Confrontations between charter supporters and opponents, while Board president favors charters and tries to silence opponents... Uproar dominates Chicago Board of Education meeting for January 26, 2011

The roar of the crowd of protesters could be heard as far away as LaSalle and Adams on the morning of Wednesday, January 26, 2010, as many hundreds gathered in front of the Chicago Board of Education (BOE) at 125 S. Clark Street (Clark and Adams) prior to the monthly meeting of the Board. The meeting was scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m., but people were lining up outside the building before 6:00 a.m. to sign in to speak.

Many wore bright yellow knitted scarves and carried signs and wore stickers saying "Charter Schools are Public Schools" to indicate support of charter schools. Other protesters advocated for supporting neighborhood schools. City of Chicago police were there to keep the lines of protesters moving peacefully. Many representatives from various media were also there to report on the action. Inside the building, the Arcade between the Board lobby and Radio Shack was filled with other protesters.

Board President Mary Richardson-Lowry began the meeting, after the scheduled 10:30 start, with the introduction of the staff, shadow Student Board Member, Joseph Valich, a senior at Lincoln Park High School, a percussionist, and a member of the National Youth Forum, and Taylor Brown, Honorary Student Board Member, a senior at Curie High School, and winner of the Mikva Challenge.

President Richardson-Lowry remarked that the South Korean delegation would be watching on closed circuit television and welcomed them in a phonetic version of Korean.

The "good news" portion of the meeting began with a video of President of China Hu Jintao visiting Walter Payton High School where he conversed in Mandarin with students from the high school before going to Mccormick Elementary School where ten students, accompanied by songs in Mandarin, performed the "Handkerchief Dance." President Richardson-Lowry mentioned that she took lessons in Mandarin.

Two students from Taft High School won the Hispanic Heritage Contest. The two prizes were a laptop computer and printer and a $5,000 scholarship to Roosevelt University. The topic was Cesar Chavez, Si Se Puedo, What Does This Mean? Daisy Velasco read her winning essay.

Following this, the public was informed of a vision clinic that has been established to help students with vision problems.

In response to President Obama's emphasis on education in the State of the Union address, some statistics were presented. Of 675 schools, 482 are elementary, 122 are high schools, and 71 are charter (public) schools. Eighty per cent of Chicago students are low income, according to a Federal rating system, while twenty per cent of Illinois students are.

Repeatedly noting that members of the Board are not paid, President Richardson-Lowry mentioned that she spends forty hours a week on Board business and sixty hours a week working on law for her law firm.

The actual meeting finally began with roll call, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the introduction of Terry Mazany, Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Richardson Lowry said that Mazany was "a former educator" who had most recently worked at Chicago Community Trust, in philanthropy, and now works for the Board for one dollar a year. It was almost 11:10 a.m. when this all began, and the people who had signed up to speak by the dozens (there were 101 on the list of speakers who had signed up, an all-time high according to experienced observers) were still more than an hour away from the beginning of public participation.

CEO Mazany, who said he has now been at the Board for eight weeks, then presented a color Power Point and said that his administration would pursue four priorities:

1) We need to have a twenty-first century vision

2) The development of leaders and staff

3) Resources and

4) Collaborative Learning Communities

He also referenced President Obama's State of Union address, which had been delivered the night before. Mazany said that we have to think differently about education, and we have to consider the competitive global context. He added that the visit by President Hu Jintao was no accident, but the result of Chicago's planning (he noted that the first classes offered in Mandarin in Chicago public schools were offered more than a decade ago). He said scarcity of resources will lead to the sharing of resources, that Chicago is "the greenest city in the world," and that we need to aspire to world class standards.

Mazany's Power Point was supposed to be published at the Board's Web site, according to Board Communications Chief Monique Bond. Board Member Norman Bobins arrived at the end of Mazany's Power Point; the other six Board members were already there.

The meeting was then treated to a second Power Point presentation, which took longer than Mazany's. One of the many "Officers" at CPS gave a report, outlining the proposal for "Morning Max," universal breakfast (breakfast for all students at no charge) in the classroom, and how it would be in place by by June 30, 2011. She reported that participation is optional. Three meetings take place with the principal and/or staff before implementation.

Slowly, a major fact emerged. The traditional breakfast program for children is served before the school day begins. "Breakfast in the Classroom" will take place in the "first ten minutes of the instructional day" according to the report. As the report went on, it became clear that the presentation had been well planned, but that nobody had apparently asked teachers or principals in the schools whether it was possible to rush elementary children from ages four or five through age 14 through "breakfast" in a classroom in ten minutes.

During that ten minutes, according to the report, teachers can take attendance, teach about nutrition, and have students read while they eat.

Here is how it is supposed to work: Students pick up a hot or cold lunch (color-coded) from a central location and proceed to their classrooms. Breakfasts are also provided to teachers. Department of Agriculture funds are used (so local funds are not involved).

