Saturday, January 17, 2009

Chicago Fight Back on School Closings

Media Alert: For Immediate Release

Attention: News Assignment

City Wide Hearing on School Closings & Turnarounds: 10:00 am, Saturday, January 10, 2008, Malcolm X College 1900 W. Van Buren

Media Contact: Wendy Boatman, CORE Member: 773-991-6290,; Kenzo Shibata, CORE Member: 312-296-0124,; Corina Pedraza, Education Organizer

Pilsen Alliance,, 312-243-5440;

Over Five-Hundred Attend City-wide Hearing on School Closings

CORE (The Caucus of Rank-and File Educators) held a community meeting at Malcolm X. College on Saturday, January 10, 2009 to discuss the effects of Chicago Public Schools Renaissance 2010 program and to call for a moratorium on school closings and the turnaround program, an initiative that allows the CPS to fire entire faculties, administrations, and staffs of schools they have deemed "failing" due to test scores

The next scheduled event organized by CORE's coalition of community groups will be a protest at the Board of Education after the announcement of the next round of school closings on January 28, 2009 at 3:30 PM.

Displaced teachers, angry parents, union representatives, community leaders and students from affected schools made up the crowd. Four panels of speakers described how Renaissance 2010 sabotages neighborhood schools to make way for charters and contract schools that often do not serve all students, such as special education students and English language learners. The remaining public schools become the home for these students as they are "kicked off the island" of charter schools, as panelist and CORE member Jesse Sharkey described.

Renaissance 2010 is a program inspired by a report by the Commercial Club and is currently touted and implemented by CEO of Chicago Public Schools Arne Duncan as he grooms himself for his new position as Secretary of Education.

One panelist, a former student from Englewood High School, quoted Duncan as calling her school a "cultural failure" before slating the school to be closed. The student mentioned that prior to this program's implementation; the school had no replacement books as many of the school's funds had to be spent on additional security measures after the school accepted additional students from the nearby Calumet High School when it closed.

Many panelists spoke of charter schools, which comprise most of the new schools under Renaissance 2010. Chantelle Allen, former teacher at Perspectives Academy, a charter school, relayed how the entire junior class at that school had no special education teachers. She blew the whistle, writing a letter to the state board and was immediately fired. According to Allen, A teacher who does not have an education degree replaced her.

The concern over charters and special education was echoed by parent Lorenza Ramirez, a former CPS teacher who enrolled her daughter at Noble Street Charter School. She pulled her daughter out of that school after it was clear that her daughter's special needs were not being met at Noble Street, one of Chicago's flagship charter schools.

Organizers of the event were CORE and several community organizations and school groups. The community organizations were: Pilsen Alliance, Blocks Together, P.U.R.E, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, KOCO, Teachers for Social Justice, Substance and Senn's Local School Council. The school organizations are Jaguars for Justice and United Senn Students.

On Sat, Jan 17, 2009 at 5:42 AM, wrote:

16 Chicago schools to be closed, consolidated or relocated
Thousands of students will be affected by changes

By Carlos Sadovi | Tribune reporter

January 17, 2009

Thousands of city students could be attending new public schools this fall under a district plan to close, consolidate or relocate 16 schools because of declining enrollment or subpar buildings, district officials said today.

As part of the proposal, six other schools—including one high school—will become turnaround schools, a status that requires teachers, administrators and others to reapply for their jobs. Four of those six schools are expected to be run by private groups.

The district is in the second year of a five-year program to deal with dwindling enrollment in the city's schools. Last year, the district closed, phased out or turned around 18 schools.

The school board must approve the plan and could as early as Feb. 25, after public hearings. If approved, the changes would take effect before the start of the 2009-2010 school year.

"In neighborhoods where enrollment is sharply declining and we have several buildings that are more than half-empty, we can't afford to keep all of them open," said Rufus Williams, president of the Chicago Board of Education.

Departing district CEO Arne Duncan has said that up to 50 schools may be shuttered at the end of the five years. Since 2001, enrollment has dropped by more than 40,000 students as gentrification in many neighborhoods pushed families out of the city and into nearby suburbs.

The recommendations are among the more controversial that Duncan will make before he joins President-elect Barack Obama's administration as U.S. Department of Education secretary.

At a briefing before Friday's news conference to announce the changes, school officials said they are making the moves to better serve the public.

David Pickens, the district's director of external affairs, could not say how much the district stands to save by closing the underutilized schools, but he said the district would recoup savings by not staffing or maintaining buildings that it could end up selling.

The district's practice is that schools at less than 50 percent of a building's capacity get on the list. The schools targeted for closure this fall are using less than 40 percent of their capacity, Pickens said.

Students who would normally go to the five schools targeted for closure instead will go to other nearby schools. Another five schools on the list will be consolidated with other schools. That means the students and many of the teachers will continue together in different buildings. The district also wants to phase out four other elementary schools and a high school, meaning the schools will not accept new students and will not close until after the current students graduate.

Among the more controversial moves is the district's attempt to turn around failing schools. To land on that list, schools must be on academic probation and be among the district's lowest performing schools in all subjects over several years. While the students will stay in these schools, all of the faculty and staff members—including principals—must reapply for their jobs. About 193 staff members will be affected at the six turnaround schools on this year's list.

"When we are emptying out buildings, it's for efficiency. And in the schools we are turning around and nobody is moving, it's for performance," Pickens said.

But at many of the affected schools and during public hearings, some teachers and parents have accused the district of pushing families and teachers out of the schools to then reopen them as Renaissance 2010 schools under private control. They claim the district also is trying to get rid of union teachers.

The district said 24 of the 75 new schools that have opened under Renaissance 2010 have Chicago Teachers Union teachers.

At Peabody Elementary School in the West Town community, teachers and parents vowed to fight to get the school off of the closing list.

Amy Sherwood, a Peabody teacher and union delegate, said she has taught at the school for about 20 years and acknowledged the school, along with others, has seen enrollment declines. The district said the school at 1444 W. Augusta Blvd. is at only 35 percent of its capacity. The school has 265 students, though the building has the capacity for 750 students.

But Sherwood also said the school has made academic gains and being closed should not be its reward.

"This is a school whose parents are dedicated, as well as the teachers and administrators. We have given extra time, energy and our blood for years so these children can get what they deserve out of life," Sherwood said. "We will fight to keep it open."

Even though Perry Moore's children attend Holmes Elementary School in Englewood—which is on the turnaround list—she is a supporter of the school and the teachers. Moore attended the school when she was a student and has many nephews and nieces in the school. Moore said she would pull her children out of the school and said her relatives may follow if the board votes to get rid of the teachers.

"It's a real sad situation. I can honestly say that they are a dedicated bunch of people. I can see teachers coming in at 6:45 in the morning and sometimes they don't get out of there until 6:30 at night," Moore said. "It's not about the check for them, it's about the love for those children."

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