Five hours at City Hall... City Council hearings on school closings draw heated denunciations of CPS from across the city... Huberman departs hearings with 'Performance Management' staff never to return...

The tables were turned on the Board of Education when the Chicago City Council's Education Committee grilled schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman and his staff over the problems with closing public schools and ignoring the community. Huberman and other CPS officials were allowed to speak early during the tumultuous hearings held at Chicago's City Hall on February 22, 2010, on this year's 'Hit List,' but Huberman did not get the last word. After hearing questions from some aldermen (and no members of the public), Huberman and most of his staff left the hearings abruptly, promising to return in '45 minues.' They never did.

Students from McCorkle Elementary School in Bronzeville arrived at Chicago's City Hall after school on February 22, 2010 for the City Council hearings on the 2010 proposed school closings and turnarounds. Although McCorkle researchers had refuted every pretext CPS officials had used to justify the closing of their school, CEO Ron Huberman has kept the school on the 2010 'Hit List.' Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Counting the bus loads of students and teachers who showed up for the hearings after school let out after 3:00 p.m., Substance reporters estimate that more than 1,000 people showed up at City Hall in the course of the long afternoon to denounce the annual school closing ritual that Chicago has been doing for the better part of the 21st Century.

One by one, more than a dozen members of Chicago's City Council spoke critically about the closings, phase outs and turnarounds proposed by Huberman for this school year.

"You can't just jam this down our throats," Alderman Ed Smith thundered at Huberman at the City Council's Education Committee hearing on Monday. "You call me up at five in the afternoon to tell me what you're going to do tomorrow. I'm talking about (closing) Marconi." Three schools in Alderman Smith's ward are facing radical changes this time around. Huberman has proposed to put Marshall High School into "turnaround," while consolidating Marconi and Tilton elementary schools into the Marconi building — but with the school being called "Tilton."

After noting the disrespect shown in the Marconi plan, Alderman Smith then took aim at the heart of the so-called 'turnaround' process. 'Turnaround' (which legally is reconstitution under Illinois law) is a Chicago process in which every teacher, administrator, cafeteria worker, or janitor who works in the school is to be fired and the work outsourced. In many cases, the 'turnaround' goes to a management company like the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL).

Alderman Freddrenna Lyle (left) confers with Chicago Schools CEO Ron Huberman prior to the beginning of the Education Committee hearings. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."I've not seen one turnaround that has worked," Smith said. "What I've seen is they just don't work."

Turnaround on Chicago's West Side, which includes Smith's war, has been done to Orr High School and Morton and Howe elementary schools during the past three years. Despite claims by AUSL that the Orr High School 'turnaround' is a success, community residents have been noting that the problems at Orr are growing, despite the fact that in the first two months of 'turnaround' Orr got rid of hundreds of its former students, according to community leaders.

The stage was set for the City Council confrontation after Huberman announced on January 19 that he was proposing radical changes at 14 city schools, two high schools and 12 elementary schools.

The events at Chicago's City Hall began at noon with the press conference organized by GEM (Grassroots Education Movement) and continued all afternoon, with the City Council Education Committee beginnings its hearings at approximately 1:30. Most of the people who wanted to be at the hearings were not able to leave their schools or work until late afternoon and began arriving at City Hall around 3:00, only to be blocked by Chicago police at the entrance to City Council chambers (above). Although the second floor balcony of the Council chambers was empty when the buses began arriving, it was a long time before most of the people who came "late" were allowed to enter the room. Substance photo by Jesse Sharkey.After two weeks of public hearings for the 14 public schools that are to be closed, consolidated, phased out or subjected to 'turnaround,' public officials then put Huberman and Mayor Daley's 'Renaissance 2010' Plan on trial. Led by Aldermen Pat Dowell and Freddrenna Lyle, who asked for the public hearings and a moratorium on the school closings, they said the school closing plan is a deeply flawed process with no community input that many people believe was a done deal from the start.

