The Broad Leadership Academy is already screwing up Chicago's public schools under Brizard's bizarre version of an 'organization' chart... Is Brizard's bizarre reorganization plan increasing dropouts without the boss even realizing it?

It's been two weeks since WBEZ ran a story about a student who was allegedly pushed out of "Chicago Academy High School" (the AUSL main location) and having trouble getting into an alternative setting in another Chicago high school, or in an alternative school. What was completely left out of the story at the time, but may have been a factor, is that during the third week of July, the newly installed CPS leadership was implementing a bizarre reorganization of the school system which resulted in some of the most unusual management lines of authority and accountability in public school history.

The WBEZ story came out July 20, one week before the meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. By the end of the day on July 27, 2011, CPS had another new organization chart (the fifth or sixth in three years, if the Substance count is accurate) — and the most bizarre in the 150-year plus history of Chicago's public schools. To take just two examples:

-- Under the new Chief Executive Officer's version of reality (the July 27 Organization Chart), the Board Attorney (who reports by law to the Board of Education — not the superintendent — in every school district in Illinois) is now reporting to the CEO, not to the Board. Whether this is illegal or not is beside the point, since the Board Attorney, Patrick Rocks, has viewed it as his job to fight to make anything his two bosses (the mayor and the Chicago Board of Education) wants "legal" even if it costs millions of dollars. (During the past four years, as Substance has reported, CPS attorneys have stood up in courts local and federal to defend the most challenging — and usually illegal and unconstitutional — actions by the Board of Education. As we've reported here, the current Law Department, under Rocks, was the first in the history of Chicago's public schools to be found in violation of federal law twice in one year (2010, when Rocks defended the attempt by Ron Huberman to ban union election activity in the schools, then later deployed lawyers to defend that Board's attacks on teacher tenure).

-- Under the new Chief Executive Officer's version of reality (the July 27 Organization Chart), the Chief Financial Officer now reports not to the Chief Executive Officer, but to the "Chief Administrative Officer." Even with a short and compliant memory, Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale would remember that six or seven years ago, when Arne Duncan was CEO, Chicago's schools didn't even have a "Chief Administrative Officer." Then, one day, Duncan announced that he was creating the post, but that the guy who was gong to fill it would be working for free (actually $1 per year). That first "Chief Administrative Officer" for CPS? David Vitale. It wasn't until three years later that Vitale's job (which was originally described as checking out the system for efficiencies) became a paid staff position. A few years later, it became more important, under Robert Runcie, following Runcie's disastrous tenure as Chief Information Officer (Runcie was in charge of the multi-million dollars waste of money called IMPACT, among other things). At no time was the "CEO" in charge of much of anything, and the newly appointed "CAO" of CPS, Tim Cawley, is not certified to administer anything in Illinois (he came to CPS from the Academy for Urban School Leadership; prior to that he was in corporate America).

-- Of course, the demotion of the Chief Financial Officer in the CPS chain of command isn't as bizarre as the promotion of two others to reporting directly to the chief. According to the Brizard Organization chart, the "Chief Communications Officer" now reports directly to the boss, as does someone called the "Chief Portfolio Officer" (a first for Chicago). The members of the Board were as uncritical of the bizarre reworking of the system as they usually are, voting in favor of it after the usual vapid Power Point dog and pony show.

How does this relate to one high school kid unable to get into an alternative school after not being dropped — but somehow eliminated — from American most famous "turnaround" factory (AUSL's Chicago Academy; promoted now by Arne Duncan and President Obama as the place to learn turnaround as they go about trying to close America's 5,000 worst public schools and subject many to Chicago style "turnaround")?

Apparently, Jean-Claude Brizard left out a few of the important parts of CPS in his rush to create his new "organizational structure." It's like the guy who dives into repairing a car (that may not have been broken in the first place) because, after all, some guys can do anything. After hours or days of huffing and puffing, they close the hood and proclaim the job completed. Only to find a dozen parts laying around, not put back anywhere. So, under mayoral control, they just throw away the parts, rather than admitting they didn't know what they were doing, and order someone else to drive the car. After all, absolute power (and that's what a CEO has) can screw up absolutely.

