The destruction of Fulton elementary school

Interview with Corinne Rinck, Chicago Teachers Union delegate, Fulton Elementary School, Chicago.

Closing School.

April 30, 2008

Substance spoke with Corrine Rinck, a veteran teacher at Fulton Elementary School, a recently named “turnaround” school in which the entire staff will be fired in the ongoing school closings saga in the Chicago public schools. Above: Fulton teacher Corrine Rinck testified at the February 11, 2008, Board of Education hearings on the proposal to "turnaround" Fulton. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Substance: Can you tell us a little about yourself and the school you work at? Corinne Rinck: I’ve been a teacher at Fulton since 1995. I’ve been teaching in the public schools since 1989, and I taught in the Catholic schools before that, so I’ve been teaching since 1985 for 24 years. I am the co-resource person for math and science for pre-k - 4th grade. Fulton is a pre-k - 8 grade school located at 5300 S. Hermitage in the Back of the Yards, although the Board says it’s in Englewood. It’s a big school — it can house up to 1,100 students. We have between 600 and 700 students and about 70 staff altogether. Substance: Was it a shock when the Board of Education announced you would be a “turnaround” school and everyone would be fired? CR: Yes, it definitely was a shock because our test scores were going up. And why would they reconstitute us if 80 percent of our staff are new? Anna Chico (sister of former president of the Board of Education Gery Chico) our AIO (Area Instructional Officer) told us we were fine and we weren’t going to be closed. Then the next day we find out we were going to be re-constituted and everyone would be fired, but the kids would stay. We got a call from the union and then it was announced in the newspapers. Human resources brought us envelopes that informed us that we were going to be fired if the proposal that Arne announced in the press release was approved by the Board and gave information on why we were chosen as a turnaround and that we were all to be fired on June 30, 2008 as a result of the turnaround at Fulton. Substance: So what does it mean that you will be a “turnaround” school? CR: We’re going to be a performance school — the district is going to run the school. The school has to abide by the union contract (unlike charter and contract schools that do not). (Chief Educaton Officer) Barbara Easton-Watkins will oversee it. They’re putting $2.3 million in the school to reconstruct the school and help rebuild it. They had a team come around to inventory our rooms with us and give us information on what procedures were for getting the $300 dollars they were paying us to box up our rooms and inventory everything. Then they sent someone to check everything out, like how many books are in the library. Substance: How do you feel about your school receiving $2.3 million? Balinda Williams speaks against the turnaround plan for Fulton Elementary School at the February 11 hearing. Despite massive opposition to the closing, the Chicago Board of Education ignored all of the testimony and evidence presented at hearings and voted to "turnaround" Fulton at its February 27, 2008 meeting. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Did you guys get that kind of money before they decided to fire everyone? CR: Sorry for my French, but I think it’s bullshit. They couldn’t fix our windows, we’d have to wait a long time for that. The ceilings would be dripping on the floors. They put in a new bathroom. Only the doors don’t line up right so you can’t lock them and on the second floor we have had problems with toilets overflowing and seeping water down to the main floor as a result. It was mopped up and a bucket placed under the drip until the fans could dry the floorboards to stop the water from coming down through the ceiling. We’ve got the old hot water radiators that heat the building that shoots the steam out. I’ve gotten ill a lot more since I’ve been here. I’ve gotten pneumonia and I never had this until I went to Fulton. I think there’s mold in the building. I ran out of all my sick days in one year from this building ... I am happy for the kids because they will finally get something from the Board like maybe a real gym and a lunchroom, but I don’t believe they are going to do this for our kids. I think they will be there for the reconstruction period and then somehow get pushed out of their neighborhoods and school. Substance: Why were you named a turnaround school? CR: They’re doing this as they gentrify the neighborhoods. A lot of the houses are boarded up with black iron gates around the school. It’s all about selling homes and getting a new building. And a lot of these new principals are a part of it. Our school test scores are around 39% (scoring at or above the state) average overall. We know we need to get them up, but we didn’t get this low in three years time or even five, so why expect us to jump at a higher percentage than the rest of the schools that may have better percentages now, but in reality have improved at the same pace when some have started at 40% when we were at 10%. I think you have to be at 40% to not be eligible to become a turnaround school, according to the BOE criteria stated in this brilliant proposal. They said we’re either going to be closing you or we’re going to be a turnaround or reconstituted. That means the whole staff has to go - from the lunchroom workers to the principal. I think the engineers can stay until they’re told they can get another position.

