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The race for City Hall

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.

CPS approves new schools, but charters face tough questions

CPS officials approved several new charter and alternative schools at Wednesday’s board meeting, and also announced new plans to engage with Community Action Councils.

But the charter schools that were approved might face an uncertain future. Both Foundations College Prep, which will open in Roseland, and Orange Charter, which has not picked a neighborhood yet, were pulled from the December meeting agenda, had their openings delayed by a year, and were given additional conditions they must meet before they are given final approval to open.

“They are to identify the communities in need, and also the communities that support these schools,” Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said. “One of them [Orange Charter] had six communities they were considering, and we recommended that they narrow their scope.”

Board member Andrea Zopp was particularly concerned about Orange Charter’s application. “If they find a site and it is a site I don’t agree with, that’s not in need, do I get to vote again? …Orange doesn’t even have a principal yet.” She continued: “My problem is, our guidelines require us to have people with a proven track record, which Orange does not have except for one person on the board.”

Board member Mahalia Hines also questioned the idea of conditionally approving a charter school. “We are not approving schools that are ready to go.” Board President David Vitale noted that CPS has historically approved charter schools in that way. “But does that mean it’s right?” Hines asked.

Earlier in the meeting, board member Andrea Zopp questioned Foundations College Prep principal Sarah Hunko Baker about the school’s plans. “Have you spoken to either of the aldermen there?” Zopp asked. “We are currently finalizing our support from aldermen,” Baker said.  Zopp asked about the board, and Baker admitted that the school’s board “is an area of growth for us.”

The conditions now imposed on the schools set the agenda for what they must accomplish in order to receive final approval.

Foundations must open only with the middle grades, adding one grade per year until it is a 6th- through 12th-grade school. Baker will be required to “participate in a mentorship/training program with a focus on developing high school leaders” and the school’s board “must expand to include member(s) with demonstrated development/fundraising capacity.”

Orange Charter must find a principal candidate who has worked successfully with a similar population of students to those the school will serve. Its budget “must be revised with more realistic fundraising goals” or identified funding sources. It must also choose a community, and be able to demonstrate that the community needs the school and supports it.

Also given a green light on Wednesday were alternative programs that will serve a mixture of dropouts, students who transfer out of their schools because they aren’t on track to graduate, and those who have been expelled.

But the schools’ 950 new seats may be just a drop in the bucket. Jack Wuest, executive director of the Alternative Schools Network, says there are currently 15,000 to 20,000 young high school dropouts in Chicago.

*Edison Learning – Magic Johnson Academy, which will have two locations; each will serve 150 students in grades 7 through 12.

*A new Banner Academy program, serving 225 students. Banner currently runs alternative programs at Banner South and Banner West.

*A new Pathways in Education site serving 300 students, plus 100 more students for the program’s existing site that currently serves 200 students.

In addition, the Options Lab School – currently a Youth Connections Charter School campus serving 175 dropouts – will reopen as a 200-student contract school, the Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy. It will still continue to serve dropouts, but Executive Director Monica Haslip says it also plans to enroll younger students – including incoming freshmen who need a small school environment but aren’t yet off track. She describes the school as “a college prep arts and technology training program.”

Several of the other schools will offer a combination of online and classroom instruction.

The two Magic Johnson Academy locations will be based on a model used by 14 Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy schools around the country, which are a joint venture by the for-profit companies Magic Johnson Enterprises and EdisonLearning.

The 10 schools that were open during the 2011-12 school year – the first year they were in operation – were all in Ohio, says Michael Serpe, a spokesman for EdisonLearning. For students who entered as seniors that year, the schools had a graduation rate of over 70 percent.

Students in the programs spend half their time in on-site online classes, and half in traditional classes. Typically, students can choose whether to attend school from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. or from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. each day, depending on work and child care schedules. Students also receive job training and job placements at Fortune 500 companies, Andre Johnson of Magic Johnson Enterprises said during the public participation segment of the meeting.

Pathways in Education also operates with a combination of online and classroom instruction. Bill Toomey, the program’s deputy superintendent, says he hopes the additional seats will help alleviate the waiting list.

“We don’t have enough slots for the students that need us,” he says. “Our current site is at 87th and Kedzie on the Southwest Side. We are looking at Englewood, we are looking at Roseland and the Austin area” for the second location.

Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett also announced at the meeting that she will personally respond to all proposals made by the district’s Community Action Councils. She also pledged that the district will send representatives to the councils’ monthly meetings.

The community action councils were created by former schools CEO Ron Huberman, but some felt their recommendations were ignored in the last round of school actions.

“We have so longed to partner with the Board,” said 29th Ward Ald. Deborah Graham, who is the chair of the Austin Community Action Council.

In reiterating her response to the Commission on School Utilization’s interim report, Byrd-Bennett said she has grown much more confident in the last month that CPS has the capacity to close schools.