When the report was completed, Board member Clare Muñana expressed concern about recycling and was told that milk cartons are presently recycled and that previously, traditional breakfasts had been served on styrofoam trays, but that wouldn't be happening any longer.

Board Member Tariq Butt, M.D. added that it is a great program. At Roosevelt High School, when breakfast was served to all at no charge, officials said, participation went from 70 served one day to 700 served the very next day, according to the Board.

As if to demonstrate, once again, the danger of having people with no knowledge of classrooms, children or learning run a school system, none of the Board members (none of whom is a teacher or experienced school principal) seemed skeptical about whether it is possible to serve breakfast to hundreds of children — and only take ten minutes away from the school day. (At Chicago Board of Education meetings, no one but Board members can ask questions, no matter how unusual the information presented may be). Later in the meeting, a group of parents presented the Board with petitions opposing the imposition of the time on classroom time, but Board President Mary Richardson Lowry treated the skeptics as if they were proposing to starve children, instead of concerned people who didn't want the school day disrupted by a program designed by outsiders and bureaucrats, when an alternative (breakfast prior to the beginning of classes) should have been easily availbale.

Following the Power Point on breakfast, a presentation on Food Allergy Management was given by Dr. Dick Smith, who is currently the chief of specialized services (special education, for the most part). This presentation obviously resulted from the claim reported in the other media that the death of a child from Edison Regional Gifted Center had resulted from "peanut allergy." At Substance press time, the actual cause of the child's tragic death had not been verified, according to Edison parents, and the Edison principal had been ordered by CPS not to discuss the matter.

Smith's presentation outlined a policy regarding allergies, latex, food intolerances, insect bites, and medication, to be adopted beginning January 2011.

A Board Report on the matter was on the agenda. The state law and Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) positions on epipens was explained. Disclosure notices in various languages will be sent to parents. The principal will then meet with the parent(s). In case of emergency, 911 is to be called first. Like the breakfasts, it seems that most of the responsibility for implementing the program on food allergies, etc., will fall on classroom teachers and school principals. Again, no one on the Board asked critical questions, one of which would have been: Does CPS have a full-time school nurse in every regular public school and charter school?

Following the presentation about allergies, bug bites, and latex, the Board finally announced that public participation would begin. It was 12:12 p.m., nearly two hours after the official announcement of the Board meeting said public participation was to begin, but, once again, public participation did not — really — begin. First came what some school observers have called the "Big Shots Portion" of the agenda: aldermen and elected officials, who get to go to the front of the line no matter how long the people who showed up at dawn have been waiting (or when their buses are scheduled to leave. So, the Public Participation was supposedly to begin with 101 people signed up to speak. But that was not to be, because a parade of aldermen was put first in line to address the Board.

Before the aldermen began, however, the President of the Board announced a further tightening of the rules governing decorum and alignment. President Mary Richardson-Lowry outlined the rules to be followed. She warned those who were to present that they were not allowed to go beyond their two minute time limits. She warned them that if they did and she called time and they didn't shut up, she would make them sorry they had breached her rules. A s would later become obvious, that rule was only for people critical of the Board; those who were supporting Richardson-Lowry and Board policies were usually given extra time while the President smiled at them and asked benign questions.

Various aldermen spoke first.

Alderman Michael Zalewski of the 23rd Ward spoke in support of the "Academy for Global Citizenship," a small school on the Southwest side. He was joined by Sara Elizabeth Ippel, who presented 1,002 signatures requesting a resolution to finding a school site for what she said was the overcrowded and "underserved" community. Erika Villegas, who identified herself as Vice President of the PTA at Academy for Global Citizenship, echoed the need for support.

Alderman Daniel Solis of the 25th Ward, which includes University Village and the ABLA Homes, spoke in support of the proposal for a magnet school for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

Angela Bryant brought 1000 signatures in opposition to the STEM magnet school being established at the Jefferson site. She said surveyors and workers were already there. She wanted to know if it was approved already. President Richardson-Lowry said it was not approved yet. Ms. Bryant remarked that this was happening one year after the end of the federal consent decree (originally passed to end the desegregation of schools). She also added that there is a higher concentration of magnet schools in University Village and Little Italy.

David Askew said there are "magnet school deserts" and asked why another magnet school is being placed in an area that has many magnet schools. He remarked that economics determines attendance and asked "Can you afford to live in this neighborhood?" He added "People told me this is a done deal." ... "Is this just?" President Richardson-Lowry asked the CEO Mazany to arrange for staff to meet with Mr. Askew. Board Member Bobins said there is no decision yet and wanted to know if there is something wrong with this location. Mr. Askew replied yes, the school was closed for low enrollment four years ago. Mr. Askew asked that five million be spent in Austin instead of here.