The City Council Committee on Education and Child Development is chaired by Alderman Latasha Thomas. The members of the committee are: Chairman: Latasha Thomas; Vice-Chairman: Daniel Solis; Members: Jackson, Beale, Cardenas, Lane, Munoz, Dixon, Maldonado, Burnett, Waguespack, Laurino, O'Connor, and Tunney.

The only members of the committee who were not in the City Council chambers at some point during the February 22 hearings were Solis, Cardenas, and O'Connor. By the time the hearing was nearing a close, however, only four of the members of the committee were left in the room, so action on the resolutions was postponed.

"As you talk about this process you're already moving stuff before you even voted," said Alderman Pat Dowell, who sponsored a moratorium on school closings that the City Council will vote on next month. Dowell was noting reports that moving boxes and other materials had arrived in some schools in her ward before the public hearings and before the Board of Education vote. The Board's vote is scheduled to take place at its meeting on February 24, 2010. "The Board hasn't even voted yet," she said, demanding to know why Huberman had sent the moving materials out to some schools. Huberman answered that he didn't know that this had happened.

By 4:00 p.m. many of those who had arrived after school had finally been allowed to go to the Council balcony (above). None of those who came after 1:00 were allowed to speak, however, because Council Education Committee chairman Latasha Thomas had finally agreed to allowed two minutes from each person who was there early and had given their names to Alderman Ricardo Munoz, who made a list. Those who came late, including children from Bradwell, Deneen, McCorkle, and several others schools slated for closing or turnaround, were told they would not be heard. Above, CORE's Jackson Potter and Kristine Mayle can be seen in the balcony of City Council at approximately 4:00 p.m. on February 22, 2010. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Huberman, clearly nervous during the hearing when he spoke, quickly turned to his staff and then responded that this should not be happening. In addition to his top executive staff (Robert Runcie, Chief Administrative Officer, and Barbara Eason Watkins, Chief Education Officer), Huberman was accompanied by more than a half dozen highly paid staffers who sat discreetly in the audience. Huberman did not tell the Council members that they were present, or who they were, but they included several people brought to CPS by Huberman from his days at City Hall (he once headed the Department of Emergency Management) and the Chicago Transit Authority. Among the "CTAs" with Huberman were the "Chief Performance Management Officer" (Sarah Kremsner) and "Chief Operations Officer" (Pat Taylor). Both Kremsner and Taylor have been with CPS a little over on year. Prior to their hiring by Huberman in positions paying more than $140,000 per year, they worked with him at CTA, where Huberman was president until Mayor Daley appointed him to the schools post following the appointment of Arne Duncan U.S. Secretary of Education by President Barack Obama in January 2009.

Alderman Latasha Thomas, the chair of the City Council's Education and Child Welfare Committee who said she is against the performance criteria that Huberman uses to close schools, said she would like to have a list of the schools that have seen boxes being loaded up at the schools scheduled to close.

The public hearing began with a disazgreement over whether or not the public should be involved. Alderman Ricardo Munoz, whose ward includes Paderewski Elementary School, which was one of four schools removed from the closing, told the committee that there must be public testimony if it is a public hearing.

Alderman Thomas said she originally did not plan this. The aldermen then voted 4-3 to hold a recess in which it was then decided to include limited public participation in which various community groups would have two minutes to speak. These groups, which spoke later in the afternoon, included Teachers for Social Justice, Pilsen Alliance, PURE, Designs for Change, the Chicago Teachers Union, CORE, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, Blocks Together and Jonathan Jackson, of Operation PU$H, who has spoken at many of the public hearings against school closings.

Alderman Dowell said she sponsored the moratorium because she got hit big time with five schools that are either to be closed, consolidated or subjected to 'turnaround' in her ward (the third ward). The schools were Phillips High School, McCorkle Elementary School, Mollison Elementary School, Wells Prep (elementary) special school, and Phillips Achievement Academy.

"That would have a tremendous destabilizing impact on anyone," Alderman Dowell said.

Like Alderman Ed Smith, she said that she also was only contacted a day before about the school closings, and that the schools were given little time to refute CPS's reasons to close their schools.