Chief Transformation Officer Todd Babbitz noted that the district plans to offer all students from shuttered schools a space in a “welcoming school” that is higher performing.

But officials noted that in some cases, higher-performing schools might be far from students’ neighborhoods.

“When parents have taken advantage of going to a higher-performing school in the past, the culture shock has been such for the parent and the child, that it has not been a pleasant experience,” board member Mahalia Hines cautioned.  

17 comments

George N. Schmidt wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

LOL at what becomes 'news' here

With all due respect to our colleagues in the reportorial business, the backstories to the January 23 Board meeting -- and some of the actual public participation -- were significant.

A couple of examples:

Alderman Fioretti was backed up by at least three community residents form the South Loop in his criticism of the quick and dirty CPS/City Hall publicity stunt announcing (the good news) that CPS was going to keep the old Jones building and (the bad news) that instead of being a general high school with a vocational program for the community, the building that was saved would simply allow the expansion of the college prep selective enrollment part of Jone.

Despite the usual Catalyst decision to ignore the constant churning of CPS testings (is it true that at Catalyst any test is OK as long as it can provide a reporter with some way to talk about good, medium and poor schools?), Anne Carlson's brief talk (which we've already reported at substancenews.net) demolished the latest CPS nonsense testing stuff, and Pavlyn's speech finished the job. The questions raised by Carlson (why is CPS using the MAP, when even Arne Duncan says it sucks?) and Pavlyn (how is it that CPS can use a different test every year or two and no one in the corporate media notices that each one was flawed -- except when it came to screwing "underperforming" schools?).

Oh, and there was that thing about the CAFR, which is now available to the public.

Board member Henry Bienen never chooses to talk directly to a Schmidt criticizing the Board's lies when we're at the podium, then waits smugly until the end to throw out those charming Princeton one-liners that only work when there is nobody to actually go back over the latest "facts" he's fabricating.

Lastly, but not leastly, this year's version of the Rent A Protesters and the Plutocracy's Parents. They were as subtle as an elephant fart in a tiny tent as each one got up and read from the same script bashing the public schools that had been turnarounded last year (or previously). The only thing that would get in the way of their scripted fairy tales would be a few facts, but I fear that if the principal, teachers, or other staff from, say, Bradwell had been there, violence would have ensued despite the professionalism of CPS security.

And then there was that rape that took place outside Lindblom because the geniuses at CPS can't organize security for the schools this year -- yet Byrd Bennett is promising the world that things will be OK when she follows Rahm's orders and shafts another 50 or so schools to (this year's buzzword from Orwell) "right size" CPS.

Rod Estvan wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

re: Lindblom

The issues relating to the area around Lindblom are truly overwhelming. I was at the school earlier this year and there were boarded up buildings on every block around the school. I don't know if CPS security can address such a profound problem it is really very overwhelming.

Rod Estvan

George N. Schmidt wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Lindblom security in context is not an abstraction

Before CPS decided that an MBA and a facility with Power Point were the two best qualifications for administrators (often, also, being from out of town to qualify to a "relocation" stipend), CPS security chiefs all had both Chicago police and CPS security experience. The reason was simple and worked until Rahm, his propagandists (and scriptwriters), and those backing him decided that abstractions and Hollywood scripts worked better than "boots on the ground." Chicago is too vast to oversimplify through the periscope of a "bottom line." And if anything is more complex than the security of children in Chicago's communities, those anythings are few and far between.

CPS this year has not only purged its security ranks, but it has replaced knowledge and experience with fatuous rhetoric and simplistic oversimplifications. When it's your child who has been raped, mugged, or shot, there is no "average improvement" to discuss.

The difference between Lindblom (and a dozen other high schools with a similar community around them, as Rod points out accurately) and, say, Jones or Whitney Young is vast.

And yet even those two selective enrollment high schools have faced these problems.

Examples: The year Sharon and I met, Sharon was teaching at Jones and they had just had an unusual event: a student had been stabbed (not fatally) with a screwdriver out front by another student.

The year my son Dan graduated from Whitney Young (class of 2007), they lost one graduate who was murdered (brutally) because he fell in love with the "wrong" girl and had to use public transportation to get together with her. (The school announced his name at graduation and the family received the cap and gown).

Both of those schools were traumatized by the incidents.

But in one year when I was "security coordinator" at Bowen High School, we "lost" seven. That meant, seven present or former Bowen students were murdered that school year. (Others disappeared and may have been murdered and buried out south, but the official ones we knew about numbered seven). Only one of those seven died on school grounds (Antwan Jordan), shot through the head by members (yes, that's a plural) of a rival gang.

Jordan was standing on the east side of the building when the bullet entered his forehead and almost made it out the back of his skull. I know those facts because (a) I had to watch him die and (b) confirm the death when the paramedics arrived and (c) call in the "187" to the principal on the walkie talkie I carried as part of my jobs those years. (I also taught English and was a union delegate).