Substance: So how does it work for the tenured and non-tenured teachers, as well as the rest of the staff, in terms of getting new jobs? CR: We’re supposed to reapply for our jobs, but when we sent in our resumes (human resources) said they only got one. They lost all the rest and that one was a security guard. He had an interview and didn’t get his job back. Some staff went on interviews but then received a generic letter, ‘To Whom It May Concern .... Thank you for your interest in CPS Turnaround Schools. We can not use your services at this time.’ First, Arnie states that we are bad teachers in the news, but then says the teachers are not bad teachers. Next, we are told that we were chosen as a Fresh Start candidate for next year, but from the information stated in the grievance filed by the Union this was denied by Anna Chico our AIO.? Then we couldn’t see Arne or Rufus when we went with several ministers and Rainbow Push to present data and legitimate concerns before the vote to turnaround us. Next, we were belittled by the CEO at the Press Conference and Board Meeting with a new criteria used for Fulton to convince the members hearing the truth about Fulton that the staff needed to be reconstituted. That criteria was the amount of days the staff had been absent was extremely high. Is it not a violation of our privacy to announce how many sick days we take and also unfair work practices to use a separate criteria for Fulton staff? How valid is this accounting that uses a proven error, glitched software program as PeopleSoft has undeniably been for CPS! Substance: So what are your options as a tenured teacher?

CR: I am a tenured teacher. I can reapply there or go out and find a new job. You have to send an application to the school and let HR know you applied. I’m kind of disgusted with the Board. They’re bringing in people to take our positions and break our union. If we don’t get our jobs back, I have to try to find my own job. We are supposed to be given 30 days duty free to find a job after we are formally fired, but that’s where the miscommunication begins with this insanity. I asked the Union when the 30 days begin as I have papers stating conflicting dates. One says mid-August, the union says October first, another says on the 20th school day - which date is correct and are we going by calendar days or school days? Someone or all of them need to come in to my former kindergarten class or maybe they need 4th grade extended response practice to figure out what date is 30 days from either June 30th or the first day of the 2008 - 09 school year! If no position is found by you, then Human Resources will reassign tenured teachers by seniority to vacant positions if there are any vacancies. This is an interim position lasting 60 days with the decision to appoint the teacher left up to the principal. Then, if not appointed, the teacher goes back to a reassigned cadre pool as a day-to-day substitute for the remainder of the year or position found during the year. If nothing is found, then you are honorably terminated with an offer for being a cadre the next year. TATS and PATS are on their own to secure a position. ESP’s are pretty much SOL, too. Substance: Have you filed a grievance? CR: We wanted to be a fresh start school for next year. But only (CPS CEO) Arne Duncan can decide who will be a fresh start school. The union filed a grievance in three parts. 1) the board did not form a committee to discuss the school closings. 2) telling the schools being closed that all the faculty are fired - according to the board rules when a school closes for underenrollment and the whole student membership is relocated to one school, the teachers are relocated with them which before the grievance was not the plan announced to the teachers at these schools. They wanted to fire all 200 teachers. 3) Fulton would become a Fresh Start school with the same staff as is now, but that part was given up in the grievance because ultimately the CEO decides who is or isn’t in the Fresh Start Program. Arne said the school couldn’t be a fresh start school because they had other plans. Arnie decided we were not going to be a Fresh start school from what I was told after asking about the third part of the grievance at the last House Meeting when it was not mentioned with the reporting of the grievance status. And you shouldn’t have to wake up in the morning and find out you don’t have a job from the media. We should know it before the public knows it. Substance: Another reason the board stated why they had to “turnaround” Fulton and fire everyone is that you feed into Harper High School, which is also a “turnaround” school due to failing test scores. Is this true? CR: No!? The kids go to Tilden, Gage Park, CVS and even some go to Curie. Only a few kids go to Harper if they can’t get into the other schools. We don’t send our kids to Harper. And for our kids to go to Harper, they have to cross two gang lines, across 56th and 63rd streets. So somebody’s lying somewhere.

