Hollywood scripting for Chicago's corporate media or simply a lengthy infomercial? How Rahm Emanuel staged a media event to promote 'turnaround' by the AUSL crowd at 'Morton School of Excellence' on November 29

Everyone who spoke at the lengthy November 29, 2011, media event at Morton Elementary School, 451 N. Troy in Chicago, announcing six schools slated for "turnaround" under the management of AUSL (the Academy for Urban School Leadership) cheerily repeated the same message and talking points: AUSL performs miracles once CPS rids schools of "bad teachers."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel during the first part of the two-part infomercial for AUSL's "turnaround" smiles at an AUSL "Ambassador" (it's on her shirt) during the carefully staged and scripted question and answer with parents who praised turnaround at the November 29, 2011 AUSL infomercial sponsored by Chicago's City Hall. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.The event at Morton was held the day Chicago Public Schools announced that ten schools they claim are "failing" were placed on a list to be subjected to "turnaround." According to CPS, six of those schools will be subject to "turnaround" by AUSL and four under the aegis of CPS itself. AUSL is a private corporation that has been contracting with CPS to do turnaround in Chicago for the past five years. A lengthy press release issued by the Mayor's Press Office provided the outline of the script to editors and publishers before reporters even arrived at the school. [The Mayor's press release is reproduced at the end of this article].

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard, Alderman Walter Burnett, principal Angel Turner, more than six parents whose children attend AUSL schools, each gave their version of the blame-the-bad-teachers mantra. AUSL executive director Donald Feinstein answered reporters questions following the orchestrated sessions of the media event, which took place in two parts and spanned more than an hour during which dozens of Chicago reporters were lined up and reported to.

After six months of Rahm Emanuel as mayor, Chicago was perhaps getting used to these staged events. Emanuel have averaged at least one per day since he took office in May 2011, beginning with his inauguration in Grant Park, designed to recall the election night 2008 event of Barack Obama three years earlier. But the November 29, 2011 turnaround event was still worth analyzing. What the mayor of the third largest city in the USA was doing was an infomercial for AUSL and his hand-picked CPS "team" (led by the controversial former Rochester New York Schools Supt. Jean-Claude (whom Emanuel pointedly refers to as "J.C.") Brizard. Yet as November ended and the most tumultuous events to face Chicago's public schools were being announced, most of Chicago's corporate media were going along as if their job was to "report" what leads to jokes in late-night television as "news." The November 29, 2011, event (Morton is an elementary school, but under AUSL branding, it's currently "Morton School of Excellence") closely followed a television infomercial formula of...

sincere salesmen

celebrity spokespersons

scripted interviews

undisputed claims in before and after testimonies

skewed dat.

Pitching AUSL as a magic pill, Mayor Rahm Emanuel worked the event like Klee Irwin selling his Dual-Action Colon Cleanse. Emanuel, like Klee, offered disgust and fascination: CPS purges terrible schools of uncaring teachers (just like the Dual-Action Colon Cleanse laxatives expel impacted fecal matter).

Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard smiles as parent Chris Randall narrates the story of how the AUSL turnaround turned around her view of at least one Chicago public school. This part of the narration took place during the first half of the media event on November 29, 2011. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Like a television infomercial, the event went long. Emanuel, Brizard, and the others repeated the bad-teacher purge and AUSL miracle message excessively. The event had two parts: 1) In a classroom, a group discussion was held with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CPS Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard, Alderman Walter Burnett, principal Angel Turner, and several parents whose children attend AUSL schools, 2) In the library, the same message was repeated: several of the same people spoke at a podium. Following Emmanuel's speech, reporters were finally permitted to ask questions. In total, the event lasted approximately 60 minutes.

Before the mayor arrived, mayoral press aid Melissa Straton told waiting photographers and cameramen that they were to come to the discussion once it was in progress to shoot their roll.

"What's the point of the round table?"� one reporter asked his colleagues, while waiting for the event to begin.

"It's for us,"� another reporter responded.

One of the most ingenious things about Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's corporate media strategy is that he is able to corral virtually all of the city's education reporters in one place when he wants to spin a story according to the City Hall narrative line. Above, while Morton and AUSL parent cheerleader Janina Davis (gesturing) adds to the AUSL narrative, dozens of media people cover the story set up and staged by Emanuel. Although ten schools were attacked by the "turnaround" announcement at the time of the event above (November 29, 2011), because of the cuts in reporting budgets at all Chicago corporate media, most of those schools — from Chicago Vocational High School to Casals Elementary School and eight others — were denied their own reality and relegated to the status of "failure" by Rahm's ability to work directly with corporate media owners in Chicago. One of the reporters above actually works, in a way, for AUSL. AUSL founder Martin Koldyke is also a director of the Chicago News Cooperative, which provides "news" from Chicago in the news pages of The New York Times. Koldyke, a fundamentalist free market venture capitalist, is also a member of the Board of Directors of WTTW, Chicago's "public" television station. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt. After the mayor, CEO, and aldermen were seated, the press aid brought in the reporters as if a discussion were already in progress. Brizard acted as interviewer, prompting the parents. "I know you were skeptical at first of the AUSL turnaround,"� he said.