What do all these "back in the day" stories have to do with the Lindblom rape?

CPS has an obligation to provide security resources, not plans and memos, to provide security for the children in each of our schools. Bowen needed more security -- and some very courageous and aggressive and well-trained security people -- than, say, Whitney Young. Both were Chicago high schools, and both suffered tragedy, but realism at ground level requires a knowledge of the city and the experience with Chicago schools.

During the years I did those jobs (I late became "Director of Security and Safety" for the CTU under Debbie Lynch with roughly the same mission), we developed a very good working relationship with the Chicago police.

-- We needed armed police in many of the schools and we had them. That prevented some of the worse tragedies from happening inside our buildings (there have been very few murders inside Chicago public schools; I submit our realism is a major reason).

-- We needed a serious security program that was revised as needed annually and updated for the seasons and reasons.

-- We needed enough security people to do the jobs both inside and adjacent to the building(s) (Bowen has three buildings, remember; many of our schools have two, some attached like Whitney Young and some detached like Sherman's) -- and

-- We need to coordinate security around our "perimeter", which includes the nearest blocks, including CTA stops, etc., when the children are entering and leaving.

It is possible that the Lindblom tragedy reported at yesterday's Board meeting was in part caused by the decision -- foisted on the Board by Rahm Emanuel -- to go to the Longest School Day without a lot of real planning. It's clear that the speaker at yesterday's Board meeting stated that Lindblom has two shift times for students, but only security for one.

The rest is still being investigated.

I sincerely hope, with two sons still in CPS schools (and doing happily safely, including riding the bus and walking home now and then) that we devote less time to demanding fatuous Power Point garbage about these complex issues and more time to the vast differences across Chicago.

Last year, Rahm refused to consult the teachers (via the Chicago Teachers Union) on these issues as he banged his one-note orchestra at huge decibel levels about the Longer School Day.

This year we're hearing the same deafening noise from the same source about the "underutilization crisis."

But I'm actually much more optimistic, even in the face of the recent security problems. Like it or not, the "team" Barbara Byrd Bennett is assembling is (slowly) showing a lot more realistic appreciation of the realities of Chicago than Jean-Claude Brizard did. (Yes: I did say that).

So are the members of the Board of Education, a few of whom are routinely asking real questions about real time problems, instead of burying their heads in the latest Power Point footnotes and spreadsheets that are served up to them like Big Macs every month.

The best news, on this front, in the past three months was the ability of David Hilliard, as a member of the Closing Commission, to bring some realism to the Board's "utilization" abstractions in light of the existence of the largest and most dangerous and best organized street gangs in the USA right here in Chicago.

But as CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey pointed out yesterday, the gang bangers who grow up into being "People" and "Folk" don't begin their predatory lives when they arrive in 9th grade. Usually, they are apprenticed (as "shorties") beginning in the lower grades and advancing into the middle grades.

I have a friend who lives in Newtown who lived there partly because it was so safe and lovely after his time in Vietnam (and his authoring of the best fiction about that terrible war and its results).

Every place needs security.

But there are Bowens and Lindbloms, on the one hand, and Joneses, on the other. And CPS security has to be provided led by people who know the schools and the map and understand the differences.

Srb199 wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Lessons from sub prime mortgages

The more charter schools push their agendas, the more they appear to imitate tactics that predatory lenders used to take advantage of desperate parents thinking that anything that comes along has to be better than what they have. Charters get their money, up front without proof of success, not even having to meet transparent benchmarks. But yet this push goes forward. What about an accounting of money poured into charters and comparing to the amount given traditional schools, factoring in demographics? What type of operation doesn't decide this from jump?

CPS educator wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

You mentioned Bradwell

Can you elaborate? Why did you mention Bradwell Mr. Estvan? You are always in the know so I know that you would never throw a school name out there casually.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Charter Funding

I, too, would like to see an accounting of money "poured" into charters. Any independent analysis would demonstrate that charters are severely underfunded compared to neighborhood CPS schools.

George N. Schmidt wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Charters crying poor, POOR do you hear!!!

Nonsense. If you did back into the original talking points (long ago buried), this is precisely one of the main things the Chicago charters were touting themselves as able to do: Improve so-called "outcomes" at a lower cost and with all that incubated innovationistic stuff. Young. Agile. Dedicated and creative. They knew that "all children can learn" and they "loved the children" (whoops; don't repeat that this week: that coach from EPIC who was also at LEARN just became the latest example of why "love" in some contexts can be a four-letter word... Another reason for regulation of our profession...).

But I digress.

But you got me started, so read on if you have the energy and want some truth.

