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CORE Education Summit marks third year

The third annual CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators) Summit took place on Saturday, February 12, 2011. Registration took place in the lobby of King College Prep, located at 4445 South Drexel in Chicago. (A job fair was simultaneously taking place in the lobby.) The Summit informally began with coffee and sweets in the cafeteria. The formal schedule started in the auditorium. The panel of speakers reflected this year’s theme, “The Fight for Education and Public Services,” before the audience of approximately 100 people.

Al Ramirez introduced himself as the co-chair of CORE, along with Karen Lewis, who he later explained was unable to be in attendance, along with the other officers of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), due to a conflict in scheduling with an Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) Executive Board meeting. He said, “We need to change hats here and there.” Mr. Ramirez described the brief but successful three-year history of CORE. He said that CORE was immortalized in print, song, and was known on the national scene. He said, “We’re not finished. We’re going to continue this good fight.” Mr. Ramirez introduced the keynote speaker as a little lady he met a few years ago as she was yelling in the streets.

Cecile Carroll from Blocks Together started by saying, “I do like to yell and scream.” And in the city of Chicago her purpose for doing so was fighting for a quality education for all. Throughout her talk, she repeated, “There’s no power like people power.” She also referred in this context to current events in Egypt, as did some of the other speakers; Ms. Carroll shared that she sometimes became discouraged when waiting for or thinking about if we will ever have that kind of a movement in Chicago.

When this happens, she reflects on what she considered the miraculous things that we’ve already done. Will we ever see a revolution? She said she feels we are already a part of one. Due to the efforts of all of us, what we never heard about just a few years ago, we now more commonly hear about: TIFs (Tax Increment Financing districts), privatization, having a superintendent versus a CEO, an elected school board, and teacher bashing referred to as “rhetoric.” In these few short years, we’ve accomplished a lot from protesting at City Hall to attending Chicago Board of Education meetings, and so many smaller scale events across the city, including putting pressure on local alderman.

A few years ago, they closed schools without listening at all. Presently, these same people have to answer questions or clearly work to sidestep them. We are changing the rhetoric. On a huge scale? No, but we have victories to be proud of under our belts.

Ms. Carroll referred to the fights some years back against the proposed closings of Carpenter and Peabody schools. Peabody was taken off the list, but Carpenter will be completely phased out in a few months time. She was inspired by those from Carpenter who to this day continue to fight, even having “seen their own blood.” She said you cannot do this kind of work if you are not able to get beat up. The efforts of those fighting on behalf of these two schools led to the “Soto Bill,” which began as a moratorium on charter schools but ended up watered down. But Ms. Carroll said that it was important because it was a first — legislation against Chicago Public Schools (CPS) submitted by a state representative after pressure from her school communities. It was important that we could now watch CPS officials being questioned, held accountable, and having to argue at hearings with state legislators over their investments and plans for facilities.

She ended by saying that if, after the 22nd, anyone needed to take a personal day to sit home and cry (referring to the upcoming Chicago mayoral election), it might not look pretty for a while, but we’re making changes, and we still have “the power of the people.”

The first speaker on the panel was Yvonne Chavez, a sophomore at Little Village High School of Social Justice. She said that she had attended three charter schools. The following are the words she used: bad, irresponsible teachers, no playground, no lockers, no field trips during the school year, teachers fired, bad students, new principals, and fights every day - with the dean either giving community hours or suspensions or doing nothing.

She attended an UNO High School. The hours were from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, yet students’ grades were not the best, including her own. There were no good after school programs, for example, ones that steered the students toward college. When “high class people” came to check out the school, the teachers instructed the students to “behave good.” They were treated as if they were in elementary school. She described how the students were bored, couldn’t hug their friends, couldn’t go to the bathroom, and couldn’t chew gum in class.

On the other hand, at Little Village H.S., she could relate to her teachers and had the privilege of chewing gum there. The audience clapped to hear her say that her grades went from a 2.8 to a 3.5 average.