And that's what the new organizational structure of CPS promises. The WBEZ July 20 story is really just the tip of the iceberg, or, to shift metaphoric gears, just a look at one of the dozens of parts the new repairman in town left out after his rush job to stamp everything in his image (and follow his Broad Leadership version of reality into Chicago's public education corner office).


Chicago student gets a transfer to nowhere, by Linda Lutton Jul. 20, 2011

Chicago students are withdrawn from their high schools without a definite seat in an alternative school. Schools are on summer break, and this has been a long summer for a boy named Davonte McMullen. He’s been out of school since March. That’s when his mom signed papers for him to transfer out of his high school — she thought — to an alternative school.

I’m telling you about Davonte McMullen because he’s now among an ocean of dropouts in Chicago— 50,000 kids, give or take—another drop in the steady drip, drip of kids who leave.

I’m also telling you about Davonte because he really didn’t have to be a dropout—that’s what Davonte says, that’s what the principal at his former school says. It’s what his mom, Tamika Parker, says.

The way she tells it, officials at his high school suggested he might be better off somewhere else.

PARKER: They kept pressuring me and pressuring me, calling me, telling me that …I need to hurry up and come sign some papers. And I’m like, ‘What type of papers?’ And they wouldn’t really tell me what kind of papers they was until I got there.

They were withdrawal papers. Davonte was in the middle of his junior year.

PARKER: They said that Davonte was turning 18, and basically they needed him to be out of the school… If he didn’t, he’d fall behind, so they thought of him going to an alternative school.

Now, Davonte’s regular school—Chicago Academy High School on the northwest side— disputes this whole version of events. They say Davonte suggested on his own he should leave. They say they’d been working with him and his mom on improving his reading, his behavior, his attendance.

How ever Davonte ended up leaving, the point is this: When he showed up at the alternative school listed on his withdrawal papers, he couldn’t get in. He was told the same thing thousands of kids are told every year at these schools: There are no seats. Kids are picked from a very long waiting list just four times a year.

That left Davonte’s mom with this situation last April:

PARKER: Now every school I call, they’re not taking him. It’s like, that’s not right because he at home not doing anything when he can be at school learning—now it’s really making him fall behind because he’s at home now.

LOPEZ: If we are going to advise the students that they need to go to an alternative setting, then that alternative setting needs to have the capacity to serve the students. Because it’s like selling something that you don’t have. That’s bad business.

Daisy Lopez is principal at Westside Holistic Leadership Academy. That’s the alternative school Davonte’s papers said he’d be transferring into.Lopez believes in alternative schools. They serve kids who are far behind in credits and are getting older—but still want a diploma.

There are only 5,500 alternative high school seats in Chicago—nowhere near enough to meet the demand. If the principal or a counselor from Davonte’s school would have called Lopez, she would have told them that.

LOPEZ: If I don’t have seats they cannot transfer the kids here.

LUTTON: And do you ever have a time when you have no waiting list? LOPEZ: No, we always have a waiting list. Always. Every single quarter, every single month. So we cannot just take a kid and just jump the waiting list.

Typically, kids moving from regular high schools to alternative schools already have a fragile connection to school. They’re not good at it, they have attendance problems, they live in neighborhoods full of negative distractions. These are the kids we are setting free to navigate a system where the odds are terrible. Sometimes they leave their regular high schools without any more than a list of alternative schools and their addresses.

That’s not true across the board-- one south side principal has even driven students to the alternative school, to make sure they get there and are enrolled without issue.

But Jennifer Vidis, who oversees alternative schools for CPS, says the district recognizes there’s a hand-off problem.

VIDIS: A student should be counseled into a school before they’re released by another one. Because you always run the risk of once a student is out of school—that they won’t go back. And, they’re losing time, they’re losing instructional time, and falling further behind.

Vidis’ office is working on protocols that all schools will have to follow. And significantly, the district is doing something about its paltry supply of alternative options. It’s currently soliciting proposals to add dozens more campuses to serve dropouts. That would more than double the number of alternative seats in the city, with the first opening by fall 2012.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he wants tackle the dropout crisis. The school that let Davonte go is run by the Academy of Urban School Leadership—a favorite of Emanuel’s. Erin Clarkin is principal there.

