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Saturday, May 18

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The Mechanics

Chicago Public Schools Tue Nov 10 2015

Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. The main point of contention remains the fate of the school boiler system, but it is far from the only issue at hand.

Last week, I focused on the inadequacy of safety protocols for incidents like this. That theme was picked up on by the Reader's Ben Joravsky, who still can't get over how the main school building had no detectors. Had there just been one properly functioning detector, installed in a manner such that it would have alerted school administrators, the worst of the incident never would have occurred.

With that said, the leak did occur. It is critical that all parents citywide should focus on safety protocols at their own schools, but some of the questions about what happened at Prussing, and what is happening in the aftermath, still need to be answered. Not only does the incident itself need to better understood, but so too does the waffling CPS response, and how parents are responding to what they're seeing.

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Phil Huckelberry / Comments (2)

Chicago Public Schools Tue Nov 03 2015

Chicago & CPS Carbon Monoxide Protocols are Inadequate

carbon monoxide warningThe story made national news: over 80 students and staff from Prussing Elementary School on the Northwest Side went to hospitals on October 30 because of carbon monoxide exposure. The official word is that the school boiler was the culprit, specifically a faulty gas regulator.

There are a lot of questions which still need to be answered about the boiler. For two and a half years, administrators at Prussing have reported problems with the boiler. While none of those issues suggested the potential for a carbon monoxide leak, the trail of complaints is lengthy, and Chicago Public Schools officials have been put on notice that the school community expects a decision to come down this week that the boiler will not be "fixed" yet again, but outright replaced, and soon.

The other immediate issue raised regards the school carbon monoxide detectors, or the lack thereof. How did CO levels get so high without any alarm going off? The boiler room at Prussing was equipped with a detector. At this time, it is not clear why it did not go off. But the situation begs the question of why a school with 700 children had only one detector in the first place.

As it turns out, there are some answers to be found in state law and Chicago building code, and they're not that great. For a city which prides itself on the most stringent fire codes in the country, the city code regarding carbon monoxide detectors is inadequate, and it is clear that CPS protocols regarding detectors don't even yet exist.

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Phil Huckelberry

Chicago Public Schools Mon Oct 26 2015

Give Me a Mirror: Why Students Need to Connect to their Teachers

Chicago Public School students enjoying lunchBy Mayra Almaraz-De Santiago

When I was 6 years old, I believed you could not be Mexican and American. In my world, they did not go together. It was like wearing polka dots and plaid: each was interesting on their own, but they could never be together. To me, there was a time to a time to be Mexican and a time to be American. Being Mexican was a private affair, reserved for people who did not need an explanation for my differences.

I grew up on the Northwest Side of Chicago in a mostly Polish, Irish, and Italian neighborhood. I clearly recall being in kindergarten and telling my teacher that I was the youngest of 10 siblings. Shocked, my teacher asked me to tell her the names of my siblings. Afterwards, she walked me over to one of her colleague's classrooms and asked me to recite the names for her. What followed was thunderous laughter. Then I was escorted off to a new classroom to recite my siblings' names again. To this day, I'm not sure why the teachers were so amused. Was it my siblings' names? Was it that I had 10 siblings? All I know is that I was being singled out for being different. In later years, whenever my teachers asked for the number of siblings in my family, I told them I had two sisters and one brother. Every time I told that lie, I felt my heart sink. I hated knowing that I had allowed others to make me reject a part of me.

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Chicago Public Schools Fri Oct 02 2015

Keys to a Classroom

Kelvyn Park High SchoolBy Manny Ramos

On the morning of May 8, 2015, Jerry Skinner was teaching his English class to his 11th graders when he noticed a group of students wandering the hallways outside of his classroom. This is a common problem at Kelvyn Park High School, but it is not for the reason you might think. These students weren't lost, they weren't skipping class, and they weren't looking for trouble.

Sadly, it's quite the opposite. The students simply were missing two of the most essential things to any educational process.

A classroom.

More importantly, a teacher.

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Chicago Public Schools Tue Aug 25 2015

Explaining a Hunger Strike to My 3-Year-Old

By Dave Stieber

A few days ago my son and I took juice to the 12 parents and community members who are performing a hunger strike. They are protesting Chicago Public Schools' decision to close one of the last public schools in their neighborhood. Frustrations are intense towards CPS, who has not been listening to their proposal to open a new public school, which they created with real community input.

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Op-Ed Wed Aug 12 2015

I am a Dictator: A Chicago Public Schools Teacher Responds to Rauner & Claypool

By Dave Stieber

Recently Governor Rauner said, "...the Chicago Teachers Union shouldn't have dictatorial powers, in effect and causing the financial duress that Chicago Public Schools are facing right now."

This statement from Rauner comes just a few days after Forrest Claypool, our newest CEO, said that teachers need to have "shared sacrifice" by taking a 7 percent pay cut.

The shared sacrifice Claypool speaks of means that my wife (also a CPS teacher) and I would lose about $11,000 in combined income for this year alone.

I could go on and on about how Claypool is just another puppet of Rahm, in a long line of puppets appointed by the mayor, or how Chicagoans demand an elected school board (remember Chicago is the only district in the entire state without an elected school board). But since Rauner thinks a union run by 40,000 teachers is a dictatorship and Claypool says teachers need to sacrifice, I will share my stories, so that maybe, just maybe, they both (along with Rahm) will realize what it means to really sacrifice.

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Mechanics / Comments (4)

Chicago Public Schools Wed Aug 05 2015

Intrinsic Withdraws Proposal For Third Charter School

Intrinsic Schools has sent a letter to the North Side Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) informing that they are withdrawing their proposal for their third charter high school in Chicago.

The letter was addressed from Intrinsic CEO Melissa Zaikos and came one night before a scheduled "Capacity Interview," which would have essentially been an interview of the charter operator by the NAC.

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Phil Huckelberry

Chicago Public Schools Thu Jul 23 2015

North Side NAC Members Call on Intrinsic to Withdraw Charter Proposal

The only new charter school proposed for anywhere on the North Side this year is facing strong opposition -- from the advisory group convened by CPS to review their proposal.

An outright majority of members of the North Side Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC), a CPS-convened citizen group, has signed on to a formal letter requesting that charter operator Intrinsic withdraw their proposal for a third high school. The letter -- the full text of which can be found here -- was delivered the morning of July 23.

Intrinsic already operates one high school on the Northwest Side at 4540 W. Belmont Ave. Last year, Intrinsic also received conditional approval for a second high school. The second school has been in the news because there is still no actual location for it -- and this is at the core of the problems identified with the Intrinsic #3 proposal.

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Phil Huckelberry / Comments (1)

Op-Ed Thu May 21 2015

Memorial Day Awakening - 2015

By Arnold Stieber

An awakening... to summer festivities and the anticipation of warm weather and fun, picnics, a holiday — that's what Memorial Day is for most. Some will march in parades or stand on the sidelines waving flags and unwittingly support the military model of conflict resolution by violence. There will be words like "heroes" and "bravery" and "God bless America."

memorial day parade chicago
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

The Chicago Memorial Day parade is Saturday, May 23. It's billed as the largest Memorial Day parade in the nation. As an Army infantry veteran of the U.S. war against the people of Vietnam, I attended the parade in 2013 with several members of Veterans For Peace. We were expecting to see a somber memorial parade that recognized the death and destruction caused by war. Instead we saw militarized police and fire departments, military groups and military vehicles. At least 80 percent of the parade was hundreds and hundreds of children, in military uniforms, proudly marching behind military banners. We were overwhelmed with sorrow.

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Chicago Public Schools Fri May 01 2015

Chicago Public School Officials Tread Water In Smelly Unethical Swamp

While taxpayers wait to learn the outcome of the federal corruption investigation into the Chicago Public Schools' questionable $20 million no-bid contract with SUPES Academy, it's not too soon to conclude that the School Board and CPS officials continue to operate in a smelly unethical swamp, where they have been mired for many years.

Numerous news organizations recently reported that the FBI and a federal grand jury were investigating CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the contract with SUPES, where she worked before joining CPS.

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Thomas J. Gradel / Comments (2)

Education Mon Apr 27 2015

PARCC Exam Raises Concerns

themash.comBy Julia Huebner and Alex Rothschild

Last month, thousands of students across Illinois took or opted out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC exam. The test is a state assessment aligned with the controversial Common Core curriculum. Although students are spending hours on the exam, parents and educators are the ones speaking up about it. There's no standard opinion about the PARCC exam.

Supporters of the PARCC argue that it reflects classroom learning better than the Illinois Standard Achievement Test or Prairie State Achievement Examination, both of which were replaced by the PARCC. According to the Illinois Board of Education, the PARCC is "an assessment that requires students to analyze information--and explain their answers--[that] better reflects classroom lessons and experiences."

