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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Board members get tough with CTU
As CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union gear up for a battle over school closings, several board members took a hard line with CTU at Wednesday’s board meeting, accusing the union of uncivil behavior over the past months.
Board President David Vitale warned CTU Recording Secretary Michael Brunson, before Brunson addressed the board, that “you are here, and your ability to speak is, at my discretion.” (At the board’s discretion, CTU officials are allowed as a courtesy to address the board without first registering.)
“Unfortunately, your organization does not seem to want to behave as civilly as we do. Your vice president is quoted in the Tribune as saying, ‘We are coming after you,’” Vitale continued.
He then accused the union of “spewing lies” about board member Penny Pritzker, referring to criticism of Hyatt Hotels’ involvement in a tax increment financing district-funded project.
“You also threaten us, Vitale said. “You had your members march on my home. No one was home except my daughter,” because schools were closed due to the strike at the time.
Brunson said he was “a man of peace” and suggested that CPS publicly post the position files and budgets of charter schools, include charter teachers in the CTU pension funds and put school closings on hold.
“I make these suggestions so we can have peace, but we cannot allow you to shut down our schools,” Brunson said.
Before the exchange, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett noted that CPS is asking the Illinois General Assembly for an extension, until March 31, of the deadline for proposing school closings.
“The intent of Senate Bill 630 is our intent,” Byrd-Bennett said, referring to the bill that sets a Dec. 1 deadline for announcing school closings. She said the extra time is necessary because the process “requires a much more rigorous and much more transparent, open dialogue” than has occurred so far.
The first meeting of a district-appointed school closing commission, on Tuesday, “was an opportunity to guarantee this commission that they are totally independent, that we will not meddle in their work,” Byrd-Bennett said.
She said the commission will hold meetings in every community and will provide monthly reports to the board, and added that CPS does not have a set number of schools it is looking to close.
Later in the meeting, Stand for Children member Lisa Kulisek, the parent of a pre-kindergarten student at Smyth Elementary, asked board members not to close Smyth, an underutilized school that is in the lowest-performing level (Level 3) in the district.
“Our school’s test scores are improving and we have a terrific IB [International Baccalaureate] program,” Kulisek said. “Most of the students walk to school. Where would they go if our school closed?”
Information like that, Vitale said, was what the school closings commission will consider.
But at the end of public participation, board member Andrea Zopp said that if the proposal from school closing opponents is “to say stop, don’t do anything… I don’t see that happening.”
Zopp said CPS wants and needs to work together with CTU, but that it is tough to do so when personal attacks are involved.
“They have threatened us personally, and made misrepresentations about Ms. Pritzker… the CTU needs to pick,” Zopp said.