Emanuel, Brizard choose St. Sabina's parochial school as location to promote the opening of Chicago's public schools

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard ignored hundreds of Chicago public schools and chose St. Sabina's church and school for the location of a major media event on August 2, 2011. The event, which was billed as part of the city's "Back to school" promotions, took place on the morning of one of the hottest days of the summer.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (right) clowns with St. Sabina's children outside the South Side Catholic school on August 2, 2011, while Rev. Michael Pfleger, a long-time opponent of the city's public schools and teachers' union, speaks at the media event organized by the mayor and CPS officials. Speaking at the podium (and holding one of the door hangers that were distributed during the door-to-door canvassing on the block next to his church) is Rev. Michael Pfleger. Behind Pfleger is Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard, reading notes and waiting to speak. At the far left in the above photograph is 17th Ward Alderman Latasha Thomas, who also chairs the Chicago City Council Education Committee. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The mayor and the schools chief spent about a half hour walking up the block from door to door, supposedly encouraging children to prepare for school and go to school They then held a major press conference in front of St. Sabina's pre-school, with dozens of children as the backdrop for the media event. But the timing and location of the event had to be clarified to most of the press first, as the mayor's usually efficient media handlers had sent reporters to the wrong corner until the situation was clarified.

One of the curious aspects of the late morning activity was that the Mayor's press release announcing the event misled the press.

The press release said that the event would take place at the corner of "78th and Ada," which is a block west of the St. Sabina's. To wit: August 1, 2011

CONTACT: Mayor’s Press Office. 312.744.3334.


Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Jean-Claude Brizard will go door-to-door to promote student attendance on the first day of the CPS school year and make an announcement about key investments in CPS’ Back-to-School campaign.

WHEN: 11:00 AM

WHERE: Intersection of S. Ada Street and W. 78th Street, Chicago, IL *

* There will be a media availability following this event.

By 10:50 a.m. a number of reporters were standing on the corner of 78th and Ada, discussing the heat, noting the decrepit condition of some of the nearby buildings, and wondering where the mayor's usually prompt advance team was.

An abandoned building (the address of which is 7755 - 57 S. Ada) looms over the corner of 78th and Ada on Chicago's south side. 78th and Ada was the original location announced for the media event featuring Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard for August 2, 2011. But as reporters and TV crews awaited the arrived of the media crews from the city's mayor and school board, one reporter received a phone call telling the group to go one block east, into the world of St. Sabina's Catholic Church, a very different place from the scene above. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. One reporter thought that the choice of the corner, which was far from any public schools, had been made so that the mayor and schools CEO could demonstrate that they were willing to make home visits even in a rather challenging community. Earlier in the Emanuel administration, the mayor had made headlines when he suggested that teachers make home visits, while praising the UNO charter schools, where all teachers supposedly do so.

It was only a few minutes after the event was supposed to begin at 11:00 a.m. that one of the corpiorate media reporters waiting for the mayor and schools people to show up got a cell phone call saying that the mayor's media event was actually taking place a block farther east, at 78th and Throop. Everyone who knows the city's South Side knows that 78th and Throop is the site of St. Sabina's church (and other activities) and the turf of Rev. Michael Pfleger, a longtime opponent of the public schools and promoter of charter and private schools (as well as an anti-union activist).

When the media regrouped on Throop between 78th and 79th streets, sure enough it was Michael Pfleger who was one of those climbing the stairs of the brick bungalows to try and rouse the inhabitants for a conversation with Mayor Emanuel and CEO Brizard about the importance of the opening of school. And the block the mayor, the priest, and the "Chief Executive Officer" chose to use for their door-to-door was quite different from the one to which they had originally sent reporters.

Even buildings that are still occupied near the corner of 78th and Ada (above) show the challenges faced in one of the many Chicago communities that has been devastated by predatory lending and foreclosures. But a block to the east, the block of Throop St. adjacent to St. Sabina's Catholic Church (the bell tower of which can be seen above the home above, which is 7801 S. Ada) things are less devastated. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Under the looming bell tower of the Catholic Church, the 7800 block of S. Throop St. is only a block east of the 7800 block of S. Ada, but in some ways in a very different world.

By the time the press corps had completely assembled in the 7800 block of S. Throop St., the media quickie that has become a specialty of Chicago's new mayor and his schools chief was underway. Surrounded by more than two dozen reporters, TV crews, and photographers, Rahm Emanuel and Jean-Claude Brizard were bounding up the steps of the block's brick bungalows and trying to talk to the people in the homes about getting to school on time.

According to the mayor's press aides, three of the six homes had children of school age in them. One other had children inside, but they refused to open the door when the swarm of reporters and VIPs came up their steps (apparently having been warned about "stranger danger" from their family).

At one of the six homes visited by Chicago's mayor for the August 2 media event at St. Sabina's, children were home but refused to open the door, apparently wary of "Stranger Danger." Above, Mayor Rahm Emanuel (second from right) talks through the window while (left to right) Father Michael Pfleger, Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard, and Alderman Latasha Thomas (17) accompany the mayor. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Prominently on display in most of the media shots during the quickie was the Catholic priest, Rev. Michael Pfleger. Pfleger is pastor of the St. Sabina's Catholic Church (and related businesses, including a school) across the street from the bungalows. Pfleger, whose media presence is almost as well know in Chicago as that of the Rev. Jesse Jackson of Operation PUSH, has been overtly attacking the city's public schools for nearly a decade. Since the beginning of former Mayor Richard M. Daley's Renaissance 2010 program, Pfleger could always be counted on to do some teachers bashing against public schools, along with a bit of union busting rhetoric as well.