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Op-Ed Wed Feb 11 2015

An Ode to the Appointed Chicago School Board Members

By Dave Stieber

Let's just get the following truths about the Chicago School Board out of the way:

  • It is appointed by the mayor and not elected by the people of Chicago. It is the only school board in the entire state of Illinois that is not elected.

  • It closed the most schools in the history of the United States.

  • It allows our neighborhood schools to be criminally underfunded.

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Chicago Public Schools Mon Nov 24 2014

I Would Be so Thankful If Only Chicago Had an Elected School Board

By Dave Stieber

While we all prepare to give thanks for family, friends, and loved ones, I want to pause and give thanks to the people in this city who are relentlessly trying to give us all the opportunity to have an elected school board.

Because Mayor Rahm Emanuel keeps Chicago the only school district in the entire state of Illinois that does not have an elected school board.

We have a school board that is handpicked by the mayor and therefor does whatever the mayor tells them to do, because if they go against him then guess what? They are no longer on the school board.

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Mechanics / Comments (3)

Chicago Public Schools Wed Nov 12 2014

Cuts to Social Safety Net, School Resources Leave CPS Bleeding Students

cps_oldlogo.jpgChicago Public School enrollment dropped by around 3,000 this year, contributing to a total loss of 6,000 students in the district since 2012. For the first time since 1970, CPS enrollment has fallen below 400,000.

This loss of students stems from failures by the Emanuel and Daley administrations that go beyond education policy alone. Both our current and previous mayors have focused resources downtown and in wealthy business districts. This has come at the direct expense of low-income families living in neighborhoods City Hall consistently neglects. As housing costs have soared, the social safety net shriveled, and neighborhood schools have been closed or consistently cut back, many low-income families have chosen to move out of the city.

"I knew my daughter couldn't get the quality education that she deserved in our neighborhood schools," explained Zerlina Smith, a single mother living in the West Side community of Austin. When it came time to send her daughter Cherish to pre-K, Smith was alarmed at the lack of resources at her neighborhood public school, Oscar DePriest, which at the time was on the list of schools set to be shuttered by the Emanuel administration. But Smith was not ready to give up on CPS completely. "I chose to send her 16 miles away from our home to Maria Saucedo, which is a scholastic academy and a level one school with an abundance of resources."

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Rachel Anspach

Chicago Public Schools Fri Oct 24 2014

Chicago Organizers Protest Lead-Contaminated Schools

Demonstrators protest lead-contaminated schools outside CPS' Loop headquarters. Photo by Kelly Hayes

Organizers with Chicago Light Brigade (CLB) demonstrated outside a board of education meeting Wednesday morning to call for immediate action on lead-based paint contamination in school buildings -- a hazard they suspect is widespread in Chicago.

Protesters claimed Chicago Public Schools officials knowingly ignored reports of hazardous lead contamination at Gale Elementary Community Academy in Rogers Park for at least five years before they began removing the lead-contaminated paint earlier this year.

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Emily Brosious

Chicago Public Schools Wed Oct 22 2014

Openlands Builds Green Space for Chicago Public Schools

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at McPherson Elementary School. Photo courtesy of Openlands

Openlands, one of the oldest metropolitan conservation organizations in the nation, celebrated its continued effort to green Chicago Public Schools with the opening of its latest school garden in Ravenswood on Friday.

A dedication ceremony at McPherson Elementary School, 4728 N. Wolcott Avenue, brought together students and teachers, as well as local school and government officials together to celebrate the garden's installation. Speakers included Alderman Ameya Pawar (47th), Bill Clarkin of BMO Harris Bank (lead sponsor), Jerry Adelmann of Openlands, Senator Heather Steans, Principal Carmen Mendoza and Bob Farster of the Local School Council.

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Becky Schultz

Chicago Public Schools Tue Sep 30 2014

Lessons Learned in Englewood: 8 Years of Reflections from a CPS Teacher

By Dave Stieber

A little over eight years ago, when I took my first job in CPS at a high school in Englewood, people of all races would look at me like I was crazy when I told them where I would be working. During my time teaching in Englewood I had people make assumptions about me, such as that I must not be a very good teacher if I teach in Englewood, because surely, if I were a good teacher I would be working somewhere else.

Obviously if people were making assumptions about me working in Englewood, they were also making assumptions about my students who lived in the community. I have written previously about when a random stranger on the bus called my kids animals and how I responded.

Through all of assumptions and stereotypes, I realized that the students I taught were all that mattered. But I also very recently came to a point in my professional career that I needed a change of schools. I am still a CPS public high school teacher on the South Side, just at a different school now. Leaving the students was and is still hard. I didn't officially make the decision until August so I told my students through email and text messages. That was the hardest thing by far about leaving. But the beauty of the students was they wanted me to be happy. Yes, they were upset and hurt, but every single student (I even messaged kids who graduated awhile ago to let them know) really just wanted me to be happy. So I write this dedicated to every single student I taught in Englewood, which is close to a thousand students.

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Chicago Public Schools Tue Aug 26 2014

Chicago Students Want a Democratic School System

In 1995, Richard M. Daley convinced the Illinois General Assembly to do away with elected school councils and place Chicago Public Schools directly under the mayor's control.

Since then, CPS has operated under a model whereby the mayor directly appoints school board members and district CEOs -- currently Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Chicago Students Union (CSU), a student-run organization formed in 2013 in response to CPS school closures, is pushing to end that system of mayoral-control.

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Emily Brosious

Chicago Public Schools Tue May 27 2014

I Ran for Local School Council and Maybe I Even Won!

On Monday, April 7, across Chicago, elections were held for Local School Council seats for all CPS elementary schools. I myself ran for a Community Representative seat for Prussing Elementary.

I might have even won!

But maybe the election didn't even happen.

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Phil Huckelberry / Comments (4)

Chicago Public Schools Thu May 08 2014

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange Maintaining the Status Quo in Chicago Public Schools

cps_oldlogo.jpgBy Dave Stieber

Karen Lewis, former CPS teacher and president of the Chicago Teachers Union, proposed an idea to generate funding, to improve Chicago Public Schools and our city. Her idea is to place a small tax on futures bought and sold at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). In an interview published in the Sun Times, Lewis said, "This is an opportunity to actually make heroes out of these (wealthy) people. Instead of everybody being angry at them about their money and their greed and all these other things. This is an opportunity for them to say, 'You know what, we're part of the city. We love this city. We'd like to see the city work. We'd like to be a part of the process and this isn't going to be enough to make us want to go.'"

The CME issued a statement in response to Lewis saying in part, "We do not believe the way to accomplish a strong public school system is through singling out futures traders with a tax more than 200 percent higher than what the average trader pays to buy or sell a futures contract."

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Mechanics / Comments (7)

Op-Ed Thu Apr 24 2014

A New President Obama School, Even Though CPS Closed 50 Schools Last Year

Chicago Public Schools - Children First CPS

By David Stieber

Chicago Public Schools just announced that it will build a new high school and name it after our current president, Barack Obama.

This announcement of the building of a new high school is about a year after the announcement by the unelected, mayorally appointed CPS Board of Education to close the most schools in the history of the United States amidst massive community protests.

This announcement also comes about one month after this same board of education agreed to give themselves $5 million to buy brand new furniture for their new offices.

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Chicago Public Schools Tue Mar 11 2014

What It Means to Love Your Students

By David Stieber

We teachers teach, because we love the kids we work with. Yes, we may complain about the kids at times, but they are the reason we stay late, bring work home and get up early. Thousands of teachers in Chicago put up with bad administrators or broken copy machines, because we love the students that we work with so much that we try to block out all the things that "leadership" of Chicago Public Schools does wrong.

It doesn't matter where in the city you teach or the "types" of kids that you work with, teachers come to school to enrich the lives of our city's children.

It is with this love at the absolute forefront, that what the teachers at Saucedo, Drummond, and many other schools are doing truly proves the love teachers have for their students.
The teachers that are refusing to give the ISAT have been threatened to have their Illinois Teaching Licenses revoked. There is no worse threat than that. The threat of taking away the thing we have dedicated our lives to....the ability to teach our students.

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Chicago Public Schools Fri Mar 07 2014

Chicago Teachers, Parents Say No to Over-Testing

Standardized achievement tests are underway in Illinois. Hundreds of thousands of students across the state began taking the exams in math and science on Tuesday. But in Chicago, some students, parents and teachers are boycotting the final year of the Illinois Standardized Achievement Test.

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Emily Brosious

Chicago Public Schools Fri Mar 07 2014

CPS Teachers and Parents Boycott the ISATs


In a brave move last week teachers at Saucedo Scholastic Academy, a neighborhood school in Little Village, decided that they would protest administering the Illinois Standard Achievement Tests (ISAT). These teachers took a step in what may be a growing boycott of the test, and in doing so put their jobs and futures on the line.

