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City Council Education Chair Slams Closing Policy... Alderman Latasha Thomas questions CPS closing policies during community hearing at Guggenheim Elementary School

Seventeenth Ward Alderman Latasha Thomas, who chairs the Education Committee of the City Council, told Substance that Ron Huberman’s performance criteria to close schools are wrong and said she would like to have hearings in the Council to discuss the topic.

Alderman Latasha Thomas (above right) has chaired the Chicago City Council Education Committee for the past three years. On October 15, 2007 (above) she attended the dedication of the Marine Military Academy on Chicago's West Side with Mayor Richard M. Daley (left) and Rick Mills, Chicago's public schools military chief. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.“I have a problem with the performance criteria used to close schools,” Thomas said after the hearing on the proposed Guggenheim school closing. “When you close a school you penalize the students.”

Thomas spoke in a packed Guggenheim gymnasium on the evening of February 4, 2010. At that hearing, speaker after speaker praised the neighborhood school and warned about the harmful impact the school closing would have on the children. The students and parents then marched in a candlelight vigil afterwards.

“As chairman of the City Council’s education committee I don’t support closing schools based on performance reasons,” Thomas told the hearing. “When you close a school you penalize the very people you are working for. It’s your job to make sure the school is performing well.”

Thomas echoed the concerns of many parents about the increased danger of students having to walk eight blocks to another school, bypassing schools much closer. School’s Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman’s has promised to send kids at closing schools to a school that is performing better.

“Seven or eight more blocks means more (students) will drop out,” Thomas continued. “Children learn when they’re in a safe environment. I implore you to do your job and keep the school open. You are hearing from your future. This is a close-knit community. We’re not giving up on our kids and I hope that your action won’t show this.”

One parent on the Local School Council noted that the school’s funding had been cut each year, where this year they didn’t have a full-time gym teacher and the reading specialist position was cut.

“How in the world are we going to learn,” Thomas said. “It is up to the Board of Education to make sure the school has the staff and resources needed to learn. You say the scores have dropped in the last two years during a transition time – that’s not their fault, that’s your fault.”

Thomas also told Substance she will speak against the closing at the Board of Education meeting February 24.

Thomas’s harsh criticism of Mayor Richard Daley’s Renaissance Plan to close public schools based on a so-called performance criteria stands in direct contrast to last year when not one Chicago alderman spoke out against school closings at the Board meeting. In fact, there were several who actually supported Daley’s privatization plan against the wishes of their own constituents.

At last year’s proposed turnaround of Holmes Elementary School — who inspired Guggenheim to fight because they were taken off the list after heavy protesting — Alderman Jo Ann Thompson told them that she supported the turnaround in which the entire staff was to be fired. She enraged a Holmes community meeting by stating the principal knew about the turnaround and the teachers were not doing their jobs.

Despite the betrayal by their alderman at the time, Holmes forced CPS to withdraw the closing proposal. Powerful testimony at the Holmes hearing persuaded former Board of Education President Rufus Williams to visit the school to see the wonderful things happening there. The Board later took Holmes and five other schools off the closing list.

Jonathan Jackson, of Operation PUSH, who first supported the Holmes school fight when he saw a sign that read 'Save Our School' in the second floor window while driving past the school from the airport, was the only high-profile person to speak out against the Renaissance Plan at the Board of Education meeting on the school closings on February 25, 2009.

Jonathan Jackson told Substance the reason no aldermen have gotten involved in the past to support their local schools is because Mayor Daley dangles TIF tax monies he controls in a slush fund at all the aldermen. These offers, combined with threats, force many members of the City Council to go along with his privatization schemes like the recent parking meter debacle and the ongoing closing of schools and the creation of charter schools inside the public buildings that once housed public schools.

However, a few other aldermen have come out this year to support their local schools on the closing lists. Alderman Fredrinna Lyle spoke out against privatization and against the closing of Gillespie Elementary School while Alderman Scott Waguespack attended the hearing to support the Prescott Elementary School community in opposition to Huberman's proposal to close Prescott. 



Comments:

February 12, 2010 at 10:39 AM

By: Jay Rehak

Now let's see the Alderman Stand up

I am happy to read Alderwoman Latasha Thomas has spoken up about the continued wrongheaded decisions that allow for the privitization and ultimate destruction of our public schools. Now, I am hoping she will stand up to the Mayor and others who would continue to sell our schools to the lowest bidders.

Again, the Alderwoman should be lauded for adding her voice to the chorus who oppose the destruction of Public Education. Now, let's see her actually get the City Council to do what is right for the children of Chicago.

Let's stop giving away our schools to private interests.

February 12, 2010 at 11:51 AM

By: kugler

Call & Write Your Alderman

Now is the time. Lets put the pressure on our representatives to do what is right.

SAMPLE Letter

Dear Alderman,

I want you to support the resolution, which was dated February 10, 2010,

was introduced by Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) and Freddrenna Lyle (6th Ward) to

freeze all of the processes for school closings, phase outs, consolidations, and turnarounds for at least one year.

School closings increases violence and decreases scores for the receiving schools.

I am not saying not to fix schools, but we need to make sure kids do not get hurt in the process.

NAME

ADDRESS

A Resolution to be Adopted by the City of Chicago

WHEREAS, School closings, consolidations, phase-outs, and turnarounds have a profound impact on entire communities, and

WHEREAS, Community members have an acute knowledge of where the resources and dangers are in the neighborhoods where their children attend school and can provide valuable insight into the potential issues that may result from these decisions, specifically regarding safe passage, and

WHEREAS, Chicago Public Schools has made these decisions without sufficient amounts of input from the affected communities, and

WHEREAS, the decisions made by CPS are often based on outdated or inaccurate data that does not fully consider recent improvements, and

WHEREAS, Many of the schools that are slated for reconstitution or closing have experienced years of significant academic and capital disinvestment; and

WHEREAS, Chicago Public Schools needs to examine its own policies regarding the distribution of resources for academic and capital needs before making drastic decisions such as replacing the school’s staff or closing the school altogether, and

WHEREAS, Chicago Public Schools has demonstrated they do not have a comprehensive long-term plan by not fully considering development and the consequential need for accessible neighborhood schools; and

WHEREAS, In recognizing the need for greater community involvement and the inequalities that have resulted from CPS’s facility planning, Illinois House Bill 363 calls for “Establishing an equitable and effective school facility development process” via the creation of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, which will release its findings in March 2010; and

WHEREAS, Through school reconstitutions, many good teachers and principals who had positive relationships with their students are being forced to seek employment in a difficult economy and job market; and

WHEREAS, Studies and reports have shown the negative academic and safety-related impact of student mobility, some of which have made national headlines; and

WHEREAS, Due to the lack of transparency and community involvement, there is a growing distrust regarding CPS’s decisions; and

WHEREAS, Many of the new schools that have been created or schools that have been reconstituted are not performing better or are performing worse than the schools that were closed; now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED, That we the members of the City Council of Chicago gathered here this tenth day of February, 2010, A.D. do hereby requite that a moratorium of at least one year be place on current and future school closings, consolidations, turnaround, and phase outs until a comprehensive strategy of transparency, community involvement, and public accountability can be developed, which will include the recommendations from the Chicago

Educatonal Facilities Task Force.

Alderman Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward

Alderman Freddrenna Lyle, 6th Ward

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