In June 2004, for example, Pfleger backed former Mayor Richard M. Daley's plans to close (and privatize and charterize) Calumet High School. which is less than a mile from St. Sabina's. Pfleger claimed that Calumet, which had been neglected by CPS for more than 20 years, was not a "school of choice" for children in the community. No sooner had the Chicago Board of Education, under than Board President Michael Scott, voted to "phase out" Calumet than the building began getting a facelift that wound up costing more than $30 million. By 2007, the newly renovated Calumet building housed the "Perspectives Charter School, Calumet Campus."

At most media events promoting charters since the charter push began in high gear in Chicago following Daley's announcement of Renaissance 2010 in July 2004, Pfleger was prominent in bashing local public schools and praising the alternative. in Chicago, Pfleger has been in the front lines against the city's public schools.

By August 2011, Pfleger was given another bit of media attention as he walked along with Mayor Emanuel during the brief door-to-door media event. The press conference that followed was held not at a public school, but in front of Pfleger's parochial school, with the students from the school as a backdrop.

During the press conference, Mayor Emanuel again took the time to praise Chicago's charter schools and promote some numbers, of increasingly dubious veracity, concerning the length of the day in the city's public school.

"For too long, children have been an afterthought, not the primary thought" when public schools are discussed, Emanuel told the press conference. Reporters who asked for the verification of the mayor's claims about Chicago's "shortest" school day (and Houston's "longest") were again told, as they have been when leaders invent facts since the days of Arne Duncan, "We'll get back to you with that." CPS Communications Officer told Substance she would email the information backing up the mayor's school days claims after the press conference, but as of noon on the following day no such information had been provided. When he discusses Chicago's public schools, Mayor Emanuel sounds like he got all of his "facts" from former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and the controversial movie "Waiting for Superman."

While the mayor spoke in front of a crowd at St. Sabina's, a half dozen public elementary schools and one public high school sat ignored within two miles of the spot. Altgeld, Barton, Bond, Guggenheim, Joplin, Oglesby, and Stagg elementary schools and Simeon Vocational High School are within a (brick) walking distance of St. Sabina's.

But the city's new mayor made it clear that he continued to be hostile to the city's real public schools, while promoting privatization based on charter schools. He told the press that the day before he had (again) visited an UNO public school, where, he claimed, the children were in school at least two hours more per day than in the city's real public schools.

Charter schools were not the only privatization being pushed by Chicago's mayor on August 2. Emanuel also went out of his way to praise a number of the anti-union "corporate partners he told the press were helping with the opening of schools push. Emanuel alsoo used the opportunity to announce additional corporate partnerships which he said were to help the opening of schools. In addition to what Emanuel said during his press conference in front of St. Sabina's, the mayor's press office issued the following announcement:


Go door-to-door to highlight the importance of attendance on the first day of school Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Jean-Claude Brizard today announced key investments that supported CPS’ Back-to-School initiatives and went door-to-door in the Auburn-Gresham community to remind parents and students about the first day of school.

“Excellence in education starts with excellent attendance, and the support CPS’s Back-to-School initiatives have received from our city’s business and community leaders confirms just how invested Chicagoans are in our students’ success,” said Mayor Emanuel. “This is a shared goal for all of Chicago and I am heartened by Chicagoans’ commitment to making this important investment in Chicago’s future.”

Today’s door-to-door visits are part of a comprehensive back-to-school school campaign to promote strong attendance habits during the 2011-2012 school year. Early Start Schools (Track E) begin on Monday, August 8th and Regular Start Schools (Track R) begin on Tuesday, September 6th.

The new corporate sponsors that have agreed to support CPS’s back-to-school efforts through generous donations include:

Wal-mart Stores Inc. committed $25,000 to support the CPS Door-to-Door campaign;

Clear Channel Communications Inc. committed to promoting CPS’s back-to-school messages through radio, digital, and billboard platforms with in-kind contributions valued at $120,000;

Target Corp. committed $3,000 to the school with highest first week attendance in a high-truancy area;

Harris Bank committed $12,000 to sponsor the Safe Haven end of summer back-to-school rally;

Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality committed $45,000 to purchase Back to School Kits, which include notebooks, pencils, erasers, and other vital school supplies.

Last week, Groupon offered a special deal in support of CPS’s back-to-school campaign which allowed Chicagoans to purchase school supply kits for low-income students. Groupon’s deal raised $15,000 to purchase more than 1,200 Back to School Kits.

Other corporate sponsors of CPS’s back-to-school efforts include Fleishman-Hillard, Peoples Gas, Comcast, Discover, HMH Foundation, Loop Capital, PNC Bank, Bank of America, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Foundation, the Chicago Tribune Foundation, The Museum of Science and Industry and Loop Capital.

As part of its comprehensive back-to-school comprehensive campaign, CPS is utilizing grassroots tactics, advertising, and social media strategies, including:

Door-to-door outreach;

Robo-calls to households of CPS students;

Targeted literature drops at CTA stations, bus stations and neighborhood festivals;

Phone bank calls targeting parents;

A CTA ad campaign;

Text messages and e-mail notifications; and

Google and Facebook ads.

“I know from personal experience as a teacher and a principal that being in the classroom on the first day sets the tone for the rest of the school year and increases a student’s chance for success,” said CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. “That is why we are working energetically and creatively make sure that our message about the importance of excellent back-to-school attendance comes through loud and clear to parents and students across Chicago.”

CPS encourages parents to check with their school and visit to be sure they know the correct start date for their child’s school. For more information, parents can call CPS’s back-to-school hotline at (773) 553-3CPS (3277). They can also contact their school directly to confirm start dates.

The Chicago Public Schools serves approximately 409,000 students in more than 675 schools. It is the nation’s third-largest school system.


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