District 299 blog scoops city with major story on hypocrisy of Harper High School 'turnaround' under Arne Duncan

The blog has scooped the city's corporate media with a major story about the "turnaround" of Harper High School, and by implication, so-called "turnaround" in general. Now that "turnaround" is going toxic on a national basis and Chicago is still providing the corporate marketing stories about how "turnaround" supposedly works, it is important that every teacher who has survived "turnaround" (either still inside the schools, like Substance contributor Ellie Weisel, or now retired, like the following) get the truth out, in historical context.

One of several keys to the ability of the Chicago Public Schools to get away with "turnaround" and other hoaxes is to change the rules for schools from year to year and to dump the rule makers after a year or two. On February 11, 2008, Ginger Reynolds (above, at microphone) spoke during the hearing on the proposed "turnaround" of Harper High School, giving data that members of the public were not allowed to question (no questions are allowed at the hearings, nor are supporters of the schools allowed to demand the credentials of the people outlining the Board's case against the schools on the Hit List). At the time, Reynolds was the newly installed "Chief Officer for Research, Evaluation and Accountability" at CPS, despite the fact that her training in statistics, testing and measurement were limited (her doctorate was in "public policy" and she was not a member of AERA). Reynolds claimed that Harper and its two feeder schools (which she said were Fulton and Copernicus elementary schools) had to be turned around because of low tests scores (on the ISAT for the elementary schools and on the PSAE for Harper). When critics pointed out that the children from Fulton and Copernicus didn't go to Harper, the facts were ignored, and the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education voted to rubber stamp the recommendation to "turnaround" Harper, Copernicus, and Fulton by a unanimous vote, without discussion or debate. At that time (2008), the members of the Chicago Board of Education didn't even bother to attend the school closing hearings on the annual Hit List. After she testified against the schools on the 2009 Hit List in January and February 2009, Reynolds was forced out of her job by Ron Huberman, to be replaced by a team of Huberman patronage colleagues under a computer program called "Performance Management." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The story below first appeared yesterday (February 18) at District It's available at

And the truth is that prior to "turnaround", every school is sabotaged by the Chicago public schools administration. Only this year have a few major political figures realized that was the agenda. But in order for the Shock Doctrine attack called "turnaround" to work, CPS still has to count on Chicago's corporate media and national media like The New York Times to frame each story behind a screen of lies.

Anyway, without further ago, brought to you by District 299, com, one bit of the truth about the Harper High School turnaround in Chicago:

Harper High School parents spoke on many occasions to Arne Duncan and the Chicago Board of Education asking for help in solving the school's problems. Speaking on the security crisis at Harper two years before Duncan put Harper into "turnaround" was Paul Collins (above). Duncan ignored the problems, allowing them to fester so that the case for subjecting Harper to "turnaround" was stronger two years later when Duncan forced "turnaround" on Harper. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Displacement: One Teacher's Story

Alexander Russo on 02.18.10 at 9:57 AM | Chicago teacher Gary Latman taught at Harper High School from 1989-2008, when it was turned around and the entire staff was dismissed. He wrote in to tell me about that experience and I wanted to pass it along. You'll find some interesting details whether you're for or against turnarounds. The school made progress, but the Board kept raising the bar higher, and principals came and went. Reverend Jackson came and went. Small schools came and went. Other schools dumped more and more special needs kids. Veteran teachers weren't rehired. (Latman participates in DART.)

It's a familiar story -- and teachers aren't the only people losing their jobs these days -- but vivid first-hand experiences like this are still remarkably hard to come by on the Internet. What was the moment when you realized that your school was going to be turned around? What was the moment you realized that you might not be getting interviews because of your age or past service?

Latman email:

I just stumbled upon your District 299 Blog. It's a shame I didn't see it while I taught at Harper High School from 1989-2008, when it was turned around and the entire staff was dismissed. I worked at that school as an English teacher (newspaper advisor, department chair) and eventually after 12 years in the classroom took the job of TechCo.

I was hired by Dr. Barbara Pulliam in December 1989, several months after the murder that occurred in the classroom. She was follow 4 years later by Richard Parker (picked by the LSC).

Arne Duncan's response to complaints by Harper High School parents about the security crisis at the school during the October 2006 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Over the years, it became clear that Duncan's project was to privatize and scapegoat as many public schools as possible, which he did by converting their buildings to charter schools, firing unionized public school teachers and principals through "turnaround", and other methods which Duncan is now trying to force on the rest of the schools serving poor children across the USA from his job as U.S. Secretary of Education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.During his principalship Harper was one of four high schools put on Probation by Paul Vallas but after 3 years he was replaced by Nate Mason, when the school was Reconstituted (Vallas used bigger words than Duncan, who 12 years later would call the same radical procedure Turnaround).

Mason was principal for 4 years and was instrumental in building a team of teachers and partnerships that raised our test scores in reading from 3.9 to 14.1 in his third year. He was not rewarded with a contract, because we were still 6 points below the target of 20% of our students reading/test at level. What the Board did do was raise the bar to 25%.