Teachers at Drummond Elementary School, a Montessori magnet school in Bucktown, announced on Friday that they too would boycott the ISATs.

Now, testing at the schools has begun, and teachers at Saucedo have gone through with their boycott. Fred Klonsky, a retired public school teacher in Park Ridge, who has been following the ISATs battle on his blog, witnessed firsthand some of the events at Saucedo. He recalled a conversation in which:

Sarah Chambers, who is one of the union leaders, described what happened Tuesday, which is that CPS sent security into the building. But the teachers did not give the test; instead they taught about Rosa Parks, the civil rights movement, and social justice. It was great to witness.

Klonsky was previously president of his local of the National Education Association and has been active in social justice movements, most recently the struggles between Chicago's public schools and Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools administration.

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Rachel Anspach / Comments (1)

Chicago Public Schools Tue Nov 19 2013

"Englewood! Those Kids Are Animals"

By David Stieber

A little over a year ago I was on the bus headed downtown from the South Side, a lady next to me on the bus struck up a conversation. Eventually she found out that I was a teacher and where I worked. As soon as I finished the last syllable of Englewood, her face showed complete disgust and she promptly said, "Englewood! Those people are animals, you should never go there." I responded, "I've worked there five years. I have good kids and parents. Have a nice night." Thankfully it happened to be my stop.

Sadly, many of the other teachers that I work with have had similar experiences to the one I described. If you've never spent time with kids from Englewood and believe the stereotypes about everyone in the neighborhood, I can understand why this lady said what she did.

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Mechanics / Comments (4)

Chicago Public Schools Thu Aug 29 2013

The Fight for Education Justice Rages on in Chicago


"Education is under attack!
What do we do?
Stand up!
Fight back!"

This was the siren pulsing through Chicago's Loop Wednesday morning as hundreds of students, parents, teachers, and community members rallied against Chicago Public School closures and budget cuts in a day-long boycott of CPS to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington.

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Emily Brosious

Op-Ed Tue Aug 20 2013

The New "Safe" for the Chicago Public Schools

Demolition crews arrived at Whittier Elementary on Friday night to demolish the field house, also known as La Casita. The Chicago Public Schools made the decision to demolish the field house based on safety concerns. The CPS was so concerned about the safety of school children they skipped applying for a demolition permit and obtained an administrative order from the Department of Buildings, allowing for an emergency demolition.

Meanwhile, two shootings have occurred in the past month along "Safe Passage" routes. The most recent one occurred on Aug. 19 at Sheridan and Wilson, injuring five people. If these are supposed to ensure the safety of CPS students as they walk to welcoming schools on Aug. 26, how can people be confident students will be safe if shootings occur along the routes?

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Monica Reida

Whittier Elementary Sat Aug 17 2013

Whittier Field House (La Casita) Demolished

As we broke in Merge, the Wittier Field House was demolished Saturday morning. The field house, which came to be known as "La Casita," developed into a vibrant community center after a parents from the community and nearby school demanded it be turned into a library and gathering place rather than demolished in 2010. The parents are now demanding a new field house.

A few photographs from the demolition follow. More information will be added as the situation evolves.

Whittier Field House (La Casita) Demolition

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David Schalliol

Op-Ed Wed Jul 31 2013

The Intentional Impoverishment of Neighborhood Schools by CPS

By Dave Stieber

Over the past six years I have seen the public high school I work at on the South Side, TEAM Englewood, lose funding little by little, that is until this year. Our school was part of Arne Duncan's Renaissance 2010 plan which was based on the faulty premise that one could simply make education better by closing schools, firing everyone that worked in the building and opening a new school. Being new to Chicago and not knowing anything about this plan, school closings and turnarounds I decided to work at TEAM Englewood (which replaced Englewood Tech Prep). I chose to work in the Englewood community, not because I didn't have job options of where to work, but because I wanted to work in the Englewood neighborhood.

Our school's motto is simply "Opportunity." We want to give our students in Englewood the same opportunities that students all across the city get. I am one of the original teachers who started at this school when it first opened.

During the past six years I have seen our school do amazing things. Maybe the most impressive is that we average about a 93% graduation rate for our senior classes. However, the opportunities that we are able to give our kids are slowly dwindling and being taken away by CPS and this city in the name of "mandatory" budget cuts.

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Mechanics / Comments (2)

TIFs Fri Jul 12 2013

County Clerk Orr Sounds Quiet Alarm on TIF Overuse

Cook County Clerk David Orr, in a half-hour July 12 press conference releasing his office's required 2012 tax increment financing ("TIF") revenue report, highlighted the enormous amount of revenue siphoned from Chicago and Cook County taxpayers into TIF districts, and called for early declaration of surpluses within Chicago to fund needs like schools. Observing that billions of dollars have flowed into the now-over-500 districts, Orr released a video (embedded below) on the Clerk's website to help taxpayers grasp how the little-understood mechanisms work.

The video's tone suggests a school science filmstrip, kind of quiet in view of the alarming numbers, but this is government, not advocacy. At 2:41, over soothing guitar arpeggios, a pleasant female narrator says, "In most cases, taxpayers outside the TIFs pay more to generate the revenue requested by [their own] taxing districts." TIF critics such as the Reader's Ben Joravsky have hammered relentlessly on this, how TIFs hike your taxes, but it's easy to miss in the video unless you pause.

Orr's press conference was both longer and stronger than the official video. Noting that Chicago's collective TIF districts pull in half as many tax dollars as the City itself, Orr expressed concern that so "many taxpayer dollars are diverted into the Loop," charged that "not enough is being done in the neighborhoods," and that there has been little transparency as to how $5.5 billion in TIF dollars has been spent. He urged Mayor Emanuel and the City Council to declare a TIF surplus this year "as soon as possible" for the benefit of Chicago Public Schools, asking, "How do you explain to the kids in many of these schools that gym, music and art classes are cancelled while profitable businesses downtown ... received 25, 30, 40, 50 million?" Good question.

While Orr's remarks centered on Chicago, they echoed the same requests made by pressed suburban taxpayers for more transparency and accountability, better metrics, declarations of surpluses, and early retirement of no-longer-needed districts.

Overall, the video capably illustrates TIF workings and numbers, whose magnitude needs time to sink in, and Orr deserves credit for shining further light on what is now a gargantuan but opaque component of local governmental taxing and spending.

Jeff Smith

Chicago Public Schools Thu Jul 11 2013

Coming Together for Chicago Students

By Julie Hallums

It's a challenging time to be a Chicago educator. In the days ahead, those of us in Chicago Public Schools and classrooms will grapple with the implications of school closings, layoffs and the reality of a system that continues to fail too many students across our city. As I reflect on my last ten years as a Chicago Public Schools teacher and all the up-hill ahead, the need to come together to deliver on the promise of equal educational opportunity for the children of Chicago has never been more pressing.

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Mechanics / Comments (14)

Chicago Public Schools Mon Jun 24 2013

Is Teach For America a Good Thing for Chicago Public Schools?

Chicago schools have seen reductions at almost every level over the past couple years. Cuts to teacher salaries, jobs, and benefits, student arts and athletics programs, and even entire school budgets have created a new austerity within CPS. Amidst all the downsizing, however, one educational element has been growing in stark contrast. Teach For America recruits are teeming into Chicago schools like never before.

Teach For America, a branch of AmeriCorps, is the largest school reform not-for-profit organization in our country. On a mission to improve education and break the cycle of poverty, TFA recruits elite college graduates, gives them about a month of intensive training, and places them in two year termed teaching positions at low-income schools across the country.

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Emily Brosious / Comments (13)

Chicago Public Schools Wed Jun 19 2013

Activists Protest CPS Mass Layoffs and Latest Budget Cuts

IMG_3815.jpgDozens of activists protested and gathered toilet paper donations outside the Chase Auditorium in downtown Chicago on Tuesday, at an event where Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett spoke with Tribune editorial page editor Bruce Dold about her plans for the CPS. The event protesters gathered outside of was sponsored by ComEd and the Tribune.

Protesters blasted the plan for deep budget cuts that would put many schools in untenable situations. Demonstrators collected toilet paper donations as a nod to the fact that these budget cuts would leave many schools stretched so thin they'd be unable to pay for even the most basic of supplies--including janitorial supplies like toilet paper.

According to the Tribune, Byrd-Bennett is going to look into reports of cuts to funding for toilet paper.

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Emily Brosious

Chicago Public Schools Fri May 31 2013

The Real Status Quo of Chicago Public Schools

By David Stieber

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Becky Carroll, the CPS spokesperson, have used the justification (among many others over this year) that we must close schools that children are in under-utilized schools. They have even blasted the Chicago Teachers Union saying that, "union leadership remains committed to a status quo that is failing too many children trapped in underutilized, under-resourced schools."

