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Piccolo, Casals staff: Give current leadership a chance

In the first set of hearings on proposed turnarounds, district officials made their case that Casals and Piccolo elementary schools need a whole new set of staff. But they were countered by parents and teachers who asserted the schools had already suffered repeated changes in programs and turnover in leadership.

The hearings, which took place at district headquarters, were peaceful compared to many community hearings on school closings that took place earlier this month. 

Some have argued against the turnarounds, especially at Casals where about 60 percent of students are meeting standards on the ISAT. About 100 elementary schools have worse composite ISAT scores.

But Jacare Thomas, data strategist for the Garfield-Humboldt Park Elementary Network, made presentations at both hearings on the schools’ lack of progress. She showed a growing gap between the percentage of students meeting state standards on the ISAT test at each of the schools, and in their network and CPS as a whole.

 “The school is not making progress in catching up to the rest of the district,” he said of Casals.

He also used value-added data, which compares students’ progress to that of other demographically similar students around the district, to show that students at both schools are making slower gains than the district average. Casals’ math scores, for instance, put the school in the bottom 13 percent of CPS elementary schools.

Denise Little, chief of schools for the network, also listed the strategies CPS had tried with the schools over the years. At Casals, she said, the district abandoned direct instruction for balanced literacy and supplied the school with additional leveled books; added staff; expanded the Chicago Math and Science Initiative; developed a comprehensive math instruction plan; and offered special interventions for English language learners.

 Through the Reading First program, the district lowered class sizes, hired reading specialists, and bought additional materials, she said.

 However, 2nd-grade teacher Andrew Mackow argued the various programs were part of the problem. “In three years, our school has been assigned four area leaders,” he said. “Each leader has required our classroom staff to change their classroom curriculum. Every single person has come in with their own vision, and completely changed the way we teach.”

 And, Mackow added, the leaders moved on before all their initiatives were fully implemented.

 “After finally finding the perfect fit, we are being denied the opportunity to work with Ms. Little and see our efforts culminate in academic excellence,” he said. 

 The school’s retired principal, Paula Jeske, who left in October, echoed Makow’s sentiments – though she said there had actually been five area officers. “We have had so many different people telling us to march to so many different drumbeats, some days I didn’t know if we were coming or going,” she said.

Piccolo bilingual teacher Claudia Nunez raised similar concerns about her school. “We are on our third change of curriculum in 5 years,” she said. This year, Piccolo got a new principal. “In just four months, our new administration at Piccolo has increased parent involvement.”

She added, the school went from having 561 suspensions last year to, this year, only 30 so far.

Parent Elisa Nigaglioni said through an interpreter that she has volunteered at Casals 40 hours a week for the past year. She asked the district to take parents’ vote against the turnaround into consideration. (Out of about 200 families at the school, 183 cast votes, with 171 opposing the turnaround.)

“If you want to help somebody, one of the things you have to do is ask them what they want, not impose it upon them,” Nigaglioni said.

Teacher Sharon Herod-Purham took issue with the district’s presentation and distributed results from Humboldt Park schools’ fall Scantron test results, which show the school tied for 9th in its network for math, and ranked 7th for reading, out of 22 schools.

At both hearings, Keisha Campbell – the principal of Howe, another turnaround – touted the gains Academy for Urban School Leadership is making. The Academy for Urban School Leadership, a not-for-profit educational management organization, is slated to manage the turnarounds at Casals and Piccolo. AUSL brings in special after-school programs, teacher coaching, and social-emotional learning curricula, she said.

A few audience members supported the turnaround. At the Piccolo hearing, a group called Final Phaze Dance Troupe, which also attended a Jan. 20 hearing on the Price closure (LINK TO: showed up. Turnaround opponents were not impressed with the comments, asking how much they’d been paid to show up.

 The group’s coach, Maurice Jones, said that no outside groups had even covered the cost of transportation for the dancers. “They paid their own way,” he said, and noted that it was the third hearing the group had attended.

