urban schools.” she writes. “However, please know, should you chose not to take advantage of this opportunity you will still be held to the same high standards for measured success in school achievement, community relations and culture building with teachers and other staff at the school as the principals who do participate in the sessions.”
Questions of quality
Though often critical of the district, Berry praised Byrd-Bennett for being willing to let principals out of the training, as well as for being willing to alter it based on their input.
“She was very open,” says Berry. “I never before had a situation in which I complained to central office and they totally listened to us. I was bowled over.”
Berry gave voice to some of the complaints in her organization’s October newsletter, writing that principals “in large numbers, are expressing dissatisfaction with the caliber of the `SUPES’ Academy.” Some principals said the workshop leaders were not knowledgeable about how to lead a large urban school district. One did not even know that Chicago schools have local school councils, according to a principal who talked to Catalyst.
Principals also said they wanted training to be differentiated based on their experience and the type of school they manage, according to the newsletter. (SUPES divides principals into separate groups, including groups for new principals, principals with higher performance ratings and principals of schools where academic performance is stagnant or declining.)
CPS responded to a FOIA request for evaluations with a database of “all feedback” as well as a summary report. Though several of the workshops got high overall scores, in many cases, few participants filled out evaluations.
The sessions for the new principals got some of the highest marks, but principals with higher performance ratings scored some of the sessions the harshest. Though 220 principals are supposed to be participating, after many workshops fewer than 10 evaluations were turned in—some with two or less.
One question asks what the principal found to be least useful about the session; one attendee wrote “All of CELA.”
Coaching by email
In addition to the workshops, each principal is supposed to receive one-on-one coaching. The coaches receive several thousand dollars for each principal they coach, yet according to coaching logs obtained by Catalyst, two-thirds of the contacts were only by email.
One principal told Catalyst that some email conversations are only brief check-ins. Another principal reported that her coach heads a charter school in a small town and his experiences are foreign to her, since she leads an elementary school in a poor, rough neighborhood.
Some of the coaches are leaders of relatively big school districts. Catalyst could not find background information on others, suggesting that they are not all that prominent.
Still, some principals said their coaching has been valuable. One is Hanson Park Elementary School Principal David Belanger, whose coach, Margaret Longo, is a retired superintendent from Forest Ridge Elementary School District 142.
Longo is not from Chicago, so Belanger says she can’t help him navigate the system. Still, he likes that she brings an outsider’s perspective to the work.
“When you are frustrated about the changes in CPS or you have so many things coming toward you because of new initiatives and you are trying to prioritize, it is nice to have someone sit and visit with you,” Belanger says. “Whatever weaknesses you might have, you can address without fear of having an evaluation lowered.”
Scores in math, reading and science posted by 15-year-olds in the United States were flat while their counterparts elsewhere — particularly in Shanghai, Singapore and other Asian provinces or countries — soared, according to the results of a well-regarded international exam released this week. (Washington Post)
Nineteen countries and education systems scored higher than the United States in reading on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, up from nine systems when the test was last administered in 2009. Germany and Poland, for instance, have seen steady gains on the reading assessment over time, and are now ahead of the United States.
STIPENDS TO BE RESTORED: Filmmaker George Lucas and his wife Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments LLC, have donated $25 million to nonprofit After School Matters. The donation will be given in $5 million increments over five years and will fund a student stipend that was cut out during the recession a few years ago. After School Matters has close to a $25 million annual budget, up from $17 million a year ago, and serves 22,000 Chicago Public Schools students after school and during the summer across the city. The organization was founded in 1991 by the late Maggie Daley, wife of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. (Crain's)
The city’s After School Matters program will get a big shot in the arm with a $25 million donation from ‘Star Wars’ creator George Lucas, allowing the program to restore the stipends paid to students and helping to make up for a shortfall in fundraising in recent years. (Catalyst)
IN THE NATION
CALLS FROM THE SCENE: Newtown school shooting 911 calls reveal a mixture of calm and anguish from the callers, and gunshots from the assailant are heard in the background, audio recordings released today reveal. Officials in Newtown, Connecticut, released recordings of 911 emergency phone calls from the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School Wednesday afternoon. (Tribune)
FROM ADVOCATE TO CRITIC: Diane Ravitch, an education historian, has won the 2014 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Education for her 2010 book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.” The book, which appeared on the New York Times’ nonfiction bestseller list, chronicles Ravitch’s decades-long journey from reform advocate to critic and encourages schools to return to a curriculum that values art, literature, creativity and problem-solving. (Courier-Journal)
The city’s After School Matters program will get a big shot in the arm with a $25 million donation from ‘Star Wars’ creator George Lucas, allowing the program to restore the stipends paid to students and helping to make up for a shortfall in fundraising in recent years.