"We want more transparency, and hopefully that will result today," Ald. Dowell said.

Next Alderman Lyle spoke, who said there is a problem with Huberman's so-called 'value added' metrics, which are among the data being used to close the schools.

"I'm concerned," Ald. Lyle said. "Statistical data can't account for all the other factors. And how do you compare the growth of students at other schools around the city. My question is when is class size and school leadership going to be taken into consideration? When is the recognition of relationships with parents and community going to be taken into consideration? Where is the data to show this?"

She then hit at the heart of the problem.

"We know these schools are struggling because of problems like class sizes with 39 kids," Ald. Lyle said. "How then do you hold them accountable for not performing? Nobody's been able to convince me we've done everything we need to help these schools before we pull the plug. I did not see anything that mandates to outsource our schools to AUSL."

Repeating her contention that the duty of local government includes the duty to provide public schools for all children, Alderman Lyle repeated a theme she has raised often in the past month: "I did not find anywhere where it was our mandate to outsource public education," she said.

When Huberman then took the stand to plead his case, he was finding himself in a situation like the public schools he wants to close who have pleaded their cases to stay open.

He outlined three steps he will take to change a process that he said needs improvement. 1) There will be a series of public hearings. 2) There will be a process of school-based hearings where the schools will be notified in advance about failing academics and 3) They will create a new school design process to make it a year-round process.

"It's very complicated," Huberman said. "We realize this is an unpopular process. The easy answer is to not do this. The kids then would not be properly served."

Huberman said he spent a long time reading public testimonies last year before he removed six schools from the list. The original 2009 Hit List consisted of 22 schools, and it had been compiled by Arne Duncan, Huberman's predecessor. Eventually, Huberman removed six schools from the list, and the remaining 16 suffered their fates after the Board of Education voted to approve Huberman's recommendations at it February 26, 2009 meeting. These included the controversial "turnaround" of Dulles, Johnson, and Bethune elementary schools — and the notorious "turnaround" of Fenger High School. "I heard cogent arguments," Huberman said, speaking of the decisions he recommended in February 2009. "Some schools didn't present a plan to improve the school and some did."

Huberman has yet to attend any of the hearings, either in 2009 or 2010, to actually hear what people are saying about his plans and listen to them as they say it. He refused to attend any of the hearings in January and February 2009 and was not at any of the hearings in January and February 2010. How he acquires his information has not become transparent to the public or the press.

Whether he had actually read the transcripts from the 2009 hearings before making the recommendations against the 16 2009 schools is also doubtful. Last year, most of the transcripts were not even ready by the time the Board voted on the Hit List, and this year, as of February 22, they were not available to the pubic and press, despite repeated requests from Substance for copies of them. Huberman has refused to speak with Substance on any of these topics for nearly a year, and has on several occasions refused to sit down to be interviewed about his "Performance Management" system or his budget claims.

Following Huberman, "Chief Education Officer" Barbara Eason Watkins delivered an unusual report that seemed to be saying that the Huberman administration was tracking an enormous amount of teacher behavior, including which teachers attended "professional development" activities supposedly designed to improve teachers' teaching. The top education official seemed to be telling the City Council that CPS would close schools if teachers didn't participate in expensive activities that most consider irrelevant and many consider professionally offensive.

Ignoring the widespread critiques of the corporate and irrelevant nature of many of the activities Eason Watkins has been trying to force teachers to take part of, she stated that one of the reasons certain schools were singled out for sanctions under the administration's "data driven management" was that not enough teachers were going to the professional development sessions.

No discussion has been allowed regarding the relevance of the sessions Eason Watkins has provided, including the enormously controversial "Instructional Delivery Systems" (IDS) that schools were forced to buy. During the hearings, CPS officials would include the large costs of such outsourced materials and systems without answering questions about why such activities had to be done by school serving the city's poorest children, where other ways to spend the dollars, including lower class size and more books, are barred from consideration because of mandatory expenditure on privatized services from corporations such as the Washington Post Corporation (which owns Kaplan Learning Systems, one of the main supplies of "IDS"). When public testimony then began, Huberman and his two most prominent staff people, Barbara Eason-Watkins and Robert Runcie, immediately left.

