MEDIA WATCH: The melodrama and traumas of 'Disney II'... New York Times Chicago people find news from the wealthy to their taste...

…Proving once again that Chicago reporters for The New York Times could miss a fart in a phone booth, we note the Chicago section of the Times, and its ‘rich people are sad, too’ version of reality courtesy of “Disney II.”

The Irving Park Middle School (above, in March 2008) was by every measure doing a highly successful job educating its students. But when the school's wealthy neighbors demanded that the local school get rid of the poor and working class kids attending Irving Park Middle School and convert it to 'Disney II', Mayor Daley and then CEO Arne Duncan were listening. On March 17, 2008, Duncan convened a hearing at which his representatives claimed that the Irving Park Middle School was "underutilized" even though the staff at the school had found use for all the newly renovated space inside the building and testified about it at the hearing. But careful Board watchers knew that the fix was in, as Duncan had declared the wealthy community adjacent to Irving Park Middle School as "underserved." As soon as Irving Park Middle School was kicked out of its building, Duncan put the "Disney II" school in the same building. While "Disney II" still doesn't have as many kids as Irving Park Middle had when Duncan destroyed it, it is now satisfying the needs of the local homeowners. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Fans of Arne Duncan’s Chicago lies (which usually began when words started coming out of his mouth) will recall that a couple of years ago, Duncan announced he was going to initiate pro-grams for what he called “underserved communities.” Like most things Chicago (and Duncan) the fine print was missing from the initial wordage, so some naïve souls thought that maybe — a big “maybe” in Chicago — Duncan was suggesting that some of the city’s vast stretches of impover-ished ghetto and barrio would get a few more additions to the public schools there, like, say, reduced class size and fully staffed after school programs.

NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT! What Duncan meant by an “underserved community” was a wealthy enclave that didn’t have a public private school to service its less-than-bright children. With all the city's Yuppies clamoring to have their kids get into a small number of selective enrollment schools, it was inevitable that even Duncan, with his infinite supply of devious ways, would be unable to figure out how to provide a Whitney Young or Northside College Prep for the dimmer bulbs of the city's entitlement families (most of them very white with more disposable income than most Chicago families have income).

Enter: The CLONES. Duncan announced he was going to CLONE the existing exclusive schools for gentrification enclaves and give the seats to the families that could afford the rent. Of course, that meant kicking out the families that we already using the public schools there, but what the heck.

Some of the half million dollar homes in what Arne Duncan called the "underserved" Old Irving Park community when he evicted the working class families at Irving Park Middle School in 2008 so he could set up "Disney II." Now that the Duncan Chicago plan has been exported across the USA, other cities and states can expect to hear more of the Orwellian jargon — like calling a wealthy gentrified community "underserved" — that Duncan was able to get away with during his more than seven years as "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools (2001 - 2008). Substance photo taken in March 2008 down the street from what was then Irving Park Middle School by George N. Schmidt. Bulldozing the poor and working class in order to further the privileges of the already privileged is Chicago's mission statement under Richard M. Daley and his clones. First up: “Disney II.”

“Disney II” was created after Duncan evicted the successful Irving Park Middle School from its location (3815 N. Kedvale) in the “Old Irving Park” community and forced its students and teachers to hunker down with another working class middle school (Thurgood Marshall, at 3900 N. Lawndale), while Duncan dollars and Duncan clout created “Disney II” — a clone of the Lakefront Walt Disney Magnet School just for the gentry (as in “gentrification”) of the Old Irving Park “community” (average home value, about a half million dollars last we checked). So… What does this have to do with the proclivity of The New York Times to report on the sorrows of the wealthy? Flash forward to the November 27 Chicago edition of The New York Times and we have a story about how the poor little rich families now utilizing “Disney II” are trying to raise $100,000 to make sure their kids have a full after school program in this era of austerity.

They’ll probably do it, unless Duncan’s successor, Ron Huberman, jumps in first with some earmarked (“can’t spend this money on anything else”) dollars to keep the dwindling Daley base happy. Given how The New York Times is reporting Chicago news, the story two years ago (when Duncan was kicking out Irving Park Middle School) would probably have been about how traumatic it is for one of the children of wealth back then to have to sit in class with the children of his nanny. Duncan solved that problem with the creation of “Disney II” and the eviction of the poor children who had been attending Irving Park Middle School. But this New York Times things still rings out. Last time we looked, the Times still had the motto "All the News That's Fit to Print" emblazoned on Page One. What that seems to mean, it "All the News that Fits Our Prints" on behalf of the Bernie Madoffs of the world and their marks. So out of more than 600 public schools in Chicago (and 400,000 public school kids), The New York Times was able Thanksgiving week to find some self-important, self-referential “Woe is us” melodrama at Disney II… 


To Pay for Longer School Days, Some Parents Try Raising Money

By CRYSTAL YEDNAK (Published in the November 27, 2009 Chicago Edition of The New York Times, source: CHICAGO NEWS COOPERATIVE)

After raising $35,000 for gym mats, musical instruments and other extras last year, parents at Disney II Magnet School in Chicago now face a more daunting price tag — $100,000 — to keep their children in class an extra hour each day.

The city’s public school students have some of the shortest days in the country, as both President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are encouraging educators to extend school time. The Obama administration is even dangling $4 billion in new education money in front of states that innovate in different areas, including class schedules.

