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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CTU members vote on new contract, prepare for next fight
In a sign of solidarity with community groups, CTU President Karen Lewis chose to vote on the teacher contract at Dyett High School, which is being phased out amid intense community resistance.
Lewis refused to say how she voted and refused to call the contract a good one. She did note she was in the negotiation room, implying that she marked her ballot “yes.”
The ratification vote is but the first step in achieving what the contract provides. Now, she said, the union must monitor implementation and participate in the many committees the School Board and union agreed to create. The contract establishes at least 12 committees, including one on professional problems and another on setting a time-table for air-conditioning all school buildings that are used during summer.
At Dyett and other schools, teachers seemed ready to accept the three-year pact, despite some misgivings. In general, teachers saw victory more in the experience of the strike itself than in any contract details.
“I am not happy with every single line in the thing, but it’s a contract,” said Tina Padilla, who teaches at Lane Tech High School and is a trustee of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund and a member of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators. “This is just the beginning. The sleeping giant has been awoken. We are massing up for the challenges that await us.”
Lewis seemed to say the same thing, noting that, the strike empowered teachers. “They know their rights and they are standing up. “
School closings are the next major challenge the school system will tackle –officials openly talk about the need to close as many as 120 schools over the next few years and have indicated that they will vote on some this year.
One teacher walking into Dyett, who declined to provide her name, said she will retire once Dyett closes. “I wouldn’t want to be a new teacher in this situation,” the teacher said.
On Tuesday, Lewis framed the school-closing issue as community participation in decision-making.
“The student voices were heard, but they were ignored,” Lewis said. “These decisions are badly made. They don’t take into account the community, but rather sit in rooms amid spreadsheets.”
After voting , Lewis joined a group of Dyett students, flanked by members of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. The students and leaders of KOCO are still trying to get the decision to close Dyett reversed through a civil rights complaint and a campaign to get the federal government to put a moratorium on school closings. These efforts are longshots considering the U.S. Department of Education is run by Arne Duncan, who started school closings in Chicago.
Dyett students also protested a new school rule that requires they enter the building in the rear. “I am not the maid, I am not the help,” said Aquila Griffin.
Dyett Principal Charles Campbell said that with only 200 students in a building built for 1,200, he wanted to consolidate the space students occupy. The back of the building was a more logical place for entering and exiting, he said, because the cafeteria and gym entrance are nearby.
Having all the students in one area helps keep them secure and cuts down on students wandering in the hallways, he said.
Aquila Griffin also complained that as the enrollment decreases with the phase-out, class offerings have dwindled.
CPS officials are sensitive to the allegations. Knowing that Lewis was going to show up at Dyett and that the students were going to hold a press conference, they sent out security guards to keep press outside on the perimeter of the school.
Campbell says he is focused on getting all the students to graduate and into college. Students have already have gone on one college tour this year, he said, and a college fair is coming up. He also is attempting to bring back some honors and AP classes.
“A phase-out is a delicate situation,” Campbell said. “I am focusing on students. … I want to have a laser-like focus on instruction and making college attractive.”