Huberman's departure was something Jonathan Jackson railed against during his public testimony. (Other members of Huberman's entourage who were seated among the public visitors to the meeting also left with Huberman. He had not introduced any of them to the members of the City Council, even though some of them had the most influence, through "Performance Management", on the events being discussed). "I have been trying to have a dialog with CPS, and I can't catch up with them," Jackson said. "They hire outside counsel to do their hearings, and they don't even listen to the children themselves. You would think they would be courteous enough to hear from the community. You need a local process and I would say we have failed. These neighborhoods have acute needs — let's fix the problem and not the blame."

During his remarks, Jackson listed the tragic economic and social problems facing the communities that have been targeted on this year's list, including foreclosures, homelessness among the children, unemployment, and violence. He noted that none of these challenges were reflected in the way CPS declared the schools to be "failures."

The first member of the public to speak was Cecile Carrol from Blocks Together. She pointed out that she was one of the people appointed to the "Facilities Task Force" established by HB 363, and that the Task Force had not yet met. She refuted Huberman's claim that CPS "couldn't wait" to do something for the children in the schools CPS claims are failing. Citing the case of Orr High School, one of the schools in the community served by Blocks Together, Carrol said that Orr has been unable to provide services for its special education population since AUSL took over the school under "turnaround" in 2008. Although AUSL has its own outside public relations firm (Public Communications Inc. which is paid an undisclosed amount to do PR for AUSL), sources at Orr say that AUSL's Orr turnaround does not have enough staff and resources to service the school's special education population. Echoing a refrain that would be heard the rest of the afternoon, Ms. Carrol also noted that AUSL turnaround schools do not have elected local school councils.

Professor Pauline Lipman of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Teachers for Social Justice told the council members that "there is no research supporting the efficacies of Renaissance 2010... The problem is not the process, as Mr. Huberman said, but the entire plan." She then cited several academic studies which showed the flaws and failures of Chicago's seven years of school closings, phase outs, consolidations and turnarounds. Citing a recent study by the University of California (Los Angeles) Civil Rights Project, Lipman noted that charter schools increase segregation, and that has certainly been the case of Chicago's charter schools. Lipman also told the members of the council about the "20th Day Rule" under which CPS refuses to staff schools fully until the 20th day of the school year, often leaving students in the city's general high schools without their regular teachers until the fifth week of school. During public testimony, Alejandra Ibanez from the Pilsen Alliance, explained what the Renaissance Plan is really about. She explained how De La Cruz Middle School in Little Village did everything a successful public school should do — they served 20 percent special education students, they improved test scores, they won awards and they were not on probation. But CPS said their building had problems so they had to close. Shortly thereafter, CPS then sent out contractors to fix the building, and the charter school UNO moved one of its schools into the building. UNO is on the list of schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress on the state tests, Ibanez noted, and they offer fewer special education and bi-lingual services to their students. Last summer, less than two months after De La Cruz was closed, CPS officials orchestrated events so that the UNO Octavio Paz charter school got the De La Cruz building. {see, for example, 'Huge turnout hears criticism of further UNO charter schools' expansion plans into De la Cruz building, while UNO packs meeting, then stages disruptive walkout' by Norine Gutekanst and George N. Schmidt,, August 2009 Home Page, August 22, 2009§ion=Article... ].

"This process has only punished schools and replaced them with schools that are not doing what's right," Ibanez told the committee.

Following Ms. Ibanez, Jonathan Jackson made the remarks reported above.

Following Jonathan Jackson, Derrick Harris of the North Lawndale LSC federation continued the critique of the process that he had shared during several of the hearings between January 28 and February 10. Harris mocked the CPS approach, calling it "cookie cutter accountability" and a "Wizard of Oz" approach to government. He asked the council whether they would support firing everyone who worked in a hospital if the cancer rate rose.