Al Ramirez introduced the second speaker on the panel, Dennis Kosuth, a union steward and a nurse from the emergency room of Cook County Hospital, informing the audience that education was not the only arena in which public sector workers were under attack. Mr. Kosuth spoke of how the new County Board president, Toni Preckwinkle, was asking for cuts. These cuts would not only harm the public sector employees of the hospital; the people who go to Cook County Hospital would also be “taking it on the chin.” As public sector employees, we need to unite with those who utilize our services. Those who could not afford insurance, or lost jobs, etc., are not the ones who need to feel ashamed; it is the politicians who need to feel ashamed, as well as bankers who received $10 billion more than the state budget in the form of bonuses. He told the audience to not believe and just say “NO” when we hear “there’s not enough to go around” or “you can’t fight City Hall.” He took inspiration from the current events in Egypt. He pointed out that the gap between the rich and poor is greater in the United States than in Egypt, and we created that wealth.

The third speaker on the panel was Dr. Dick David, a pediatrician from Stroger Hospital. He spoke about the extent of the attacks on public sector employees and unions. In today’s New York Times he read that the governor of Wisconsin was trying to make it illegal to have public employee unions. He told the audience that it was impressive and an inspiration to watch those of us in the public schools fight for what we needed. He referred to “the myth of shared sacrifice,” which we continually see in the media, versus what we ourselves see every day. What this meant was the difference between people who work for a living, who can no longer afford their cars or to send their kids to college, contrasted with the expensive cars and colleges for CEOs and their families. In 2007 there were a large number of layoffs of doctors, nurses, and other personnel at Stroger. Yet they spent millions on consultants who told them they were not working hard enough.

He mentioned two parties in particular, The Sibery Group LLC and the CEO of County Health Services, of which a cofounder’s son was placed in the hospital as the administrator of support services. What this meant was that they were going to privatize the jobs of those who provide the housekeeping, dietary, and transportation services at the hospital. Public sector jobs would be lost to private subcontractors who would hire non-union employees with no insurance. Thus, the previous workers at the hospital would now require Stroger Hospital’s services for their health care. (Note: In Chicago, Stroger Hospital is a high quality hospital but known far-and-wide as the hospital of last resort for the poorest people in the city and surrounding areas.)

Dr. David referred to what he called “administrative euthanasia.” He explained that they make calculations for cuts in services, such as having one nurse for more than five patients; thus, with one nurse for 7 or 8 patients being standard now at Stroger Hospital, they calculate and accept an increased mortality rate, weighing this against further financial expenditures. He ended by saying he and others derived strength from CORE’s rank and file approach along with the current events in Egypt.

The fourth speaker on the panel was Dr. David Stovall, a professor from the University of Illinois at Circle Campus (UICC). He asked someone in the audience who was documenting this for their website to please take out any curse words he might use. He didn’t use any; he spoke in a manner of giving wise advice.

He remarked that CORE was in a transitional stage, now being in a leadership position like no place in the country before us. He told the audience to keep fighting for justice and everyday folks. When CTU sued CPS, you won. Yeah, CPS appealed, and there was a lot more work to be done, but you WON. He warned that CPS would always want to “cut a deal” and to resist this every time. He told the audience to watch out for four things: (1) maintaining a commitment to students and their families; (2) institutionalizing support for teachers in their first three years, with data indicating that if a teacher stayed for three years, s/he generally stayed for 6-8 further years as well; (3) calling out the corporate neo-liberals, from the likes of those funding Renaissance 2010 to all the folks who “claim something new versus what you do,” such as AUSL and KIPP, who do not tell people that what they do in that school that was troubled for 30 years is create something new that the same people will not have access to; and (4) continuing to pressure for legislation.

On the last item, Dr. Stovall spoke of the comparison between Performance Counts versus CTU’s Students Count legislation; referring to Dr. David’s phrase of “administrative euthanasia,” he said he would take it up a notch and call legislation like Performance Counts “administrative genocide.” Using Chicago Police Department (CPD) data, he informed the audience that within 6 weeks of dropping out if high school, 10th graders have contact with law enforcement. He asked: If we know this, how do we not act on it? Performance Counts was antithetical to what was needed; Students Count sought clear and realistic changes over time versus the continuous testing of students. Who says these tests are so important? The test-makers and politicians. He told the audience to simply say it out loud every time such subjects come up: “This is garbage.”