Alderman Michelle Harris of the 8th Ward, which includes South Shore, spoke in support of the items on the agenda today. She expressed concern that the existing staff have the opportunity to be part of the new process. Henry English added that the process will be a marathon, not a sprint, and added, "Let's get started!" Frank D. Horton, III, who served thirty-five years in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and twenty-five at South Shore, and has since retired in 2000, chairs the 8th Ward Education Task Force now. He asked that South Shore which was one high school and then became four small schools be returned to one high school, a community high school, not a magnet. He also asked that it have a component of selective enrollment, require higher stanines for those not in the community, and that all within the boundaries have the right to enroll. Steven Ross spoke on behalf of current students.

Alderman Mary Ann Smith of the 48th Ward spoke in support of the Fine Arts School to be based inside of Senn High School.

Alderman Deborah Graham of the 29th Ward was joined by Hertha Ramirez and Maricela Salazar who oppose the Board proposal to move the Belmont-Cragin Early Childhood Center. They brought 1000 signatures of very involved parents who would like to keep the center in the same location due to the excellent location of the center. CEO Mazany said Barbara Bowman will meet with them. President Richardson-Lowry added that this is not on the agenda today. Alderman Graham added that this is a warm setting and she wants it to remain there for the 300 families affected. She requested that she be kept in the loop and said that she is in support of a magnet school in Austin.

Angelica Araujo, a parent at Inter-American School, spoke in favor of the Early Childhood Education program there, espousing the Reggio philosophy. CEO Mazany said that the district is deeply committed to early childhood education. He added that the resources come from the state.

Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), spoke next. She said that we all want the same quality of education for our kids. She said there's a big difference between marketing and doing something. She remarked that I have fallen for marketing on those pills for dieting and I'm still a fat girl. She asked for transparency, saying we have serious questions about charter school governance. She asked for investment in the neighborhood schools and asked to talk with President Richardson-Lowry and CEO Mazany about Springfield and finances.

A representative of Alderman Robert Fioretti of the 2nd Ward spoke in opposition to the STEM school at the former Jefferson School site and wants to work on the Smyth improvement.

At this point the one hour mark was reached with fifty speakers left.

Jesse Sharkey, CTU Vice President, spoke about the charter school proposals. He said there is a five-year review. What other reviews are there? Are they under the Illinois Education Act, claiming they are private schools under the act? Are there any limits to charter school expansion? Where is this headed? He added that we need clarity in answer to these questions. President Richardson-Lowry dismissed them as rhetorical questions.

Alexandra Gonzalez Guevara in Special Education at CPS and a Southwest side organizer said the process to notify the public about charter schools is deeply flawed. The principal, staff, public, and LSC need to be given advanced notice about charter school plans by phone, fax, and in writing. Ms. Guevara said when she herself wants information, she has to go to the CPS website and click on about six times.

Peter Schulz wants continued funding for the Northtown Academy. He said he is the proud parent of two sons, 20 and 19, who did well because of Northtown. The eldest was prepared for college and the next, who has an Individual Learning Plan (IEP) is thriving now.

Carrie Waller, whose son is at Northtown Academy High School College Prep (a charter school), previously went to a private school because there was no viable neighborhood options. At first, he was not accepted at Northtown and went to a private high school at a cost of eight thousand dollars. Finally, he was accepted at Northtown. Ms. Waller added that teacher performance determines the success of the school. She remarked that charter schools are little jewels within the CPS system.

Joseph Walker, grandfather of Derrion Albert, wants his grandson's name not to be used in relation to the negativity of school situations. He said cameras are needed for blind spots in the new school, Altgeld Garden Campus. Funding from CPS is also needed for walkie-talkies, vests, and bus passes, so that children can make it home safely. President Richardson-Lowry said we understand your advocacy, we share your pain.

Mary Stafford of Altgeld was told that they would have cameras, but she said that that has not happened.

Amanda Manning, of CICS Irving Park, said every parent should have the choice of charter schools. She said gifted schools did not measure up because of a lack of differentiation in instruction (they did not individualize instruction) and she wanted a diverse population. She added test results prove success.

Irene Wolinski, also of CICS Irving Park, is in favor of continuing support of CICS. She told of the difficulty of being the parent of a special-needs child, who was born with a severe stroke, has an aide at school, and wants to learn. Parents are invited to volunteer in the classroom. She doesn't want to move out of the city.

Simon Hess spoke in favor of the CICS Quest Campus, where he said learners are creative, inventive and agile-minded. He informed us that the proposed school is modeled after the Quest to Learn school in New York.

Erin Lanoue thanked the Board for its support of the CICS Quest Campus.

Kristin Baldino also spoke in support of a charter school (West Belden), as did Adrian Martin. She said it is among the top performing charter schools in Chicago. She enrolled her oldest son in kindergarten.