Substance: Then why would the Board say this? Rinck: There’s something else. It’s personal. They want that area. If you think you put $2.3 million in a school, the property values will go up. Almost every school being closed or reconstituted you see surrounding brick homes boarded up with a black iron gate. I’ll bet you any money that the next school to be closed will be at 61st and Fairfield because across the street there’s an apartment boarded up with a black iron gate. That’s their neighborhood school. (Not sure what this answer is supposed to be it doesn’t make sense here) Next year there will be a whole slew of (school closings). Substance: How is morale at the school now that everyone knows they don’t have a job next school year? CR: It’s amazing. We say ‘we’re not bitter, we’re better.’ But now we all realize that we are not going to be rehired at Fulton and it’s not as easy as it seems to get hired at another school because no one wants to go to another school that is on probation and the schools that are not have teachers already that are staying in their secure positions. The BOE is making a huge mistake by taking good teachers out of these schools and honorably terminating them - termination is never honorable, especially to neonites and/or veterans, now is it? A lot of our staff will be leaving the system most likely, but we are professional so we will continue to teach our students regardless of the BOE and CPS antics that have still continued with people coming to check-up on us from the Area and whoever else spying and counting minutes spent on the playground unnecessarily. We have lots of brand new teachers from New York, Ohio, Florida. A couple Teach for America teachers. This is making (our lives) like hell - with the uncertainty of having a job and worse wanting this job with the treatment given by our employer in need of a DRASTIC IMPROVEMENT!? Not to mention what it’s doing to the kids. A lot of the kids at our school are homeless by the board’s definition where they live with relatives, a lot of single parents. 98.9% are poverty - parents who are not really there for them. We were their stabilization. I’ve been there 13 years. I always hear, ‘Mrs. Rinck can you help me with this? Mrs. Rinck can you give me a dollar?’ They know who we are and they can trust us. It’s just sad. Substance: Do you feel the union has been helpful at all? CR: I think they’ve sold us out. I had to ask about the grievance. The union is just telling us to look for a new job. They should demand a stop to this. They should tell the Board to follow the law. To put in a new program that has not been proven to work is crazy. Not to mention the union’s lawyers have not helped me in my lawsuit against the board. Substance: You filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education before this Turnaround fiasco? CR: I went in one day to school at 7:35 am when we were a 1:45 ending time school. I was five minutes late for a meeting with the principal and primary grade teachers. After four hours of teaching, I was then called to the principal’s office. They had a letter that stated based on observations of my actions by the principal and assistant principal, Arne Duncan ordered me to submit submit to a drug and alcohol test. They didn’t say what actions were observed or why I was being tested until the hearing in June of 2004. The test was ordered October 2003 and was given on site in the principal’s office and the men’s bathroom outside of his office, which was not the policy prior to my case. The procedure used to be to have security come from the Board and transport you to Mercy Medical for testing. And then I sat at the Region doing nothing from October til March for what was called an ‘investigation,’ only I never spoke to any investigator during that time. Then I was suspended without pay pending the results of a dismissal hearing from March 04 to January 05 with my hearing occurring in June and postponed til August for testimony to be given and refuted by my physician and the law department physician. They said they tested me because my eyes were glassy and my clothes were dissheveled. Well, my clothes are always dissheveled. So some guy came to test me at the school at 11:30 because I wasn’t fit to be in front of children, yet had been for four hours already without anyone supervising my room or me. I was the first one ever to be tested for drugs and alcohol in the school. Since I failed to produce enough urine due to kidney stones, I failed to submit to testing in their opinion. They’re then trying to fire me cause I didn’t submit enough urine. They said if you don’t submit then you’re not cooperating. I was sick and had kidney stones, not to mention I just had a root canal. Pending a dismissal hearing, I was reassigned to the region office from October 2003 until March 2004. After the August hearings,the two lawyers wrote their conclusion and the Hearing Officer recommended in November 04 that I should be sent back to work because I did nothing wrong. I got a letter in December from the BOE that said I should report back to school January 3rd or 5th and if I didn’t report that day I will be terminated. So I got my job back, but no settlement was reached concerning back pay. I wanted the money they owed me - $46,000 - during the time I was suspended without pay. They wanted my W2 forms and proof that I tried to mitigate their damages - meaning I tried to get a job. They offered $25,000 because I didn’t show proof that I tried to get a job. In the meantime I’m trying to save my house, but I had to sell it. Poltrack and Poltrack, the union lawyers, were now representing me since Marilyn fired the in house union law department, but then sent them to her contract firm Poltrock and Poltrock to fight for the same people that just fired them - a brilliant strategy on her part! Duh! Fire the only hope we have of keeping our jobs somewhat secure and then pay the same people to get revenge on you by doing what they supposedly weren’t worth the cost of doing! Kind of like the Board firing teachers and then crying because they can’t get teachers to teach anymore! In Solidarity is never more apparent to me. They wanted me to sign a settlement for $31,000, less deductions and promise never to sue the board again for anything in the past present or future known unknown or to be known for this generous amount! Yeah, ok, maybe I should just not work for the BOE because apparently I am not as stupid as they think teachers are because as long as you work for the BOE, you have to sue them!!!! What if I signed this and now they fire me. If I couldn’t sue, than the union couldn’t either! I said no way and Poltrack said they would not represent me anymore. I’ve been writing letters almost every week to get my money, but they never send anything back. But that’s ok, because I’ve saved (the letters). I’m a rebel with a good cause! I have nothing but time now to be looking into corruption and like George and Substance I am going to tell the truth about everything and everyone I discover to be worthy of my attention! Thanks for the interview!!!

Substance: Thank you and good luck! 


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