A Fenger Staff Member Speaks: “Turnaround has failed in Chicago… Witness Fenger and say, ‘Never Again’”

[Editor's Note: While the following narrative is begun for our local, national, and international readers, the Chicago Board of Education is being asked to "turnaround" two more high schools and four more elementary schools. The lies of "turnaround" are being repeated almost every night in the hearings being held at Chicago Board of Education headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. in Chicago. Whenever "turnaround" is on the agenda, a "witness" from the CPS administration proclaims that "turnaround" has "succeeded." The memory of the murder of Derrion Albert is being washed down what George Orwell, in 1984, called the "Memory Hole" — at least in Chicago. The following article was written by a staff member from within Chicago's 'Fenger Turnaround High School.' As the author explains, the new administration’s priority — far beyond the safety and education of the students — has been complete media control. The staff has been threatened with their jobs should they tell truthful stories from within Fenger. As a result, the whistleblower in this case has elected to use a pseudonym to protect the identity. We have agreed to that, confirming according to our procedures at Substance the identity of the writer, a teacher presently at Chicago's Christian Fenger "Turnaround" High School. George N. Schmidt, Editor, Substance.].

The 'Chief Officer for Turnaround' in Chicago's public schools is Donald Fraynd (above left), who has never taught in an inner city high school or served as principal of one. Fraynd came to Chicago from Madison Wisconsin to take a job as Principal of Jones College Prep High School, one of Chicago's elite high schools. When the Jones LSC reportedly began to have questions about Fraynd's stewardship, CPS promoted him to the Chief Officer for Turnaround job, newly created. According to Fenger staff, Fraynd and other CPS officials have let the staff know that they will be fired if they tell the truth about the Fenger disaster. Above, Fraynd (pronounced "friend") is testifying as to why Marshall High School should be subjected to "turnaround" at the February 1, 2010 hearing on Marshall. Beside Fraynd is CPS attorney Joseph Moriarity, who presented the Board's "case" against Marshall. In the background (left) is Ryan Crosby, who presents the "data" supporting this year's CPS closings, turnarounds, and other attacks on schools. On the right is Stephen Glombicki, who assures the hearing officer that CPS Office of Safety and Security will make sure that everyone is safe while "turnaround" goes on. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. A Fenger Staff Member Speaks: “Turnaround has failed in Chicago…Witness Fenger and say, ‘Never Again’”

By Ellie Weisel

It has been stated that the Turn-Around Team at Fenger High School already judges itself a success. On October 30th at Orr High School, Mayor Daley himself insisted, “Fenger has a very good principal and it’s a very good school” just a month after Derrion Albert’s murder and even while Fenger has been mired in violence, corruption and mismanagement.

But our administration and city leadership judge it as a success because it has achieved compliance from its staff members. Not one of us has spoken out in the midst of the chaos and tragedy that have occurred and, so it is said, there is a feeling of victory over Fenger. No one has spoken: not upon the death of a student, which reached the public with full force, or upon the small deaths that are experienced daily within our silent walls.

Area 19 "Chief Area Officer" Akisha Craven (above left) was one of those who testified that Marshall High School had to be subjected to "turnaround" at the February 1, 2010 hearing. Like the others who represented the Chicago Board of Education, Craven said that the turnaround was necessary for the sake of the students. As usual, Craven delivered a prepared text from the Board of Education's binder, presented at each of the hearings. According to what Craven read into the record, CPS has the experience through the "Office of School Turnaround" to do successful turnaround at Marshall, just as it has allegedly done at Harper High School and Fenger High School. Craven was elevated to her CAO job despite the fact that she had less teaching or local school (principal) administrative experience than the average Marshall High School staff members. At Craven's side, above, is Ryan Crosby, who currently introduces himself as "Director of Performance Management." Crosby's experience and credentials are similar to those of Craven. Because the hearings do not allow cross examination of the witnesses sent up by the Board to destroy the reputations of school teachers and principals, no one was able to question, in the record, the lack of qualifications of either Craven or Crosby. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Because of the unearned victory that is being claimed it is necessary that a voice reach beyond our walls, beyond the mandated silence imposed by the administration, that it might stand as a caution to this new “trend” (of anti-community turnaround) that is sweeping our nation. Even after what has happened in Chicago, the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education continues to push forward attempting to Turnaround both Marshall and Phillips this year. I cannot speak for those beyond Fenger’s walls. Perhaps there are ways of “turning around” a school that have been truly successful. It is possible.

I can only speak for Fenger and the rumblings coming from Harper High School. May these voices be heard: Turnaround has failed in Chicago.