Historically in Chicago, the conversation about extending the school day has been short. To do so for all 417,000 students in the Chicago Public Schools would cost around $280 million, said a system spokeswoman, Ana Vargas, making such a move virtually impossible at a time when the school system faces a deficit that could reach $900 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“Most people would absolutely say more time is better,” said Erica L. Harris, head of the school system’s Office of Extended Learning Opportunities. But, Ms. Harris added, “That conversation ends before it starts.”

The $100,000 fund-raising drive at Disney II shows how parents at one magnet school are scrambling to make it happen. The cost estimate runs to $385 per student at the 260-student school, but the hours add up to an extra month of school over the course of an academic year.

“I can’t change C.P.S., but I’m willing to do what I can here,” said Allison Mutlu, 38, who has children in preschool and first grade at Disney II.

The standard day for elementary students in public schools is 5 hours 8 minutes of instruction. By comparison, students in New York City go for 6 hours 30 minutes. In Boston, they spend 6 hours in class, and in Los Angeles, most students are there 5 hours 19 minutes.

Chicago’s charter and contract schools, which operate with more autonomy, offer the longest school days in the city, with some in session more than two hours longer per day than neighborhood schools.

“If you look across the country at the highest performing urban schools, one thing they have in common is that they have lengthened the school day, the school week and year,” said Timothy Knowles, director of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago. But Mr. Knowles emphasized that schools must use the time wisely, not just do more of what had not worked.

After-school programs including arts, physical education and tutoring extended the day for about 150,000 Chicago students during the 2008-9 school year. Even so, those services are not always aligned with the academic curriculum and do not involve every student.

A district suffocating from chronic budget shortfalls is left using piecemeal measures to lengthen the day for as many children as possible. Yet the absence of a centralized program inevitably raises equity issues.

The Disney II fund-raising drive has raised $15,000 in three weeks, but parents organizing the effort are concerned about their ability to meet the goal in this economy.

Financing by parents is not realistic for many city schools. Parents of many students in the magnet schools are struggling to make ends meet and cannot write a check to their public school for extra class time.

At Marquette Elementary on the Southwest Side, serving children in prekindergarten through eighth grade, the principal, Paul O’Toole, has used a $3.5 million foundation grant to extend the day for his middle school students. The money runs out after the 2010-11 school year, though, and Mr. O’Toole knows a pledge drive is not practical for his community, where 96 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

“We would be asking for money from people who don’t have a lot of money,” he said.

Other schools have found ways to lengthen the day using grant money, corporate donations, creative budgeting and restructured class schedules.

Richard Morris, the principal at Burroughs Elementary on the Southwest Side, uses about $75,000 of discretionary federal financing to add extra class time and recess to the school day.

“All we’ve done by extending the day is level the playing field,” Mr. Morris said. “Our day is no longer than the Catholic schools’ or suburban schools’.”

From the day Disney II opened in 2008 as part of the school system’s Renaissance 2010 initiative, the children have benefited from extended class time.

Obtaining the extra hour at the outset was no easy task, said the principal, Bogdana Chkoumbova. A $500,000 Renaissance Schools Fund grant from the Boeing Company alleviated her concerns about costs, but scheduling and work force issues complicated the effort.

Efforts to lengthen the school day failed in the last negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union. Officials with the union say that they do not oppose a longer day and that they support waivers of work rules case by case, so long as teachers are compensated for the extra time.

As Mrs. Chkoumbova, 40, recruited people for her initial staff, she informed teachers of her plans for the longer day, with extra pay. All signed on, she said.

With an extra hour of classroom time — meaning 6 hours 45 minutes a day, 4 days a week — Mrs. Chkoumbova could set aside two-and-a-half hours a day for literacy. Students would also get an hour of math, an hour of science or social studies, and then art, gym and music twice a week. Students, who range from ages 3 to 9, also would get a 20-minute recess, something often dropped from the shorter schedule at other schools. Students are dismissed one hour earlier on Fridays.

Once Disney II opened its doors — with Mayor Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel, then a congressman and now the White House chief of staff, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony — teachers soon found they preferred the extra school time.

With the standard schedule, Betsy Callaghan, 27, a kindergarten teacher, said she felt she was rushing through too much. “I knew they needed more than I could give them,” she said.

For the 2009-10 school year, Mrs. Chkoumbova said, Disney II was flooded with applications — 650 for 50 kindergarten slots.

The Boeing grant runs out at the end of the 2009-10 school year, and without extra money, Disney II could face a budget gap for the extended-day program. More money should be available once the student body grows, bringing in more per-pupil financing from the state. Until then, parents will have to cover the difference.

Parents working on the fund-raising program fear that it will be impossible to replace the financing, if it is lost. The staff cost alone for adding an hour each day to the school year is $100,800.

Still, some parents have mixed feelings about the private financing of public education.

One, Renee Linnemeyer, values the additional instruction time, but her husband bristles at the idea of trying to raise $100,000.

“He felt like once we got a child in the public school, that burden of payment was off us,” Ms. Linnemeyer said. “I tried to help put things in perspective for him, reminding him if we didn’t have this option, we had committed to paying for a private school education to stay in the city.” Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company.

Final edited version of this article posted at November 29, 2009, 5:00 p.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms — or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.


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