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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.

Two charter campuses could close

UPDATED--CPS has announced that it plans to close two charter high school campuses. In November, the district had promised to get tough on charters, perhaps because of the number of neighborhood schools officials plan to close.

The school board will make an official decision on the fate of Mirta Ramirez Computer Science High School, run by ASPIRA, and DuSable Leadership Academy, run by Betty Shabazz International Charter School, at its Wednesday meeting. Both schools are affiliated with community organizations that have deep roots in Chicago.

Due to poor performance, the district also plans to put other campuses run by those schools on a shorter leash, requiring them to meet annual academic benchmarks that have not yet been determined. Those schools comprise ASPIRA’s Haugan Middle School, Antonia Pantoja High School, and Early College High School, as well as Betty Shabazz International Charter School and the school’s Barbara A. Sizemore Academy. (This is the second year that some charter schools have had their contracts renewed for shorter periods of time.)

Ten other charter operators will also have their contracts renewed – two for 3 years, and the rest for 5 years. In addition to the two campuses that are being recommended for closure, six of the 27 schools run by those 12 operators are level 3 schools--the worst possible rating by CPS. Six were Level 1 schools, the best possible. Eight were not given performance ratings.

Less than a handful of charter schools have been closed by CPS. Only two have closed in the past 6 years. Choir Academy decided to shut itself down for financial and performance issues. ACT Charter’s board of directors was pressured to close the low-scoring school, but the school’s charter remained active and was given to KIPP to open a junior high school this year.

District officials announced their recommendations for charter renewals at 5 p.m. Thursday. At the same time, a public hearing on charter renewals was starting. About 45 minutes before the hearing began, the principal at DuSable Leadership Academy said that she was not aware of the district’s recommendation to close the school.

The hearing was attended by about 150 people and 72 people signed up to speak. Among them were the leaders of Shabazz and Aspira. Both argued that, although test scores are low, they do well in other areas. The Aspira official said that 93 percent of their students are accepted into college. 

Carol Lee, who founded Shabazz, said the network runs award-winning schools that have good attendance, low drop out rates and good acceptance into colleges.

Fernando Grillo, chair of the board of ASPIRA of Illinois, said Thursday night that "we certainly understand the challenges we have (and) we are committed to accountability."

He also said that in the last year the entire ASPIRA organization has been "on a self-imposed turnaround" with a new board and new staff in its corporate offices as well as at the schools. "We are holding ourselves to much higher standards," Grillo said.

Last March, the organization's board fired CEO Jose Rodriguez, likely due to the poor performance.

CPS said in a press release that it reviewed charter operators’ records in terms of contract compliance, charter governance, fiscal management, academic growth, test scores and parent input.

Some charters get shorter renewals

The two charter schools that are being renewed for just 3 years are ACE Tech and Community Services West Charter School.

Last year, ACE Tech had a 1-year contract but the district says it “is showing early signs of performance progress.” Community Services West “is moving to restructure its organization to better serve a distinct alternative student population,” the district noted. In recent years, several charter schools have undergone restructuring or "turnaround" in an effort to boost performance.


Anonymous wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

ASPIRA Haugan Middle School

ASPIRA has historically done a poor job of managing the beautiful Haugan Middle School facility. Academic achievement remains dismal and does not appear to be improving any time soon. CPS needs to get serious about removing subpar charter operators like ASPIRA from the mix. Surely a better use for that facility could be found - Disney II High School comes to mind.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

The Haugan facility has been

The Haugan facility has been coveted by others for many years. They have a new administration and many excellent teachers.

George N. Schmidt wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

Aspira Haugan should never have been privatized

What "coveted"? The so-called "Aspira Haugan" charter campus was built by CPS to relive overcrowding at the nearby Haugan elementary school -- at a cost of more than $20 million (as I reported at the time in Substance). CPS said it cost $19 million; our figures showed $25 million. And the Park District was brought in on the deal...

So Chicago had a new public school. Then, through a political deal while Arne Duncan was still privatizing as many sites as possible (and with help from State Sen. Iris Martinez), the building was given away to the charter school. The Aspira charters have always been shoddy, but the new building really topped the others, with such corruption that had there been any justice in CPS then (or now) the building would never -- NEVER -- have been given away to a bunch of charter crooks in the first place.

J Dick wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Re: “An analysis of Senator Kirk's charter school 'analysis'”

Re: “An analysis of Senator Kirk's charter school 'analysis'”

From a letter that went out to dozens of media sources, funders and politicians:

I am sending this letter to all interested parties to report a social injustice at Aspira Inc. of Illinois. As an example of gross misappropriation of public funding, the Aspira Board of Directors led by the chairman, Fernando Grillo and the Chief Executive Officer, Jose Rodriguez, spent over $50,000.00 of public funds on a three day “retreat” in a Lake Geneva resort, over the summer. This mini-vacation, courtesy of the tax-payers of Illinois was put together by Grillo and Rodriguez to benefit the politically connected consulting firm of Charlie Serrano and Company who was awarded a lucrative no-bid contract to provide “board training” to the group. Serrano, who sources indicate is a close friend to Grillo was paid $25,000.00 to provide board development even though he has no experience in board development. They spent another $25,000 in other related expenses including hotel rooms, meals etc.

This $50,000.00 should have been used to pay for resources to help the Aspira Charter High School where 85% of the students are not meeting academic standards. It should have been used to pay for a full time specialized teacher to help bring up the scores. It should have been used to pay for after-school tutoring benefitting the lowest performers at the schools. But apparently education is not the board’s or CEO’s priority. Instead they decided to use the $50,000 on themselves in one weekend.

Fernando Grillo, is a partner in the investment firm of Samuel Ramirez & Company, and a close friend to disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich, crooked Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, 31st Ward Alderman Ray Suarez, Congressman Luis Gutierrez and State Senator Iris Martinez among others. He and his investment firm have contributed thousands of dollars to their political campaigns (this can be confirmed through campaign disclosures in the State Board of Elections website). You may remember Grillo as the Director of the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations who was forced to resign under a cloud of suspicion just prior to Blagojevich’s indictment. Ironically this department regulates financial institutions. Fernando Grillo used his influence to hire Serrano and Company to do the board training. How many more contracts has he steered to his friends? This is a clear conflict of interest.

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