Calvin Bridges, who spoke on behalf of parents for School Choice, said we need to make a real effort to put students first. He said charter schools are public schools and needed to be funded. He added that we are not against unions or teachers.

Norencia Neal supports the CICS charter school where her son is an honor roll student. He is now in second grade, the highest grade in that school. She would like additional grades added.

Rhonda Kochlefl, of the Noble Network Charter School, said it has a longer class time, day, and year. She added that in 2010, of the 96% who went on to college, 83% were the first in their family to do so. She asked for approval for increased enrollment and MMAs.

Greg Mooney, of the Gary Comer College Prep/Comer Foundations wants support and approval of expansion. He said that Alderman Leslie Hairston of the 5th Ward could not be here today.

James Norris, of the CICS Longwood Campus, spoke on behalf of charters and the expansion of charters.

Brian Coulter, of CICS Longwood and Loomis, has a son now going to college from Longwood, who struggled with a learning disability. He has another son at Loomis. He remarked that it is a good community and that the school had intimate class sizes. He added that he is pro-union and is a member of the Chicago Fire Department (CFD).

Elisa Nigaglioni spoke in Spanish about Cameron School in Humboldt Park. Ms. Andino later translated. Ms. Migaglioni said they need a cafeteria, science lab, plumbing (presently, rusty water comes out of the faucets), and a playground. President Richardson-Lowry told her that this is not on the agenda today. She referred her to Pat Taylor, head of operations for the district.

Now, there were fifteen minutes and thirty speakers left.

Jose Hernandez spoke in favor of the "breakfast in the classroom" policy. He said positive changes were seen. Mark Bishop, a parent at Inter-American Magnet School and part of the School Wellness Team, also supports "Breakfast in the Classroom," as does Sarah Bricker-Putrim. She just doesn't want it to be mandatory. She said one size does not fit all, it will cut into instructional time, and asked how will we deal with allergies, waste, and less instructional time. President Richardson-Lowry said these questions had been answered by the Power Point presentation.

Rebecca Nieves-Huffman, of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and a Board member of the Nobel Network, said others come to see the rigorous application process.

Andrew Broy, President of Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said one in ten CPS students is now in a charter school. He told everyone that 800 yellow scarves were brought here today for charter school supporters and they ran out of scarves at 9 a.m.

A speaker from Legal Prep High School, located in the 27th Ward of Alderman Walter Burnett, wants support.

At the two-hour mark, twenty speakers were left.

Mary Adaderoh, of Tilden High School, who taught in the Chicago Public Schools for seventeen years, and had a superior rating for twelve years with Bachelor's and Master's Degrees, and no absences, said her position number was given to some other teacher. After this was done to her (a computer teacher), the computers were taken out of the school. She was told by Human Capital to sub. She last subbed in 1995.

Evelin Sartus spoke of the leasing of the Whittier School fieldhouse. She said she was opposed to the library being housed in the school. She wants CPS to work with her group. She said they have been neglected in regard to school improvements. She wants to meet with CEO Mazany.

Araceli Gonzalez said there is no space in Whittier School for a library, because when De La Cruz School closed, Whittier added seventh and eighth grades. Special Ed is now in the library. She remarked that CEO Mazany was not properly briefed by the staff. She asked that they be given a date to meet and added "When you know better, you do better." CEO Mazany responded that we have meetings. You have chosen not to attend. Please attend the meetings.

At this point, several security persons were circling around.

President Richardson-Lowry told them to continue to work with a staff person. She stopped them when they continued to direct a question to CEO Mazany and repeatedly asked for an answer.

Barbara Morris and Pamela Jernigan of Wadsworth School, which is on the academic warning list, said that teachers don't have the tools to teach and experience unequal treatment. They added that extracurricular opportunities are needed and an after-school program is needed. Flavia Hernandez was told to work with them.

Finally, Sable Nerette, who went to North Lawndale College Prep, says charter schools are a necessity. She is now getting her Master's Degree.

Public Participation had now ended and the Board went into closed session.


January 29, 2011 at 7:02 AM

By: Jean R Schwab

Board Meeting

There were loads of people from the charter schools at the meeting. They were provided busing(at least ten buses) scarves and shirts were handed out to anyone who wanted them(until they ran out.) It was clear that the charter schools had the funding and staff to bring many people to the meeting. CPS staff people have to take a day off from work inorder to attend and most people would rather be working with their students. Community people have to use public transportation. CPS would never fund neighborhood schools with buses and shirts to come to the meetings so pblic schools were not as fully represented. It will be up to the CTU to make sure that people from the public schools are represented. We need to bring buses and people to the meetings.

January 29, 2011 at 10:27 AM

By: Margaret Wilson

Board Meetings

I agree with Jean. I think many parents and retired teachers would attend the meetings if busing was provided. Charter schools should not be the only ones paid in a sense to attend.

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