Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Thursday May 16th, 2013, 4:56pm

Chicago Public Schools' Turnaround Plan Called Into Question By Parents, Education Activists

Parents and members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) stormed the steps outside the Academy of Urban School Leadership’s (AUSL) office Thursday and raised concerns over the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) plan to turnaround six schools at the end of the academic year.

CPS wants to fire and replace staff members at Clara Barton Elementary , William W Carter Elementary, Dewey Elementary Academy of Fine Arts, and Isabelle C O'Keeffe Elementary schools on the South Side and Thomas Chalmers Specialty Elementary and Leslie Lewis Elementary schools on the West Side as part of its recent round of school actions. AUSL would take over all six schools. The Chicago Board of Education will vote on the possible turnarounds and other school actions May 22.

The parents whose children attend some of the proposed turnaround schools and other education activists were not permitted inside AUSL’s main office, which is located at Chicago Academy High School. An AUSL representative came outside to speak with parents and said students were taking a test inside, which is why they could not enter.

“Standing out on steps is disrespectful, especially if you all want to build a relationship with us,” Matthew Johnson, the Local School Council (LSC) chair at Dewey, told the AUSL representative. “It’s like we’re not good enough for the building, but you’re good enough to come in our community and disrupt our whole community and bring new people in who we have to build a new relationship with.”

Those concerned over CPS’ proposal raised questions about a turnaround school's impact on students. They also called the costs associated with AUSL’s model into question.

“AUSL was proposed to turn our school around, and they promised this rigorous curriculum and all these different things but ... you can’t show data to back up what you’re promising our kids,” Johnson said.

Kimberly Savage, an LSC member at Barton, said her son would enter the eighth grade at Barton next year, which is a “critical point in his life.”

“He doesn’t need to restructure what he’s already learned to adapt to new teachers, new changes,” she said. “You have to first learn all of those new changes before you can get the proper education that I pay my tax dollars for. I don’t think that’s fair.”

Savage said she thought parents’ concerns and input were not valued throughout the school action process.

“I don’t think they’re taking it serious at all,” she said. “I think minds are made up, plans [are] already being implemented.”

Tosha Downey, AUSL’s director of community engagement, said AUSL is willing to provide all the information the parents were seeking, but not until after the board makes a final decision on the proposed turnarounds.

She said it would be “presumptuous” to make a statement about what might happen, as the schools have not been formally assigned as a turnaround.

Immediately after the board votes, Downey said, AUSL will send formal communication to parents and allow them to visit existing AUSL schools and meet with school leaders and AUSL representatives to address any unanswered questions.

“We’re trying to be respectful of the process that CPS has outlined for you, for your schools, for your communities,” she said.

But those demanding answers said they were not pleased with AUSL’s response.

“How can they send you out here representing them and the questions that we ask you are so elementary that it’s beyond your pay grade to answer,” asked Shawn Gowder, a former LSC representative at Barton. “This is an insult to us.”

Faculty members at Barton, Carter, Dewey and Lewis recently voted by more than 90 percent to use the CPS-Strategic Learning Initiatives (SLI) transformation model rather than AUSL’s turnaround plan, said Debby Pope with the CTU.

Operating each AUSL turnaround school is estimated to cost $1 million a year, while the CPS-SLI model costs less than $200,000.

The SLI model works with the present staff during a turnaround and has independently-proven results.

“Research has demonstrated the qualities that schools need to succeed,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement. “CPS has already invested in a transformation plan developed by Strategic Learning Initiatives (SLI) that embraces that research. It is highly effective, already proven in CPS schools, and can save an enormous amount of money. We urge CPS to embrace this option. It will be excellent for the children, their families, their schools and their neighborhoods.”

Parents and students of the proposed turnaround schools have known their teachers for years, and they should not be fired, Pope said.

Also, the schools slated for turnaround have mostly African-American students and faculty, she added.

“Every single one of them [are] majority African American even though the school system as a whole has dropped drastically the number of African-American teachers,” Pope pointed out.

The proposed turnarounds are yet another attack on school resources, she said.

“In this case, the human resources that these children have in their schools are both separate and not equal,” Pope stressed.

Johnson said the staff, administration and LSC at Dewey have already developed their own five-year turnaround plan for the school.

“That’s why for three consecutive years our scores are showing growth in reading and math,” Johnson said. “Now the board is asking us to turnaround our turnaround model that we already started.”

Under CPS’ proposal, AUSL would benefit from Dewey's established progress and growth, he said.

“And were not having it,” he added. “The community is still going to voice their opinion, and we’re going to fight this.”

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