The charters are only "underfunded" in their initial round of CPS funding. But if they were audited by February, they'd have to pay back some of the money they "qualified" for in October because they by February have dumped the kids they don't want back into the real public schools.

The entire charter bait-and-switch and Scam of the Month was touchingly obvious as their claims unrolled over the years. First, they were going to be "incubators of innovation" that were able to do things the real public schools couldn't do, because, after all, it was those onerous union contracts and bureaucratic Board rules that impeded this outburst of creativity.

Once they had been around long enough for everyone to see that they were mostly (not all) test prep factories exploiting young teachers (how do you spell KIPP as the most melodramatic example of this scam) -- and that they were not "producing outcomes" superior to the local schools, then they did the first of many shifting claims.

In Chicago, they have never been audited or held accountable. The only way a charter school gets in trouble with CPS is if the financial scandal gets so BIG that it bursts out in the daily corporate newspapers. Even negligent homicide (North Lawndale College Prep) isn't enough to get a charter school dropped.

For eight years, since I first heard him tell the BIG LIE and then watched it go viral and national, Arne Duncan has been claiming that the "proof" that charters should be expanded was the so-called "waiting list." As the years went on and Arne repeated that whopper, the "list" got longer, like Pinocchio's nose. After all, when it's fiction to begin with the sky is the limit. I first heard Arne tell that lie at Urban Prep during an RFP shindig years ago, and when I asked him about it he gave me the usual "I'll get back to you on that." My question had two parts then and has two parts now:

1. Let me see that "waiting list." You can redact the names, but I want to see it, not hear you say it.

2. What is the length of the "waiting list" for Whitney Young. JUST Whitney Young.

A lie is a lie, even if it's repeated over and over and over and over by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the USA.

The final challenge to that particular lie came in September 2012, when suddenly Andrew Broy and the other charter propagandists were going around inviting children during the strike to go to the charters.

Suddenly, instead of a waiting list, the Chicago charters had "underutilized seats." (Before that phrase became a Chicago joke). How could you have had a "waiting list" and then suddenly have "underutilized seats..." It's the same nonsense. Once you are doing fiction, you can say anything you can craft in words. There is no accuracy requirement, and the trick is to get the words repeated (talking points, messaging, marketing, all that stuff), not to have them checked out for truth.

The majority of Chicago charter schools (and so-called "campuses") have failed by any measure of "performance" that is used to measure our real public schools.

Except one:

They are anti-union entities designed to exploit naive young teachers during the few years before those naive young teachers need a real job with decent pay and benefits -- and rights -- and protection from unscrupulous bosses.

The great thing about 2013, as opposed to most of the years when Arne Duncan and his successors were polluting the Chicago mainstream with charters and trying to abolish public education in Chicago via this form of privatization is that now we have hundreds of teachers who have safely transitioned to the city's real public schools and are no longer afraid to tell the truth about the scams they were victims of (and part of in some cases) back during their dedicated days as charter school teachers.

We won't even address, here, the salaries of the charter operators and their administrators -- the overhead that at the charters soaks up so much of their money. Juan Rangal alone is the highest paid school administrator in Chicago, for a tiny fraction of Chicago's "public education" students. A half dozen of the others are playing the same gravy train game. And then out there they are also getting all those private dollars from the targeted philanthrophy that is aiming to bust the unions.

northside wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

charters

Some are underfunded some over funded like uno.....thats the problem charters create dog eat dog world

George N. Schmidt wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

UNO's air force?

If it's true that UNO has its own airplane, I'd like a photograph and some information about how that was acquired. Back in the day, CPS had aviation shops in some high schools (the one at Dunbar was taught, if my information is accurate, by a former Tuskeegee airman) and the kids also were taught the basics of flying. That was before CPS destroyed vocational and career education, privatizing much of it, and went through the ongoing alphabet soup on voc ed.

The reason this comes to mind is that there are hundreds of exciting ways to get young people "involved" in their education, and last time I looked CPS had continued gutting the voc ed programs. If UNO purchased an airplane for Juan Rangal's use...

Let's just not hear all that stuff about charters are "underfunded..." The per pupil money the charters get is the beginning. The rich people who give them additional money also, of course, get tax benefits. Finally, as I noted earlier, the charters have additional sources of CPS dollars...

Anonymous wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago

Charter Schools

I from my point of view charter schools are no the best idea. Why? Because many children don't get to attend those schools. The reasons is simple they are not at the level that charter schools have established. Plus, charter schools are always doing things wrong and they make them seem right. I preferably believe that CPS system is better and they should be funded more than they have been funded. CPS education is better because every child would be able to have an education no matter what level they have. CHARTER SCHOOLS SHOULD BE OUT!!!!!

Anonymous wrote 42 weeks 1 day ago

urban prep

charter schools have high dropout rates. They kick students out of the schools to receive great performance. one school to use as an example is Urban Prep. They always had high drop out rates.

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