Julie Woestehoff of PURE reminded the aldermen that the problem was not the "process," as Ron Huberman had stated, but the program itself. "The bad process is a symptom of a sick and ineffective program," she went on. She noted that PURE had been monitoring the process and its results since it began, and that CPS was not. She noted that in every "turnaround" school, about 100 students "go missing" during the turnaround, and CPS doesn't seem to care. After declaring Renaissance 2010 a failure ("this has been going on for six years, inflicting a bad program on children...") she told the aldermen that local school councils had been proven to be effective, but that under Renaissance 2010's "turnaround" the LSCs are abolished."You are wasting millions of dollars a year for what amounts to a vanity project for the man on the fifth floor," she said, referring to Mayor Richard M. Daley, who did not enter the room during the hearing.

The next person to speak was Marguerite Jacobs from the Altgeld Gardens public housing project, one of the people working on trying to restore part of Carver High School as a public school. She described in detail how the schools in Altgeld Gardens have been manipulated to the detriment of the children, and how the Carver Middle School building was turned over to the Chicago International Charter School even though people in the project wanted other schooling choices. A group of people from the Gardens is proposing that part of Carver be opened as the "Hazel Johnson Environmental High School", a general high school. Observers noted that the site was appropriate, since Carver High School was built on the Waste Management land that is visible east of the expressway which runs adjacent to Carver, and that environmental problems are huge in the area.

Rico Gutstein, who teaches at the University of Illinois, spoke next. He thanked the City Council members for listening, and then went on to itemize what he referred to as the "Colonial Expropriation of Schools", taking away schools from the communities without power and giving them away to institutions with much power. He cited the University of Chicago charter school's expropriation of Wadsworth Elementary School, and discussed hoe the changes at Carpenter and Andersen elementary schools were typical of this pattern. He ended by discussing the relationship of the closing of Carver High School (in Altgeld Gardens) as a general high school and the explosive results when CPS ordered the general high school students from Altgeld Gardens to travel five miles to Fenger High School.

Earlier, State Senator Wiliam Delgado, who sponsored the Soto bill in the Illinois Senate, also spoke. The Soto Bill will set up a community task force before implementing facilities changes such as closing or fixing up schools, spoke first during the public participation in which he asked that the Board postpone the vote to close the schools that is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 24 at the Board of Education meeting.

Not all of the aldermen who spoke were critical of Huberman and CPS policy.

Alderman Anthony Beale (9th Ward) actually praised Huberman for planning to fire the principal and teachers at Curtis Elementary School, remarking that Huberman's decision to move Curtis from "closing" to "turnaround" was a good thing. Beale also devoted a good deal of time lecturing the aldermen about the need for more funding from Springfield.

Alderman Walter Burnett devoted half his time talking about how much he liked the charter school (Polaris) that he helped get into the Morse School building (620 N. Sawyer) in his ward. Burnett said that there was conflict last year when schools in his ward (Carpenter and Peabody elementary) were on the list, but he was glad to have helped see that Huberman removed Peabody from the list. He didn't mention the conflicts that continue at Carpenter, where CPS is placing one of its boutique "high schools" (Ogden High School, a spinoff from Ogden Elementary School on Chicago's Gold Coast). Generally, however, the aldermen were critical of the CPS administration, not praising it. Alderman Bob Fioretti, who is not a member of the committee but who has spoken often in praise of CPS for filling his second ward with charter schools, sat quietly on the side without speaking either to the members of the council, the public, or the press. Alderman Thomas said she thinks CPS will postpone the vote on Wednesday after today's hearing.

"Other schools should be off the list," Ald. Thomas told Substance. "And I think they might (postpone the closings.)" 



February 23, 2010 at 7:37 AM

By: xian

Education Mayor?

The Education Mayor needs to get schooled.

February 23, 2010 at 8:24 AM

By: CBlack

Another report

Here's another report on the hearing:

March 28, 2024 at 2:34 AM

By: BrandonBag

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