As a high school history teacher in Englewood for the past six years, I agree that we must break the status quo. We (parents, teachers, and tax payers of this city) must break the status quo that CPS and our mayor allow to go on. The status quo of having a mayor control the school system. If as a mayor you have to close any schools you obviously are failing at running the schools. If as a mayor you have to close the most schools in the history of our country you have obviously failed at running the schools.

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Chicago Public Schools Tue May 28 2013

Forget Intent: Why The School Closings are Plainly Discriminatory

Last week, the Chicago Board of Education closed 50 schools, including 10% of the city's elementary schools. More than 80% of the students impacted are black. About 42% of CPS students are black.

cps_oldlogo.jpgA lot of emotions and outrage get ginned up. The CEO of the Chicago Public Schools was outraged, because she had supposedly been called a racist in pushing a policy of mass closure of public schools. Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett was outraged that "as a woman of color," she could be accused of racism. Also, how could the Chicago Teachers Union and its allies in the parent and student community call the school closure plan "racist" when its purpose is purportedly to get kids out of failing schools? (As one of several rationales.)

There are two parts to the answer here, and they're very important, and each deserves its own, focused article, so let's do one at a time. The one of interest right now is the nature of a discriminatory policy; one for another day, is the conditions that result in discrimination.

Racist can be a tough word to hear or to understand. The school closure plan is absolutely not racist in the way we think of Archie Bunker (that's old-timey Eric Cartman for you youths) as being racist — that is, fueled by conscious hatred for a group, or subconscious fear of that group. But that is not the only definition of racist. Many a racist remark has been made with good intentions, for example; we can all think of cringe-inducing incidents of those from our personal experience. So perhaps it'd be better to call the school closure policy discriminatory. Oh, CPS's school closure plan is plainly discriminatory. The only open issues are whether the government had no choice but to be discriminatory. To date, CPS has not made that case.

This isn't controversial, in fact. Discrimination based on race is not about the intent of the discriminator. It's about the effect of the policy. This isn't Leftist race theory, this is taken directly from the United States Congress. Even to the Congress it's long been understood that a private employer or a government body can be guilty of discrimination even with a pure heart. Several pieces of long-standing legislation bear this out: the Civil Rights Act's "Title VII," which bars discrimination in employment; the Fair Housing Act, which bars discrimination in housing; and the Americans with Disability Act among others. These statutes all, either on their face or through interpretation by courts, contemplate that a policy can be discriminatory — have discriminatory effects — even absent any discriminatory motives.

In such scenarios, intent is immaterial. Motive is immaterial. What matters is, when a powerful actor (an employer, a government) acts, it has to be sensitive to the impact of that policy on protected classes — whether they be women or people of color or religious minorities or the disabled — and aware of possible disparate impacts. If they aren't sufficiently careful to justify or mitigate those impacts, then they have discriminated. Again, don't ask me, ask Congress — and take an example.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Chicago Public Schools Wed May 22 2013

Nonprofit Breakfast Lets Students Shine During Difficult Times

In the midst of broken confidence in Chicago's education system, BuildOn, a nonprofit that establishes schools in developing countries and implements after school programs in urban cities hosted a fundraiser breakfast Tuesday at the Chicago Hilton. The hour and half morning event hosted by NBC 5 anchors Stefan Holt and Daniella Guzman drew business professionals, politicians and companies alike along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Guests were greeted by excited Chicago buildOn students, who reminded us with their enthusiasm that negative news stories do not define them.

Mayor Emanuel, Jim Reynolds, CEO of Loop Capital, and Jim Ziolkowski, founder of buildOn, each spoke briefly about the organization along with testimonies from current buildOn member Alejandro Garcia and alumna Amanda Perez.

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Sydney Corryn

Chicago Public Schools Fri May 10 2013

Chicago Students Always Lead the Way

By David Stieber

Those of us who work with students day in and day out know the brilliance and potential that our students have. We also find ourselves as educators, parents and taxpayers becoming increasingly frustrated by a mayor, "CEO" and appointed school board that consistently and blatantly do not have the best interest of our students at heart.

Have no fear our students will lead the way. Yes, our students that the media far too often label as "gang bangers" "thugs" or "criminals" will lead the way against the harming polices implemented by CPS.

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Aldermen Thu Apr 11 2013

Accountability is the Missing Ingredient

Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett is being called racist for school closings, but no one called other black politicians racist for ignoring the needs of their communities by engaging in corrupt activities for decades. We've seen the downfall of African-American communities from the direct result of the crack epidemic, street gangs, economic collapse, inadequate leadership and years of disinvestment. Evidently, accountability for previous leaders is the missing ingredient.

We are quick to bash her decision; however, where was the opposition when black leaders were becoming greedy off the expense of their citizens? Where was the opposition when black alderman and state representatives knew neighborhood schools lacked resources and were failing? Where was the outrage when parents become negligent? Most of all, where were protesters when residents repeatedly voted for corrupt leaders out of tradition and not for morality?

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Sydney Corryn / Comments (2)

Chicago Public Schools Fri Mar 29 2013

1 of 150 Arrested for Protesting School Closures

By David Stieber

cpsclosings_photo.jpgOn Wednesday, I, a Chicago Public Schools history teacher, a father and husband, was arrested for sitting down on La Salle Street in front of City Hall and refusing to move when asked to do so by the police. I along with nearly 150 others was taking part in an act of civil disobedience against the school closing policies implemented by Mayor Emanuel, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the Board of Education.

You see, those of us who chose to get arrested and the other couple thousand marching legally against the CPS plan to close over 54 public schools are beyond frustrated that we live in a city that is governed by lies and press releases.

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Chicago Public Schools Mon Mar 25 2013

Giving High School Students a Voice in the CPS Banning of Persepolis

By David Stieber

As we are all aware now, last week at Lane Tech and other Chicago public high schools, the graphic novel Persepolis was removed from classrooms as demanded by a CPS mandate. The removal of the books and the banning of Persepolis immediately prompted students and teachers to protest this decision at Lane Tech. Later that same day, CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the banning of Persepolis is only for grades 7 and under. She went on to say that the book will be reviewed to determine if it is appropriate for grades 8-10.

Currently only 11th and 12th graders are allowed to read the book per the new CPS ruling.

The book is a historical and autobiographical account of the author as a young girl growing up under dictatorial rule in Iran and the revolutions led by the people in an attempt to bring in democracy.

As a history teacher, I decided to let my students at TEAM Englewood High School review the book and decide if the banning of Persepolis by CPS and Byrd-Bennett was justified.

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Mechanics / Comments (2)

Education Tue Feb 19 2013

Genealogy of Scandal in Public Education

When Seth Lavin asks questions, he gets answers. Lavin is a local teacher, parent, and education observer, and briefly published a newsletter following Chicago education news. He's a thoughtful man who has recently been active in the school closure process -- or, "process" -- surrounding Brentano School in Logan Square. Frustrated with the Chicago Public Schools' posture during the closures, Lavin recently posted 10 questions to Twitter meant to question CPS's assertion that its school closure process and the related charterification was purely data-motivated (what I and others would refer to as "technocratic").

CPS felt the need to respond to Lavin's thoughtful questions. Their responses are forceful, but hardly get to Lavin's essential point: if school closures don't really save money, if the past closures haven't improved outcomes for children, and if the main criteria for closing schools, "underutilization," doesn't itself harm student outcomes, why is CPS causing these communities so much pain, ignoring the outrage in the community, and undermining community schools?

One could add: and why are they doing it to support and institutionalize a program of charterification when charters can't be said to be as efficacious as they claim, and scandals like the United Neighborhoods Organization (UNO) scandal are becoming more frequent and acute?

I envy Lavin. I doubt CPS would have answered my 10 questions. I don't need to doubt actually; these are precisely the questions critics of the privatization of the Chicago school system have been raising at least since 2005.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Chicago Public Schools Tue Feb 05 2013

Mr. Stieber, Protests aren't on the MAP Test!

By David Stieber

Last week my high school students decided, on their own, to have a protest. They were upset about how cold our building has been this relatively mild winter. So after first period many of the students put hoodies and sweaters over their short sleeve uniform polo (which is a violation of the dress code) and marched loudly into the hall. They had signs, some had chants, and one even had an American flag. These 16- and 17-year-old Englewood students were organized. Their downfall was they didn't fully think through how to explain this plan to the 9th grade students, who just thought the protest was fun and were running around getting into trouble instead of helping the cause.

Security, teachers and administration intervened, the kids stopped the protest and went back to class. A few kids got in trouble. Being a history teacher, I was impressed by the students planning, but I realized they needed help understanding the purpose of a protest and steps involved in order to get what they wanted, without having to protest. So I did a mini-lesson the rest of the day that included discussing the following steps.

