Thousands of teachers, parents, students and supporters marched against school closings Wednesday, and more than 100 were arrested when they sat down on LaSalle Street in front of City Hall.
Valerie Nelson, who has two children at Lafayette Elementary in Humboldt Park, said she came to the rally because she is concerned closing the school will make her 6-year-old daughter who has autism "regress two years."
"Our school potty-trained her and she has started to talk," Nelson said. She is concerned that whatever school her daughter ends up at will not offer the same inclusive program that Lafayette does.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis urged protesters to "show up at your real school" come fall, signaling that the uproar over closings could continue all summer.
In a statement, schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that "this is not easy for our communities. But as CEO of this district, I need to make decisions that put our children first. For too long, children at underutilized schools have been cheated of the resources they need to succeed."
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Karen Foley has been named CEO of The Hope Institute for Children and Families. Previously, Foley was the president of Chicago Scholars, a mentoring program that supports students from high school through college graduation. Chicago Scholars board member Steve Wohl, a mentor and a retired partner from the law firm Chapman and Cutler, will serve as interim president.
Cristina Pacione-Zayas is the new education director at the Latino Policy Forum. Previously, Pacione-Zayas was the culture of calm coordinator at Roberto Clemente Community Academy. Before that, she was the community schools director at Enlace Chicago.
The Chicago Math and Science Academy earned second place in the senior division at the 10th Annual Concept Schools Science and Engineering Fair in Cleveland, Ohio. In addition, Academy students Cesar Ayala and Safa Slote received gold medals for their environmental science projects; Teliane Bakala and Winifred Obanor received gold medals in physics. Amanda Hyde (zoology), Muhammed Aftab (physics), Milosz Tomaszewski (chemistry), and Ayesha Mirzakhail (botany) won best in their category. Michelle Lopez and Anthony Lazcano received silver medals. Over 500 students from the Midwest competed.
Nine Chicago Public School teachers have been named finalists for Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching, which this year are recognizing high school teachers: Scott Galson, Payton College Prep; Joanna Hoglund, Solorio Academy; Elizabeth Copper, Lindblom Math & Science Academy; Katherine Dube, TEAM Englewood Community Academy; Dennis Kass, Infinity Math, Science and Technology High; Sandra Shimon, Prosser Career Academy; Ronald Towns, Fenger Academy; John Lydon, Epic Academy and Ernesto Salvidar, Jones College Prep. There are 32 finalists in all.
The Chicago Teachers Union is planning a rally and potential acts of disobedience Wednesday to protest school closings and CPS plans to be ready, telling principals to report the names of any teachers and students involved in protests and to document the information if any media outlets show up, according to a memo sent last week and leaked by the CTU, WBEZ reports.
READY FOR RALLYERS: Preparing for a large rally against school closing to be led Wednesday by the Chicago Teachers Union, CPS issued a memo warning of the potential for civil disobedience with instructs on how to handle protests and civil disobedience actions. (FireDogLake.com)
SCHOOL GARDENS GROWING: Up to 50 of the 80 new gardens to be installed at Chicago Public Schools will go to schools designated to receive displaced children, the latest sweetener emerging from CPS’ decision to close 54 schools for good in June, according to the Sun-Times.
'SAFE PASSAGE' PATROLS: Chicago Public Schools officials said Tuesday they will spend $7.7 million to hire local community groups to patrol consolidated schools in their own neighborhoods, announcing an effort to hire more “Safe Passages” vendors. (Sun-Times)
IN THE NATION
VOUCHER SUPPORT: The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld the nation's broadest school voucher program, which gives poor and middle-class families public funds to help pay private school tuition. Opponents, including the state teachers' union, had sued to block the program on grounds that nearly all the voucher money has been directed to religious schools. (Reuters)
TEACHER SHORTAGE: Colleges of education across Oklahoma have graduated fewer and fewer teachers over the past few years and that has forced school districts to scramble to fill vacancies with qualified teachers. (News9.com)
Continuing its editorials on the results of a Joyce Foundation-Chicago Tribune poll, the newspaper writes about "the power of a teacher," saying that parents, too, need to be "full partners" in a child's education.
ANTI-CLOSING RALLY: The Chicago Teachers Union is planning a rally against the Board of Education’s decision to close 54 schools — and against plans to close any more, or convert them to charters. The anti-school closings march and rally is planned for 4 p.m. Wednesday at Daley Plaza, where demonstrators will gather before marching to City Hall and the Board of Education. (NBC Chicago)
RAISING VOICES: Students from Chicago Public Schools slated to close at the end of the school year and other opponents of school closings rallied in the Loop on Monday to voice their outrage over plans to close or consolidate 53 schools and 61 buildings. (Catalyst, CBS Local)
ARCHITECTURAL LOSS: WBEZ architecture critic Lee Bey takes a different look at the school closings debate: What will happen to the remarkable examples of the city's finest architecture that some of the schools represent.
