2007 News Briefs
Feb. 1: Closings study
A University of Illinois at Chicago professor calls for an independent study on the impact of public school closings on schools that take in displaced students. Through interviews with 20 people from three receiving schools, Pauline Lipman reports complaints about inadequate resources, increased discipline problems and academic challenges. A CPS spokesman says the district is working on a study. Some lawmakers have called for a moratorium on closings until such a study is completed.
Feb. 9: Rowe-Clark
The Noble Network of Charter Schools snares a $4.2 million grant to open a new high school devoted primarily to math and science. The school will be located in Humboldt Park and named after Exelon Corp. Chairman John Rowe, who contributed $2 million (matched by Exelon), and ComEd Chairman and CEO Frank Clark, who donated $200,000. Students will attend school an extra month each year. The school also plans to launch an after-school or summer math and science program for middle-school students.
Feb. 22: Washing up
While lawmakers have yet to take significant action on school funding reform, the Illinois House passes a law that would require CPS officials to make sure that students wash their hands before eating meals at school. Rep. Mary Flowers of Chicago proposed the bill, saying schools aren’t doing a good job of teaching kids the importance of hand-washing, which state law already requires. A CPS spokesman says the law isn’t necessary. The bill was passed 100-14 and is now headed to the Senate.
March 1: Curie ouster
Mayor Daley weighs in on the controversial ouster of Curie High Principal Jerryelyn Jones and says the School Board should have the power to overturn local school council decisions to hire or fire principals. Jones, who is black, was ousted by a majority-Latino LSC. She is appealing the decision to an independent arbitrator. Students rallied at the last board meeting in support of Jones, who CEO Arne Duncan called a “superstar principal.” Test scores and other achievement measures have improved at Curie under Jones.
March 7: $$ for schools
As part of his budget address, Gov. Rod Blagojevich outlines a plan to pump $1.5 billion into schools next year, raising state per-pupil funding by nearly $700. Chicago would gain $300 million under the plan, which wins swift endorsement from Senate President Emil Jones. Following Jones’ endorsement, a competing proposal that would raise income taxes and provide property tax relief is in limbo. Advocates of funding reform have long called for such a “tax swap,” to ease the burden on property-poor districts.
March 12: High schools
In contrast to the big jump in elementary test scores, scores at CPS high schools remain flat, with only 31.5 percent of students meeting state standards in 2006, compared to 31.7 percent in 2005. Scores declined slightly statewide as well. CEO Arne Duncan says the district’s latest high school reforms are just taking shape and will take time to show results. In elementary schools, changes to the test likely played a role in the increase in scores, but the city’s gains still outpaced those of the rest of the state.
April 9: Laptops stolen
Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart calls for the firing of CEO Arne Duncan because of the theft of two laptops containing the Social Security numbers of teachers and principals. Duncan calls Stewart’s remarks “silly.” The laptops were taken from a conference room at CPS’ main office. The district is offering affected employees credit and identity-theft protection upon request. Officials also say computer systems were recently updated to avoid the routine use of Social Security numbers for identification.
April 13: Ramos case
The chief witness in an ethics case against Curie High LSC Chair Thomas Ramos fails to show up at a hearing in the case. However, CPS attorneys present testimony from three people about conversations they had with the witness about kickbacks Ramos allegedly took from her. Ramos, a parent member and chair of the LSC that recently fired Principal Jerryelyn Jones and ignited a public controversy, could be removed if the allegations are substantiated. A tip from Jones led to the Ramos investigation, news reports stated.
April 20: Pay problem
For the second time in two days, reports surface about payroll problems when teachers complain they were shorted on their paychecks. CPS blames technical problems with new software. Previously, 15 teachers at Williams Elementary reported waiting three years for back pay of $3,000 to $11,000. CPS had paid the teachers via direct deposit but took the money back, then paid by check but said teachers could only receive $2,500. The teachers were paid the full amounts after they called reporters.
