Schmidt Simeon speech part of WBEZ coverage of school closing hearings

I spoke at Simeon High School Wednesday night (November 16, 2011) during the latest hearings on the proposed school closings for 2012, and spoke forcefully against the closings and against the structure that CPS has established to create the latest Hit List. By the time I got through the work day on November 17, 2011, a number of people had called and said they like what I had said and agreed with it. But since they weren't among the nearly 100 people (I counted at the height of the hearing), I was puzzled until they told me that WBEZ radio had broadcast my remarks as part of their coverage of the event.

Only one of the five CPS officials on stage during the hearings at Simeon had any classroom teaching experience in Chicago (Adrian Willis, far right, the "Network Chief of Schools"). The rest were mercenaries hired within the past two years, two of them hired within the previous five months at salaries double that of the average teacher and even higher than that of the principals. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.WBEZ and Substance were, as far as I could see, the only reporters at Simeon (something that shows a great deal about the corporate media in Chicago today). And it was very nice of WBEZ to make the audio of my remarks available to its listeners. The URL for the WBEZ coverage (for those who can't access the hotlink above) is:

As readers can hear, I had a great deal more to say, and some clarification of the context is necessary. So here is what I'm going to do.

First, I'll share a version of the speech I was forced to give because of the two-minute gag order that CPS places on anyone who tries to speak about any of its policies. Considering that at this point nobody at CPS in leadership knows as much about CPS and the history of public schools in Chicago than, for example, the staff of the Chicago Teachers Union, every time a CPS official says "Your time is up," we are in the Never Never Land of corporate absurdity. Jean-Claude Brizard, Noemi Donoso, and the majority of the highest paid CPS "Officers" at this time have zero Chicago teaching experience and virtually no real experience in Chicago itself. They are at the mercy of their spreadsheets and their dishonest data sets, hiding behind the fig leaves of their Power Point nonsense (which, as observers can easily note, are changing daily).


Second, I'll share the complete text of what I am reporting. This is a tradition I'm beginning (actually, began at the October Board of Education meeting) since the two-minute rule strangles real serious input. So we have to share our actual analysis more widely in other contexts.

Third, I'll share the meager reports that have so far been made in the city's corporate media.


At the beginning of my speech, I asked to have three minutes or more to outline my qualifications to speak on these issues, before my time began. The two-minute time that CPS allows citizens to speak, either at Board meetings or at hearings like the one at Simeon, is an insult to those of us who know what we are talking about, who are, as we often say, the "experts."

My reason was simple. Seated on the stage at Simeon were four people, each of whom is being paid this school year more than $150,000 per year, none of whom was with CPS even as late as two years ago, when many of us led and covered the final round of "Arne Duncan closings." These people, however, are nothing new. In fact, for the past decade, CPS has rotated a group of corporate mercenaries through the Hit List bureaucracy, so that it has been a rare year when those facing the fate of the Hit List are facing the same individuals. By 2011, few people remember Ginger Reynolds; or Dan Buglar; or Phil Hansen; or Josh Edelman. Yet these are a few of the more than a dozen people who were given impressive titles (and huge salaries) and then sent out to testify against a school and the teachers, principals and parents who had often devoted decades to their schools. Arne Duncan, during his nine years of promulgating the Hit List, never once attended a hearing. The majority of the members of the Chicago Board of Education never once attended a hearing. Then Duncan recommended the destruction of the schools, and the Board members voted unanimously to do so. Year after year after year.

So this year, the new generation of corporate mercenaries are Jamiko Rose, Oliver Sicat, and a couple of others. Like Duncan and those who came before them, they have no business running a public schools system, have no Chicago teaching experience, and in a sane and democratic city would never be drawing salaries of $150,000 and up as (salaries double that of the average teacher against whom they now sit in judgment; higher even than the veteran principals whose careers they are destroying) executives with enormous power over the city's public schools.

What I asked for, then, was the time to outline my own qualification, since we had to listen to one of those promoting the Hit List ("Chief Portfolio Officer" Oliver Sicat) spend more than three minutes on his.

This dishonesty is typical of how CPS has been doing the closings for more than a decade. I hope it helps explain why I demanded that first the timekeeper — and then Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz — give me more time to explain my opposition to this year's regulations on closings and this year's Hit List.

Both requests were denied, Mr. Ruiz smiling, as usual, as he said something like "I can't do that." I would have noted, had I wanted to devote the time to doing so, that it would have been at this point that Ruiz or someone else would have given the nod for the "Security Swarm." That's when CPS security surrounds a speaker who challenges the crazy two-minute rule and forcefully, at times, snatches away the microphone and pushes away the person. (There was no security swarm at Simeon on Wednesday night).



Let's start with those seated on the stage on Wednesday night:

Jamiko Rose is now Chief of School and Community Outreach for CPS, at a salary of $160,000 per year. Six months ago, she was working for a private not-for-profit and the position she is in did not exist. She has no Chicago classroom teaching experience and no direct knowledge of the school closing activities of the last ten years.

Oliver Sicat is now Chief Portfolio Officer for CPS at a salary of $162,000 per year. Six months ago, he was a Chicago charter school principal.

The URL for the WBEZ coverage is: George I posted your speech from last night.


Hearing on school closings shifts to talk of quality, equity of education BY LINDA LUTTON | NOV. 16, 2011 (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)

A Shoesmith parent "We do not want to continue with the status quo."

Dozens of community members came to a South Side hearing on school closings Wednesday evening.

The closings in Chicago have become a painful annual event; the school district has shuttered more than 85 troubled schools in the last decade to reform the system.

Wednesday night’s hearing was on new criteria for shutting down schools. But many saw it as a moment to comment on the quality of education their children get.

"You can go to the North Side schools, and it is totally different than the South Side education," one speaker told school officials.

A number in attendance were affiliated with Pastor Marrion Johnson of Come Alive Ministry of Faith, who said he supports school closings.

"If schools are not producing the way that they should produce, then our children are the ones that are suffering as a result of that," said Johnson.

Some speakers read statements criticizing teachers, administrators and elected officials for only "looking out for themselves."

The audience applauded a call for smaller class sizes. And the biggest applause of the evening went to longtime activist George Schmidt, a former teacher, after he gave CPS officials and the audience a fiery primer on Chicago school closings, which he described as “a ten-year disgraceful history that has primarily screwed the black children of Chicago….”

Jamiko Rose, the new cabinet-level officer overseeing community engagement in schools, said CPS agrees that “at least for the past decade, we feel like the system has been failing your kids…. We all agree to that.” Rose said the situation calls for swift action so students quickly move to better schools.

An analysis by the magazine CATALYST-Chicago found more than 140 schools, most on the South Side, meet the district’s new criteria for being shut down.

CPS will release the list of schools to be closed by December 1.


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