We need to fight back... CTU Financial Secretary narrates the destruction of De La Cruz Middle School, the successful school where she taught

Good morning, my name is Kristine Mayle and though I am currently the Financial Secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union. I’m speaking today as one of you because a few years ago I was in your shoes. My first job in CPS was at Sor Juana Ines del la Cruz Math, Science, and Technology Academy, named for the Mexican nun and poet known for challenging societal beliefs.

Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (left) looks on as Chicago Teachers Union Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle describes how the Chicago Board of Education destroyed De La Cruz Middle School, where she had worked, despite all of the positive programs and other successes of the school. De La Cruz was turned over to the UNO charter schools after CPS officials falsely claimed it was "underutilized." Mayle's speech followed Brown's description of the destruction sabotage of dozens of real public schools in the community he serves, while Mayle was describing the same policy and attack on real public schools miles to the northwest from King and the Kenwood Oakland community. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.We were located on the western edge of Pilsen, a neighborhood like so many others in this city, struggling with poverty and gang violence. The large majority of our students came from low income homes and many of our parents struggled to work multiple jobs to pay the bills. We were a tiny school, no more than 300 students. We had 2 pre-K classrooms and a middle school with grades 5-8. None of this is too remarkable.

What was remarkable was what we were able to do in that little building. Student achievement had been on the rise for years; we ran one of the first true middle school programs in the city, where our students would switch classes to be taught by subject area experts and in the process they gained valuable experience for high school. Through a lot of hard work by students and staff alike, we gained certification for the AVID program. We passed the ISBE Special Education Audit, and the auditor told us that we had one of the “best special education programs she had seen.” Nearly all of our students participated in a wide range of afterschool activities and despite our small staff we were able to offer afterschool academic programming, chess and math club, volleyball and soccer, softball and football well into the evening. We offered parenting classes to our pre-K parents and always had a cadre of parent volunteers on hand. The year before our doors were shuttered for good, we won a Spotlight Award from the state of Illinois that is given to “300 high-poverty, high-performing schools that are beating the odds to overcome the achievement gap,” each year.

On top of that, there was a great sense of family between staff and students alike.

De La Cruz student Iliana Mojica (above at microphone) broke into tears while describing how De La Cruz had helped her cope with her special education issues during the February 14, 2008 testimony at CPS against the Board's proposal to close De La Cruz because of what the Board calls "underutilization." De La Cruz teacher Kristine Mayle (above left) was one of the more than 150 people who turned out for the hearing in opposition to the proposed closing of the school. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Sounds pretty good, right?

Anyone who visited us commented on what a wonderful place it was. Unfortunately, the only person from CPS to come visit us was the numbers guy, whose job it was to calculate "space utilization. The year before I began at De La Cruz CPS had cut off our buses, which impacted enrollment." They also opened two charters schools in the neighborhood, luring more students away from us. When the numbers guy completed his report, he said we were at 61% utilization. His calculations, he admitted later, were incorrect and we were actually near 70% utilization, but that is a diffeent story for a different time.

Long story short, all those wonderful things we were doing did not matter to CPS. Our student improvement didn’t matter to CPS. Our organic “longer day” that we had didn’t matter to CPS. Our students and community didn’t matter to CPS.

From the beginning of the drive under Arne Duncan to destroy Chicago's real public schools (often turning their buildings over the charter schools, as was done for a time with De La Cruz), the Board provided itself with the supposed "proof" of their point of view. Above, the Board's Demographer, James Dispensa, testified against De La Cruz during the February 14, 2008 hearings, while the Board attorney, who provided the legal gloss to the action, sat by his side. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The only thing they cared about, and the only thing they care about now — closing down authentic neighborhood schools to make way for charter operators and crony education contractors like AUSL. They closed our successful, well-rounded public school and the very next year, opened a charter school in our building.

The recent charter report cards show clearly and distinctly that all charter networks except one have many schools performing below the district average à this has been a failed reform initiative for the past 15 years and yet the district continues to insist upon continuing these devastating policies that have led to spikes in violence at receiving schools and pushed students out of their neighborhood schools.

Homelessness and class size: of the schools slated for turnaround and closure, most have oversized classrooms and high numbers of homeless students. CPS has undermined them by not providing the support that is legally and morally required, to lower class size, improve staffing in critical areas and give parents and teachers an opportunity to improve instruction with research based methods.

Since 2002 when Arne Duncan began the attack on Chicago's real public schools, two years before the official proclamation of "Renaissance 2010," the Board's bureaucrats have used Power Point charts to "prove" the reasons for closing or turnarounding the city's real public schools. Above, the chart showed during the February 14, 2008 hearing against De La Cruz left out the utilization of space in the school for special education, bilingual education, and community uses. Because the hearing process does not allow those under attack to cross examine the witnesses or challenge the "data" utilized by CPS, the hearing officers (who in the case of the De La Cruz hearing was not independent, but a partner in the law firm of Franczek Sullivan, the largest outside contractor for CPS legal services) are trained and rewarded for simply rubber stamping the foregone conclusions brought to them by CPS officials. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.De La Cruz was nothing special. I’ve heard stories of similar accomplishments happening around this city in our neighborhood schools. But these are the stories that are hard to find if you watch the news. Have you noticed where CPS holds its press conferences these days? Not in our neighborhood schools that are achieving great things, despite the lack of resources provided to us, despite our oversized classes, despite our crumbling buildings, and despite the shortage of social workers, nurses and teachers assistants. No, CPS holds their press conferences in charter schools and AUSL schools.

We’ve had nearly 20 years of “reform” from CPS. During that time, they’ve destroyed many De La Cruz’s with closures and turnarounds and phase-outs and reconstitutions, transformations and consolidations. If they really cared about our schools and our children they would stop putting resources into failed experiments and start investing in what we have.

CPS has created this mess through years of under funding, under staffing, under resourcing and under valuing our schools, and our students. They have vilified our teachers and told our students that they are failures year after year after year after year. They spread their lies in the media with talking points about “failure” but those of us that have worked in this sysem, gone to school in this system, sent our children to school in this system realize what the real failure is. The CPS has failed to live up to its responsibility to the students of Chicago by listening to business people and corporate interests rather than the educators they employ. They’ve ignored the voices of parents and community members who tell them every year that they need resources instead of new charter schools and new curricula and new magic bullet programs that are somehow supposed to make up for years of neglect and cohesiveness.

Now is the time. Everyone in this room knows the truth. We know who the real failures and successes are. We know how to make real improvements in our schools. We have been doing it for years in spite of CPS’s sabotage.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any” – Alice Walker.

The recommendation to the Chicago Board of Education to destroy De La Cruz Middle School, like the recommendations to close and destroy more than 90 other real public schools between 2002 and 2009, came from the "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools, Arne Duncan. Above, Duncan was photographed by Substance during the voting on February 27, 2008 on his recommendation to close De La Cruz and other schools, a recommendation also supported by his "Chief Education Officer" Barbara Eason-Watkins (above left), before it was voted on by the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education (two of whom, Tariq Butt and Alberto Carrero can be seen behind Duncan and Eason-Watkins). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Need to fight back on Dec. 13, when we will do our overnight vigil at the Board, on December 14 at the Board meeting. Other activities for December are still in the planning stages. 


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