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CPS holding "private" meetings with community leaders on school actions

With a week to go before CPS must propose guidelines for school closings and other actions, district officials are holding last-minute meetings to give community leaders a reality check, as well as ask their advice on the criteria.

These meetings are forerunners to those CPS is required to hold after announcing the guidelines, and then on the proposed actions themselves, which are due Dec. 1, said Adam Anderson, head of planning and strategy for the CPS Office of Portfolio.

“What we are doing tonight is because we believe it is the right thing to do,” Anderson told a packed meeting held Tuesday night at Daley College on the Southwest Side. Other meetings will be taking place throughout the week, including Wednesday night at Truman College in Uptown, Thursday night at Kennedy-King College and next Monday at the Charles Hayes Center in Grand Boulevard.

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said these meetings are not open to the general public, as they are intended to be an opportunity for people to express opinions in private. However, the fact that these meetings are private is not clear to recipients of the invitations, as notices have been put on listserves, such as, and forwarded to a wide range of people. 

Ziegler said the school action process will be transparent.

While the mandatory hearings are often contentious, these meetings are highly orchestrated, with participants asked to answer specific questions and take surveys.

The Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, which is made up of state lawmakers and community activists, recommended that CPS publish the guidelines early and post all opportunities for feedback at the beginning of October, said task force member Cecile Carroll. She is now worried that CPS officials are taking the recommendations and implementing them “swiftly and haphazardly.”

Last year, the guidelines and school actions were never changed once they were proposed, despite a lot of input at the hearings. Carroll said she has gotten indications that the same thing will happen this year. 

CPS officials at the meeting said they are trying to make the process of school closings more palatable than last year, when CPS was sharply criticized for not heeding input and some community members were paid by a politically connected organization to show up at meetings in support of the actions.

Officials conceded they are skeptical that any outreach efforts could temper the resistance to school actions. Still, they said they wanted to prevent community members from coming forward and saying they didn’t know that their schools were in bad shape and in danger of being targeted.

Also, one official said he regretted that the meetings were hurried. Some community leaders only got invitations the day before, though CPS officials said they sent them out last week. Officials said they were delayed by the teachers’ strike and the uncertainty over district leadership.

Michael Rendina, director of CPS intergovernmental affairs, said the district has been holding similar meetings over the last year, surveyed local school council members and held a tele-townhall meeting last week.

At a meeting held Tuesday night at Daley College, about 40 percent of the attendees were CPS employees. Others were from local community development organizations, and several were from the UNO charter school network.

This year, CPS plans to target severely under-used schools, in addition to those that are poorly performing.  Last year, poor academic performance was the main factor that doomed a school. Anderson said CPS is looking at consolidations rather than simply closing schools, though even in a consolidation at least one school ends up shuttered. 

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, Southwest High School Network Chief Liz Kirby set the stage by reminding people about the district’s dire financial straits and its supply of unused classrooms.  As many as 140 schools are more than 50 percent under-used, according to board calculations, though some community members and schools have disputed the figures.  Another challenge, Kirby said, is that a lot of school buildings need major repairs.

“In this area, many of the schools are overcrowded, but schools like Hope and Robeson [high schools] could easily serve 500 more students if you just look at the number of seats,” she said.

Also, 125,000 students attend Level 3 schools, the lowest rating that CPS gives schools.

Kirby then told the participants how the neighborhood schools fared: 27 percent are Level 3 schools, but only five of them are severely underutilized.

Next, the audience was given keypads and asked to vote on the following question: What is the most important thing that impacts students? The choices were: maintain the adults, maintain the building or provide an effective transition to a higher performing school nearby.

Immediately, Capers C. Funnye, rabbi at Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation on the Southwest Side, grumbled. “This is very skewed. I feel like I am being used, and I don’t like being used. The choices are out of focus. Seems like the decisions have already been made and we are just supposed to fall into place.”

The preface to the question—that the district is broke and has much excess capacity—seemed to steer the answer, he said.