We saw one testimony of its failure on Fox News the night after Derrion was killed. The fight and beating and all the violence and injustice done to our children since were not caused entirely by Turnaround, but speak of its utter inability to meet the needs of our students. Actual ill treatment of children speaks louder than lofty claims to the contrary. It speaks of the complete lack of care by so many of our city’s powerbrokers towards our community and other poor minority communities.

First of three photographs taken at the site of the Derrion Albert murder one week after the murder. The sign above was posted to the wall at the Agape Center on 111th St. where Derrion Albert was beaten to death on September 24, 2009. Whenever a public school student is killed, friends and others create a temporary shrine to the deceased, such as the one above. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.What else but a flippant lack of care stopped the bussing of students from Altgeld Gardens to Fenger and back again only a year after turning Carver into the selective enrollment military academy that it is today?

The District knew the danger it placed these students in and pacified both communities with that year of bussing and then dropped such a financial burden into our streets, which became a hotbed for fights like the one that caught up Derrion. It was spit upon our faces when Mayor Daley aired his call for an end to violence on TV while failing to provide enough police presence to stop or bring real justice to any of these fights.

Second of three photographs taken at the site of the Derrion Albert murder one week after the murder. The leaflet above with Derrion Albert's photograph was on top of the pile of stuffed animals and other materials left by the wall at the Agape Center on 111th St. where Derrion Albert was beaten to death on September 24, 2009. Another shrine was created at the foot of the sign in front of Fenger High School, which is a half mile southwest of the murder site. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The students, teachers and parents of our community were then slapped across our spit-damp faces with the appearance of police in our school corridors later that month. In incidents in late October, the officers moved through our students as if they were on the street. A lunchroom fight became pure chaos as billy clubs, fists, tazors and handcuffs came out. There was no evidence of the de-escalation training the Fenger staff had received the previous year. (But then, none of the adults making decisions had been in the building during that year.) Children who did not answer directions with a, “yes suh,” or “yes ma’am,” were thrown down and handcuffed.

As I watched a 90-some pound boy being handcuffed and led away after reacting with frustrated confusion when not allowed down the hall to his class, I realized how painfully alive the realities of the Harvard Civil Rights Project are. Our schools are back to the 1950’s in many ways. Beyond the violence is a complete and utter lack of the expertise and desire to run a school. While — as has been publicized heavily at Harper High School — hall sweeps are going well. This is the only bright spot in the administrative program. The extra resources that every school in the city should be receiving have been squandered. The administration actually approached a used textbook vendor and sold books only to rebuy them for more than the price at which they were sold.

Third of three photographs taken at the site of the Derrion Albert murder one week after the murder. A few days after the photo above was taken, rain began and the shrine slowly disintegrated. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The social studies department paid an outside vendor to produce four years worth of curriculum and only received the same curriculum for all four years, rearranged to be taught in a different order. To avoid the fact that a portion of our new staff are not certified in the area they are teaching, we have switched to general “Social Studies 1-4” so that we appear to be NCLB compliant. The first unit was on race, so we had a nearly all white group of inexperienced teachers teaching Fenger students about the mechanics of race with predictable results.

We have waited months for the vital teaching materials that our students need, but the exterior of the building had thousands poured into it from the first day. New trees were ready for the new year, but we as staff were asked to volunteer to remove lead paint from our classrooms or simply endure it. We received double the English books, but did not have adequate math books for much of the school year.

Front of Chicago's Fenger High School two weeks after the murder of Fenger junior Derrion Albert became an international scandal because it was caught on a camera phone and the video was broadcast on Fox News. The items at the foot of the sign are part of a small shrine created by the children, as is done in Chicago when someone young dies. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. What else but a flippant carelessness would have allowed the powers that be to nod at a school like Fenger — its size, heated gang rivalry and painfully impoverished student body — and say, “Yeah, why not give ‘er a try. See what you can do with it. Keep good numbers so we know if our experiment worked”?

Are the voices in our community loud enough to count as a cry of dissent that will check the wave of turn-around plans rolling out across the nation? Does our pain speak loud enough that no other community will have to suffer such a placebo experiment? To ensure that no other child desperate for a future outside of poverty be treated as expendable to those who have never held a twenty-year-old textbook or Link card. Subtle racism and overt classism allow it to be so here in the Windy City. May our experience reveal this reality and, as in the days of Malcolm X and King, appeal to the humanity of those in power who stand with their feet upon our necks. May our nation understand and be wise in the manifestation of the Turnaround in each of her towns and cities that are affected. We must understand and remember the failure of the Fenger turnaround and firmly proclaim, “Never again.”