May 23: Easier closings
Under a new school closings policy, the district will be required to report the impact of schools closings on kids and provide a support team to assist children as they transition to new schools. In addition, school closings must be announced four months before the school year ends. This year, only one school, Harvard Elementary, is being shuttered under the district’s “turnaround” strategy. The school will reopen in the fall with new staff and programs, under the management of the Academy of Urban School Leadership. The approach keeps kids in the same school while fixing educational problems, say district officials.
June 18: Budget delay
CPS announces that it will delay its 2008 budget for 60 days, in the hopes that legislators in Springfield will enact education funding reform. The state Legislature failed to put together a budget by the May 31 deadline, sending the session into overtime. Usually, CPS’ budget is approved at the end of June. School officials are hoping that the district receives an additional $300 million from the state. Last year, the district received $100 million more.
June 26: Test scores up
For the second year in a row, CPS officials tout rising scores on the ISAT, which was revamped last year. Almost two-thirds of elementary students passed reading and math tests, but the improvement is smaller than the gains last year. However, Mayor Daley urges the district to put more emphasis on science, for which scores declined slightly citywide. The ISAT was retooled last year, prompting some experts to question whether the gains students made were legitimate. The retooled test allows kids more time and includes a more colorful format considered easier for students to read.
June 29: Magnet admissions
For now, CPS magnet schools will not be affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that severely limits the use of race in school assignments. CPS magnet schools operate under a federally mandated desegregation consent decree, while the court ruling applies only to schools covered by voluntary integration programs. The decision will affect CPS if a federal judge frees the district from the mandatory decree, which has been in place since 1980. If the decree is lifted, students would likely not be affected until next year, when they begin applying for school admissions in 2009.
July 1: Principal ouster
Harper High Principal Ronn Gibbs is removed from his job and transferred to central office. Gibbs was hand-picked in 2003 to turn around the failing Englewood school, which got building repairs, new computers and other resources after Rev. Jesse Jackson used it to illustrate the impact of school funding inequity among Illinois school districts. But test scores declined and fewer than 4 percent of students passed state tests last year. Attendance and graduation rates also fell. Kenyatta Butler-Stansberry, assistant principal of Dyett , takes over at Harper. Nate Mason, a former Harper principal, will serve as her mentor.
July 6: School closings
The school year is over and the last class of seniors graduated in June, but the district still holds a final round of public hearings on the phase-outs of Austin, Calumet and Westinghouse high schools. All three stopped accepting freshmen in 2004. Late last month, Ald. Isaac Carothers and community leaders demanded that CPS open a new state-of-the-art high school to replace Austin, which is slated to open a second small school this fall, Austin Polytechnical Academy; a third will open in 2008. Calumet will open two additional Perspectives charter schools; one is already housed there. A new building is under construction for Westinghouse.
Aug. 6: School aid
Gov. Rod Blagojevich directs the Illinois Finance Authority to make $175 million in no-interest loans available to school districts if lawmakers don’t come up with a budget, now almost six weeks late. Money would be allocated based on the state aid a district received last year. Meanwhile, CPS releases a $5.8 billion budget that includes an expected $98 million in state aid, and legislative leaders continue to debate expanded gambling—specifically, a land-based casino in Chicago—to provide more money for schools.
Aug 7: Union pacts
Six unions representing 8,000 non-teaching employees, from custodians to special education aides, reach a new agreement with CPS for raises totaling 15.75 percent over five years. The annual raises are in line with the 3 percent raise for teachers that CPS included in its $5.8 billion budget for 2008. CPS is still negotiating with the Chicago Teachers Union, which received 4 percent raises in the last round of negotiations for the current contract. The labor agreement puts pressure on the CTU to reach a settlement.
Aug. 8: Freshman help
Citing the need for “a laser-like focus” to keep freshmen from eventually dropping out, CEO Arne Duncan and Mayor Richard Daley announce a new program to get them into school by making personal connections. Counselors and other school staff will call and make home visits to help them prepare for the first day of school and principals will prepare transition plans for incoming 9th-graders. Freshmen’s grades will be checked after the first three weeks of school; students who are struggling will get extra help.