About 45 percent of the audience voted that it is important to provide effective transition to a higher-performing school.  The rest were split between the two other answers.

For the rest of the meeting, which lasted almost three hours, small groups discussed topics such as their personal priorities for schools -- academic performance was tops -- space utilization standards and the CPS school performance policy.

One question that emerged was whether the performance policy applies to charter schools. Anderson said that it does, but that CPS must wait to shut down a charter school until its contract is up. Most charter schools have five-year contracts, he said.

CPS rarely has declined to renew a charter school contract. This past year, former CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said he was going to shut down some charter schools, but instead he awarded them a short two-or three-year contract. 

Anderson said that in the future, CPS officials want charter schools to be subject to the same school action process as district-run schools.

At the end of the meeting, participants were asked what should be added to the school action criteria. Overwhelmingly, participants voted that the district should consider whether the parents and community support the action.


Chicago dad wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago


And we are to believe that this counts as community input, as parental involvement and engagement? This doesn't even make it as manufactured consent, it's just that lame and haphazard.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Can a public entity hold a private meeting about public issues?

Don't think so. Not democratic CPS. An invitation only meeting speaks to 'private'. Interesting that UNO was well attended-it has been reported that UNO has the list. Capers C. Funnye is correct in feeling used since he and others were being used. CPS will use this skewed data to tell the Board and the press that the communitty members of the closed or consolidated school agree with CPS to do it.
It is a new low for CPS. Who thought this up?

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

2011 -- paid protesters. 2012 -- private propaganda meetings.

Liz Kirby's nonsense needs to be exposed as the propaganda it is. CPS is not in "dire financial straits" no matter how many times that talking point is repeated over and over and over. Today's Board budget nonsense proved it again, when CPS double counted the cost of the CTU raises in order to create a budget problem (at least they aren't calling it a "deficit" this week) and then had to withdraw the entire Power Point because it was (a) full of lies and inaccuracies and (b) had been put before public hearings that really weren't public.

Lie Number Two is about all those underutilized "seats." All CPS has to do is stop sabotaging the city's real public schools while freezing closings and charter expansions for two years, while a precise investigation into every nook and cranny of corruption and waste is investigated, vetted, and exposed.

If CPS schools allocated "seats" the same way they are allocated in Wilmette and Winnetka, where Tim Cawley lives and sends his kid to school, suddenly CPS doesn't have "too many seats". Instead of squeezing 30 black and brown kids into a 900 square foot classroom, like Ms. Ziegler and Ms. Kirby insist Chicago has to do, CPS should allocate classrooms where only 20 children are in each (see, Wilmette, Winnetka, and the suburbs where the children of the richest and whitest neighbors of ours live). Suddenly, this lie stops in its tracks.

As to saving money.

Robin Ziegler is just one of dozens of examples of waste.

Two years ago, the CPS "Office of Communications" had a third of its current staff, and Ms. Ziegler (and most of the others) had employment elsewhere. Today they are part of a department that has tripled in size and cost (while CPS and Cawley claim that "administration" has been cut, whatever that means) so they can go around town scheduling private meetings in violation of the Open Meetings Act and the Facilities Law. CPS can "save" a million dollars just by firing all the "communications" hacks they brought in from outside education since Jean-Claude Brizard was hired (another outsider at great expense) in May and June 2011.

This is not funny, but the facts can at least be useful to the people who are being lied to this year.

Last year it was paid protesters.

This year, it's overpaid "communications" propagandists breaking the law(s) by hosting private meetings that exclude most citizens.

Welcome to the Brave New World of Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

xian barrett wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

That question formatting is

That question formatting is horrendous. It's deceitful and steers people toward an answer that will hurt children.

CPS has always used the "better building" option to try to justify shuffling students around in chaotic, deadly fashion.