Al Ramirez spoke again. He started by asking Dr. Stovall what happened to teachers after, say, 17 years? (The audience chuckled.)

Mr. Ramirez then mumbled something about already being crazy. (More laughs.) He shared his own trajectory as a 17-year teacher with the audience. Like so many beginning teachers, he came in idealistic, naïve, enthusiastic, and ready to change the world. That changed pretty quickly. On his first job, as a bilingual teacher, he soon realized in the storage room with 12 kids from first to fifth grades that he “was the bilingual program at the school.” When he went to the principal, he was told, “Just be creative.” He struggled for years, developed a bag of tricks, and after struggling less and less to be a “good teacher,” he was able to finally notice things around himself – schools closed down, charters opened up, job losses. As he paid attention, he got angry and frustrated.

He became a union delegate because he wanted to, not because no one else would do it. House of Delegates (HOD) meetings were an education in itself. He grew more frustrated. Then, at one HOD meeting, he “met this guy with a beard and a big nose” who said, “Hi! I’m Jackson Potter, delegate from Englewood.” This was the year the Board was closing Englewood. They talked. They made a movie, “REN 2010 on the Front Lines.” They met hundreds of people with heart-wrenching experiences, crying at hearings, students crying for losing their teachers and their schools. After more and more of this, they realized that if they didn’t do something, it wouldn’t get done.

After CORE had begun, when they asked themselves if they should run a slate for the union election, they answered, “What have we got to lose?” Mr. Ramirez then told the audience to look now at what we have. (CORE’s slate won the CTU election.) Yes, with the public sector, unions, his/our profession being attacked, he’s stressed out, but he’s less frustrated. And he has hope. He reviewed CORE’s history with that of the “CPS Hit List”: 1st year, 6 schools off the list; 2nd year another 6 but the list was shorter; 3rd year, this year, there is no “Hit List” as of yet. There are still charter schools down the pike, but we have done something. The people with the money now say, “We gotta deal with those crazy people and their noise.”

Before anyone left to attend workshops, members of the audience wanted to and spoke about the situation at Penn Elementary School, located at 1616 S. Avers Avenue. Penn School is presently “sharing space” (which means the CPS plan for them is to slowly be squeezed out of their own school) with a KIPP charter school, and now KIPP wanted four more rooms. The special education students at Penn would need to move to the basement. One man from Penn pointed out the lack in Chicago of what was really needed in these fights: a coalition of Hispanics and African-Americans to together “draw a line in the sand” on this destruction of public education, taking place so very near where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had once marched. At Penn, they were drawing the line. Cielo Munoz, a member of Penn’s LSC, related how their Chief Area Officer (CAO) received the very offensive letter from CPS about “how to better use” the space at Penn (putting the special education students in the basement to make more room for KIPP). The CAO advised the principal to do something with the parents. One hundred parents attended a recent meeting. They were planning to attend the next Board of Education meeting, and every meeting after that as well, and they were asking for support.

Following the panel of speakers and the discussion of the situation at Penn, everyone was directed toward the various workshops held in second floor classrooms; one set of workshops was followed by another, and that was followed by snacks and lunch in the cafeteria.

Full disclosure: The reporter is a member of CORE, CTU, and was a presenter at one of the Summit workshops.



Comments:

February 25, 2011 at 8:31 AM

By: The Retired Principal (RP)

7 or 8 Elementary Schools To Close!

CPS is going to close 7 or 8 elementary schools by June 30, 2011 due to underutilization!

February 26, 2011 at 1:39 PM

By: The Retired Principal (RP)

Closing of Austin Business and Entrepreneurship School

Does anyone know why the Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy a contract high school in the Austin community is closing at the end of the current school year? This would be the first of the Renaissance 2010 schools under Mayor Daley's initiative to close.

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