Fenger High School has been Turned Around. There shall be no more trust in the administration to work with you or for you. There shall be no more appreciation for the work you do inside or outside the classroom that did not come in the job description.

You are a young White teacher. Why would you not work your fingers to the bone? We hired you to save these Black kids. Teach them (as best you can, you new college graduates, you) and then pour your all into them. You are expected to burn out after three to five years. That’s all we need you for. After that, there are younger ones to come and you can return to your suburban life with your conscience clean. You are not really expected to empathize with the students. Just please feel sorry for them and pass them so that our on-track numbers go up. After all, the goal (achieved and nurtured) was to bring in hundreds of you young white, middle-classed green professionals. You, who will lie down as the contract is raped before you, will not say no to any of the most absurd demands. Soak yourself in the guilt of being White. We want you to need the administration to bestow upon thee favors.

Experience is not appreciated. It endangers the absolute authority of a group of leaders floundering in their lack of administrative training and experience. It’s okay if our students miss the chance to apply for the maximum college funding. Just please smile and admire your bosses who hold before your blue eyes the ideals of a just society, where the white man has finally raised the black child to his level. Dream with them of the change that your presence can bring to the lives of your black students, but do not count on consistent discipline or quality curriculum. Please manage your classroom with your smile. Please do not question those above you. Live in the uncertainty of someone’s mood deciding the life of your next project or competition.

Do not mention the lack of supplies.

All equipment was removed from your classrooms to make way for the newest technology that our poor, black students deserve. How dare you complain that the flat screen TVs and LCD projects only began to arrive in December! Changing a school takes time. Be patient. After all, it is not as if we are running a company. You are in a poor ghetto school (that we are changing!); get over it. Let your frustration simmer over the weekend. Your students are Black ghetto kids. No one is going to care even if you would complain. No one really cares.

Was that not made clear the minute you realized that those handling the money and structure of the school had no credit history in their career to fall back on? Give the administration a break. They have never run a school like Fenger before. Have patience for the one who orders those TVs. Did the trees not get delivered this summer? The TVs will come. Our leader’s lack of any business and educational sense makes her job all that more difficult. Just be patient. It is okay to mess up inside our walls. Just be quiet so no one knows. We rely on the hope that no one will come asking after the welfare of these Black south side kids. Did you not read the books we gave you? They made it clear that everyone except us white people in Fenger are racist. You need to be here to save these kids and work extra hard because they are Black and you owe it to them – you white middle-class teacher. Watch Freedom Writers again. Be that. Save these kids. Do not go to their homes. Do not go to their block parties. Do not trust their families. It is too dangerous. Save them from it all. 

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February 9, 2010 at 9:23 PM

By: Make Fraynd resign!

Alderman and marshall HS beware

Don Frynd has no right to sit at the hearing and tell the community of Marshall HS that it will be turned around. The Marshall community must fight this tooth and nail. Where is the alderman? Frynd brought nothing but lies, death and destruction to his turnaround Fenger. He owes the Fenger community an apology and resignation for his death warrant upon students. Nothing moves without his misguided power. (Jones, a college prep, wanted him OUT and the LSC got their way!) Shame on Huberman for keeping him.

February 9, 2010 at 10:28 PM

By: Kristine Mayle

To Ellie:

Thank you for your obvious devotion to your students and all things fair and just. I'm awed by your courage and inspired to see some one stand up and tell the truth. Know that many of us outside of Fenger's walls stand with you and wish we could offer you more than just inspirational words and thank yous. Hopefully others inside will be inspired by your courage to stand up against the assaults (physical and otherwise) on students that obviously deserve so much more.

February 9, 2010 at 11:25 PM

By: kugler

the truth is needed

we know the conditions in the school but they do not let us in and continue to lie.

thanks for telling the truth.

if you have any trouble contact me.

In Solidarity,

john kugler

February 10, 2010 at 1:29 AM

By: avalonsensei


Are we moving back in time, to a place and time where a community such as this has no voice, no civil rights? The public needs to know Arne Duncan's ed reform policies have not been the great success they are portrayed to be. This account is horrific! Please continue reporting from within the building, and we teachers in other parts of the country stand with you in solidarity.

L.A. Teacher

February 10, 2010 at 12:22 PM

By: Retired Principal

School Closings

The hearings for CPS school closings, consolidations, turnarounds and phase outs are all kangaroo courts! If you have independant hearing officer Fred Bates (ha ha ha, paid hitman for CPS) you are just wasting your breath! Last year Huberman removed 6 schools off the list, but they were put on the list by Arne Duncan! All of the schools on this year's list are Huberman's schools. All will be executed (closed, consolidated, turnarounded or phased out). The schools that dodged the bullets, where spared before the list came out, (i.e. Bowen Campus)! The two new schools who were added at the last minute, (i.e. Bradwell) have interim principals! Don't you just love CPS?

