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Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

Despite opposition, CPS moves ahead on closings, turnarounds

cps_protesters_img_1641.jpgRejecting pleas from parents and grassroots activists not to move forward with school closings and turnarounds, School Board members unanimously approved actions that include a record 10 turnarounds in one year.

When the vote finally took place after 5:30 p.m.--seven hours since the meeting got underway—the small group of parents and activists still in the audience started chanting "rubber stamp." Jitu Brown, an education organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and a Dyett local school member, booed. Dyett will be phased out next year.

Latrice Watkins, chairwoman of the Piccolo local school council, sat in a chair outside the board chambers and cried. "We did everything we could do," she said. "They will reap what they sow."

After the board meeting, school board member Mahalia Hines defended her action. In going out to public hearings, she said she was disturbed by the numbers of parents who seemed to be okay with schools whose low test scores only increased 5 percent over two or three years.

"It is not okay," she said. "Whether I was elected or appointed, I would have voted the same way."

School board member Jesse Ruiz added that he felt good that he had done "something, even if that something wasn't perfect" for students going to poor performing schools. 

The following actions were approved:

  • Crane and Dyett High Schools will begin phasing out next year, though Crane's building will house a charter school next year and a health and science academy in the fall of 2013. Chief Portfolio Officer Oliver Sicat said there were no plans to put another school into Dyett.
  • Price and Guggenheim elementary schools will be closed. 
  • Chicago Vocational Career Academy and Tilden High will be turned around, as will eight elementary schools. Wendell Smith and Woodson South will be turned around by the CPS Office of School Improvement. Piccolo, Casals, Fuller, Stagg, Marquette and Herzl will be turned around by the Academy for Urban School Leadership. Chicago Vocational Career Academy will be allowed to keep its career programs, and a Montessori program at Stagg will still be available in the community either at Stagg or at another school four blocks away.
  • In addition, the board approved measures that will allow several new schools or charter schools to share buildings with existing schools and will close three schools that were on their way to being phased out.


Activists look to legislature, courts

A few supporters of the plans also spoke during the three hours of public participation. Rebeca Nieves-Huffman, director of the Illinois chapter of Education Reform Now, worked at Piccolo years ago as a City Year corps member before a career working for national charter school advocacy organizations.

“I support the closure, I support the turnaround strategy because it appears to be working,” she said.

Another was Hibbard Elementary LSC member and parent Aureliano Vazquez. “These changes are going to be a benefit for all the students and will have a good result in the future,” he said through an interpreter.

But the vast majority of speakers denounced the plans and said their fight was not over.

Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said the next step in the union’s fight would be “taking it to the courts” and to Springfield, in the form of bills that would halt school closings, consolidations and phase-outs. Proposed legislation already in Springfield calls for a moratorium.

Chicago Principals and Administrators Association President Clarice Berry also is taking part in lobbying on the bills’ behalf. “I’m concentrating my efforts on school closings in Springfield,” she said, rather than addressing the board meeting.

Jesse Jackson was one of a number of speakers who threatened that more lawsuits would be filed over the closing and turnaround dispute. 

Jackson asked board members to put a moratorium on school actions until the board can study education equity in the  system and he warned the board members that if they don't back off, he and other activists will “ask the General Assembly and court to come to our rescue.”

Another was Rev. Paul Jakes, president of the Christian Council on Urban Affairs, which he said represented over 100 churches.

“We certainly believe there has been a violation of our equal rights,” Jakes said, before asking CPS to help defray the cost of funerals for young people who are killed if the school closures and phase-outs contribute to gang violence. That has happened in the past, as students must travel through different neighborhoods to get to their new schools.

“It’s a moral issue,” Jakes said. “Those who are in positions such as this need to have sensitivity to lives being lost.”

After addressing the board, Jakes said he has met with several “top-30” civil rights attorneys such as Thomas Todd, Standish Willis, and Lawrence Kennon.

Many of the parents and teachers at schools slated for turnaround said they wanted their current principals to have more time to try to improve their schools. Before the meeting, demonstrators from Action Now picketed outside board headquarters and sang “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around, turn us around, turn us around. We’re going to keep on fighting, keep on marching. Education is a human right.”

Board members asked questions

CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said it is up to CPS officials to heal the communities following the vote.

Some of the people who spoke criticized the CPS leadership for failing to listen to them. Matt Farmer, a parent activist, pointed out that the hearing officers who listened to public comment at the turnaround hearings—and later endorsed the board’s plans—were lawyers with firms that work for CPS.

Board members asked several questions about safety and school culture.

“How will you monitor the safety plan?” board member Penny Pritzker asked. She said she would like to hear how the safety plans are being implemented.

CPS Chief of Safety and Security Jadine Chou said that the Safe Passage program, in which community members are paid to shepherd students home, will be utilized in the schools.