IN THE NATION
COMING TO TERMS: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders said on Monday that they had reached an agreement to help New York City and its teachers’ union settle on a teacher evaluation system and save the city from losing hundreds of millions of dollars in future education financing. (The New York Times)
POLICE PRESENCE PUSHBACK: Hoping to head off a push to expand police presence in the nation’s 100,000 public schools, a national civil rights group plans to issue an alternative this week to beefing up school security. The plan focuses on counselors, campus safety teams, secure entrances and communication. It does not support adding more armed police. (The Washington Post)
TAKING CONTROL: The 13,700-student Camden school district in New Jersey will be put under the state's control, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Associated Press report. (Education Week)
RETIREMENT WAVE: Miami Valley school districts are expecting a wave of teacher retirements this year brought on by changes to the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio that became law in January. Thirty school districts reported a combined 250 teacher retirements by March 8, compared to 297 for all of last school year, according to data the newspaper collected from those districts. (Springfield News-Sun)
A student-organized march against school closings drew about 30 protesters to CPS' 125 S. Clark St. headquarters today.
The group marched to City Hall and delivered a letter for Mayor Rahm Emanuel as they chanted slogans like “Students united will never be defeated” and "Whose schools? Our schools."
Students involved said that closings will force them to cross gang lines, resulting in violence. They are also demanding an elected school board and reforms to tax-increment financing district (TIF) funds.
Allen Maris, a graduate of Little Village Lawndale High School, said she was protesting because her younger sisters are still in school and she fears that closings could spread to more schools in the future. (CPS has pledged a 5-year closing moratorium after this round, but the district’s pledge is not legally binding.)
“This can spread to more than just the schools they are closing now. It’s a snowball effect,” Maris said.
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll wrote in a statement that school consolidations will allow the district "to redirect those resources and move children safely to a higher-performing welcoming school" with better facilities.
In announcing school closings, Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett indicated students who are displaced would be sent to better-performing schools, but that is not the case, according to the Sun-Times.
One-third of relocating children are going to schools with CPS academic rankings similar to the schools they are leaving. And children from at least eight of those schools are landing at facilities with lower state standardized test scores.
CHARTER CHEERLEADERS: A survey commissioned by the Chicago Tribune and the Joyce Foundation finds widespread support—among parents of CPS students and other Chicagoans—for more charter schools in the city. However, Julie Woestehoff, of the group PURE, says the polling wasn't exactly balanced. Her look at the survey showed those who responded were 50 percent white (less than 9 percent of CPS students are white. Thirty percent made more than $75,000 a year. (87 percent of CPS students are from low-income families that qualify for federal free or reduced lunches.) Forty-three percent of those polled do not know a Chicago Public School teacher or teachers union member.)
RALLYING THE COMMUNITY: The Chicago Teachers Union plans to rally at the Daley Center Wednesday and has been preparing parents and community groups for weeks for civil disobedience acts like sit-ins. Opponents of the district's plan have hung "No School Closings" and "School Closings = One-Term Mayor" banners in the Loop.
RAHM RESPONDS: Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded to widespread criticism of his plan to close 54 Chicago Public Schools, saying he wasn't interested in doing what was politically easy and that the pain of the closings doesn't compare to the anguish of "trapping" kids in failing schools. (Star Tribune)
In the coming weeks, the field of candidates for May’s Chicago Teachers Union election will begin to take shape.
Nominating petitions are due today. Opposition candidate Tanya Saunders-Wolffe, a counselor at Jesse Owens Elementary on the far South Side, has already announced that she intends to challenge current CTU leader Karen Lewis as part of a new union faction, Coalition to Save Our Union.
The coalition includes members of the United Progressive Caucus (UPC) and ProActive Chicago Teachers (PACT), which were longtime foes of each other before Karen Lewis’ group, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), took power.
Members of the coalition charge that current CTU President Karen Lewis has failed to prevent school closings and damaged relationships with CPS by relying too much on protests. They also complain that the union has asked delegates to file grievances instead of union staff (a move they say could put delegates’ jobs at risk and lead to intimidation) and shifted its focus to organizing, meaning that teachers aren’t getting enough support in exchange for their dues.
“What we have had for years, which has been criticized (by CORE), is labor peace. We had a seat at the table to create policy. That bridge has been destroyed. They won’t talk to the union,” Saunders-Wolffe says. “We have to give (teachers) a voice from the table; we can’t just keep screaming from the streets.”
To get on the ballot, Saunders-Wolffe must collect signatures from at least 5 percent of union members. She says well over 50 people are collecting signatures on behalf of the coalition. If she should be elected this summer, she says she will focus on making sure teachers in closed schools are able to follow their students, and on ongoing “strategic bargaining” over the effects of CPS policies.
Some unhappy with strike results
Both sides declared victory after the strike this fall, but Coalition to Save Our Union charges that teachers ended up getting a bad deal – particularly since they never got back the 4 percent raises that CPS said it couldn’t afford to pay in school year 2011-12.
The group is also slamming Lewis for failing to put the brakes on school closings and allowing the passage of Senate Bill 7, which puts tight restrictions on the Chicago Teachers Union and unions around the state and allowed the district to impose a longer day.