February 11, 2010 at 2:08 AM

By: kugler

“turnarounds” ===> violence

found this article surfing.

Get Schooled

Is there link between the deadly Chicago youth violence and the school closings overseen by Arne Duncan?

3:00 am October 8, 2009, by Maureen Downey

Education researcher and Huffington Post contributor Gerald Bracey is an Obama supporter who’s becoming disillusioned with the president and his education secretary Arne Duncan. I’ve interviewed Bracey and get his take-no-prisoners e-mails on education issues.

His latest comments deal with whether Chicago’s much touted school reforms have led to a rise in deadly youth violence. I’ve also provided a link to the excellent AP story Bracey cites. This will all take time to read, but it’s fascinating stuff.

From Bracey: The mainstream media are giving Obama/Duncan the same lap-dog treatment on education they gave Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Powell-Rice in the run up to and early days of the Iraq debacle.

I have a number of earlier articles from Chicago publications linking the “turnarounds” to spikes in violence long before the tragic death of Derrion Albert. (He was the honor student stomped to death by a mob last month.)

I have a paper coming out soon which will document this. It will show that Chicago’s rising test scores on state tests are due to lowered standards (something even Duncan has admitted) and that Chicago’s scores on NAEP are about as low as you can get (especially for black and Hispanic kids, who mostly make up Chicago Public Schools) and did not rise at all during Duncan’s tenure as CEO.

Duncan lied when he said his turnaround schools got rid of all the adults and kept the kids (which he has said often). A lot of kids got kicked out, too. I have data showing increases in mobility in some of his “model schools” along with decreases in low income kids (mirabile dictu, test scores are up) and decreases in parent involvement. Kids in turnaround schools often had to cross gang boundaries to get to their new schools. The parents feel shut out. They are.

If I can find these data with little effort, why can’t the media? The Associated Pres seems to be the lone exception. In addition to Karen Hawkins’ AP piece , Libby Quaid and Justin Pope have also published some skeptical articles. The New York Times eventually (too late) apologized for not being sufficiently critical of the administration prior to the Charge of the Light Brigade into Baghdad. Any bets on when, or if, any of the above institutions will make similar mea culpas on the looming (continuation of the NCLB) education catastrophe?


February 21, 2010 at 1:17 AM

By: Rev. Precious Mays-Matthews

Former Tenure Teacher at Fenger

I think it was a big mistake to let 80% of the staff, faculty, and administration go. When the students returned to Fenger, they could not relate to all the new teachers that they did not know. Therefore, they became more angry and are still anger that they lost the one important stability that was in their lives. I think that they should open the door for the old faculty and staff to return. This turnaround situation for Fenger has not worked. I don't think it will work. I am sure that many of the old staff and faculty would be willing to return.

March 1, 2010 at 9:30 AM

By: Margaret Wilson

retired teacher, parent

To: Seriously?

I don't think we get anywhere by attacking one another. I agree that people should proofread their work but sometimes mistakes are made. We are only human after all. I find mistakes in major newspapers and magazines and even in books. I just recently brought a mistake in a math textbook to the publisher's attention and it will be corrected in the next edition. Your letter reeks of judgment and turns me off as a result. I have a hard time accepting anything that you say. I don't know the people involved so I can't make a judgment but we all have a right to our own opinions and perspective. I am a parent and a teacher so I can see it from both sides. I know too many administrators who are abusive towards students and teachers but put on a different face to parents. Unless you are in the school every day all day, you only see part of the picture!! Remember: Judge not yest you be judged. FYI

March 1, 2010 at 10:10 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

'Seriously' off these comments at midnight

Readers here should know that the commentator who identifies himself as "Seriously" has used a phony email address and has been told that if he doesn't call the Substance office by midnight tonight (March 1, 2010) his comment will be removed. Those who read after that time will be a bit confused, but our policy is straightforward. Comments can be left by people anonymously, but we have to have a legitimate e-mail address (not, as "Seriously" tried, a stupid address going nowwhere). Some people who comment anonymously will be asked to go in their own names or be dropped from here, too (that's usually when people try to comment about "facts" regarding others but hide behind pseudonyms themselves).

Anyway, as I'm writing this, "Seriously" stays up for another 15 hours unless he calls me at 773-725-7502 (the Substance office). Although we allow anonymous sources (provided our reporter and editor both talk to them) and anonymous bloggers, we reserved the right to delete cowards and blovationists.

