MEDIA WATCH: The new "F" word at CPS is spelled FENGER.. The Chicago media let Huberman talk about so-called 'turnaround' without ever mentioning Fenger High School

Given all the rumors circulating since January 1, the Chicago Sun-Times did a credible job in its report on January 19, 2010 in which they got 13 out of the 14 schools on this year's CPS Hit List right. I suspect that Huberman tweaked the Hit List at the last minute just to keep the Sun-Times in its place. Ruggles was reported going down in the Sun-Times, but Bradwell is going down instead. Since both are the same under Huberman's rules, it was a dime versus ten cents. The most important fundamental fact is that using his "matrix" that our colleagues in the media allow Huberman to get away with, he could have closed and turned around 50 or more schools for "poor performance." He said as much. The only reason he didn't, he said, was a "capacity issue."

Chicago's Fenger High School (above) has remained in trouble since the murder of Fenger student Derrion Albert. The photo above, taken in early October 2009, shows the memorial to Derrion Albert at the foot of the "Fenger" sign. At his January 19, 2010, press conference, CEO Ron Huberman announced he was expanding "turnaround" without ever mentioning Fenger, which was the most dramatic example of the results of the disastrous "turnaround" policy. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Apparently, by "capacity issue" in this case Huberman means that AUSL is not yet ready to take over dozens of schools. But, according to Huberman, Chicago owes it to the children to save them (via AUSL) from those terrible teachers whose terrible teaching is leading to those terrible test scores.

One of the fascinating things about the January 19 media event was that for all the discussion of AUSL and "turnaround" nobody used the "F" word:


More than a dozen reporters from the city's supposedly sophisticated corporate media sat there while Huberman went on and on about how Harper and Orr proved that "turnaround" works, and nobody asked about FENGER. But just in case, Huberman had a couple of people from the old RAP program ("Rent a Parent") to sing the praises of AUSL's "turnaround." The one who got the most attention claimed she was critical of the closing of Dulles last year but had seen the light.

But no FENGER.

Huberman claimed that Harper and Orr were great examples of how "turnaround" has succeeded. Those high schools went through "turnaround" in 2008 - 2009.

Fenger, which began "turnaround" in September 2009 was not mentioned, and no reporters asked. I got in one question — the extra dollars that go into a school during the first year of "turnaround" — and Huberman answered it: $1 million. (It's actually more, but that will require some FOIA work).

Everyone at CPS hates the "F" word. Nobody wants to talk about what is happening, right now, at Fenger.


January 21, 2010 at 11:17 PM

By: Tina Johnson


I was at the press conference as part of the group of parents. Huberman did say Fenger once when mentioning the turn around schools. I do not think it is being avoided. It is just a tough situation that was made bad by so much press coverage. it is sad that so many of our kids in Chicago die. they die from all schools and it is a problem we have to fix as a community. it was unfair that fenger is being singled out because someone taped a death on their cell phone and then unethical fox news showed it over and over again. and, things are much better at fenger.

January 22, 2010 at 1:22 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

That's not true, Tina...

Sorry, Tina, but that's not true. Huberman deliberately ignored the Fenger question and tried to frame the narrative about "turnaround" hiding behind the AUSL publicity team That team included people from some outside PR firm — WorldCom Public Relations group, to be precise. Was CPS paying for that, too? As usual, AUSL had a RAP parent to sing the praises of AUSL's "turnaround" while leaving out the fact that when AUSL gets hold of a school, they get an additional million dollars (sometimes more) to spiff things up the first year. Combine that million with the AUSL dumping of the "bad" students (which is what they've done at every high school they've gotten their hands on), and you get a modest, one-shot "success." That's how they did Orr (along with some strategic investments through what I call the RAP program).

With Donald Fraynd and Barbara Eason Watkins standing behind him, he could easily have discussed the Fenger controversies and given the press conference an update — had I been able to ask my next question (which was coming had Huberman not darted out of the room like a cartoon character making an exit and leaving behind the AUSL spin team and Monique Bond to answer additional questions. If you were there, you know precisely what I'm talking about. Fraynd and Eason-Watkins were making themselves scarce, too.

Instead of answering all the "turnaround" questions, as I reported here, Fenger is the "F" word as far as Ron Huberman is concerned. Huberman was prepared to dodge any "turnaround" questions that went beyond the AUSL spin, and he managed to get away with it.

As to Fenger being "singled out" by the media, you've got to be kidding, right?

Derrion Albert was not murdered by Fox News. Derrion Albert's murder was not important simply because it was taped and then broadcast on Fox News. But in many ways (as I've reported, among many others), Derrion Albert's murder was the result of that month-long meltdown inside Fenger (all September, basically) that was caused by the Fenger "turnaround." And if you've been to Fenger you know it.

Even now, four months later, the only thing keeping a thin lid on Fenger is that massive security (CPD and various kinds of CPS security) presence that Huberman put in place — after Derrion Albert was murdered.

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