 Khristtian Locke, a member of the group and a Columbia College sophomore who is studying music business management, said he was just concerned about failing schools. “I wanted to come here and have a say-so about what’s going to happen,” he said. 

 “There is a need of them turning the school around,” he told the hearing officer. “I don’t think CPS should keep prolonging the failure. I think CPS should go ahead and close the school.”


Keith Kelley wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago

Community-based Counter Proposal to Turnarounds

The West Humboldt Park Community Action Council (WHP-CAC) submitted a community-based counter proposal to the CPS board. Both schools have new principals and were only added to their new network this school year. It is important to note that despite the instability of their former networks, the schools' "metrics" have shown improvement. At no point did any of the CPS employees that testified on behalf of their absent CEO mention the numerous area chiefs these schools have had over the period of time Jacare Thomas sited. For CPS to place the burden of responsibility soley on the teachers who have been working throughout this constant state of flux is disingenuous and incredibly unfair. The proposal requested that the turnarounds be postponed for two years to allow for the strategies by the schools' new leadership to be implemented.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago

The Turnaround Secret

Most schools slated for "actions" particularly ones that will be "turnarounds" have a few things in common. They typically have new principals who have not been in their leadership positions at the slated school for more than one or two years, but are making dramatic improvements. These improvements are along the lines of bettering the school climate (i.e. decreased number of suspensions at Piccolo), which is the first step of turning around a school.

These changes are usually not reflected in the first year of test data under the new leadership, but are obvious to anyone who visits the school. CPS and AUSL know this, so they typically go after schools that are on the rise, but still on level 3 (which makes them eligible for turnaround). That way, when the test scores reflect the efforts of the previous administration, the turnaround organization can take the credit.

These principals are being used as interim leaders to make changes that the turnarounds will get credit for. My concern is validated by the fact that if you use CPS' own performance metrics, you will find several schools who are "performing" worse than the ones slated for "action". There's big money coming from the Feds for turnarounds, so I suspect we will see more of them regardless of their impact on children and communities.

I think Catalyst should do some investigative reporting on this.

Also, it seems odd to me that it is people whose organizations/programs get $ from CPS who support CPS' egregious decisions. Some have been implicated in the rent-a-protester scam.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago

Casals' Hearing

One very important fact that Mr. Jacare Thomas did NOT mention is that he was comparing Casals to network schools that they had NOT been a part of prior to Sept. 2011. So he was comparing Casals ( and Piccolo) to a network that did not exist prior to this Fall, and those 2 schools were NOT under the leadership of Ms. Little prior to that date. Schools under her do generally make great progress, for instance, Ryerson School posted great gains in the last few years in what was then Area 7 under Ms. Little. BUT it was wrong of Mr. Thomas to compare Casals and PIccolo as though they too had been in this network all along !

Anonymous wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago

Geographic Network vs. Garfield Humboldt Network

Casals and Piccolo were not being compared to other GHN schools. Piccolo and Casals are in the Garield Humboldt Network but the data used was for the geographic network.
The transcript reads:
"The term 'geographic network' refers to the schools that are currently in the Garfield -Humboldt Elementary School network, as well as elementary schools located within the community, but managed independently, such as charter schools. The reason for using geographic network in the calculation was to show how Piccolo is performing compared to all other schools within its community."

Anonymous wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago

Wrong comparison

All the more reason Mr. Thomas' comparison was wrong ... you cannot compare charter schools, for instance , with their selective enrollment ,to completely neighborhood schools like Piccolo and Casals.

Julian Gama wrote 2 years 26 weeks ago

Pablo being Turnaround

I am a 11year old student I have been a student at Pablo for over 6 year and Pablo has been my home it is like family and all the teacher are family and staff are my families. Now you are taking my second family away and it is just not fair. I am a straight A student and I have been here since Kindergarden and my brother and two sister are there. I hope that all of you people that work for AUSL live with then self. I will stay at this school but I will never consider that you are my family I will never like your ways know matter how nice are the teachers. Hey Mr.C.E.O how is your new job your not even here for 1 year we did our best and you didn't see our test scores.

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