The historic closing of 49 elementary schools in Chicago left many parents bitter and feeling left out as they try to get involved in new schools. Yet parent engagement is essential for school improvement, and principals are faced with the challenge of building trust at schools that scored poorly on surveys of parent involvement.
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CPS still looking to save $44 million to balance budget
In August, district officials promised they would detail the rest of the cuts needed to balance the CPS budget at the September board meeting, but that didn’t happen. Instead, CEO Jean-Claude Brizard told board members that he is still searching for $44 million in savings from the central office.
Last week, CPS unveiled a major restructuring of the chief education office, consolidating several offices into four units and aligning services to prevent duplication. Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso said that her office would have 200 fewer positions, saving the district some $16 million.
Donoso said leaders were a third of the way toward making good on their promise to cut $50 million from her office.
On Wednesday, Brizard said he needed to find $107 million in cuts overall and has so far come up with $63 million, including the savings from the chief education office and layoffs of staff working in schools on former CEO Ron Huberman’s performance management initiative.
The central office has already experienced several rounds of layoffs under Huberman, so it is unclear where Brizard will find more people and positions to cut. Board members did not press Brizard for specifics.
Finding more cuts will be especially daunting task since Brizard and Donoso are in the process of rolling out the new Common Core Standards, an entirely new set of learning standards that have been adopted by Illinois and two dozen other states. The Common Core Standards are more rigorous, and are aligned with college-readiness expectations.
By 2014, all schools will give students an assessment called PARCC, which will replace the ISAT and the PSAE, Chief Instruction Officer Jennifer Cheatham told board members. PARCC stands for Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the name of the state consortium that is developing the assessment with the help of federal Race to the Top funding.
But this year, 35 schools have been chosen to be early adopters. Cheatham said the names of those schools will be released by the end of this week.
District officials also are in the midst of rolling out what they call the “Pioneer Program” to schools whose teachers voted in favor of a waiver that allows the school day to be lengthened for 90 minutes. Thirteen schools so far have approved the waiver, including three schools run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, district officials reported.
Teachers in schools that extend the school day get a bonus of $1250 and an additional $150,000, though some schools are getting less if they don’t start the extension until later in the year.
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis pointed out to school board members that the way the program is being implemented results in an inequity.
“The school gets the same amount whether it has 10 faculty members or 100 faculty members,” she said.
She then went on to make her point that just extending the school day won’t necessarily mean better performance. “Time alone is not enough,” she said.
Some parents who spoke during the public participation section of the board meeting said they were squarely in favor of the move to extend the school day. Two South Side residents said more children need to be in school during the afternoon when they are prone to getting in trouble. Also, parents of “Pioneer Program” schools said their children are getting more time to socialize and delve into arts and technology.
But others who spoke noted that the school day extension comes at a time when CPS is making cuts at that hinder the education of children. Laid off security guards from two high schools said students are less safe now that they are no longer around.
“How can (students) prepare for their future or focus on learning when they are concerned for their safety?” asked former Kelyvn Park security guard Jose Lopez.
Beverly King said that after 17 years as a special education paraprofessional, she was laid off. However, she decided she would continue volunteering inside the class.
“I am in a first grade classroom that on the first day had 42 children,” she said. “About 10 of those students needed to be staffed (with special education aides). We are doing a disservice to our children.”
In other business, board members approved some items rescinding the old way schools were closed and putting in place a new system. These actions were required by Senate Bill 620, which dictates the process by which district make and announce school closings.