Sept. 4: IMPACT falters
CPS’ new $60 million computer information system, Instructional Management Program and Academic Communication Tool, causes chaos on the first day of school. Students miss classes and disappear from rosters. M. Hill Hammock, the district’s chief administrative officer, says the system simply is overwhelmed, a problem that may recur on a few “peak demand” days each year, such as the last day of school. Despite the system crash, CPS later claims a 93 percent first-day attendance, up slightly from last year.
Sept. 8: Home visits
CEO Arne Duncan, School Board President Rufus Williams, other district officials and community volunteers go door-to-door in the Englewood community encouraging students who did not show up during the first week of class to enroll in school. Students who did not show up at Clemente, Crane, Farragut, Harper, Hubbard, Kelly, Phillips, Schurz and Senn high schools also get visits. Each of those schools reported high numbers of dropouts and poor attendance in the 2006-07 school year.
Sept. 11: Payroll glitch
PeopleSoft, CPS’ new $17 million payroll system, wreaks havoc on checks for employees and retirees. Some retirees are being underpaid by $800 a month while more than 1,600 recent retirees are receiving estimated pension payments and may not get actual pension payments until November. No retirees have been paid for their unused sick days, and about 1,200 June retirees are owed a total of more than $35 million. CPS acknowledges the snafu and blames it on technical issues related to the start-up of a new system.
Oct. 9: New schools
CEO Arne Duncan unveils plans for 15 new Renaissance schools in the fall of 2008 and four more in the fall of 2009, including six high schools, three combined middle-high schools, one middle school and nine elementary schools. The elementary schools will include two franchise schools. Disney Magnet II will offer intensive art projects, Chinese classes, monthly teacher training and Disney animation technology. Burroughs II will offer cooking, English classes for parents, drama, sports and longer school days.
Oct. 14: Julian protest
Students rally against the dismissal of 10 teachers at Julian High following a drop in student enrollment of more than 200 students. Some students blamed the decline on negative publicity following violence that touched the school last year, when three students and one teacher were killed in incidents that occurred blocks from the school. Several programs at the school were axed and student schedules had to be reworked because of the cuts. The school’s projected enrollment was about 1,900, but just 1,688 students showed up.
Oct. 15: Recruiting?
CPS dedicates its Marine Military Academy on the Near West Side a few days after officials announce plans to open an Air Force Academy high school in 2009. The news causes critics to charge that the district, which has five military academies serving 11,000 students, is becoming a recruiting center targeting poor and minority teenagers. Although Chicago has the largest Junior ROTC program in the country, Mayor Daley says, “This is not a [military] recruitment effort.” Students are not required to enlist after graduation.
Nov. 10: Test troubles
A decline in scores on high school tests prompts Illinois State Board of Education officials to say they plan to hire an independent consultant to look into the results. CEO Arne Duncan suggests that too many juniors blew off the second day of the two-day Prairie State exam. Day two includes a test of workplace skills; day one includes the ACT, which is needed for college admission. Overall scores declined in CPS, from 31.2 percent to 29.7 percent meeting or exceeding standards.
Nov. 12: Certification
Just two months after passage of a new teachers contract that ensures a $1,750 annual salary boost to National Board certified teachers, the district announces that more than 660 teachers are on track to obtain certification. They would join 652 teachers who already are certified and another 400 who are waiting on their scores. The process can require as many as 400 hours of work over three years. Board certified teachers also get $3,000 from the Chicago Public Education Fund.
Nov. 14: Opt-outs
The School Board declines to vote on a proposal to limit military recruiting in schools. The previous week, parents of high school students were given military opt-out forms on report card pick-up day, allowing parents to refuse access to their child’s contact information. CPS says activists have complained about aggressive recruiting, and says 11,767 students have returned the forms, up from 8,018 earlier this year—but still just 17 percent of students in grades 10 through 12. (See Updates, April 2007.)