Ruiz said he pushed CPS officials and that now is the time for board members to support it. He said CPS officials need to harness the passion expressed by those who opposed the turnarounds.

Board member Andrea Zopp asked about whether AUSL expels more students. Some speakers said they worried about students who were pushed out of turnarounds. But Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley, who formerly worked for AUSL, says the children who were there before the turnaround are still there and enrollment is going up at many of schools. (However, CPS data shows that AUSL turnaround schools do issue an extraordinary number of misconducts.)

Katie Osgood, who teaches at an inpatient mental health facility that works with many former CPS students, complained that she sees students who were pushed out of turnaround and charter schools.

“Where I work, we don’t charge them $5. We don’t kick them out and tell them they don’t fit in there,” she said. “These kids need the most resources, but instead CPS gives them the least."

Even so, CTU President Karen Lewis pled with the board to change their minds.

“Children who need the most resources get the least. Parents who cry out the loudest get their voices drowned,” she said.


Anonymous wrote 2 years 46 weeks ago

This is horrible!!! Simply

This is horrible!!! Simply horrible!!!

Tracy wrote 2 years 46 weeks ago

Let's Turnaround CPS

CPS has failed our neighborhoods and failed our city. Can we, the people, vote to turn them around?

Why can't we invest in neighborhood schools so that every school-age child in the city has access to a quality, well-rounded, equitably-funded education? Is that too much to ask? What would be the ripple effects of that investment? Good schools, increased property values, stabilized neighborhoods, less violence, more grads, educated citizens. Won't that make a better city? The cost of closing schools seems greater than investing in them.

It's time for new leadership at CPS, elected by the people. Why are the mayor's puppets, with strong ties to AUSL, allowed to make these decisions? How many of the Board members have even visited these schools or neighborhoods?

This decision is a tragedy for these neighborhoods and our city. We all deserve better. Next stop: the courts and the State Legislature. Round 1: CPS. Round 2: ?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 46 weeks ago

Parents and teachers

Well SB7 has destroyed all teacher power and parents are losing theirs. Pretty soon we may call CPS the ECSS Emanuel Charter School System. Hmmm 17 schools closed that means what? Like 500 lost jobs?? I know they will be replaced (of course by other teachers)

...whatever. Other than the people on this board and the parents. No one cares about teahers losing thier jobs these days becuase the Trib and the Suntimes have created a hostile environement against unions.

Makes me sad, because there are people worried about spelling errors, instead of focusing their energy on rahm...

Anonymous wrote 2 years 46 weeks ago


Change is hard. Regarding one (Price) of the southside elementary schools that was voted for closure, this has been long in coming. Incompetence in leadership will destroy any organization and during the mid-2000s it was a tragedy in leadership that laid the foundation for this vote. I saw the systemic failures of the day-to-day operations of the school, the breakdown in communications with parents and teachers by the administration, the deterioration of the school spirit and the then LSC tried and they tried hard. I saw this coming, did I speak to the then administrators? Yes. Did they listen? No. I guess, I wasn't as well educated as they.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 46 weeks ago

elected board

I agree with Tracy who commented on "an elected CPS board". Now is the time for us to take a stand and demand to put an end to the appointment of "politically connected puppets" at CPS.
As it stands today, we should stop referring to them as the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education since they are no longer representing the interests of Chicago's public schools. They should be called by a name that better reflects their actions: "Rham Emanuel's Charter Schools Board of Education".

Chicago dad wrote 2 years 45 weeks ago

The ghost of Bilandic

I saw this on the web and it hit home.


I also agree with the growing number of parents who think the only way to save our schools is by demanding an ELECTED SCHOOL BOARD. It's my way or the highway on this idea.

UNO wrote 2 years 45 weeks ago

elected school board

cant' we start an online petition???????????

Tracy wrote 2 years 45 weeks ago

Elected School Board

If you want an elected school board, call your state rep and senator and let them know that you support an elected school board for CPS, and also that you support the bill that is in both houses asking for a one year moratorium on CPS school closings and turnarounds.

The bill-- SB3239/HB4487 places a moratorium on school closings.

Here is where you can find your legislators:

Danny wrote 2 years 45 weeks ago

Elected School Board a Bad Idea

There is already a mayor, elected by and answerable to the people of this city, quite visibly in charge of the school system. If people don't like what is happening, they may vote to turn him out of office in the next mayoral election.

An elected school board would diffuse responsibility in a way that voters would not know who to hold accountable, be mired in inaction and the status quo, and be beholden to special interests, group identity politics, and the interests of adults over children. That's hardly a step forward.

