'Enough is Enough!'... Organizing against the cuts... Teach-In draws hundreds to King High School as protests against Emanuel's 2012 Hit List grow

It was obvious that for more than 400 teachers, parents, CTU staff and community members attending the school closing Teach-In and workshop at Chicago's King High School on December 3, 2011 that enough is enough — and they had enough. They were fed up! The chant from time to time went, "We fired up. We won't take it no more!"

By the time the crowd rose for a standing ovation near the end of the speeches, following the chanting repetition of the word "Injustice" during the speech by Angela Surnuy, of Marconi Elementary School. By the time she completed her remarks, the crowd had grown to more than 400 people in the auditorium of Chicago's Martin Luther King Jr. High School on December 3, 2011. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The first speaker was the Chicago Teachers Union President, Karen Lewis. She noted that in the last 20 years, dozens of schools were closed — and 300 schools were on probation. This is not what children need, she said. Children need a place to be safe, a place to be valued and a need to be educated. They should not be a point on a spread sheet.

Lewis went on, outlining why the teachers and others had had it with the Board of Education's approaches to the schools: "When people criticized the schools, we answered their call," she continued. " When they wanted teachers to have a master’s degree, we got masters degrees. When they wanted us to have endorsements in subjects, we got endorsements. Many of us got Nationally Board Certified and we followed their directions to work longer and harder. We have continued to do as told. The result has been that they labeled our children as failures and our schools as failures."

Lewis pointed out that she used to teach at King College Prep and she loved it. Right behind where she was sitting was where “amazing productions were” from the King High School drama. She also noted that some of the lights in the auditorium were not working because “when there is a lot of rain, the lights go out.”

Lewis continued about all of the injustices that result in problems for the schools. Lewis noted that many schools don’t have a librarian and that art and music classes have been cut. “If they don’t give us music (or any of these) can the students meet their potential?”

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis reminded people that the fight back against closings, cuts, turnarounds and phase outs had been going on for several years, but that this year was going to be decisive. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Speaking of the successive chiefs who have run the schools and the successive school boards who have been in power since mayoral control and school closings began in the mid-1990s, Lewis said that "they always say that they want the best for our children, but these are our children..." and they don't ask us if we agree with what they are doing to our schools at times like this. [Since 1995, the Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools has been Paul Vallas (1995 - 2001), Arne Duncan (2001 - 2009), Ron Huberman (2009 - 2010), Terry Mazany (2010 - 2011), and now Jean-Claude Brizard (June 2011 to the present). Each of them said the same thing about the "urgency" of closing schools, firing teachers, or doing something to the schools other than providing them with resources since Paul Vallas promulgated the first massive list of schools on "Probation" in 1995 and then humiliated schools with "Reconstitution" in 1997.]

Then she brought loud cheers from the growing crowd: "There is Education apartheid in Chicago. Are we going to allow someone else to tell us what we have to do? Our babies belong to their parents and community — they do not belong to the data base at CPS headquarters!"

The next speaker was the educational organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), Jitu Brown. Brown explained that KOCO was a grassroots organization that had been in operation for more than a quarter century.

Brown stated that “Karen is one of the few leaders who have called this out for the racism it really is. We want our children going to good schools in our neighborhoods. This System believes that you as Black and Latino people don’t have the sense to know what you want and make decisions in your neighborhoods. There have been 14 schools closed and 20 actions in black and Latino neighborhoods even though there are 17 schools with lower scores. (I’m not sure if this is in all neighborhoods or the one around King Prep) This has an impact on the community. It changes the neighborhood.

Brown showed the crowd that his roots in educational activism in the Kenwood Oakland community went back a long way. He summarized a great deal of his narrative in the example of Fuller Elementary School, which has been slated for "Turnaround" for 2012 by Rahm Emanuel and Rahm's handpicked schools "team." In Brown's words, Fuller has been sabotaged. In 1971 Fuller School was a failing school( Check this) but under excellent leadership it improved. In 2002 it was a Rising Star School and in 2005 it became a receiving school for failing schools. Class size went up to 28 in each class. Even the University of Chicago, which has taken over a number of buildings near the lake since the closings began for charter schools, has produced research that says that when a school is destabilized the students lose six months of learning. The housing market fell, and no extra resources followed the students, Brown said. When a school starts to fail, who gets fired? "KOCO says we’ve had it!,"Brown proclaimed to growing cheers. "This is a Watershed Moment. It is racist saying that black and brown students don’t matter."

Brown continued, noting how the Board of Education continued to churn administrators who came from out of town, persecuted the schools and teachers for a few years, and then went back on the road. There was a "Chief Area Officer," Dr. Judith Coates, who went from school to school and did a hatchet job. Brown said. When confronted, Brown said, Coates said that she did “not let Negroes tell her what to do.”

Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) told the crowd that the near South Side had been devastated by the closings and cuts for a decade. He especially noted the irony of the current proposal to place Fuller Elementary School on "turnaround" following the successive closings that year-after-year put new and sometimes disruptive students into Fuller, leaving the school often with challenges that were greater than it was staffed to handle. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Brown concluded: The people that make sure that our children get a good education are the parents that love their children. If we go to the Board of Education meeting were not going to participate, we’re going to close you down. I’m not going to look at those babies and say, “I’m not going to protect you.”

Next speaker was Kristine Mayle, CTU Financial Secretary; Mayle stated that her school, De La Cruz was targeted in 2007. The neighborhood included people working, sometimes, as many as three jobs. It also had to contend with gangs and poverty. [Mayle's speech is reprinted separately today at].

In moving terms, Mayle told the growing crowd about the way in which CPS abused De La Cruz school under Arne Duncan and Ron Huberman, two of the immediate predecessors of the current "Chief Executive Officer," Jean-Claude Brizard. It was a tiny school with achievement on the rise. It was gaining on the ISAT and the ISBE audit stated that they were the best. It had an extended day with chess lessons, parenting classes, and a family feeling between the staff and community. The school was closed and replaced with a charter school.

Chicago Teachers Union Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle told the crowd about how she and her fellow teachers had worked with parents three years ago to tell the story of De La Cruz, where she worked at the time, as the Board moved to destroy it despite the fact that everything about the school was a success according to the Board's measures. Ultimately, De La Cruz was closed, then within a few months flipped into the UNO charter schools, proving that teachers and the community had long expected, that the mendacious "data" cooked up by CPS officials to supposedly justify the closing of the school was really only a pretext for turning over another Southwest Side public school building to UNO. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The only thing CPS cared about was closing authentic neighborhood schools. The next year it opened a charter school in our building. CPS has failed to live up to their responsibility to listen to the people that work with the students and the parents. Alice Walker wrote: The Common way people give up their power is believing that they don’t have any.

Angela Surnuy is a parent at Marconi which was not closed last year because everyone resisted the proposed closing. Surnuy stated that love is shown in action and deed. "My heart craves for justice and I hate injustice," she thundered. Then she went into what almost became a call and response as the audience grew more and more animated:

Just about everyone agreed that the most powerful speech of the Teach-In was delivered by Angela Surnuy, who last year had helped organize the parents at Marconi Elementary School on the West Side against the Ron Huberman Hit List. She told the crowd that this year's fight was about justice, and that we could win. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Angela prodded the crowd with what became a chant: "Injustice is the way of the Board..." The board closes schools that have been drained of resources. Then: Resources are pumped into a school when that school is closed. Injustice is when teachers are put out of a job based on statistics and data. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. You can close our schools or put resources in our schools. We are not victims.

Dr. Pauline Lipman exposed the report called "Left Behind" in 2004, Jitu Brown said introducing the University of Illinois Professor who spoke next. Lipman's speech focused on the African-American and Latino responses to closing Neighborhood schools and turning them into Charter Schools. Lipman states that the result of closing schools was an increase in violence and a destabilizing of the neighborhoods. “There is no proof that Charter schools are better,” she told the crowd. Closing Neighborhood schools has been an assault on Public Education. CPS has used public funds to pay for charter schools. Our children are not a business.

African Americans and Latinos don’t have a choice for a World Class School in their neighborhood because when a school is closed they will demolish public housing forcing people out of their neighborhood ,out of the city. Banks foreclose in poor neighborhoods and this drives people out of the city so the neighborhood can be gentrified. This is education apartheid. The 1% is doing this to neighborhoods that are 91% color 86% poverty.

The groups discussed some alternatives to the proposals by the board. John Simmons- Focused Instruction Process that started in 2006. It took eight failing schools and improved them not by removing he staff but by using strategic learning initiatives that had shown to work. By improving the existing staff it saved taxpayers and donors $24 million in four years. Six schools had sustained their turnaround gains and saved the taxpayers more than $3million per school over four years at total of $24 million.

At one of the workshops, Joanna Brown, Education Officer for Logan Square Organization pointed out that education in the school building is a part and what goes on, but that out of school is another part of the education of our students. She said that Logan Square is 90 percent Immigrant schools. It had what she called "fortress schools" where parents were afraid to go in the building and the school staff were rude to parents. Today, she said, "our schools are community schools with ESL classes run by mothers. Families are in and out of the building where they have homework, tutoring, music and art..."

Child care was provided for more than 30 children during the event. Child Care was provided in part by Gage Park Freshman April Burgin, Maribel Sandoval, and Joe Irving. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.There are 120 Community Schools where parent engagement is encouraged. Parents work in the classroom with the teachers. This is called Grow your own teachers Program.


December 5, 2011 at 11:57 AM

By: Theresa D. Daniels

Great article by Jean Schwab

I'm so glad to see such inspiring coverage of such an important event--the beginning of the new, organized fight-back against the latest and further destruction of education and the public schools. We sure can't sit and take it no more. I couldn't be at the event, but this article has me fired up. Thanks.

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