CTU treading forward carefully as school year grinds on

The new leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union has been sending out a very carefullly scripted message to its members about how to proceed at a time when public school teachers continue to be ruthlessly attacked from above.

The latest attack was a confirmed report that stated that Area 11 Chief Area Officer (CAO) Janie Ortega, who was hired by outgoing schools chief Ron Huberman, sent out an email that demands principals fire two teachers in each of their schools. Ortega was an executive principal in the Austin school district, an assistant superintendent in the Boston public schools, and served as a principal at two schools, according to CPS. She was brought to Chicago, like many of the CAOs, from outside the system with no experience or knowledge of Chicago's public schools.

"I would like to know which two teachers will receive E3's this year," read Ortega's email sent to the principals in his area, according to the district299 blog. The memo was confirmed by the Tribune and reported in a major news story on November 11.

"It's true," CTU President Karen Lewis said at the house of delegates meeting Wednesday. "We had a conversation with the Board and were told that all CAO's and principals will get a letter to say that's unacceptable."

Lewis, who said Ortega's email was "morally repugnant," added that the directive is against the state code law because it is only principals who can evaluate teachers. She said once they receive the letter from the Board they will post it on the CTU website -

Another teacher delegate explained the harsh conditions the principal has put on her school and asked what the union can do about it. Lewis told her that it is up to her to fight.

"I'm putting you in charge of that," Lewis said. "How much are we all going to push?"

In terms of responding to the ugly attacks on public education from the corporate media, the CTU is offering a reserved response. Unlike the L.A. teachers union, which led a spirited picket in front of the LA Times office after it printed the teacher's value-added evaluations which led to the suicide of one teacher, the CTU is offering a workshop that will help people write letters to the editor.

The Chicago Tribune has been very vocal in its disgust with the teachers' union. The pro-business daily constantly features editorials calling for more charter schools, places the blame of low test scores on public school teachers while agreeing with Rev. James Meeks, who stated that the Chicago Teachers Union is the worst gang in the city. The Trib allowed the senator/pastor to explain in detail why the union, rather than rapists and murderers of the city, are the city's biggest problem.

On the political front, 34 of the 40 candidates the CTU endorsed were victorious after 25,000 phone calls, and hundreds of hours walking precincts, according to Xian Barrett, CTU political activities coordinator. The CTU backed one third party candidate from the Green party who increased his percent of the vote from 21% to 35%, Barrett said.

A resolution was passed out of the CTU's executive board on Monday, November 8, 2010, which will focus on a municipal election campaign. Many new aldermen and a new mayor will be elected in February. According to Lewis, this will be the first time in over 25 years that the CTU will be involved in municipal elections.

The resolution reads in part that the alderman should exercise more oversight responsibility in determining TIF money allocation, TIF districts and TIF surplus money and that because the CTU has the largest membership (about 29,000) of any union in Chicago, organizing the school communities to advocate for education issues represents an "historic opportunity" to play an active role in the upcoming municipal election. At the November 10 House of Delegates meeting, wording was added to the resolution that candidates oppose charter schools and support and elected school board.

The CTU is also planning a citywide mayoral candidates debate before the delegates meet again in January, according to Joey McDermott, CTU aldermanic outreach coordinator.

It was noted that one candidate — mostly likely the leading contestant Rahm Emmanuel — has supposedly met with eight "educational" leaders. But those educational leaders, such as the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club or Advance Illinois, are business and political oriented entities that are mostly advocating reform policies detrimental to public education and public school teachers — such as more standardized testing to evaluate teachers and attacking teacher pensions and tenure.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told delegates that the CTU expected a legal challenge to its lawsuit to stop the massive teacher firings because the Board did not follow policy.

"We're willing to fight the Board with all means at our disposal, but we can't guarantee that we will win," Sharkey said.

Sharkey's words were in contrast to the earlier jubilance the CTU expressed last month after a court ruled in favor of the CTU against the Board of Education that stated the Board did not follow the proper procedure when it terminated over 1500 teachers this past summer. More than 400 have still not been rehired.

On the upcoming departure of Huberman, Lewis said there should be a blue ribbon panel to do a nation search to find a superintendent with an educational background, unlike the last three "CEOs" who have run the Chicago public schools with no teaching experience after Mayor Daley took full control of the schools in 1995.

Sharkey's vice president report on November 10 at the House meeting did warn that the CTU is preparing an "energetic" fight against this year's turnarounds and closings and against charter school expansion in at least four locations.

Teachers from Gage Park were collecting petition signatures against the expansion of the UNO charter school in their area. Just recently a former UNO teacher sued the controversial and politically connected charter school operator after it fired him for speaking out when a student was sexually assaulted in the school.