CLARKIN: We won’t transfer a kid—especially an on-track kid, and this kid was on-track to graduate in five years. We won’t hand off a kid unless we know there’s somewhere for the kid to go. Because then we’re just setting the kid up for dropping out. And we don’t want that. Nobody wants that.

Clarkin signed Davonte’s withdrawal papers. She wishes he would have talked to her when he couldn’t get in to an alternative school. She would have re-enrolled him—and still would. She called his family multiple times after WBEZ brought his situation to light. Davonte says he doesn’t want to go back to Chicago Academy.

It turns out there’s no penalty for schools when kids fall through the cracks the way Davonte did. In fact, Davonte won’t show up as a dropout this year. CPS officials confirm that students who leave after mid-January aren’t included in a school’s one-year dropout rate.

That might explain why schools would allow kids—advise them, even—to withdraw in the middle of the second semester, without any regard for the enrollment cycles at the schools they’re transferring to. And at a point when students will almost certainly lose any credits they’re working on.

Davonte can sense that’s not right.

DAVONTE: I just wish I could have finished my whole junior year off. And like, next year, by the time my senior year come, I could have just transferred, and I could have been on track to graduate, then I would have been out of there.

Last week, Davonte’s name came up for a seat at Westside Holistic Leadership Academy. He can start school in September. Everyone hopes he will.


August 5, 2011 at 3:10 PM

By: Rod Estvan

Davonte McMullen and Westside Holistic Leadership Academy

George Schmidt's article relating to the WBEZ report on Davonte McMullen being effectively a forced drop out from AUSL's Chicago Academy High School really does not focus on the alternative school the student was sent to. I think that aspect of the story merits some discussion.

According to the WBEZ report Davonte was sent by AUSL to the Westside Holistic Leadership Academy, but the story did not inform listeners that the alternative school is a CPS approved charter school and is part of the Youth Connection charter school network (YCCS). Not long ago on the District 299 blog I posted a considerable amount of information about YCCS and its very limited success with students like Davonte. To see this post go to

Westside Holistic Leadership Academy is a subsidiary of Westside Holistic Family Services which is tied directly to Keystone Baptist Church. It is part of the Westside Ministers Coalition run by Rev. Dr. Lewis Flowers, which was closely associated to former CPS Board President Scott. The founder of Westside Holistic Leadership Academy was the late Donna Blasingame daughter of Westside Holistic Family Services founder Dr. H. Millicent Lindo who was married to Pastor Lloyd Lindo who was the pastor of the Keystone Baptist Church in Chicago for 37 years. The current President of the Board of Westside Holistic Leadership Academy is the twin sister of Dr. H. Millicent Lindo, Gale Lindo.

According to the latest data I have on this alternative school (from IRS form 990), it enrolled 220 students in FY 2009 and had revenue of $1,747,664. Almost all of this revenue came through CPS as tuition, special education reimbursements, or poverty related federal and state funding for schools. According to the IRS form 990 submitted on May 21, 2010 the school ran a deficit of $25,729. The Parent organization of the alternative school Westside Holistic Family Services ran a $343,630 deficit in FY 2009 and the organization did not have sufficient assets to offset this deficit, in fact its total fund balance was a negative $368,247.

The current fiscal situation of Westside Holistic Leadership Academy is typical of YCCS. It is not surprising as I stated in my post of District 299 that for those few YCCS students who do make it to grade 11, 75.2% are reading below state standards. CPS is sending its most complex students who have already dropped out once to a charter school system that is on the edge of fiscal collapse and dramatically under resourced.

The story of the many students like Davonte who drop out or are forced out by both traditional CPS high schools, turn around schools, and charter high schools is indeed a tragedy.

The existing CPS drop out recovery system in the form of YCCS is only graduating 21% of the students that enter the doors of these charter schools over a five year period of time. So there is another story here, one that is deeply disturbing.

Rod Estvan

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