For those who treasure childish liars and their lies, the email address "Seriously" seriously gave us was

As the children say: "Oh. Really?!"

Despite Mr. Fraynd's dwindling number of defenders, it is always possible (and indeed sometimes a legal responsibility) to say "No!" to a job. This isn't only the script of "Judgment at Nuremburg," but the responsibility of people overseeing something as totalitarian and ludicrous as the Fenger (or Orr, Harper, etc.) "turnaround." Dr. Fraynd does not have the right to intimidate, censor, and threaten teachers and other staff (as he did at Jones before going on to become Barbara Eason Watkins's "turnaround" guy) in order to cover up the mess "turnaround" has created.

It's even more important today, with Arne Duncan proclaiming "turnaround" as a national policy, and The New York Times simply repeating Duncan's lies as "news" — just as Chicago's corporate media did when Duncan was CEO here. This is too important for too many people — and for democracy and the future of public schools — for us to allow Barbara Eason Watkins, Donald Fraynd, Ron Huberman, or Arne Duncan to continue spreading Chicago's lies across the USA (and all the public school in the territories from Puerto Rico to Guam and American Samoa) any longer.

It was bad enough when these "Great White Hope" guys were doing this to Chicago (usually, to the poorest children in the most segregated communities in Chicago's vast black ghetto), as we reported exclusively during those nasty years of Arne Duncan. Since Mayor Richard M. Daley took over the public schools in 1995, the only thing more ludicrous as a point of history than the "Salvation Myth" promoting Mayor Daley's greatness as a school leader has been the idea that the "Great White Hope" (Daley, Vallas, Duncan, Huberman) and lesser Great White Hopes (Eason-Watkins, Scott, Fraynd) were just what Chicago needed to save the schools from what Daley called the "cesspool" of democracy. As careful students of history know, the same stuff was preached (including in The New York Times, by the way) when similar projects were in place in Mississippi 70 or 90 years ago.

So... We have a moral responsibility to tell the truth about what has been done to Chicago, and so does every individual who has been being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for doing it. It is necessary that we show every child ruined and every teacher destroyed by "turnaround" for the simple crime of being poor and living under Chicago's apartheid or for having the audacity to teach the poorest children in America's most segregated city and public schools. The sheer chutzpah of them boggles.

It's really that simple. The students understand it now. It's some of the adults who are morally challenged, and caressing their wallets as a way to salve their consciences. They may have more money and power than we and our students, but history will judge them, as it did their predecessors from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago's West Side when the reckoning came. We just want to make certain everyone has their photographs, salaries and records when they are still practicing their crimes behind the screens of lies provided by their defenders.

March 1, 2010 at 5:09 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

'Seriously' — where are you???

Eight hours to go and I'm still waiting to hear from "Seriously" by phone here at the Substance office. That's 773-725-7502. If we get a call from a real human being with a real e-mail address, the real person can take credit for the comment and keep posting. Otherwise, it's going down, and the hole here will remain the latest mystery left behind by cowards who lurk in Cyberspace.

March 1, 2010 at 6:34 PM

By: Jay Rehak

I'm with George on this

I'm with George on this. I prefer people who are willing to put their names to the essays they write. If someone doesn't have the courage to sign his or her own name, as George said, at least the person can provide a legitimate email address.

While it's up to the editor of any blog or newspaper to decide what gets posted, I think it makes sense that those who have a strong point of view back up their positions with their names, or they should be booted out of the discussion.

I believe all discussion regarding school policies and decisions should be in the light and not the shadows.

Dr. Fraynd's detractors and supporters should be honest enough to sign their names to either criticism or praise of the man. I do not know enough about him to speak one way or the other, but he or anyone else should not be villified or praised anonymously. It cheapens the discussion.

Finally, attacking someone's spelling or grammar is a poor substitute for an argument. While I think we can all agree that a writer's grammar and diction are important, I hope we all would also agree that it is the substance of a person's essay that counts most. (To suggest less is to presume that the arguments of those without perfect grammar or diction are to be summarily dismissed.)

From my experience, the best teachers appreciate both, valuing substance over form. I hope and trust "Seriously" would agree.

March 2, 2010 at 2:24 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Auf Wiedersehen, 'Seriously'

It's 1:22 on March 2, 2010. Just deleted the poster who called itself "Seriously." The rules are simple. If you want to comment using a pseudonym here, leave your real e-mail address so I can contact you if you're going too far. If you want to go too far after that, you have to comment in your own full name without hiding behind anonymous or pseudonymous bushes.

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