During the question period at the end of the meeting, Norine Gutekanst, who heads the union's organizing department, urged the delegates to organize their schools to protest upcoming charter school expansions. 


November 11, 2010 at 1:42 PM

By: A New Chicago Board Of Education Is Needed

Attacks on tenure teachers

It is clear that there is a nation wide consensus in the School Reform to get rid of all tenure teachers, so all teachers could be at will to their employers or with very little rights. These teachers will be paid less,and they will be fired before getting tenure. It is the old business model for cheap labor.

It is sad to observe some of the tactics these so called professional leaders use in CPS. First, they fire a multitude of teachers with most being satisfactory, excellent, and superior and labeling them as "bad teachers" or saying teachers are going to be redefined. The latest tactic of saying teachers philosophy does not meet the schools philosophy. Also,I heard of cases where teachers are fired just two to three years before their retirements, so they can't obtain their pensions and benefits. These teachers are put on the Do Not Hire List. Other teachers who are friends with principals or have other connections don't even have to finish three years of teaching to get full benefits. Now there is an E3 plan to finish the agenda to get rid of the rest of the tenure teachers working in the Chicago Public Schools. This is true discrimination and without morals.

It is not enough that Ron Huberman leaves, but everyone hired by him should be let go, and all board members. These people are going to try to figure out ways to continue their illegal and wrong acts towards teachers any way the can to complete their evil agendas. It is imperative to have all new educational leaders to improve the education in the Chicago Public Schools and throughout the United States. Hopefully teachers will be in charge of educating and leading are students and not business people.

November 11, 2010 at 7:39 PM

By: Garth Liebhaber

More details from Norine?

"During the question period at the end of the meeting, Norine Gutekanst, who heads the union's organizing department, urged the delegates to organize their schools to protest upcoming charter school expansions."

Norine is in charge of the organizing department - did she mention if the field reps or the organizers will be contacting our schools so that we can all be working together and in unison?

Did Norine give any other details on HOW delegates are to organize their schools?

November 11, 2010 at 10:21 PM

By: chgotchr


Substance is turning on the CTU leadership? Short honeymoon I guess.

November 12, 2010 at 6:14 PM

By: Garth Liebhaber

My Answer to My Comment...

To answer my comment, and in fairness to Norine, she responded to an email that the union organizing department is working with schools and community surrounding five new proposed charters, with the emphasis being on how these charters suck resources from the neighborhood schools.

In response to ChgoTchr - I don't think it's about "turning on the CTU leadership". I think it's about doing what's best for the union, teachers, our profession. The role of journalism is to report critically, in order to move the issues forward.

Jim Vail and myself are both part of the executive board, so we're also partly responsible for some of the decisions made in the union. We've both tried to offer a critically constructive voice. It's not always easy to decipher and negotiate the political realm, but like I said, doing the ethically right thing is a good guide.

November 12, 2010 at 6:50 PM

By: Kathy Jacobs

No Turning Back

When Area 11 Chief Area Officer (CAO) Janie Ortega was recently caught soliciting sacrificial lambs (“ ‘I would like to know which two teachers will receive E3's this year,’ read Ortega's email sent to the principals in his[sic] area, according to the district299 blog. The memo was confirmed by the Tribune and reported in a major news story on November 11.”), Chief Human Capital Officer Alicia Winckler chose to imply that Ortega is stupid rather than devious: (“Chicago Public Schools officials said there was no districtwide initiative to flag teachers as E3. Chief Human Capital Officer Alicia Winckler called the e-mail from Ortega "poorly worded." In an e-mail, Winckler said the intention was to "highlight teachers" who might require additional support ‘and for whom the (Chief Area Officer) could be helpful in assisting her principals.’”) Yeah, right. An E3 in Chicago means almost inevitable firing of the recipient teacher. It is a complete Emperor’s New Clothes fairy tale to believe that the E3 is a compassionate attempt to help a “struggling teacher.”

The E3 is a poorly constructed law that needs to be lobbied against relentlessly in Springfield by the CTU. I doubt that any member of the Illinois Senate or House Education Committees could speak intelligently to the damage this law can do in the hands of a principal with an agenda. The law is subjective in nature and relies solely on a principal’s opinion. There is no oversight of the principal to prove his initial allegation. If a CAO feels comfortable enough to email her principals requesting an arbitrary number of teachers to be E3d, it has to be because she knows this insidious administrative tool is flying below the radar. It is breathtaking to realize just how far amuck the system has run.

When CORE was swept into leadership at the CTU last year, those of us who were relatively new CORE members were very optimistic about the future. The most impressive quality about CORE was that they were outspoken and plain-spoken, and they were aware of all the negative attitudes and actions being directed at veteran teachers. The hallmark of a CORE meeting was that every attendee was given the opportunity to speak. Through that practice we all learned about the potpourri of tactics being used by CPS to dismiss veteran teachers.