Mary Ellen Sanchez, who is running for recording secretary, says that elementary teachers’ loss of a half-hour morning prep period has resulted in less time to meet with administrators and parents, even work with small groups of students before school. (Saunders-Wolffe says her group would like to see the prep period restored, and students’ days shortened by 30 minutes.) “Without that half-hour prep, we don’t have that time to communicate with each other,” Sanchez says.
Frank MacDonald, a delegate at George Washington High School, complains that some aspects of the new contract – such as the new employee discipline system – were glossed over in debate about the contract. After four warnings for any one issue within three years, a teacher can be terminated.
MacDonald adds that teachers’ wage increases feel paltry to some, because paychecks are being stretched out over a longer time period with the longer year. “Some people are looking at a $14 increase” per paycheck, he notes.
Debbie Lynch, a former CPS teacher and past CTU president who ran against Lewis in the last election but then endorsed her in a run-off, has come out in support of the new caucus as well.
“It is not strikes so much as the contracts that are deciding factors in union elections -- whether or not the members are happy with the contract that the leaders are negotiated,” Lynch says. “(Teachers) feel this leadership got headlines but no protection for the members. With a strike, you have that raising of expectations that there is going to be something beneficial as a result.”
She says CORE has promoted its own political agenda – “an agenda of confrontation, protests and rallies, and the question has to be, what has it gotten the membership?”
“When they were stopping traffic in the streets they had the opportunity to come back with a contract that had moratorium language for stopping school closings,” Lynch adds. “When I was in office, I had a memorandum of understanding with Arne Duncan to stop school closings. It’s been done before.”
Inside the backpacks of Lattrice Jamison’s children on Thursday were several sheets of paper, some of which infuriated her and others that confused her.
One sheet informed her that Emmet Elementary School, the school her son and daughter attended since preschool, was closing next year. According to the paperwork, students from Emmet would go to either DePriest or Ellington. (For a complete list of closing and receiving schools, see our chart to the right.)
On top of this news, their folders contained an application and a two-page list of all the schools to which she could apply. This led Jamison to conclude that her children, now in 5th and 6th grade, and their classmates would be not be guaranteed a seat anywhere. She said principals would be allowed to pick and choose which students they wanted to take in and the decision would be based on test scores.
“Why should I have to apply?” said Jamison, who serves on Emmet’s local school council.
A day after CPS announced plans for the largest school shakeup in history, parents were trying to figure out where their children would attend school next year, as many vowed to fight the actions. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is recommending that 53 elementary schools and one small high school close. The Board of Education is set to vote on the measures at its May 22 meeting.
In actuality, Jamison doesn’t have to apply unless she wants to enroll her children somewhere other than the designated receiving schools, said CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler. Ziegler said the application was handed out because CPS extended the deadline for open enrollment and magnet cluster schools, in an effort to give parents choice. However, sought-after spaces in high-performing magnet, selective enrollment and most charter schools are already filled.
The situation was made more difficult by the complicated scenarios designed by CPS officials as they attempted to get all displaced students into what they consider to be better facilities and better school programs.
Students at 16 of the schools that are closing will stay in the same building, which will be taken over by the principal, staff and students of higher-achieving schools. In five separate situations, students will be assigned to one of two or three schools. CPS did not say how it will assign students when there’s more than one welcoming school.
In addition, 18 of the schools have special education cluster programs, which serve more severely disabled students from the area. These students might not go to the designated welcoming school, but rather be assigned to different places.
As parents and activists digested this information, they continued to return to what has been a common concern as the announcement of mass school closings approached. Jamison joined a group of West Side activists at a press conference where speakers accused district leaders of targeting black students and putting them in danger.
Jamison said that students from DePriest and Ellington already get into fights with those from Emmet. “They come to the school and jump over fences and fight,” she said.
Michelle Hunt-Harris held a poster that showed the gang boundaries in Austin and where the schools that were recommended from closure are located in relation to their welcoming school.
Hunt-Harris, who serves on the local school council at May, said she is in a “state of unease” as she worries about the children crossing gang boundaries.
“Our community is being disrespected,” she said.
See a timeline of school closings under Mayor Rahm Emanuel:
Juan Rangel, the $250,000-a-year chief executive officer of one of the largest charter school operators in Chicago, has three children of his siblings on the UNO payroll, who together earn $208,000 annually, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.
Rangel has his 30-year-old nephew working as his deputy chief of staff. Carlos Jaramillo, the son of Rangel’s sister Rosario Jaramillo, is paid $88,000, payroll records show. Rangel’s niece Araceli Estrada is paid more than $49,000 a year as an apprentice kindergarten teacher. Another Rangel nephew — Juan Antonio “John” Rangel, 38, makes more than $71,000 a year as an information technology manager for UNO’s charter school network.