At the time I was English Department Chair and had really bought into the team effort to get us off of Probation, but with the Board raising the bar instead of recognizing our efforts, I could no longer be an active participant in the dishonesty. Our scores dropped a little the next year, and Nate Mason took a job as principal of LIncoln Park High School. He had been an AP there before being assigned to Harper as part of its Reconstitution.

Then, strangely, Mayor Daley replaced Vallas with the very under-qualified but personable Arne Duncan. Vallas had emphasized accountability, if you remember, not allowing students to graduate from elementary school if they couldn't read at a 7th grade level. I believe this was unpopular with the communities affected and Daley couldn't have that.

Harper was assigned Kent Nolan, a personal friend of Duncan as principal. After a rocky first year (his business manager was stealing from the school), he bought Harper 125 IBM Net Vista computers and asked me if I'd leave my job as English Department Chair to become the school's Technology Coordinator, and my first job was to distribute and have the computers set up in all the classrooms, and then begin training teachers on how to integrate technology into their lessons.

Kent Nolan was simultaneously working on his doctorate, so he wasn't available very often, and apparently we had spent much more money than we had and went into the red.

So Duncan dumped Nolan and gave us Dr. Ronn Gibbs, who on his first day told the entire staff, "I'm nobody's friend, here!"

He spent 4 years proving it, although he had his glory days when Rev. Jesse Jackson interceded on our behalf. We had a swimming pool that had started leaking water about 6 years earlier and Central Office never felt it was important to provide emergency funding for the necessary repairs. Rev. Jackson brought in contractor-friends who said they would fix it for free, and proceeded to embarrass Duncan and Central Office for its historic neglect of Harper.

Sidebar: During the boom years of real estate development that saw neighborhood development in East Englewood, Woodlawn, and Lawndale, West Englewood had next to zilch. There was a new police station built on 63rd Street.

I sat in on meetings with Rev. Jackson, the contractors, some Operation PUSH people, and eventually [High Schools Chief Officer Don] Pittman and a couple other people from Central Office. They wanted to upgrade our technology and Dr. Gibbs was nearly tech illiterate, so he relied on me to explain what we had and what we needed.

The end product of Jesse Jackson's intervention was that we received the wi-fi wiring and access points immediately, three mobile carts with laptops for our science department (2) and library (1), a new weight room for our athletes, new carpeting for our library, and the swimming pool was repaired.

Upon its completion Arne Duncan and Jessee Jackson and two students posed in the filled swimming pool in their trunks, hands clasped and arms raised in the joint victory photo-op. I almost puked.

Another year passed, and Gibbs who still didn't understand what computers were used for other than looking stuff up and sending email, reluctantly allowed me to in-service the staff once each semester for half day workshops. Beyond that I got our Network at 92% CPS Network Compliance, but there was little or no professional development or plan on how to use the computer other than running test prep software.

Even then, Dr. Gibbs never was interested in the data or what could be done with it. As a day to day manager, given what limited resources he was provided by Central Office, Dr. Gibbs did a fine job of management, but he had no vision and was strictly a top down manager, who trusted no one, and therefore could not build teams with his professionals. We saw our student enrollment swell beyond capacity to over 1350, with a special needs population at over 30%, twice the system wide average. We were a dumping ground on an uneven playing field, held to the same test results as other schools. So we continued to "fail".

Dr. Gibbs was replaced by another of Arne Duncan's wunderkind principals during the summer of 2007, Kenyatta Butler Stansberry.

She managed to dismantle the computer network, putting me back in the English classroom. She gave me 5 freshmen classes and a 9th grade division, surely a recipe for my failure. I had our network set up so everyone could log into any computer using their domain name and password, and see a folder with their name on it for storage and retrieval of files. This was for teachers and students and other staff as well.

Butler-Stansberry brought in a vendor who disconnected us from the Instructional domain and set up a sub-domain, and when his funds were used up, computers began to be left unrepaired.

All of our small schools that had been developed, some successfully and some less so, were dismantled.

Then, at the end of the first semester, Duncan announced that Harper would be turned around, and all of the staff displaced. He recommended that Butler-Stansberry not rehire any of the staff. She hired a handful of those who reapplied. I did not. I spent last school year looking for a teaching, tech, or teacher training job I was more than qualified for. I received no offers, and began to hear through the grapevine that older higher paid teachers were not being hired, so I took my retirement June 2009.

Another sidebar: There is at least one law suit I know about regarding the Board's contractual violation (hiring less qualified teachers, instead of tenured more qualified teachers), and a number of other teachers and I filed age discrimination complaints with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. I have a hearing on Monday, February 22.

Some additional details about my trials and tribulations are in blogs and commentary I've written: (scroll down to the third comment)

There's a web site for displaced and reassigned teachers in solidarity (DARTS), that provides assistance in the process for aggrieving the Chicago Board of Education's contract violation and unfair labor practices, specifically for those teachers who were displaced from turnaround schools, and then found themselves passed over for teaching positions that younger, cheaper, and less qualified newbies filled . It was started by Antoinette (Toni) Barnes, who presently has filed a law suit against the Board. Ann Cata is a contributor. 


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