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Mechanics / Comments (7)

Chicago Public Schools Thu Dec 06 2012

The "Justification" for Closing Schools in Chicago

By David Stieber

To be honest and straight to the point, closing a neighborhood school means the city has failed that neighborhood. It should come as no shock then that all the school closures in Chicago over the past decade have been in black and latino areas of the city. Many of these neighborhoods, like Englewood where I teach, have been ignored, underfunded, and blamed for their own problems for decades.

Logic dictates that CPS should be trying to help improve struggling schools, but using logic and CPS in the same sentence is a mistake. As CPS Chief Operating Officer Tim Cawley said publicly, "If we think there's a chance that a building is going to be closed in the next five to 10 years, if we think it's unlikely it's going to continue to be a school, we're not going to invest in that building." So CPS admits that if a school needs help there is no way that they are going to fund that school. Since the vast majority of underperforming schools are in poorer communities, CPS has, through its own policies, decided to give up on the schools in those communities. They look at a school as a business investment, not a community investment.

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Chicago Public Schools Fri Nov 23 2012

Interview with John Kuijper, Kohl Teacher Award Winner

In a city whose public education problems make national headlines, last Friday was an opportunity to step back and celebrate people who represent the best in Chicago Public Schools. The Dolores Kohl Education Foundation recognized three outstanding CPS teachers for their achievements in education: Abigail Weber from Horatio May Community Academy, Folasade Adkeunle from Northwest Middle School, and John Kuijper from Bronzeville Scholastic Academy. Diane Ravitch was also honored--she won the Kohl Education Prize.

These three teachers were selected from a group of candidates nominated by local education leaders. They underwent a lengthy interview process and classroom visits from the nominating committee. They posses five selection criteria: dedication, innovation, leadership, respect for children and families, and commitment to professional growth. They were also selected for their ability to speak comfortably with the media in order to expand public awareness of the importance of quality education. The awards were given out during a ceremony held Friday November 16 at the River North Marriot. During the ceremony WGN shared video of the three Teacher Award winners learning they had won.

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Julie Davis

Op-Ed Wed Nov 21 2012

The Path to True Educational Improvement

By David Stieber

When I was in high school, in a white middle class area, three consecutive junior classes lost someone in a car crash. During my sophomore year conversations would sometimes turn to, "Who do you think will die when we are juniors?" Morbid? No doubt, but these accidental deaths caused students to worry about their own mortality.

Fifteen years later, as a high school teacher in Englewood, I see the same worry in my students -- but it's not about car accidents. Growing up black, on the South Side, my students are guaranteed to experience a tragic event to someone that they know and care about. Let me repeat this, my students are guaranteed to experience a tragedy. Many of them have already experienced the loss of multiple tragic and violent deaths of their classmates and loved ones.

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Mechanics / Comments (4)

Education Mon Nov 05 2012

The Threat and Promise of an Elected, Representative School Board

My friend and much-beloved one-time political consultant Mike Fourcher published an editorial in the Center Square and Roscoe View Journals urging voters to vote against a non-binding advisory referendum on the ballot in many Chicago precincts: whether there should be an elected, representative school board (ESRB).

Mike makes some compelling but ultimately unsatisfying arguments as to why voters should reject this referendum. His arguments, both in the piece and in the comments, are compelling enough to merit a response.

The thrust of the argument against the school board is three-pronged; first, direct elections of technically- or specialty-oriented board are not desirous because of the outsize influence of interested parties; second, more democracy can cut against efficiency; and finally, there is sufficient control over the school board via election of the Mayor.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Chicago Public Schools Tue Oct 16 2012

Does Chicago Need an Elected School Board?

This November voters in hundreds of Chicago precincts will be asked if they think Chicago needs an elected school board. This same question will be the topic of conversation for a town hall meeting taking place Tuesday October 23 at 7pm in the Logan Square Auditorium. The town hall will include a panel of three speakers: CTU President Karen Lewis, Chicago Reader journalist Ben Joravsky, and UIC professor Pauline Lipman.

Communities Organized for Democracy in Education (CODE) is organizing the event. CODE identifies itself as a coalition of parent, community and teacher organizations. CODE has been working to add a referendum to Chicago ballots asking voters if they are in favor of moving to an elected school board. This November, a non-binding referendum will be on the ballot in over 300 precincts across the city. This is an advisory referendum aimed to solicit the opinion of voters on a question of public policy. The next phase of CODE's campaign will be a legislative push in Springfield. To see if the referendum will be on your ballot go to the Chicago Board of Elections website to get a sample ballot from your precinct. The referendum, if included, will be toward the bottom of the ballot.

"When I go door-to-door, people don't even know that we have an appointed school board," said coalition member and CPS parent Wendy Katten in an interview with WBEZ earlier this year. Chicago is the only school district in Illinois without an elected school board, and nationwide, 93% of schools have an elected school board. However of the 6% of school districts with appointed boards, many are in major cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Baltimore among others. Since 1995 the CPS school board has been selected exclusively by the mayor. Prior to that an elected committee proposed board nominees to the mayor who made the final selection.

In the wake of the teacher strike earlier this fall and the appointment of a new chief executive of CPS, education deserves to be top of mind for Chicago area voters this November. The town hall will start at 7pm in the Logan Square Auditorium on 2539 N. Kedzie Blvd. The event is free but if you plan to attend please RSVP via email or facebook.

Julie Davis

Chicago Public Schools Tue Oct 09 2012

Union Strike vs. Union Strike

Last week we witnessed the end to a divisive strike that impacted many of our lives, as a group of respected professionals in their field protested in order to settle a fair contract. During slow negotiations, these professionals were replaced by less experienced stand-ins who proved woefully inept. Public response rallied in support of these professionals to settle the contract dispute immediately because we couldn't afford to wait. That strike, of course, was the NFL referees lockout. While the Bears are off to a strong start this fall, Chicago Public School teachers are emerging from a rocky few weeks -- just recently approving their contract, earned after a week of striking. Other teachers unions throughout Illinois have begun to follow suit, as negative classroom conditions and issues with current contracts have reached a critical mass for the entire profession.

In these two labor disputes, public reaction was far from consistent. The NFL referees received overwhelming support, coming from fans, celebrities and even unlikely public officials. Governor Scott Walker, a man who touted his hard stance against unions in his campaign for reelection, came out strongly in support of the NFL referees. The Chicago Teachers Union? Not so much. A little less than 50 percent reported support for them in a Sun-Times poll.

So why so much support for the NFL referees and not for teachers?

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Christopher Jones

Chicago Public Schools Thu Sep 27 2012

A New Year Dawns in Strike's Wake

By Dick Simpson

Last week began with the Jewish New Year, Constitution Day and a continuing teacher's strike at the Chicago Public Schools.

Rosh Hashanah celebrates a new beginning and new opportunities. It comes at the beginning of the school year as well — a chance to learn new things for millions of students.

Usually, we overlook Constitution Day, which was Monday, Sept. 17. At the University of Illinois at Chicago this year we celebrated it with a discussion of the First Amendment to the US Constitution by Loyola Law Professor George Anastaplo and the kickoff of a campaign to register hundreds of college students to vote in this year's election.

The First Amendment, on which we focused at UIC's Constitution Day, states in part: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

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Media Tue Sep 18 2012

Karen Lewis Visits Wyoming

By Paolo Cisneros

Just one day into the strike last week, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis stepped away from the picket lines to make an impromptu appearance in a small town in rural Wyoming.

Sort of.

I happened to notice because I just moved to the Cowboy State from the corner of Damen and Wilson in Ravenswood. I'm trying my hand at a stint in the West, but Chicago will always be home.

I've been following coverage of the strike from afar because I care deeply about the state of affairs in my city. So I was infuriated to see last week that a Wyoming newspaper devoted space on its opinion page to running a political cartoon that grossly mischaracterized the nature of the movement.


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Mechanics / Comments (8)

Op-Ed Fri Sep 14 2012

Op-Ed: Why the Teacher Strike was Necessary

By Lindsey Rohwer

This strike is not a public relations campaign. While I appreciate the attention the issue of inequity in education received this week, I did not leave my classroom in the middle of our first quarter to shed light on this issue. I did so because CPS has refused to negotiate on the issues that matter most in this contract. I stand on the picket line each morning and march each afternoon to put pressure on the mayor and the Board of Education to negotiate on issues they have ignored for the past nine months at the bargaining table.

It is hard for me and my fellow teachers to trust the other side of the table on this year's contract when they've ignored supposedly legal-binding agreements in our last contract, haphazardly implementing a longer school day and denying negotiated raises for two years. It's hard for us to believe that there is no money to provide air conditioning for schools while the CEO and other CPS leadership receive raises. It is hard for us to believe there is no money to fund wrap-around services when the size of central office staff has increased. It is hard for us to understand the justification behind potentially closing 100 CPS schools when there are plans to open 60 new charter buildings.