A COMPLICATED PLAN: In announcing the largest shakeup ever attempted in one year by a major urban school district, CPS officials laid out a complicated plan for a total of 71 actions—closings, co-locations and turnarounds—that will affect more than 30,000 students. (Catalyst)
IPADS FOR DISPLACED KIDS: As if to make the historic shuttering of 54 schools more palatable, CPS pledged to provide iPads to third- through eighth-grade students at schools taking in displaced students, the Tribune reports.
SHOCK, ANGER, TEARS: In neighborhoods most affected by the unprecedented announcement of 54 school closings, the reaction by parents and teachers was swift, angry and in some cases, tearful.
A few of the notable reactions to the school closings:
"This is cowardly and it is the ultimate bullying job. Our mayor should be ashamed of himself." —CTU President Karen Lewis
"In a word, the approach was brutal. It's certainly not deserved by these parents and these kids." — Mary Visconti, the director of the Better Boys Foundation, a youth organization in the Lawndale neighborhood.
"They're talking about giving me (International Baccalaureate) programs, (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs, air conditioning for my schools. I think they should have been doing these things already. And I don't want to take those things at the stake of somebody losing their life. And I'm telling you, that's what's going to happen. I don't want to take air conditioning and then have somebody's blood on my hands." —Ald. Walter Burnett (27th Ward)
WHO AND WHERE: The vast majority of the 30,000 impacted students are African American and attend schools on the South or West Sides, or near former public housing developments. (WBEZ)
In announcing the largest shakeup ever attempted in one year by a major urban school district, CPS officials laid out a complicated plan for a total of 71 actions--closings, co-locations and turnarounds--that will affect more than 30,000 students. (Full list below.)
CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett will recommend that 54 school programs be shut down. Nearly 90 percent of the students in the closing schools are black, though African Americans make up only about 40 percent of the district’s entire student population.
The impact of school actions on black communities has been a major factor driving opposition among activists as well as the Chicago Teachers Union, which held a press conference attacking the actions.
Under this proposal, the communities that would have the most closings are: West Town, Auburn Gresham, Austin, West Englewood and West Pullman.
In addition to the 54 shut-downs, 11 schools will co-locate with another school, eight of them with charter schools. Two severely underutilized high schools—Bowen and Corliss—will share their buildings next year with new Noble Street charter high schools. CPS officials said this will give people in the area two “good, strong” options in one building, but some community members and others are likely to worry that the charters will drain away more students from the neighborhood schools.
Finally, the non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership will get six more schools to “turn around,” a process that entails replacing virtually an entire staff. AUSL is a politically-connected teacher training program that has won national recognition from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. One AUSL school, Bethune Elementary in East Garfield Park, will be closed. Also, Dodge and Morton, two AUSL school, will co-exist in the Morton building.
The board is set to vote on this proposal at its May 22 meeting. Before then, CPS will hold three hearings on each recommendation, two in the affected communities and one with an independent hearing officer at its downtown headquarters.
Cost savings, teacher layoffs
Initially, these moves will cost CPS money but over 10 years, the district will save about $1 billion, said Chief Transformation Officer Todd Babbitz. The savings are a combination of $560 million in capital costs and $430 million in operating costs.
Critics will likely argue that less than $1 billion in savings over 10 years is not a lot of money, considering CPS has a $5 billion yearly budget.
But Babbitz and other officials said the school district is not only closing schools to save money, but also to make the remaining schools better.
At the welcoming schools, CPS plans to make $155 million in capital investments and spend $78 million in “up front” operating costs.
The initial investment is high as CPS officials have spent the last week announcing the various things they plan to provide for welcoming schools. Each will get air conditioning, a library, a science lab and computer lab, as well as a social worker and other social supports for students. In addition, safe passage workers will watch over students as they make their way to their new school. Students at a handful of schools will get bus transportation.
CPS leaders earlier today announced that 19 schools will get specialty programs, such as International Baccalaureate or fine arts programs. These will be magnet cluster programs, which maintain an attendance boundary, but can take students if they have space. Officials could not say on Thursday how many extra staff these schools will get for these programs.
Spokeswoman Becky Carroll argued that the district is prioritizing these welcoming schools, many of which will become the neighborhood schools.
“These are communities that have been under-resourced and underserved for years,” she said. “We want to give them all the things that they need that they do not have now.”
At the Chicago Teachers Union press conference, President Karen Lewis lambasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who reportedly is on vacation with his family. “This is not going to save money, it is going to cost money and it is going to leave abandoned buildings,” she said.
CPS officials could not immediately say how many teachers will be laid off as part of the upheaval. As part of the new teacher’s contract, those teachers from closed schools get to follow their students to a new school, if they are tenured and highly-rated.
But at the press conference, little was said about the fate of teachers. Lewis, parents and teachers said they worried most about the students.
Kohn lunchroom attendant Takeeva Thompson said that at her school, a 7-year-old was killed and other students have been shot. She said the school is a haven for students. “We are either giving them a gun or a book,” she said.