“It’s wrong that teens who love this program are unable to come because of basic economics,” said Mellody Hobson, board chair for the George Lucas Family Foundation and wife of Lucas. Hobson and Lucas both attended the Wednesday press conference at Gallery 37 with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, where the gift was announced.
The $25 million, to be paid over the next five years, will help shore up a program that has suffered a significant decline in fundraising in recent years.
Founded by the late Maggie Daley 20 years ago, After School Matters offers apprenticeships to youth in a variety of fields, from sports to the arts to technology. Teens are given stipends to help cover costs or have extra pocket money, giving them extra incentive to participate as well as teaching them practical skills such as how to budget money.
The donation will be augmented by $12 million from the City of Chicago. After School Matters will not only restore stipends but also serve 4,400 more students.
In recent years, the number of teens who were able to participate in the program dropped when funding fell, forcing cuts in stipends of up to 75 percent. A student could have gone from making $400 a month to just $100, making it difficult to afford transportation and other costs associated with participating such as transportation.
“George and I are really excited to make this gift to the teens of Chicago,” said Hobson. “You all know that I’m in the investment business, and investing in young people is the best investment of all. There is no better use of money.”
A portion of the donation is also set to go towards a Challenge Grant to help create an endowment to replenish the stipend program in the future, so the gift won’t end up being just a “hit and run” investment, said Hobson.
This fall, After School Matters offered more than 6,000 program opportunities at approximately 150 locations, operating in Chicago Park District buildings, schools, and libraries across the city.
Mecca Johnson, a former After School Matters student and current senior at Loyola University, said the skills she gained in the program have been “put to work every day in college,” and that her adult mentor was particularly helpful with things such as cover letters and resume writing.
“For our children to live up to their full potential, we adults have to live up to our full responsibility,” Emanuel said. “During those crucial hours of 3 to 6 [in the afternoon], they have to have a safe space and adults that are there for them. Then, they have the ability, and I say this as a former dancer, to discover something about themselves.”
Out of School Time
The city launched a major effort to improve after school programming back in 2006, called the Out of School Time Project and funded by a three-year, $8 million grant from The Wallace Foundation.
The project narrowed its focus to solve a major problem: the lack of comprehensive data collection on after school programs. By 2009, the project had built Cityspan, an online database for submitting information, such as applications and enrollment, from after-school program providers.
“It’s a struggle to quantify what’s out there, what’s available to kids, what they still need and why,” says Kelley Talbot, director of youth development for ACT Now, (After School for Children and Teens Now), a coalition of advocates working to increase access for kids all over the state to high-quality afterschool programs. “Cityspan was an effort to answer those questions.”
But with a focus on data collection, the project left other areas unfinished. The After School Chicago website , meant to help parents and students find programs in their neighborhood that are suited to their interests, does little more than list nearby sites for programs, with a pop-up window that states “Call for additional information.” A citywide youth employment initiative, a multi-agency database that was supposed to link youth with employment opportunities, never got off the ground.
Still, top officials say the effort was worthwhile. The data collection allowed them to “escalate” their work in two key areas, said Mary Ellen Caron, CEO of After School Matters, in an emailed statement: Quality assessment and data-driven decision-making.
Students were surveyed on a variety of areas, including their experience in the program, support from and interaction with instructors, and skills they learned. Instructors were also surveyed on issues such as professional development and resource use.
The information was collected in Cityspan for assessment and used to “drive evaluation efforts,” according to Caron.
But data collection, while it can make for better decisions, can’t make up for a lack of consistent funding.
“Every year it gets harder and harder to secure the funds, and it’s been decreasing over the years,” says Lissette Moreno-Kuri, director of community learning centers at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.
Patrick Brosnan, executive director of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said that while private philanthropy has recognized and supported after school programming, public investment has lagged behind.
However, Chicago was recently chosen as one of 13 finalists in the US 2020 City Competition, a program that supports city efforts to build STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics--mentoring capacity at the local level. Up to 5 cities will share over $1 million to increase mentoring for girls, low-income children and students of color.
Overall, Talbot says one of the biggest misconceptions is that there are a lot of options out there for kids, when in reality the “demand outweighs the supply.”
“There is this increased recognition of the results that after school programs provide,” she says. “But that demand is not being fully met and we need to push for these resources. We need to make sure to answer these demands and get kids access to [programs].”