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Mechanics / Comments (3)

Op-Ed Wed Sep 12 2012

Fighting Educational Apartheid

By David Stieber

The use of the word apartheid conjures up blatant injustice and horrible conditions. As a history teacher I was selected to travel to South Africa a few years ago to study Apartheid and how its effects still impact much of South Africa. I traveled to schools in wealthy suburbs both public and private and to public schools in incredibly poor townships. I was able to see the outrageous differences between the haves and the have nots. In the United States we do not have people living in shacks in huge numbers as all too many do in the townships of South Africa. However, we do have huge differences between fully funded schools and school districts and the schools and school districts that are not fully funded.

Chicago is suffering educational apartheid.

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Mechanics / Comments (6)

Op-Ed Fri Sep 07 2012

What's At Stake for Chicago Public Educators?

By David Stieber

You have undoubtedly heard the news reports, radio attack ads, CPS representatives, the "CEO" of Chicago Public Schools, and the Mayor saying how teachers are walking out on the students if we strike. Parents, students, residents of this city, as a teacher let me tell you, comments like that rip teachers to our core. As cliché as it sounds teaching is a calling. It's not as if one day we just said, "I guess I'll just be a teacher." It takes skill and dedication to stand in front of 30 (sometimes more) young people in a classroom and truly care and be able to teach every one of them. It is not possible to just be mediocre when it comes to teaching students. A young person is the first to let you know if you aren't doing a good job at teaching the lesson, not getting graded work passed back quickly enough, heck, they will even let you know if you look bad that day.

Teachers just can't punch in, start thinking about kids then punch out and stop. Teachers are always trying to improve our lesson plans, grade, figure out ways to reach the students who are withdrawn, quiet, confrontational or disrupting class. We just can't shut our students out of our lives when the bell rings.

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Mechanics / Comments (36)

Republicans Tue Sep 04 2012

Do Major Romney Donors Like Rahm More Than the Chicago Republican Party?

chicago republican partyOn Sunday, the Chicago Republican Party called on Rahm Emanuel to cancel the speech he will give tonight at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC. In a statement, Party Chairman Adam Robinson wrote that it would be inappropriate for the mayor to leave Chicago while the city was still dealing with a looming Chicago Teachers Union strike and a seemingly never-ending murder epidemic, and demanded that he "provide immediate, visible and specific leadership to address the twin crises facing our city."

Originally, Rahm planned to arrive in Charlotte on Tuesday and stay through Friday. But yesterday, he announced that he would cut his trip short and return to Chicago on Wednesday night -- denying that his new plans had anything to do with public pressure.

While the Chicago GOP makes a valid point about the mayor's priorities, there might be another underlying reason why the group is so eager to attack him: Rahm Emanuel gets more time, money, and attention from the rich donors funding Mitt Romney's presidential campaign than they do.

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Jason Prechtel / Comments (2)

Media Fri Jul 13 2012

Friday Morning Worth a Read

Some items of interest for you all:

  • CPS principals and assistant principals accused of falsifying information to qualify students for free or reduced lunches after internal investigation. [Joel Hood, Chicago Tribune]
  • Local governments are feeling out how to enforce "Green" and LEED standards in the courts. [SSRN Papers]
  • Union janitors protest granting of contract to firm that laid them off last night at Mayor's Office, push for ordinance to hold contractors accountable. [Progress Illinois]
  • The President's "Midwestern Problem." [Whet Moser]
  • Mayor Emanuel's new initiative may not be so new. [Mick Dumke--Chicago Reader]
  • One for the geekertons: Why Is a 98.6-Degree Day So Miserable? [Slate]

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Public Schools Tue Jun 05 2012

REPORT: TIFs Exacerbate Neighborhood Inequalities

As the education privatization reforms spread across the country (from Chicago via D.C.), a report out of Roosevelt University threatens to add fuel to the fire of privatization critics, particularly here in Chicago.

The study, by sociology professor Stephanie Farmer, examines how tax increment financing (TIF) funds have been spent on schools. TIFs are controversial financing mechanisms originally created to allow cities to fund development in blighted areas by dedicating property values above a specific amount to projects within those areas. Thanks in no small degree to the work of Ben Joravsky of the Reader (and the now-defunct and terribly named Neighborhood Capital Budget Group), TIFs came to the public attention as de facto slush funds, with little or no oversight, used to divert property tax revenue (mostly from the schools) to be used as "incentives" or givebacks to developers. Because the revenues diverted into funds come from property taxes, the Chicago Public School systems has consistently been the biggest loser in the TIF craze.

Farmer's study does little to assuage the public's concerns. In it, Farmer finds that

CPS's top priority for the allocation of TIF revenues to school construction projects is to support selective enrollment schools....Though selective enrollment schools account for 1% of all CPS schools, they received 24% of all TIF funds spent on school construction projects.

It is hard to merely call it a "perception" that TIFs have been abused to accelerate gentrification, thus substituting displacement for economic development. That selective enrollment and charter schools received more than a third of all TIF funds spent on school construction and improvement projects isn't just an isolated fact. School quality is a strong, if not the strongest, component that determines not only property values but the attitude of young families and professionals to a neighborhood. Therefore diverting funds from CPS by creating a TIF, and then disproportionately spending that TIF money on already-elite schools actively harms the city's working class neighborhoods.

See the full report here.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Public Schools Fri Mar 02 2012

Democracy Disappearing: Is It Time for Local School Councils to Elect Their Own School Board?

The Chicago Board of Education, having proven itself unconcerned with parent concerns that do not match their own person concerns, and unresponsive to popular political pressure, fail the test of participatory democracy that institutions like school systems need to stay vital and innovative. The last vestige of democracy in the school system, local school councils, may need to do something drastic to make the Board of Education as irrelevant as they seem to think parents are.

In 1988, Chicagoans made an impressive step forward in democratic school governance, amending the state's relevant education statute to provide for, among many other things, elected local school councils with authority over hiring, structuring, and budgeting at local schools. These councils, or LSCs, were novel then and continue to be rare. LSCs are composed of members of the public, parents, teachers, the school's principal and student representative with non-voting authority. The LSCs are not merely advisory bodies, but were designed to make schools responsive to the community and give parents a vested interest in the operation of the local schools. When the reforms were first proposed by state Sen. Art Berman (D-Edgewater) in 1988, they were considered radical but necessary--and for a very interesting reason that resonates today:

The new legislation would make some of the most radical changes ever to be undertaken in this country as a way of scrapping the power structure of a failing public school system. It would break up the monolithic control wielded by the central Board of Education and, instead, set up 11-member mini-school boards, comprised chiefly of parents, that would be elected and have the responsibility of governing each of the city`s 595 public schools.

The idea is that control at the school-based level cannot help but be an improvement over decades of unresponsive management by a bureaucratic, heavily politicized, and rigidly centralized Board of Education.

(Bonita Brodt, "School Reform's Achilles Heel: The Parents" Chicago Tribune, 20 November 1988).

The major concern, shared by power-friendly elites like the Tribune, was that unsophisticated parents would be too susceptible to pressure from outside groups. As an example, that same Tribune article pointed out one community organization that was pressuring parents using race-baiting tactics in East Side:

At Bowen High School, 2710 E. 89th St., a community group called the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) has become so heavily entrenched in what began as a parent fight to oust the school principal that the parents have been split bitterly along racial lines and observers now call it UNO`s crusade, instead.

Yet, LSCs have proven remarkably resilient and insulated from this type of pressure. While complaints about principals bullying untrained LSC members are common, the concerns that LSCs would be unsophisticated cats paws or rubber stamps for powerful interests have not born out. Democracy has proven its value as not just a box to check but for its creative power and capacity to ennoble those who feel they have a meaningful role in it, rather than just being a passive consumer.

School privatizers like Mayor Emanuel, his appointed Board of Ed, and his CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, are hostile to LSCs and parent governance. That is to say, whatever their rhetoric, their actions in aggressively pursuing closure of public schools in favor of charters (which do not have LSCs) indicates either outright hostility or indifference amounting to the same thing. This can't be disputed so long as actions are weighted greater than press releases.

The only nod to democratic control of schools the current administration has given is of the "check-the-box" variety, where the Board, before voting unanimously to pursue a Mayoral policy, holds hearings where there are no procedural options for parents to actively and meaningfully participate in decision making. Instead, the Board holds the hearings to say they held them and continue to pursue the precise policy dictated by the Mayor and his CEO.

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Ramsin Canon

Chicago Public Schools Thu Dec 15 2011

If Charter Schools Don't Perform That Well, Why Build More?

On Monday Chicago Public School (CPS) officials announced that 12 new charter schools are proposed for the next two years. This would add more schools to the already established Noble Street, United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) and LEARN Charter Networks while establishing Catalyst and Christopher House charter schools.

In a press release, CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard is quoted as saying that expanding the charter school options would increase "higher quality school options" for students.