Nina Gibbs, a parent of a student at Mahalia Jackson, said the plan calls for her daughter to go to Fort Dearborn Elementary. “That is on the other side of the tracks,” she said. “What kind of safety and security are they going to have? You have already got a lot of children here been shot, beat up, kidnapped. What about the parents who will no longer be [in] walking distance from the school?”
Safety a top concern for parents
Adam Anderson, the district's officer of portfolio, planning and strategy, said that officials took into account the concerns about safety that parents and residents expressed at the 28 community hearing held this winter.
Among the things that CPS officials heard were that people want a school in their area and they don’t want children to have to cross barriers, such as railroad tracks, to get to school. Anderson said it also was important to him and other school leaders that children were sent to better facilities and better schools.
But all these criteria created quite a puzzle for CPS leaders and this is evident by the plan they laid out. In several situations a school program closes, meaning the administration is displaced, but the children stay in the building. The principal and staff from a better-performing school take over that closed school program, leaving their building empty.
For the first time perhaps ever, CPS will try to combine three schools into one building and, in at least one case, the district will split children from one closed school up between two schools.
These unusual combinations left some people in the community with their head spinning. Dwayne Truss, an activist in Austin, said he was trying to get his head around all the proposals for his community.
“Some of this is just crazy,” he said.
ACTION LISTClosing School
Co-Locations Crane with Chicago Talent Development H.S. Noble-Comer with Revere New Noble HS with Bowen Montessori of Englewood with O'Toole Kwama Nkrumah Charter Gresham New KIPP with Hope HS Disney II expanision with Marshall Middle Belmont Cragin with Northwest Middle Noble HS with Corliss Dodge with Morton Drake with Urban Prep for Young Men--Bronzeville Turnarounds Barton Chalmers Dewey O'Keefe Carter Lewis
The number of Chicago Public Schools slated for closing could be as many as 50, sources told the Tribune Wednesday evening. CPS has never closed more than a dozen or so schools in one year, so this year's closings could be historic.
CLOSING LIST NEARS: Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett could reveal as early as today the full list of which schools to close and where displaced students will go next year. She has until March 31 to announce the targeted schools. (Sun-Times)
TRANSPORTATION SAVINGS: CPS says it has identified $15.7 million in transportation savings for its Fiscal Year 2014 Central Office budget. The savings come through streamlining bus schedules and optimizing bus routes. Almost $12 million in savings will come from streamlining bus schedules and optimizing routes, according to a news release. CPS buses 5 percent of its students, most who attend selective enrollment programs or have special needs.
PERSEPOLIS OUTCRY: The uproar over CPS banning the graphic novel "Persepolis" has even reached the UK, with a story in the Guardian newspaper. A host of free-speech organizations have sent a letter to Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CPS chief executive, and members of the Chicago board of education.
IN THE STATE
MORE POOR STUDENTS: In a release Wednesday, the Illinois State Board of Education said between 2003 and 2012, the proportion of low-income students grew from 37.9 to 49 percent. (AP)
According to a study being released Wednesday by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 82 percent of candidates who received undergraduate degrees in education between 2009 and 2011 were white, while close to half of all children under 5 in 2008 were members of a racial or ethnic minority.
SCHOOL INVESTMENTS: CPS officials early this morning rolled out a list of investments they will be pour into schools receiving students displaced by school closings, which will be announced at the end of this month. According to a statement from Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett, all welcoming schools will receive academic and capital supports based on their particular needs. Welcoming schools also will have: air conditioning; new discretionary funding as part of the “Welcoming School Support Fund” that principals can use to invest in programs to meet the unique needs of their students; and a library with access to digital learning materials. (Tribune/release)
CLOSING ARGUMENTS: A group of about 50 teachers, parents and students from the Chicago Public Schools went to Springfield Tuesday morning, to urge lawmakers to stop CPS officials from closing dozens of schools.
MEANWHILE: Six Chicago aldermen opposed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's efforts to shutter schools called on legislators to place a temporary moratorium on closings for at least a year, but the effort fizzled Tuesday.
LEWIS IN NY: Catch a video of the speech CTU president Karen Lewis gave last weekend at the NYCORE Conference.
IN THE NATION
SUSTAINABLE SCHOOLS: The impact and design features of the growing number of environmentally sustainable school buildings are on display at the National Building Museum as part of an exhibit on green school space. (Education Week)
Josephine Norwood’s children have undergone multiple school closings and forced transfers in their time at Chicago Public Schools. But when Norwood got wind that her autistic son’s current school was on the final list of schools being considered for closure, it was just too much to take.
The program her son is in has already been moved two times because of school actions. Now, it is at McClellan, a small school in Bridgeport.
“I am appalled that he could be displaced again,” Norwood said at a Tuesday press conference organized by Raise Your Hand, a parent advocacy group. “I want to ask this question: Do you understand the repercussions this will have?”
Like other parents with autistic children, she said her son has trouble with transitions and each move causes him to regress. (Norwood is a member of Catalyst Chicago’s editorial board.)
Raise Your Hand’s Wendy Katten said she wanted to call attention to the issues faced by special education students because, just days before the expected announcement of closing recommendations, she doesn’t feel as though they have been adequately addressed.