Another admirable attribute of CORE was their unlimited energy and support of fellow teachers who were targets of tyrannical principals or whose schools were under attack by CPS. When CORE was needed to picket a school or sit in at a school, they were there—no hesitation. The activist behavior of this caucus was unusual at this time in our society because an entire generation of Chicago union teachers has never had to strike for salary or principles.

Those of us who honored every job action in the past and walked picket lines know that it is a scary commitment to sacrifice pay and risk being arrested for what we believe. The problems were clearer then, however. Everyone knew when a strike was called that it was for increased salary or better benefits or smaller class size.

Today, as teachers are being attacked nationally as the main reason for low student achievement, and legislatures hope to render unions toothless, and business licks its lips at the prospect of turning a profit in public schools, there is a need for the CTU to take strong, unequivocal positions in support of teachers each time teachers are threatened. A full-time information campaign has to be launched by CTU for the benefit of both the public and CTU members.

Chicago teachers who are fortunate enough to have not been exposed to the nightmare of dealing with Leadership Gone Wild are not even aware what some of their fellow teachers across the system have been experiencing. A divide-and-conquer scheme is being employed. When a mishmash of bogus reasons is used to get rid of pockets of teachers here and there, it leaves the battlefield without a concrete target at which to aim. Plus, when the explanations given to released teachers defy logic, reason, and sanity it tends to make remaining teachers rather malleable as they fear for their jobs. (“We’re going in a different direction,”…said to a first grade teacher as she was dismissed. What, no more first grade at that school?)

Jim Vail, the author of this article has said, “What happens to one teacher happens to all teachers.” Teachers who’ve not been affected by unethical or nonsensical job loss may want to look away. That is human nature. Here is where the CTU has to be relentless in its public relations campaigns. Whittier parents would not have made national news if members of CTU leadership and Substance had not combined to educate the public about their plight.

Karen Lewis has made some strong, outspoken statements at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party that passes for the CPS BOE, but there can be no letdown. There is a runaway train of teacher-bashing rolling across the country and there are not going to be any Teacher Appreciation Days held for cooperative teachers as long as cooperation is defined by teacher opponents as “helping to push veteran teachers out the door.”

November 12, 2010 at 7:27 PM

By: Garth Liebhaber

Thank You, Kathy

Kathy, your words sent chills down my spine - and you know I was with you picketing at your school when your tyranical principal escaped out the side door in the infamous "Roche Run".

Your words about what was good about CORE is what won the election, and I do believe could galvanize the union for the fight so many teachers are ready for. As a matter of fact, I believe it is overdue.

November 14, 2010 at 12:56 AM

By: Young Teacher


I have been watching what has been going on nationally and locally very carefully.

I think that it is a mistake for the Union to represent ALL tenured teachers as being qualified. Being tenured does not equal being qualified. All of us teach with someone who does not belong in the classroom and who is tenured. We talk about these teachers in the faculty lounge, in the parking lots, and after hours.

I think the Union has to stand up and say that there are both good and bad teachers, but be very vocal about what differentiates them, AND provide real alternatives for helping these teachers improve - not just laying it at the feet of administrators to do what it is they can. Because they are telling us that what they will do is E3. Otherwise, we will continue to be victims of this onslaught.

I think it is wise for them to take the political route but this has to be combined with organization efforts at the school.

November 14, 2010 at 3:22 PM

By: Glass Houses and...You Know, Stones

Careful What You Wish For

When self-appointed peer-evaluators are talking about their colleagues in the parking lot, wonder if it crosses their minds that they’re the “unqualified teachers” being talked about in some other parking lot? Just saying.

November 14, 2010 at 10:35 PM

By: Louis Pyster

Municipal Election

The addition to the motion on municipal elections that was adopted by the House of Delegates stated:

"Whereas alderpersons should oppose closings, charters and turnarounds and support an elected representative school board,"

A motion to replace "alderpersons" with "aldermen" was defeated.

The word "representative" was inserted into the addition during the discussion.

I made the addition because the original motion was incomplete as to the basis of consideration of endorsements of candidates for the City Council.

November 15, 2010 at 8:49 AM

By: Really? That's it?

Letters to the editor

Mr. Vail,

It is misleading to imply, as you do, that the CTU response to the attack on teachers and public education is "a workshop that will help people write letters to the editor." If you are unaware of the multitude of actions and strategies the CTU has taken to represent teachers and fight for our students then perhaps more research is advised. If you are aware of the intense and varied response of the CTU to these attacks then perhaps you should consider citing them to better inform your readers.

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