Democracy is about winning elections, not going to the courts or state legislature (who gave the mayor the power in the first place) because you don't like the way the elections turned out. There are a lot of anonymous people who write on this board, figuratively wringing their hands about the lack of democracy, who don't have a clue what democracy is about.

xian barrett wrote 2 years 45 weeks ago


doesn't work that way.
The mayor has hundreds of responsibilities. Being elected with less than 20% of the potential vote is not a mandate on any particular issue. It makes no sense to say that narrowing the responsibility makes it harder to hold people accountable.

It would change the status quo where every decision is about what's best for the mayor and his cronies, and educators, parents and students are held responsible for bad district leadership decisions.

How was I supposed to affect the decision to spend $25 million + on IMPACT which is a worse platform than free software?

so?? wrote 2 years 45 weeks ago

the mayor is so all powerful?

then let's just get rid of the he cant 'play democracy! let the poople kn ow the truth!! or wh not let the mayor and govenor pick all the judges and aldermen? heck let's get rid of congresss...those pesky citizens are getting in the way of democracy and efficiency!

Danny wrote 2 years 45 weeks ago


This mayor has made education his number one priority. He may indeed have "hundreds of responsibilities," but he will deservedly get the praise/blame for the state of the schools 3 years hence.

The last Chicago school board had 15 (or 13?) members. If Jane Voter is unhappy with her child's education, who does she hold accountable? It could be that a minority (in number) of Board members make decisions she agrees with, so throwing out the whole lot makes little sense. But with the Mayor in charge, it is easy to fix blame (or credit, as the case may be).

I find Xian's reasoning to be absurd. Those who win a majority of ballots cast in an election have won that election, and the fact that their total vote is a minority of all eligible/registered voters does not invalidate their democratic election. People choose to vote or not vote for good reasons, and they are free to do so.

Further, if Xian means to imply that school board elections would have higher voter turnout than the mayoral election, he is just wrong. Across the nation, school board races have appallingly low voter turnout.

And let's leave IMPACT out of it. No teacher would ever breathe a word in support of such a horrible program.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 45 weeks ago

Board and Community leadership instills an air of the horrific

Seemingly systems apart; the Board invite Community leadership for concensus, re:improvement of the school system but unable to seperate itself from an air disdainfully fraught with disingenousness; and the Community negates Board's Options heralding statistics that tow "fraudlent" interests. An overview observation indicates a trend in managerial trend history is that of masterys of rationales encrypted by data of Success discussions endlessly unfocused.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago



Anonymous wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

its not that people dont know

its not that people dont know what to do. its that officials dont want to do anything. because they know what the problem is, how to fix it, And how much its going to cost. But some board members/officials beleive that education in most urban areas sre not worth the money and time. Even though i attend a charter school, i have expirenced the struggles of kids need/want to learn. i understand that it will cost a lot of money and time, but its worth it. in my opinion i think that if they just fix the system then officials would not have to listen to the cries of parents and students.

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 36 weeks ago

Debut of Nieves-Huffman includes an inaccuracy

Try as I might, using CPS information, I can't find any record of Rebecca Nieves-Huffman, quoted in this article, as ever having worked at Piccolo. Now that she's brought her opportunistic career as an apologist for the plutocracy into the Op Ed pages of the Sun-Times (May 2012), it's interesting to stumble over past irregularities. The apologists for "turnaround" (as she was at the February 2012 Board meeting in Chicago) are often simply the courtesans of the plutocrats. Their value increases if they can weave a semi-fictional personal narrative into their hard core corporate apologetics. This one deserves watching, as the plutocracy and the one percent deploy as many of their highly subsidized cadre into Chicago to teacher bash, union bust, and support atrocities like the "turnaround" of Piccolo, Casals and the other schools in Nieves-Huffman's supposed "community" on behalf of the one percenters at outfits like AUSL.

rharris wrote 2 years 36 weeks ago

Employee rosters


I was not aware that CPS had publicly available lists of which schools City Year corps members were based at. Where are you getting this information? It would be useful for us to be able to verify this kind of information in future.


Anonymous wrote 2 years 36 weeks ago

Rebeca Huffman

It strikes me as strange that media would take her word for how bad Piccolo is at this critical time. In the same interview, she misrepresented herself as someone representing a grassroots parents group and only when cornered admitted that she was from billionaires' club DFER.

Doubtlessly Forcing Everything Rahm wants.

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 35 weeks ago

Catalyst reporters have my email address


Catalyst reporters have my email address. We can talk about documents to verify who worked where when in another location, time, and venue. CPS should provide transparency in all hireings, and have that information available going back through time. (Substance saves lots of stuff, so that when we laugh out loud at statements like Linda Lenz's nonsense on, say, the CPS budget "deficits" we are also basing our guffaws firmly on the history of the actual budget numbers and audits, not on CPS publicity stunts and venal mendacious talking points).


Call or write and we'll talk. Then we can see if you will ever fit your stories into facts beyond "He said... but she said..." (but we can never quote George Schmidt EVER EVER EVER!!!!!) version of reporting.

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