Katten says that about 6,000 special education students attend the 129 schools still being considered for closure. Three of the schools serve only special education students.
Thirty-nine of these schools have what are called “cluster programs,” for severely disabled students from the neighborhood. Cluster programs were often located in underutilized schools—the schools being targeted for possible closure—because these schools had space.
In a letter sent to parents of special education students last week, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett promised that, if their child’s school is closed, the new school will be flush with a library, computer and science labs, social workers and air conditioning.
“I also know that transitioning to a new school may be challenging for some students, especially for those with disabilities,” she said.
She said she will ensure that students go to a school that can serve the special needs child, has supplies and equipment and is accessible.
Proposed change in state law heightens anxiety
Katten noted that Chief Transformation Officer Todd Babbitz admitted to the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force that the additional space needed for special education students was not taken into account in the district’s official utilization formula, which was used to determine which schools are considered under-utilized and at risk for closing.
Currently, state law dictates that students with mild disabilities must be in pull-out classes with 15 or fewer students, while students with more severe disabilities must be in classes with no more than eight students. The Illinois Legislature is considering a change that would remove these limits—something that advocates are pushing hard against.
CPS has not said whether it supports scrapping these limits. But the prospect of the change is adding to the anxiety of parents whose children have special needs.
After the press conference, which was held in the lobby of CPS headquarters, Katten and parents from 13 schools still on the potential closing list tried to get a meeting with CPS leaders. As she was talking to the staff at front lobby desk, Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley was walking out.
Katten turned and asked him if he knew if a decision maker was upstairs and could speak with them. First, Cawley said that he was not the right person to speak to and that the forum to speak with officials was during the many community meetings held in February.
“Those meetings failed,” Katten told him.
Then, Cawley told the group that they should take their concerns to the network offices. After a little more back and forth, Cawley left. Later, Phillip Hampton, who runs the Office of Family and Community Engagement, came down and talked to the parents.
The parents, however, seemed unsatisfied.
Lasharra Wilson, a parent from Smyth School, said she is tired and overwhelmed by the prospect of having to find a new school for her son. “I am begging you not to close Smyth. It is already hard enough.”
Mary Moore said when her son was three years old and started at McNair Elementary School in Austin, he hid under the table. She said she was told that he would never talk and never walk.
“Now he is going to graduate from 8th grade with honors and go to Wells,” she said. “McNair is a school with love.”
Elizabeth Yarbrough sent her four adopted children to McNair and takes students from her home day care center to and from the school. She says when her oldest son, who is now 19, was there, parents fought for a new building. Now it is renovated and wheelchair- accessible. “Students can just slide in and feel welcomed,” she said.
Twenty-three percent of McNair’s students are in special education.
“I am standing here for the parents who are not able to speak for their children,” Yarbrough said. “Let McNair stand. Why are you destroying something that should not be destroyed? Find something else to do.”
Following reports that the Chicago Public Schools were removing copies of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel "Persepolis" from classrooms and libraries, Knopf Doubleday, the parent company of the book's publisher, Random House, issued a statement saying the move "smacks of censorship.” (Truth Out)
ATTEMPTED SIT-IN: Eager to keep the fervor going for the graphic novel “Persepolis,” students at Lane Technical High School tried in vain to stage a library sit-in during Monday morning classes — but they couldn’t pull it off. (Sun-Times)
IN THE NATION
POWER TO CHARTER: The Kansas Senate Education Committee gives a second chance to an ALEC-based charter school bill, which would give the Kansas Board of Regents, cities and counties and the governing board of any public or private post-secondary institution the power to authorize a public charter school. (Lawrence Journal-World)
TAKEOVER TARGET: Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III is planning a takeover of the Maryland county’s struggling school system, seeking state legislation that would put him in charge of the school superintendent and $1.7 billion budget while significantly reducing the power of the elected Board of Education. (The Washington Post)
RHEE CHALLENGED: Comedian and TV host Bill Maher challenged über-school reformer Michelle Rhee's “no-excuses” philosophy on teachers by saying that he thinks the problem with public education is “poverty and parents.” He pushed back on some of her major talking points: teachers can overcome poverty, teachers don’t need tenure, etc. (The Washington Post)
Most low-income students who have top test scores and grades do not even apply to the nation’s best colleges, according to a new analysis of every high school student who took the SAT in a recent year. (The New York Times)
NOVEL PROTEST: Chicago Public Schools’ removal of the graphic novel "Persepolis" from classrooms sparked protests Friday and outcry from the autobiographical novel’s Iranian-born author. (Tribune)
IN THE STATE
CHARTER OPPOSITION: Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice hosted a forum Sunday to rally opposition to the online curriculum company K12 Inc. and a proposed charter school that could open in the Fox Valley as soon as next year. (Daily Herald)
WITHOUT CONSENT: The Springfield School District might have violated state and federal student privacy laws by publicly releasing standardized test scores of individual students without parental consent. (State Journal-Register)
IN THE NATION
GLOBAL GENDER GAP: A new study finds that the global reading gap for boys is three times as large as the math gap for girls. Also, the largest math gap is among high-achieving boys and girls. For reading, the gap for boys was most pronounced among the lowest-performing students. (Education Week)
JUVENILE JUSTICE FUNNEL: Critics say an increase in police presence will funnel students into the juvenile-justice system for matters administrators should handle in-house. (Education Week)
Billionaire businesswoman Penny Pritzker abruptly resigned from the Chicago Board of Education Thursday, fueling speculation that President Obama would nominate her for a cabinet position.