The Northwestern Academy, in partnership with the city of Chicago, is the latest program designed to encourage qualified Chicago high school graduates to attend selective colleges and universities, particularly students who may not realize they have the academic qualifications for a top school. The University of Chicago, in Hyde Park, also has increased its CPS-specific programs in recent years. (Tribune)
The Northwestern Academy will target up to 200 CPS freshmen from low-income households who don't attend one of the city's selective enrollment high schools. The goal is to better prepare them for Northwestern or another top college or university by providing year-round tutoring, college counseling, test preparation, family workshops and other services during high school. The vast majority of the Northwestern students from CPS graduated from one of the city's selective schools, university officials said.
SHOOTING ALONG SAFE PASSAGE: A teenage boy was hurt in a shooting along a Chicago Public Schools Safe Passage Route in the Woodlawn neighborhood Monday afternoon. The boy, 16, was shot in the arm about 2:30 p.m. in the 6200 block of South Cottage Grove Avenue, police said. That block is a Safe Passage Route leading to nearby John Fiske Elementary School, according to the CPS website. Fiske is a receiving school for students from Sexton Elementary School, which was closed earlier this year. (NBC Chicago)
DAY OF ACTION: On December 9, parents, students and educators in cities and towns across the country will mobilize in public action as part of the National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education: Our Schools, Our Solutions. In Chicago, parents, teachers and youth will hold a press conference at City Hall and a march to the headquarters of corporate agents such as Loop Capital to demand equitable funding and public voice in education. At the press conference, the groups will deliver holiday cards to City Hall and sing custom Christmas carols that will target the racist destabilization of schools in communities of color, and address school closures, corporate profiteers, charter expansion and other key issues in the district. You can see here which groups are planning in other cities across the country.
IN THE NATION
EDUCATION IN INDIAN COUNTRY: To explore why Native American children trail every other racial and ethnic group of students, Education Week sent a reporter, photographer, and videographer to American Indian reservations in South Dakota and California. The resulting package of stories and multimedia details the challenges and opportunities facing this population of students.
Chicago teachers weren’t included in the state's new pension reform bill, but there is still a chance state legislators will impose similar benefits cuts on them in the coming weeks or months, says Chicago Teachers Pension Fund executive director Kevin Huber.
That’s because historically, the law governing the state Teachers Retirement System and the law governing the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund have been very similar. For example, a 2010 pension overhaul affected both pension systems in the same way.
However, such changes would require lawmakers to tackle the pension crisis anew right after a difficult and controversial vote, which public employee unions fought tooth and nail.
“The mayor is looking at keeping some kind of equitable relationship between the benefits for the teachers in the suburbs and the benefits for the teachers in the city,” Huber says. “If he has his choice, we would have been included in the bill.”
For now, the changes slated to affect teachers outside Chicago include:
* Cost-of-living adjustments would be based on a portion of teachers’ pensions equal to $1,000 per year of service, rather than the whole pension. For example, a currently retired teacher who worked for 28 years and is earning a $43,000 pension would see the annual cost of living adjustment reduced to 3 percent of $28,000, rather than 3 percent of $43,000.
* For teachers who have not yet retired, the retirement age would go up and between one and five cost-of-living adjustments would go away. Teachers who are under age 43 will see the greatest cuts to their adjustments, and those under age 46 would see their retirement age increase between four months and five years.
* The salary used to calculate pensions would be capped at $110,000, which would primarily affect principals, assistant principals, and teachers with advanced degrees.
* New hires would not be able to count vacation pay or sick pay toward their pension.
In exchange for the benefits cuts, lawmakers plan to reduce employees’ required contributions from 9 percent to 8 percent of their income, and strengthen requirements for future funding so that pensions don’t run out of money again.
Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, says the pension deal “takes an important step in the right direction to begin stabilizing the state’s pension crisis” but is “only one step in a 30-year journey the state has to take.”
Msall points out that the law is expected to face a court challenge, and will have to be found constitutional in order to take effect. Also, the state faces billions of dollars in unpaid bills, as well as the coming expiration of an income tax increase.
Without either more revenue or a separate bill to tackle Chicago pensions, Chicago Public Schools will face a billion-dollar deficit next year. However, it’s not clear how much money a Chicago pension reform bill similar to what the state passed today would save the district.
“Chicago Public Schools are in severe financial condition. They have been downgraded and continue to be downgraded by the ratings agencies because they have no comprehensive plan for dealing with their pension problem,” Msall says.
