The contentious debate between teachers, their supporters and the Chicago Board of Education continued this week with protesters erupting in a mic check during the board’s monthly public meeting, forcing board members to approve a motion to go into a closed session.
As soon as CPS chief executive Jean-Claude Brizard opened his mouth to begin his report, activist and father of five boys Adourthus McDowell’s booming voice denounced the board in a passionate diatribe. The same mic check, a process of echoing the words of the first speaker, followed McDowell’s, leading security to escort at least eight protesters out of the meeting and forcing the board members to leave chambers.
The mic check combined a flurry of heated rhetoric calling for the firing of Brizard and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as well as citing studies from prominent schools. Research from the University of Chicago and Stanford University state that the turnaround policy has not led to academic gains and protesters also questioned the current performance rating of schools that have already been through a turnaround. The controversial process fires existing staff and imposes new curriculum in the schools. According to an analysis by Catalyst Chicago, roughly two-fifths of the turnaround schools received CPS’s lowest rating of Performance Level 3, meaning they fit the criteria to be closed. Just one-fifth of the schools took home CPS’s high-performing rating.
“You have failed…You have produced chaos…You should be fired,” chanted protesters.
Teachers and supporters held a vigil outside of the Board of Education building the night before the meeting and roughly 40 stayed overnight outside in the rain to ensure their seating in the meeting. The board is poised to close or restructure 21 schools of which 10 will be turned around. Protesters call the turnaround process a union busting technique. Six of these schools will be managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), increasing the non-profit’s management totals to 18.
Here's a look at the vigil:
Progress Illinois noted in an original report yesterday the cozy relationship between CPS and AUSL. The non-profit currently only contracts with CPS and the new chairman of the board, David Vitale, used to chair AUSL. Tim Cawley, current chief operating officer for CPS, also worked on the finances of AUSL.
During the more than two-hour delay in the meeting, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey lead the audience in the public participation portion of the meeting. Frustrated parents and community activists took turns speaking to the empty chairs of the board.
“These attacks [on unions] can only continue and intensify,” said Erek Slater, a CTA bus driver who camped out all night. “People who do the real work are not the problem. We are the solution.”
Parents from the proposed turnaround schools spoke of success in their schools.
“As a parent I am sick and tired of the attacks on teachers,” said Erica Clark, a parent of a CPS student. “When you attack our teachers, you attack our kids. When you say our schools are toxic and their is no learning going on, you are attacking our children. When you devalue and disrespect our teachers, you are devaluing and disrespecting our kids.”
“With limited resources [Pablo] Casals already outperforms citywide schools as well as six of 11 AUSL schools,” said Sharon Herod-Purham, a teacher at the elementary school slated to be turned around. Herod-Purham spoke of data showing her school’s improvement running higher than some of the AUSL schools and claimed turnaround would not help the children. “In fact AUSL schools need a lifeline themselves. Yet, AUSL will receive millions of dollars from CPS to turn Casals around. But Casals has 300 applications for after school programs, yet receives just 47 seats. That’s only 16 percent of the applicants. I wonder what Casals could do at its present capacity with a quarter of the money allocated for that AUSL program.”
Schools set to be turned around are: Pablo Casals, 3501 W. Potomac Ave.; Melville W. Fuller, 4214 S. Saint Lawrence Ave.; Theodore Herzl, 3711 W. Douglas Blvd.; Marquette, 6550 S Richmond St.; Brian Piccolo, 1040 N Keeler Ave.; Amos Alonzo Stagg, 7424 S Morgan St.; Wendell Smith, 744 E 103rd St. and Carter G. Woodson South Elementary Schools, 4414 S Evans.
The Chicago Vocational Career Academy, at 2100 E 87th St., and Tilden Career Community Academy, 4747 S Union Ave., high schools also are targeted for turnaround.
After the meeting, CPS spokesperson Becky Carroll release the following statement:
We have a deep respect for those who choose to exercise their right to free speech, but we make no excuses for taking action on some of the worst performing schools in the district. We can no longer accept a status quo that has allowed so many schools to fail our students year after year, where only 7.9% of all 11th graders test college ready and more than 120,000 attend low performing schools. We will take whatever steps are available to ensure our students can access higher quality school options in their community immediately – that includes creating new turnaround schools, which have proven track records on boosting student achievement in the district’s lowest performing schools, and, in very few cases, close schools where we can safely send students to neighboring schools that are higher performing. We must make necessary but difficult choices if we are to do the right thing for our students and get them on a path for college and career readiness.
Carroll’s assertion of taking action on the worst performing schools seems to contradict the data presented by Herod-Purham as well as the studies suggesting the turnaround program does not work as advertised.
Board members conducted business as usual when they returned from their closed session near 1:30 p.m., opening up public participation with a much smaller audience. A group of parents and teachers from the Belmont-Craigin neighborhood spoke against the proposed Christopher House Charter School, set to be built on the same campus as the public Northwest Middle School.
“We lost six teachers this year and now you are giving money to build a charter school 16 inches from our school,” said Julion Clinton, a Northwest Middle School parent. He also noted the 700 signatures from community members opposing the charter school.
The community opposition proved to be insufficient as the board unanimously approved not only the Christopher House Charter School, but four new high schools from Noble Street, three elementary schools by LEARN, and another three elementary schools from the United Neighborhood Organization. All the while, board members praised the work of charter school promoters such as Lori Vaas, CEO of Christopher House, while merely thanking opposing voices for their words.
Voting on the turnarounds is not scheduled until February, leaving time for opponents to try to convince a board that appears already set to move forward.