'Divide and Conquer' against parents and teachers rejected... Top North Side School Parents Lash out at Board's Longer Day Proposal at heated Hawthorne LSC meeting

Angry Hawthorne Elementary School parents lashed out at Board of Education officials at a local school council meeting on Wednesday, October 5, 2011 charging that the Board did not have a plan for a longer school day and only came to divide a tight community.

The Chicago Public Schools "Network" Chief Craig Benes (and another official who only identified himself as "John" at the LSC meeting at Hawthorne), told parents, teachers and other community members that they will not force a longer day, that it is up to the parents to decide, said Cathy Yee, who has three boys who attend the school.

Craig Benes, the new "Chief of Schools" for northside elementary schools in Chicago, also attended the Raise Your Hand meeting (above) with other CPS officials in newly created positions. Above, Benes is at the left, while third from left is Jamiko Rose, who now occupies the $150,000-per year job of "Chief of Family and Community Engagement" created by Jean-Claude Brizard shortly after CPS claimed it has a $712 million "deficit." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Benes said if the school agreed to an extra 90 minutes every day plus two more weeks, the Board would give the school $150,000 that could be used for technology, Yee said.

"We were asking them lots of questions and he kept saying he didn't know the answer," Yee said. "The parents asked what are you here for? Is this funding sustainable? Where did the money come from?"

Yee said one parent said a small business owner could not get away with the games CPS is playing to force a longer school day when they claim they are broke.

"She said 'Where did you get the 2% raise for the teachers (who will work a longer school day) and how are you funding this (longer school day) campaign, but you deny the teachers' raise because you have no money," Cunningham told Substancenews. "She said is there a budget deficit or not. She said I'm a business owner and money doesn't just miraculously appear. He couldn't answer her question."

Hawthorne is one of the highest achieving elementary schools on the north side. Many of the parents are high-powered investment traders, brokers, business owners, and lawyers, as well as aldermen and top city officials, Yee said.

In fact, when it comes to raising funds for the school, Hawthorne is at the top of the class. The parents organization has raised more than $300,000 to help fund special programs and amenities for the school, Yee said.

Parents also asked how would the longer school day impact park district programs where the start times could conflict with the added 90 minutes, or traffic which would increase drastically at a specific time if all the schools let out children at the same time, Yee said.

"One angry parent said, 'So my kid is supposed to come home from school at 4:30 on the bus, do his homework and go to bed? Every day. This is impossible for them to do,'" Yee told Substance.

Yee said the parents were receptive to a longer day in some capacity, perhaps an extra 45 minutes, but it had to be well thought out with an enriched offering to make it worthwhile.

One high-powered attorney who sits on the Hawthorne LSC noted the divide and conquer tactics the Board is using.

"He said, 'You are being extremely divisive to separate the parents and the teachers,'" Yee said. "Here we have a very positive working relationship between the parents and the teachers, and you have brought in (something) very negative to try to make this a negative environment. You keep saying this is good for the kids and the teachers are being villainized."

Another parent asked the Board officials who would pay to maintain the $150,000 worth of technology the Board is offering.

Yee said it appeared to many of the parents that night that the Board was being disrespectful.

"Some of the parents were angry at the Board for demonizing the teachers who they love at Hawthorne," Yee said.

Yee said she pointed out in her presentation that there is no research which shows a longer day will actually help the children learn any better.

It was also pointed out at the meeting that the school was against the universal breakfast program last year, but the Board still demanded Hawthorne implement it, even though the majority of students are not low income and do not qualify for free lunches, Yee said. The "Breakfast in the classroom" program promoted by CPS took time away from the beginning of each school day by forcing classroom teachers to begin their day serving and cleaning up breakfast (often, noted by parents, with high sugar junk breakfast foods) instead of having the meals served by professionals in the schools' lunchrooms. A number of parents and teachers from the city's elementary schools protested the program as taking away from instructional time, but the Board called them names and ignored the issues raised.



October 8, 2011 at 9:23 AM

By: Lee

Hawthorne Stands UP!!!!

Thank you, Hawthorne School community!!! Because you are articulate and strong, you have clearly demonstrated that the parents can support the teachers and the children, and question a ram-rod abuse of power.

October 8, 2011 at 1:27 PM

By: Nate

Hawthorne School!

Good for you Hawthorne parents!!! Way to support your teachers. I would like to invite the board to come and listen to what the parents and teachers at my school have to say. It's time for the parents to let the board know how they feel about their tactics.

October 8, 2011 at 3:09 PM

By: John Kugler

Faux Leader

Just got off the line with a brother in Rochester. brizard tried the same tactics in New York until they[parents and teachers] pushed him out of his job. He ran away from his last job. whatever happened to those federal sexual abuser charges against this guy? still can not figure out how someone with open federal charges of sexual and racial discrimination can get a new job in education or have contact with kids? but what do i know.

as our brother in Rochester writes me:

he [brizard] does the razzle dazzle bullshit but he is all show too WEAK when it came to parent and teacher opposition united by the time that started unfolding he just started slowly falling apart.


October 9, 2011 at 7:42 AM



The parents' of low income students should have the same concerns as those from this school. Children who may not be achieving at the desired level should not be punished or forced to remain in school for that reason. Poor students in Chicago have been research subjects in a poorly designed experiment for far too long already. Academically successful elementary students are treated as children first. That means addressing social, emotional and developmental needs in addition to the academics. The desire to throw students into a holding pen for another 90 minutes is just as wrong as anticipating the need for their prisons, prior to them completing elementary school. It is good for successful parents of high performing students to share what works for students. Hopefully the disadvantaged parents and their elected officials will take note and realize that being poor and or minority should not automatically demand the need for prison like treatment. 90 minutes is the perfect answer when you just don’t know what to do and this is where this school system is. They don’t know what to do and the politics and business as usual model prevent them from investing in what research says will work.

October 9, 2011 at 12:42 PM

By: Kimberly Bowsky

Hawthorne Parents

They rock! Let's follow the lead of THAT community--parents, teachers, and students together. Where IS the money coming from? Shouldn't the district bureaucrats have answers? It's not the teachers who are indiscriminately educating the children. It's not the teachers feeding the children food that will contribute to health problems. It's not the teachers who are breaking contracts and bribing people at will. The system must be changed for us and our children, but without the voice of the people together, it won't. Thanks, Hawthorne!

October 10, 2011 at 12:41 AM

By: Cathy Cunningham-Yee

Hawthorne LSC meeting

Just an addition to Jim's article: Hawthorne parents are smart and savvy. They also support their teachers, principal and students. It's no mystery WHY Hawthorne is a top school. They see merit in a job well done and can recognize bogus union-busting tactics. One parent stood up and called a duck a duck...something to the effect of "What the board is doing by going around to individual schools and offering the brib of 2% plus $150,000 is a union busting. The school hours and pay have already been negociated and should be protected under the curret contract. THat's what people in the past have fought hard for..." Not EXACTLY what was said, but in essence. It was a tremendous meetng and gave me hope.

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