Pritzker's resignation letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not refer to the potential Cabinet position. "I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve the city of Chicago, its children and families, during these last two years," Pritzker wrote. "Education is critical to ensuring every child has an opportunity to succeed, and I wholeheartedly support the work that you are doing to improve Chicago schools." (Tribune)
CLOSINGS AND SECURITY: Chicago Public Schools on Thursday unveiled a security plan for students whose schools are closed that includes paying community groups to watch over kids as they go to and from their new schools and adding security personnel inside those schools. (Tribune)
COMPREHENSIVE PLAN: CPS officials unveiled what they called a "comprehensive" safety plan to address concerns that closing schools will put students in danger. Much of what they outlined—from community members patroling the routes to and from school to social emotional programs at welcoming schools—have been offered before at welcoming schools. (Catalyst)
INFORMING PARENTS: Apples to Apples and the Open Data Institute have launched a website, SchoolCuts.org, intended to give parents information about school closing decisions. Parents can also select their children's current school to learn more about it and schools where they may be reassigned.
PREPARING FOR A FIGHT: The CTU is conducting two "Citywide Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Trainings” to prepare parents, students, teachers, public school employees and community residents for what it calls "the next stage in their fight to save 129 schools from the chopping block." The first training was Thursday night at a West Side Church. The next one will be held Saturday at Pleasant Gift M.B. Church on the South Side. (News advisory)
JOB SEARCH: Harrison A. Peters, chief of schools for Chicago Public Schools is one of three candidates the Prince George’s County (Md.) Board of Education has identified for the position of superintendent of its schools. (Bowie Blade-News)
IN THE NATION
HOLD THE TESTING: A plan to suspend California’s standardized testing for certain grades while new computerized exams are developed could save $15 million, the state’s top education official said Wednesday. (Los Angeles Times)
HISTORIC STEP: The Boston School Committee, once synonymous with fierce resistance to racial integration, took a historic step Wednesday night and threw off the last remnants of a busing system first imposed in 1974 under a federal court desegregation order. Instead of busing children across town to achieve integration, the plan adopted by the committee is intended to allow more students to attend schools closer to home. (The New York Times)
CPS officials unveiled what they called a "comprehensive" safety plan to address concerns that closing schools will put students in danger. Much of what they outlined--from community members patroling the routes to and from school to social emotional programs at welcoming schools--have been offered before at welcoming schools.
The newest part of the plan was that at least one security guard from the closing school would follow the students to the welcoming school. "They will be able to see a familiar face," said Jadine Chou, the district’s chief safety and security officer.
Chou and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett would not put a pricetag on any of the extras they promised to welcoming schools, saying that they had to wait til they had a final list of schools and did an assessment of what is needed.
Chou and Byrd-Bennett said they got many of their ideas from the community engagement process that took place this winter. CPS held 28 community meetings in February. Byrd-Bennett didn't attend any of the meetings, but she said she read the transcripts. What she took from them was that "everybody got that we need to close school."
“One of those things we heard frequently at the community meetings was parents just need peace of mind to make sure their children are able to travel safely,” Chou said.
Chou said CPS officials paid special attention to specific problem areas pointed out to community members and parents and they will be going back to these people once the final list is announced. Each welcoming school will have a unique plan.
But the following are some of the things that CPS will provide:
*Social-emotional supports like coping skills and conflict resolution training, as well as student “buddies” for children whose schools have closed
*Community-building activities for students and families.
*Extra technology like security cameras
*Money for security guards from closed schools to work at receiving schools for at least a year.
The announcement came just a day after CPS began looking for moving companies to help with closings.
Illinois Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno said at a press conference Wednesday that Chicago "receives a disproportionate share of the state's education resources" thanks to "outdated (funding) formulas, a de-emphasis on the foundation level which equalizes school districts' property wealth and a shift to special grant(s)," Crain's Grez Hinz reports.