This would be a nice proposition if 25 of the 83 charter schools in Chicago didn't have less than 50 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards. It's curious why something touted as being a way to provide outstanding education to students doesn't have more performing at outstanding levels.

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Monica Reida

Chicago Public Schools Thu Dec 15 2011

School Actions: Many More Raucous Meetings To Come

When Mayor Daley took full control of the schools in 1995, transforming the once semi-independent Board of Education into something more like a Department of Education under his direction, it "streamlined" the process for closing or altering schools. When he accelerated his privatization program with the Renaissance 2010 program, this meant that traumatic school closures, phaseouts, and "co-locations" were introduced into neighborhoods with little meaningful input from the community, and often with almost no notice.

The situation became intolerable enough to parents that members of the city's delegation to Springfield were actually motivated to act in opposition to the Mayor's wishes, which I don't need to tell you is not a particularly frequent occurrence. Like seeing a black swan, or an ice age.

In any case, the result was Senate Bill 620, sponsored by Iris Martinez in the Senate and Cynthia Soto in the House. The bill started out as a strong framework for ensuring community input on the Board of Education's school closure policy, went through the usual waterings-down, and ended up as something between strong and perfunctory. Better writers would think of a synonym for "moderate," but frankly I trust you guys to come up with your own synonyms. I'm empowering that way.

Speaking of empowering, the statute as finally enacted requires CPS to involve communities by mandating the schools CEO issue a notice of all impending "school actions," including closures, turnarounds, phase-outs and co-locations, and hold community meetings for public input. The statute provides in relevant portion,

Sec. 34-230. School action public meetings and hearings.

(a) By November 1 of each year, the chief executive officer shall prepare and publish guidelines for school actions. The guidelines shall outline the academic and non-academic criteria for a school action. These guidelines, and each subsequent revision, shall be subject to a public comment period of at least 21 days before their approval.

(b) The chief executive officer shall announce all proposed school actions to be taken at the close of the current academic year consistent with the guidelines, by December 1 of each year.

The bill goes on to require that the Board can make no decision on a school closure in less than sixty days from publication of notice that a school is being targeted, with a public hearing on the matter to be held no less than thirty days after the initial announcement. The initial notices also by law have to include the reasons the school is being "school action-d". Thus, this list from CPS, with attendant fact sheets. The Board has also hired consulting firms with expertise in "conflict resolution" to handle the public hearing process. CPS must hold at least three public meeting regarding the school action for each school, two of which must take place "in the community" where the school is situated.

This means a lot of opportunity for opponents of school actions to make themselves heard, but per the bill no official power to stop or alter the character of the actions. And as the Board is wholly appointed and unelected, there is little other recourse for residents opposed to the CEO's plan of action or the Board's decisions. This makes a little more clear why complete Mayoral control of school systems is often considered a first step to privatization overhauls, despite little evidence of its utility: it severs accountability at a critical point and concentrates decision-making at a higher and more remote tier of power.

Ramsin Canon

Event Mon Dec 05 2011

Preckwinkle and Brizard to Speak at Forum on Dropouts

On Wednesday, Dec. 7 a public policy forum will be held to discuss how to deal with dropouts. The forum is entitled "Re-Enrolling Out of School Youth: A State, County and City Blueprint," and will be held at the Union League Club from 9am until 12:30pm.

The forum will feature Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico.

At the forum a new study entitled "High School Dropouts in Chicago and Illinois: The Growing Labor Market, Income, Civic, Social and Fiscal Costs of Dropping Out of High School," authored by Dr. Andrew Sum of Northeastern University, will be released. Sum will also be one of the participants at the forum.

There is currently no more space for people to attend the forum.

Monica Reida

Chicago Public Schools Fri Dec 02 2011

Oppenheimer Grants for CPS Teachers

At a time of great unrest and pissed-off parents with proposed CPS closures, phase-outs and turnarounds (or, as CPS phrases it, giving students "access to higher quality school options"), there's a bit of positive news: The Oppenheimer Family Foundation recently awarded more than $140,000 in grants to 256 primary and secondary Chicago Public Schools teachers. These grants are awarded to fund "innovative, experienced-based learning projects" and are estimated to impact 20,000 CPS students.

On December 1, at the 36th annual Teacher Incentive Grant awards program, the following schools, representing 116 interdisciplinary programs, were awarded grants of up to $2,000 each: 2012 awards list.

Megan E. Doherty / Comments (1)

Chicago Public Schools Thu Dec 01 2011

School Privatization Conflicts, Apparent or Otherwise

A little friction met the Emanuel administration's to-date smoothly-rolling program of partially privatizing the school system this week. First, a report in the Tribune indicated that charter schools, which are privately run schools operated on tax money, do not perform any better than public schools on average and in many cases are considerably worse. Particularly troubling for privatization advocates--who are found in both political parties and in a wide swath of the political spectrum--was the suggestion that it is in fact poverty that drags down those charters performing worse. This fact is often brought up by privatization opponents and downplayed by its champions as mere excuse making. From the Tribune report:

More than two dozen schools in some of the city's most prominent and largest charter networks, including the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), Chicago International Charter Schools, University of Chicago and LEARN, scored well short of district averages on key standardized tests.

In two of the city's oldest charter networks, Perspectives and Aspira, only one school -- Perspectives' IIT Math & Science Academy -- surpassed CPS' average on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, taken by elementary schoolers, or the Prairie State Achievement Examination, used in high schools.

Next, Emanuel's choice to spearhead his school-turnaround effort brought the word "cronyism" into coverage of his administration, always a quick way to convince Chicagoans the new boss is the same as the old boss. This week the Emanuel administration announced a turbocharged CompStat program for the public schools and the expansion of the privately run Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) program, handing them six more schools to turn around. AUSL has a mixed to poor record with school turnarounds, and is connected to the Mayor through a number of campaign and policy staffers and his choice to head the Board of Education, David Vitale, raising questions of the propriety of the choice. Interestingly given the mantra of privatization advocates that public school supporters use poverty as an excuse, AUSL head Martin Koldyke defended their record by blaming kids for being slow to catch on.

Emanuel was reportedly testy when asked if there was a conflict of interest in his choice of AUSL given his political connections to them. Asked directly if there was a conflict of interest, the Mayor answered a wholly different question:

It is not a conflict to give kids a good education. It's the responsibility I have as mayor.

Whether there was a conflict or not, this controversy, if it is that, lays bare one of the problems inherent to privatization of public trusts, namely, the ease with which, at worst, actual conflicts arise, and at best, the appearance of conflicts arise. Mayor Emanuel's political connections to AUSL leadership are undeniable; whether they motivated in whole or in part his decision to hand them more business isn't as germane as the ease with which he is able to hand them business, the lack of meaningful checks to that ability, and the absence of transparency in the decision. It is worth nothing that another major charter operator, United Neighborhoods Organization-Charter School Network (UNO-CSN), is headed by a co-chair of Emanuel's Mayoral election campaign, Juan Rangel. From the outside looking in, the lesson is obvious: if you want to build a successful school operator, at the very least it helps to have strong political connections.

Now that the privatization train has started rolling, it will be more and more difficult to stop, and the Mayor's ideological dedication to the principles underlying certainly grease those tracks. It is unfortunate that the years-old warnings that charters were unproven went unheeded. We now are looking at a class of powerful and connected rent-seekers with intense financial and professional incentives to preserve the system. If it bears out that charter schools offer not meaningful advantage over public schools, we have solved no problems while likely creating a whole new class of them.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Event Thu Nov 17 2011

Chicago Youth Speak About Community Issues in Project Soapbox Citywide Competition

On Saturday, Nov. 19 the Mikva Challenge, an organization focusing on getting Chicago high school students engaged with civics, will hold its fourth annual Citywide Public Speaking Competition.

The Citywide Public Speaking Competition is part of Mikva Challenge's Project Soapbox program, in which students develop and deliver a speech after being given the prompt of "What is the most important issue facing your community?"

"Participating teachers implement a five-lesson curriculum in their classrooms between September and November where students identify effective tools and devices for conveying a message, both by analyzing famous speeches and in the development of their own speeches," said Emma Kornfeld, Issues to Action Manager for Mikva Challenge.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida

Illinois Wed Nov 16 2011

CDC Money Given to Troubled Organization Connected to Duncan and Durbin

According to Peter Heimlich at the blog The Sidebar, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Senator Dick Durbin are tied to money given to the now defunct Save-A-Life Foundation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the post, about $3.33 million was awarded from the CDC to Save-A-Life and a portion of that money was supposed to be used by the Chicago Public Schools to provide first aid training to students in the CPS. However, the CPS apparently never did the training, which begs the question of where the money went.

At the time the money was awarded, Duncan was the CEO of the CPS and even appeared as an animated pitchman for Save-A-Life.