He says the Civic Federation has called on CPS to create a plan for stabilizing the district’s finances.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s press office did not respond to an inquiry about his lobbying efforts related to the pension bill.
Here’s a roundup of principal contracts announced in November: Nathan Manaen, Ravenswood, formerly an instructional support leader in the Pilsen-Little Village Network; James McNealey, Nicholson, former principal at Delano; Kelly Mest, Northside College Prep, previously an assistant principal at Lindblom High, Nicole Monroe, Tanner, previously principal at Sexton; and Rituparna Raichoudhuri, Wells High School, formerly an interim principal at Wells High.
Edgar Ramirez has been named executive director of Chicago Commons, a neighborhood-focused non-profit dedicated to improving the well-being of children, adults, seniors and families. Ramirez was an associate executive director at Chicago Commons. Before that, he was a community organizer in the Little Village neighborhood and an advocacy and leadership director at Erie Neighborhood House.
Jeanne Walker, a visual arts teacher at Orr Academy, is this year’s winner of the OPPY Award for Education, given out by the Oppenheimer Family Foundation. Walker encouraged her classes to build relationships with community partners such as Mikva Challenge, American Friends Service Committee and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. She also studied micro-credit and social business in Bangladesh and introduced new curricula to encourage students to use creative problem-solving to collaborate and support each other.
Bargaining talks that have lasted a year-and-a-half between the University of Illinois at Chicago and its unionized faculty reached a breaking point, as faculty started voting Monday to authorize a strike. (Sun-Times)
IN THE NATION
As Florida prepares to release another batch of evaluation results under the state's new job review process, officials are still struggling to improve a system that judges as many as two-thirds of teachers on the test scores of students they've never met or on subjects they don't teach. A solution to the problem lies in the development of hundreds of new exams. But skeptics say creating and issuing the assessments could cost billions. (Miami Herald)
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced $10 million in funding support for the "Start Smart" pre-K programs for lower- to middle-income families and also restored $7 million in funding for the Missouri Preschool Project and Early Head Start. The idea, "Now for Later," contends that investments in preschool programs lead to economic development down the line. The initiatives could help close gaps in access, some observers said. (Columbia Missourian)
A new report calls for a revitalization of civic education to better prepare young people to become active and engaged citizens and ensure a vibrant democratic society. It outlines steps to improve civics learning in schools and suggests that civic education deserves greater attention in state assessment and accountability systems. The authors caution, however, that more sophisticated assessments will be required. (Education Week)
Equal funding and more vocal grassroots advocacy was the focus of Monday's kick-off of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools annual conference. Catalyst Chicago's Twitter coverage is below.
Two charter schools vying for approval to build new campuses on the city's Northwest Side went before the community last week — a move some of those present likened to "a dog and pony show." The Noble Network and Intrinsic Schools are seeking approval for the construction of two new charter campuses in and around Belmont Cragin.
But several members of the local Neighborhood Advisory Council, who were given the opportunity to question school leaders during a meeting Monday, said the schools' proposals will likely pass whether the community approves them or not. (DNA Info)
SCHOOL RELOCATIONS: Chicago Public Schools announced last week that four schools currently co-located — Frazier Prep with Frazier IB and Urban Prep with Drake — will move one of the schools to another campus. Expanding Frazier IB and relocating Urban Prep-Bronzeville were among recommendations included in the recent Education Facilities Master Plan. Feedback from parents and CPS will be solicited before proposals are finalized or approved. (Press release) Here's Catalyst's story from last week.
THE VALLAS EFFECT: Former CPS chief Paul Vallas, who is now running for the office of Illinois lieutenant governor, implemented a plan that resulted in black teachers coming under relentless attack because their schools were "failing," while black women and men in other jobs in the school system were eliminated, mainly through the privatization of their jobs and the elimination of the job categories in which they had worked, George Schmidt of Substance News writes.