Shame on them.

northside wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago


LAST YEAR my classroom was crammed with 34 kids in a 27x25 foot room that's 645 sq feet. I agree....with you.......walking around was like getting through a corn maze. Btw we had some white faces in their tooo. Its money George. They don't care about poor kids. No matter the pigment. Of course we had one teacher me ..of course i got a s satisfactory by my prince..said i didn't run room well or know my students enough to differentiate. Then she gave another teacher with 20 a superior.....go reach evaluation makes no mention of class size

Anonymous wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Another example of CPS seeking skewed input online

CPS Personalized Pathways for Middle School Students

In a very brief and poorly written few paragraphs, CPS talks about Common Core, Race to the Top and this new program for the middle school students at 150 schools.

It provides no substantial information -- like what the heck is it -- then asks you to take a survey.

This is nuts. But it looks like Apple already has a big customer for its smaller, cheaper Ipads.

Rod Estvan wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

As I stated publicly before

As I stated publicly before the CPS Board yesterday, school closings will not save much money at all if the receiving school has to open additional classrooms to service these students. I used the example of a school closure discussion in the small school district of Newtown CT.

What the Board in that district discovered was that in order to close one elementary school and merge it with another under enrolled school that was in better physical shape they would have to put most the new students coming from one under enrolled school with 17 classrooms into basically seven empty rooms in another under enrolled school. It would also require eliminating from the receiving school rooms for specials classes, so art and music would be taught in regular classrooms. It was also being discussed that whether some of the moved students could be placed in portable classrooms.

Newtown CT may still go ahead with the closure and consolidation, but cost savings are not likely to be realized for years, if there are any. As one Board member named Bill Hart from that small town said: "I think the savings potential is over-estimated. You only save a small amount of staff and the cost of operating a building, which would hardly create a dent in our operating budget."

I suspect that this is what CPS will find also if it does an honest analysis. There are no doubt a few schools that could be consolidated into two or more schools without these types of bad results. But a 100 or more, that I would suggest is not likely.

Rod Estvan

Anonymous wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Lincoln Elementary Demands $50 Million Annex at This Time?

While CPS is scheduled to close 100+ schools due to under-utilization and a $1 billion deficit, Lincoln Elementary School's LSC in a 10-2 vote just "demanded" a $50 million annex even though it is overcrowded by only 25 students and its enrollment dropped this year. Within or adjacent to its district sit several under-utilized schools. But then again Lincoln, which has refused CPS's low cost options including redistricting, is located in wealthy Lincoln Park and its parents are used to having their demands met. Maybe they will ask the state of Illinois, which is running a $8 billion budget deficit!

Anonymous wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

There was a failure to communicate at teh one at Malcolm X

West side parents stood up to the CPS brass and told them enough manipulation!

Rico Gutstein wrote 2 years 10 weeks ago

Community Response at the Southside "Hearing" Oct 29

At the Southside hearing Monday night (10/29), as they did in the other hearings, CPS staff were having attendees respond to pre-selected questions w/ the instant "clickers" on our tables. Community members began questioning and criticizing the narrow range of answers (like any multiple-choice test—you only get to choose what the question writer entertains, and only one response at that). After some back and forth, the community members started speaking out more and more (Dyett HS parents and students and Jitu Brown, KOCO education organizer). They challenged the premises (e.g., that CPS has a budget problem vs. a priority problem of where it puts resources), and the students were particularly clear as to how CPS disinvested in Dyett over the years and how CPS school-closing policies have increased youth violence and youth gang activity in the community.

Within about 15-20 minutes, CPS called if off (not before Will Burns, 4th Ward Alderperson fled the meeting). What was most striking to me is that those who have been most affected—students and parents—have moral authority in this situation. They speak powerfully and poignantly about what has happened to them, and, in a democratic society, those in power would actually listen to and learn from them. They're demanding no more school actions and a grassroots, bottom-up, community-based process of school transformation. And, someone needs to be held accountable (CPS and the mayor's office) for the damage done to communities by policies and actions.

Anonymous wrote 34 weeks 3 days ago



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