According to Heimlich, during the years of 2004-09 Douglas Browne served as the treasurer for Save-A-Life. During that same time Browne was apparently also a deputy director for the CDC. Heimlich also says that Durbin allegedly tried to appropriate money for Save-A-Life.

For more on the situation, read the whole thing over at The Sidebar.

In addition to this, former mayoral candidate Gery Chico recently appeared before the State Senate to testify about his connection to the Save-A-Life Foundation.

Monica Reida

Chicago Public Schools Wed Jul 27 2011

A Look Behind: Where and How to Send Your Kids to School

On Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would not be sending his children to a school run by the CPS, but to University of Chicago Lab School in Hyde Park. Reaction to this announcement varied. One question that could be raised is why Mayor Emanuel didn't send his children to one of the magnet or selective enrollment schools in Chicago.

The deadline to apply to send a child to a magnet or selective enrollment school for the upcoming school year was December 17, 2010. And the process can be challenging.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (2)

Chicago Public Schools Wed Jul 27 2011

Groupon Partners with CPS

For a limited time only (ending tomorrow, actually), Groupon and the country's third largest school district work together to provide school supplies for low-income students.

The deal ($12 donation to provide one pre-made kit of supplies to a child) is run through Groupon's G-Team - which is something like crowdsourced fundraising.

Read more or make a donation here.

Megan E. Doherty

Chicago Public Schools Tue Jul 26 2011

Teachers Union, Parents Challenge Local School Council Elections

Tensions escalated on the education front this week when the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education. United with other community groups, such as Designs for Change and Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), as well as nine individual Local School Council (LSC) members, the union alleges that the Board held illegal elections to fill new, non-teacher seats on the LSCs.

"The Board came swooping in and held these unlawful elections in all of the schools," said one of the CTU attorneys, Elaine Siegel. To her, the Board seemed to think, "'Let's go in there...and have [the elections] before the opposition can galvanize.'"

The opposition she spoke of is the "Local" side in this battle for control: who is really in charge? Individual schools, or the centralized Board?

Continue reading this entry »

Megan E. Doherty

Whittier Elementary Thu Jul 21 2011

Broken Promises Remain as Whittier Sit-in Ends

Whittier Elementary School Occupation SignsThe sit-in is over... for now.

After 25 days, Whittier Elementary School parents and activists decided to end their sit-in, which prevented construction crews from building a new library within the school — a plan that went back on a promise made by Chicago Public School officials to build at the neighboring fieldhouse.

Though construction was prevented, and activists have decided to vacate the fieldhouse, known as "La Casita," the Whittier Parent Organization plans to continue negotiations with CPS officials to ensure the library is built outside of the school, in what will be a newly remodeled fieldhouse.

Continue reading this entry »

Kelsey Duckett

Budget Thu Jul 14 2011

AFSCME, The CPS and Contracts

In response to an announcement on July 1 that state employees would not receive the 4 percent raise promised in their contract, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 has filed a federal suit saying that the withholding of the wage increases violates federal and state constitution provisions that bar against contract violation. According to WBEZ, Gov. Quinn said on Tuesday that the raises are not being given because the General Assembly did not appropriate the funds for the raises. However, the complaint also points out that Gov. Quinn cut $376 million from the budget through line-item veto and could have done something about the funds for raises. In the past, AFSCME has worked with the state to figure out how to deal with the budget crisis, salaries and employment for state employees.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, the Chicago Board of Education voted unanimously in June to rescind the 4 percent wage increases promised to teachers and staff members in their contracts and it was announced yesterday that CPS principals and assistant principals would also not receive their scheduled pay raise. (CPS principals and assistant principals are not unionized.) The contracts for both groups expire in 2012. With both agencies, there are large budget deficits--$715 million for CPS, $13 billion for the State of Illinois--but both unions have cited flaws with the budgets that are not allowing for their raises.

While AFSCME's lawsuit is waiting in court, CTU, along with Service Employees International Union Local 7 and 73, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 143 and 143b, UNITE HERE Local 1, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 700 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 143 are waiting to schedule a meeting with the Board of Education to discuss negotiations, according to CTU spokeswoman Liz Brown. The two stories here seem to have a connection.

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Monica Reida / Comments (1)

Whittier Elementary Mon Jun 27 2011

Ultimatum Delivered, Meeting Requested in Whittier Fieldhouse Fight

By Kelsey Duckett

UPDATE: At 11:15am today, Chicago Public School officials contacted the Whittier Parent Committee in response to a request sent by the committee on Sunday to meet with CPS Chief Operating Officer, Jean Claude Brizard, at 3pm.

CPS requested the group head downtown for a noon. meeting, but Evelin Santos, an organizer for the Whittier Parent Committee, said the group will not be rushing downtown for a meeting with less than 30 minutes notice.

"We are still negotiating a time and place for the meeting," she said. "But the meeting will take place today."

Brizard is expected to be present at today's meeting, along with State Senator Tony Munoz, State Representative Edward Acevedo and members of the Whittier Parent Committee.

The meeting was requested in response to the Tuesday ultimatum that was delivered to Whittier parents on Friday.

"We want to clear things up once and for all," Santos said. "We want to be heard, and we want CPS to honor its promises and begin to spend their money wisely and give this community what it worked for."

Whittier parents and community members have saved the fieldhouse, known as "La Casita" once and are prepared to continue to fight for its renovation.

"All the money that was allocated for Whittier and the fieldhouse was due to the advocacy and hardwork of the parents," she said. "It was the parents who worked to secure TIF funds and find available state funds. No money came from CPS, yet they want to tell us how to spend it. We want our voice back."

Chicago Public School officials delivered a Tuesday ultimatum to parents of Whittier Elementary students on Friday, the response from the parents and community was simple: Meet with us.

Community members and parents of students at Whittier Elementary School had a wish list entering this week, and meeting with Chicago Public School Chief Operating Officer, Jean Claude Brizard, was at the top.

The Whittier Parent Committee contacted CPS on Sunday, and asked for a 3pm meeting today at the fieldhouse, known as "La Casita." The goal is to discuss and resolve differences over plans to create a library at the school.

The request for a meeting was necessary, said Evelin Santos, an organizer for the Whittier Parent Committee.

Continue reading this entry »

Kelsey Duckett / Comments (1)

Whittier Elementary Fri Jun 24 2011

Day 3 at Whittier: The Picket Line Holds

By Kelsey Duckett

The fight is on.

For the second consecutive day, parents and community activists have gathered at Whittier Elementary School to prevent construction crews from gaining access to begin construction on Chicago Public Schools plans to build a new library inside the school.

The community is outraged after CPS officials promised a discussion on the construction of the library; and 25th Ward alderman Danny Solis guaranteed, both while in office and during his re-election campaign, that TIF funds would be used for the renovation to the school's fieldhouse, known as "La Casita" and community center--which is also where the Whittier community would like the new library to be built.

Continue reading this entry »

Kelsey Duckett / Comments (2)

Whittier Elementary Fri Jun 24 2011

Whittier Fieldhouse Sit-in Begins; Police Called, Dumpster Repelled

By Kelsey Duckett

Sit-ins have resumed at Whittier Elementary School in the Pilsen community on Chicago's South Side after Chicago Public School officials backed out on a promise to save the school's fieldhouse known as "La Casita."

After Wednesday's monthly CPS board meeting, in which the board decided to construct the anticipated library inside the school, as opposed to having discussions with the community about building a new community center and library where the fieldhouse is located, community members and parents at Whittier Elementary School found themselves back at square one on Thursday morning when construction crews arrived with a dumpster to be placed next to the school so construction could begin.

A handful of dedicated parents and advocates spent the night at the fieldhouse on Wednesday, knowing full well if they left, their voice would be taken away. CPS officials also camped out in their cars, and community advocate Sarah Jane Rhee said the officials were "hoping we would eventually leave."

That didn't happen. And after Waste Management arrived with the dumpster, parents formed a picket line to prevent the company from gaining access. This led to a stand-off and eventually a complaint that was filed by CPS officials to the Chicago Police Department.

Continue reading this entry »

Kelsey Duckett

Chicago Public Schools Wed Jun 22 2011

CPS Renews the Battle Over Whittier Elementary's Fieldhouse

By Kelsey Duckett

No deal.

Pilsen community members and parents of students at Whittier Elementary School are outraged as Chicago Public School officials have chosen not to honor a deal that would have saved the school's fieldhouse, aka "la Casita."

Whittier Elementary School Chicago - La Casita

The deal, which was reached while Mayor Daley was still in office, would have given community members and parents the chance to meet with officials to devise a plan that would suit both the needs of the students and the school.

"CPS has not been consistent with us, and have most definitely not kept their word," said Carolina Gaete, an supporter and advocate of the Whittier Parent Committee. "With the change in administration, we keep getting shuffled from one person to the next, and no one is listening or allowing us a voice."

Continue reading this entry »

Kelsey Duckett / Comments (4)

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Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

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