Like the testimonies of Dual-Action Cleanse users, the parents responded that they were skeptical at first, but once the toxic environment was purged, their children were now energized to learn.

The first eager parent spokesperson Janina Davis said her child attended Morton before and after turnaround. Before the turnaround it was terrible, she said.

"There were fights, nothing got done, the police were always here,"� Davis said. Following the first � script, she added that she was against the AUSL turnaround at first, but that things are now much better. "Now there are no fights,"� she said. "I wish [the principal] Ms. Turner had been here when I was a student here. She doesn't allow nothing but excellence."

Parent Chris Randall spoke next. She said that she is a parent of a child at Howe Elementary School, another school put into turnaround the same time as Morton. Randall said that before the AUSL turnaround, Howe "wasn't safe."� She said since her child "wasn't getting educated"� she home schooled her child. She said that the pre-turnaround teachers didn't care enough. "Their heart wasn't in it,"� she said. "They need to care about my child like I do. Now, with AUSL leadership, the school has a loving, caring� principal."

Regina Frazier, another speaker who identified herself as a Morton parent, said she lives in Englewood and travels 70 minutes to bring her child to Morton. She said that in her neighborhood at 63rd and Ashland the teachers don't care. "The teachers don't care,"� she said. "They don't care if the children get home or if they are safe."�

Alderman Walter Burnett also offered his before and after testimony. He said he went to the state board of education with the previous principal to work out a plan to get off probation. He said parents have always been supportive of the school, but that the teachers weren't reaching the "strata of excellence."�

Burnett said there was a challenge when the turnaround came. There was a strong LSC concerned about the teachers' jobs. "But some people, including myself, said the kids have to come first,"� Burnett said. "They were on probation. It wasn't working. They had to try something else."

The alderman praised the school's administrators and said that the school was "tapping into every curriculum resource before school, after school, during school."� He said the school was stable for the many foster children there. "There is a football team, a gym room now,"� he said. "It's like the more they do the more people want to help them."

Donna Taylor, who said she has children at Morton since the AUSL turnaround, said she never wanted her children to go to Morton because she had heard such bad things� about the school. Then, she said, "Some people told me, 'I don't know about that school. They got a new principal. I don't know. The last principal, she was a little iffy.'"�

Taylor exclaimed over the instruction her primary grade children receive at Morton. She said that her son's teacher explained that she needed to let the child do his own homework. She said her daughter's teacher makes children want to learn.�

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel summed up for the parent that two major changes had taken place -- the environment changed and the philosophical approach to the teaching changed.

Taylor agreed, noting that the children were placed in small groups appropriate to their instructional level. Brizard said that there was now a "culture of engagement"� at Morton. Following more feel-good exchanges between the parents, Emmanuel, Brizard, and Turner -- about ridding the school of teachers and administrators who did not teach and who allowed fighting, and the current marvels of grouping students by ability levels, learning games, and difficult math homework -- the reporters were led into the library for more testimonies, this time at the podium.

Principal Angel Turner began the second session in the library by claiming that before the AUSL turnaround, Morton was the "the absolute lowest performing school in Chicago."�

At the beginning of the second part of the AUSL publicity stunt on November 29, 2011, at Morton Elementary School, reporters were re-assmbled in another room to listen to statements by a number of people. Above, the school's current principal Angel Turner (at the podium) repeats the AUSL talking points, while 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett (long a supporter of privatization, charterization, union busting and school closings in his 27 Ward) waits beside CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard to add his comments to the mix. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Jean Claude Brizard, another parent, and Emmanuel spoke from the podium about the AUSL miracle at Morton and other schools. The script was the same as had taken place at the round table earlier, only this time, finally, some reporters were allowed to ask questions. Then everyone was released from the lesson to go back to their media and report the Morton AUSL Turnaround Miracle, which most did with a straight face.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. November 29, 2011

Mayor Emanuel and CPS CEO Brizard Announce More Chicago Turnaround Schools to Boost Academic Success and Student Performance for Students Across Chicago

CONTACT: Mayor’s Press Office, (312) 744-3334.

Six of 10 proposed turnarounds to be managed by Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) next year, whose students’ academic gains on the ISAT were more than double that of the district last year

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Jean-Claude Brizard met today with parents of students in turnaround schools led by the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) to discuss their experiences in transitioning their children from an underperforming school to a turnaround school. CPS has proposed 10 new turnaround schools serving 5,800 students for the 2012-2013 school year including a record six schools to be managed by AUSL.

“Every child in Chicago deserves to have access to a world-class education, to compete and win in tomorrow’s economy, but too many schools in our communities are not giving students the tools they need,” said Mayor Emanuel. “Turnarounds across Chicago are driving immediate results for students - with the right school culture, leadership and staff these children can succeed.”