PREPARING FOR THE MOVES: CPS officials this week posted a Request For Proposal for logistic management services, which will handle inventorying equipment, putting locks on doors, hiring movers and making sure that records get to the schools where the displaced students end up. CPS asked companies bidding on the job to give prices for 20, 40, 60, 80, 100 and 129 schools. (Catalyst)
IN THE NATION
CHARTER PERFORMANCE: A new report released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Public Impact found that in an analysis of charter school performance in five different cities across the U.S., including Chicago, the charters modestly outperformed their district counterparts but lagged behind statewide performance averages of regular public schools. The cities were chosen because of their high percentage of charter schools, which served between 10 percent and 30 percent of the student population in those communities. (Education Week)
THE CTU EXAMPLE: As the struggle for the future of public education continues in Philadelphia, a video presents the Chicago Teachers Union as an example of how to fight and win. (The Notebook)
ARMING TEACHERS: Public school districts across Oklahoma could decide whether to allow armed teachers in classrooms under a bill approved late Tuesday in the Oklahoma House. The Special Reserve School Resource Officer Act passed by the House on a 68-23 vote despite concerns raised by opponents over the safety and liability allowing armed teachers. (Fox News)
CPS is making some quick moves as leaders deal with a tight timeline for what could be the biggest closure of schools ever.
This week, CPS officials posted a Request For Proposals for logistics management services, including inventorying equipment, putting locks on doors, hiring movers and making sure that records get to the schools where the displaced students end up. CPS asked companies bidding on the job to give prices for 20, 40, 60, 80, 100 and 129 schools.
The pre-proposal is due on Friday and the full proposal is due on March 25. About a week later, CPS intends on awarding the contract.
The district also sent out an e-mail to providers asking them to take a survey detailing the services they could offer to welcoming schools. Among the activities suggested for current and incoming students at the welcoming school are field trips, school improvement projects and team-building workshops. The survey also asks whether the provider can offer these services for free, as part of its current offerings, or would need additional funding.
The survey must be returned by Friday.
These two requests underscore the difficulty of the timeline that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS leaders chose for this process. Much of the specific planning around the closing and welcoming schools is set to happen in April and May, before the Board of Education officially votes on which schools to close.
State law dictates that 60 days must lapse between the announcement of the recommendations and the board vote. Also, between the recommendation announcement and the board vote, public hearings are to take place where people can supposedly still try to keep their school open.
CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has not announced what schools she plans to close yet, which means a vote can’t take place til at least mid-May. Spokeswoman Becky Carroll has said that the recommendations are not a done deal. “These are merely recommendations by the CEO,” she said
But, even within the Request for Proposals for the logistics management team, there seems to be some confusion. The proposal says the “final list of school closings published on March 31, 2013.”
“Immediately upon award (April 3),” the logistics company is to start doing an inventory of closing schools and welcoming schools so that orders for textbooks and furniture can take place this spring, according to the RFP.
According to the RFP, locks will be changed at the closing schools by June 28, two days after the official end of school. Staff from each closing school, including the counselor, clerk, custodian and engineers, will stay on through the closure and welcoming activities.
The logistics coordinator will hire movers and packers and warehousing. One logistical nightmare: Any material bought with a grant needs to follow the students, teachers and principals participating in or responsible for the grant and shouldn’t be mixed in with other material.
These requests also confirm that closing schools will end up being an expensive process as desks, books and computers must be moved, buildings must be shuttered and services must be provided to try to create a smooth transition. In addition, Byrd-Bennett has hired ex-Marine Tom Tyrrell to help with logistics. How much Tyrell is being paid is unclear, as his hire was not approved by the Board of Education, nor is he listed as a vendor.
CPS received a $478,000 grant from the Walton Foundation to facilitate the school closing process.
Part 1 of a seven-part series on Austin neighborhood schools that remain on CPS's list of potential closings wonders why the district is considering shutting down Lewis Elementary, which is undergoing millions of dollars in renovations. (Austin Talks)
The Austin Talks series also will look at six other schools: Armstrong, DePriest, Emmet, Key, May and McNair.
BLOGGING TEACHER: A Chicago public schools teacher Ray Salazar was named a winner in the Best Blog Category by the Education Writers Association. Salazar, who writes The White Rhino: A Chicago Latino English Teacher blog will be honored in May during EWA’s National Seminar at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. (Chicago Now)
OFFENSIVE PRESENTATION: Oak Park and River Forest High School Principal Nathaniel Rouse apologized to families in a letter Tuesday for a presentation to students that he said "addressed issues of race in a way that was offensive." The remarks were made during a Monday assembly that was part of the school's weeklong anti-violence campaign. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
'BLACKBOARD' BACKLASH: Criticism is pouring in over "Blackboard Wars," the documentary series featured on Oprah's OWN Network about troubled John McDonogh High school in New Orleans. The noted New Orleans educator, Loyola University’s Andre Perry, questioned the show’s impact on the psyche of students and suggested a scholarship might be a better use of Oprah’s resources.
ADDRESSING WORD GAP: Providence, R.I., has won a $5 million contest created by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with a high-tech plan to overcome a language skills problem known as the word gap that puts low-income children at a profound disadvantage in the classroom. Chicago, a runner-up will get $1 million, which it plans to use to harness computers to create a data-driven “predictive analytics platform” to track trends and allow city leaders to identify problems before they are obvious. (The Washington Post)
SMARTPHONES AND TEENS: The use of smartphones has jumped greatly among teenagers over the past year, and one in four of youths in that age group access the Internet mostly through their cellphones, a nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center shows. (Education Week)