IN THE NATION
SUSTAINABILITY IN THE LUNCHROOM: Compostable plates are but the first initiative on the environmental checklist of the Urban School Food Alliance, a pioneering attempt by six big-city school systems to create new markets for sustainable food and lunchroom supplies. The alliance members — the public school systems in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Orlando, Fla. — are betting that by combining their purchasing power, they can persuade suppliers to create and sell healthier and more environment-friendly products at prices no system could negotiate alone. (The New York Times)
CPS is one of 31 finalists for the federal government's Race to the Top competition that provides funding aimed at improving student learning, closing the achievement gap and improving the skills of teachers at school systems throughout the country. Last year, CPS was not a finalist. This year, district officials are hoping to get as much as $30 million for programs at noncharter schools. (Tribune)
NEW CHOW: CPS food chief says Aramark, the catering company that took over three months ago, has improved food and sales since taking over the $100 million-plus contract at CPS. (WBEZ)
IN THE NATION
A MORE DIVERSE GROUP OF ACHIEVERS: An increasing number of school districts, including Boston, Cincinnati and Washington, have recently begun initiatives to expand Advanced Placement course offerings and enroll more black and Hispanic students, children from low-income families and those who aspire to be the first in their generation to go to college. In the spring, lawmakers in Washington State passed legislation encouraging all districts to enroll in advanced courses any student who meets a minimum threshold on state standardized tests or the Preliminary SAT exam. (The New York Times)
CPS is suggesting relocating two schools that currently share buildings to other campuses. That would give the two other schools that had previously shared their buildings room to expand, CPS said. Chicago Public Schools is going easy on the school overhauls it’s proposing. Last time CPS announced its proposals, dozens of schools were on the chopping block. (Sun-Times)
DATA DECISION: Chicago Public Schools has decided against using inBloom, a controversial data storehouse run by a nonprofit, and will work directly with a state-run data program. CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the district will use on online platform called the Illinois Shared Learning Environment and that CPS has the resources to implement the data-sharing effort on its own and doesn’t need a third party. (Sun-Times)
ICY SURROUNDINGS: The cold weather appears to be to blame for pipes bursting early Tuesday at a mobile classroom on Chicago's West Side. Water was seen gushing from the pipes in the 5200-block of West Harrison near Leland Elementary and Michelle Clark High School. Chicago Public Schools officials said the damage inside was minor. But the water spread all over the parking lot and leaked onto surrounding sidewalks and Austin-area streets, causing dangerously icy conditions. (ABC 7)
HEATED DISCUSSION: Tempers flared at a meeting to discuss Lincoln Elementary's newly announced annex last week, culminating with two men throwing punches and the principal escorting one of the men out. Chicago Public Schools officials, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) and Lincoln Principal Mark Armendariz attempted to explain the upcoming addition to the school to alleviate overcrowding, but were consistently interrupted by a group of about 30 people in the crowd. (DNA Info)
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS leaders treaded lightly as they announced school actions for this year, holding true to a promise made by CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett by declining to close schools.
According to state law, CPS must announce actions by Dec. 1.
The only two actions being planned are to move Urban Prep’s Bronzeville campus to the building currently being used by Chicago High School for the Arts at 521 E. 35th St., known as ChiArts, and to have Frazier Prep Charter School share the Herzl Elementary building at 3711 W. Douglas.
Urban Prep currently shares a building with Drake Elementary at 2710 S. Dearborn. Drake expanded this year because it received students from the closed Williams.
CPS leaders say they haven’t identified a “final,” permanent location for ChiArts High, though parents of the school's students received a letter saying that Lafayette, a shuttered school across town in East Humboldt Park, is likely to be the new location.
Moving ChiArts to Lafayette is controversial because parents point out that it is not a central location and will be difficult for South Side students to travel to. In addition, ChiArts is a contract school and some view its possible relocation in a closed school as a violation of Byrd-Bennett’s promise not to turn over shuttered schools to charters.
Since Chi Arts moved into its current location in 2011, CPS has spent more than $9 million renovating its space.
The other move will put Frazier Prep, which is a low-performing charter school in North Lawndale, in a building with a low-performing elementary. CPS says the move will allow Frazier International, which is currently sharing a building with Frazier Prep, to expand from 265 students to eventually 930 students. Frazier International is a high performing school.
What that would mean for Herzl is unclear. Herzl is a turnaround school run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership. But it is among the lowest-rated schools in the district and its enrollment dropped from 554 students in the 2012-2013 school year to 421 students this year.
The fact that CPS did not propose more co-locations is a bit surprising. Because of Byrd-Bennett’s promise not to hand over vacant school buildings to charters, new charters are searching for locations.
Even with this year's closings of 49 schools, about 100 schools are half-full, including 13 neighborhood high schools. CPS officials have laid out no plans for these high schools, except to say that co-locations with charter schools are an option.
Closing them is a dicey proposition. Not only is Byrd-Bennett’s moratorium in place, but moving high school students has in the past led to violence.
This story has been corrected. It orginally said that the Frazier magnet would be sharing a building with Herzl. It is actually Frazier charter school that will be moving in with Herzl, if the board approves these plans.