Currently 123,000 students in CPS attend low-performing schools and just 7.9% of CPS high school juniors tested as college-ready in the 2010-2011 school year. Turnarounds change under-performing CPS schools by completely overhauling them and investing in critical academic supports without moving students to another school. This model has been proven to increase student academic growth and put students on the path toward college readiness.

Parents from five AUSL turnaround schools joined Emanuel and Brizard at Morton School of Excellence to share their experiences and discuss the academic progress of their children under the AUSL Turnaround model. Morton has achieved significant academic growth since becoming a turnaround in 2008, earning a 33 percentage point increase in students meeting or exceeding state standards on the ISAT.

While Chicago corporations have sharply reduced their news budgets (and virtually eliminated investigative reporting except when it can be used for union busting or other parts of the corporate agenda, as with the recent Tribune stories about teacher and union pensions), City Hall and CPS have again increased their budgets for media. Above, one of many City Hall Press Office aides, Melissa Stratton, makes sure the story gets straight during the media event at Morton. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.“Schools are the cornerstones of communities, but when our schools fail our children we have to stand up and make a change. We must put the academic needs of our students first before they fall any farther behind,” said CPS CEO Brizard.

The turnaround strategy at CPS began in 2006 with the conversion of Sherman Elementary School by AUSL. Since then, AUSL has developed a strong overall track record of increasing student academic achievement within its 12 turnaround schools. Academic growth for AUSL students (8%) was more than twice that of the district average (3.8%) on the 2011 ISAT composite.

AUSL Turnarounds build successful students because of two critical investments: a top-to-bottom school transformation and comprehensive teacher training that prepares teachers to tackle the challenges of growing student achievement within low-performing schools. Students return in the fall to a school that is re-built around an entirely new culture of success.

AUSL makes critical investments both in training teachers and in the academic supports students receive. Last summer, Mayor Emanuel announced that CPS would double its investment in AUSL teacher training academies from seven to 14 over the next two years, which will add 200 teachers into the system that are specially trained to teach in low performing schools. Teachers receive intensive training at these academies to better equip them for effectively impacting student academic growth in some of the district’s most chronically underperforming schools.

AUSL would be designated to implement the turnaround strategy at six of the schools serving nearly 3,200 students:

• Pablo Casals Elementary School, 3501 W. Potomac Avenue, which has been on academic probation for five consecutive years.

• Melville W. Fuller Elementary School, 4214 S. Saint Lawrence Avenue, which has been on academic probation for five consecutive years.

• Theodore Herzl Elementary School, 3711 W. Douglas Boulevard, which has been on academic probation for five consecutive years.

• Marquette Elementary School, 6550 S. Richmond Street, which has been on academic probation for five consecutive years.

• Brian Piccolo Elementary Specialty School, 1040 N. Keeler Avenue, which has been on academic probation for five consecutive years.

• Amos Alonzo Stagg Elementary School, 7424 S. Morgan Street, which has been on academic probation for 5 consecutive years.

AUSL sets aggressive, transparent goals for schools, teams and students. By providing a wide range of rigorous courses, after school programs and interventions that help students catch up, students build the skills they need to succeed in high school and college. Supports provided through the AUSL turnaround models include:

• Intervention and tutoring services for students who need extra support in reading and math;

• Systems in place to increase student attendance, decrease serious misconduct and increase student satisfaction;

• Advanced data systems and testing aligned with rigorous academic standards to help staff identify struggling students early and give them help they need to get back on track;

• After-school programs to give students access to additional instruction time to further accelerate student achievement;

• High-quality instruction including Common Core State Standards to ensure rigorous instructional program that gives students knowledge and skills needed to be ready for college and career;

• In-house training for aspiring teachers that gives teachers strategies and tools needed to address diverse needs of students in transitioning schools;

• Extensive extracurricular enhancements including fine arts and athletics to facilitate more well-rounded learning;

• Teacher collaboration across subjects to maximize student learning and ensure students are not falling behind in any area;

• Relentless efforts to recruit, retain, and motivate high-quality staff;

• Provide evidence-based social-emotional programming; and

• Full time social worker to provide one on one counseling.

Under the proposal, the CPS Office of School Improvement would implement the turnaround strategy at four other schools serving 2,650 students including:

• Chicago Vocational Career Academy (CVCA) High School, 2100 E. 87th Street, which has been on academic probation for 10 consecutive years.

• Edward Tilden Career Community Academy High School, 4747 S. Union Avenue, which has been on academic probation for eight consecutive years.

• Wendell Smith Elementary School, 744 E. 103rd Street, which has been on academic probation for five consecutive years.

• Carter G. Woodson South Elementary School, 4414 S. Evans Avenue, which has been on academic probation for five consecutive years.

More information on the School Actions process can be found at the CPS website by visiting CPS staff also will be available to answer parent questions at the school and through the CPS Quality Schools Hotline at 773-553-5020.