'Sabotage'... Brizard Board sets up Guggenheim Elementary for second closing fight, two years after the school beat back the Ron Huberman Hit List... Which clout heavy charter school is supposed to take the building?

The candlelight vigil at Guggenheim Elementary School was part of the Save Our School effort in January and February 2010. Above, Jackson Potter, then a CORE activist and teacher at Social Justice High School (and now a CTU official) helps out at the cold evening demonstration with Guggenheim teachers, parents, community supporters and students. Substance photo by Kristine Mayle.Two years ago Guggenheim Elementary School put on the most impressive fight to keep it from closing. The school's supporters included an alumnus film maker who flew in from Los Angeles to testify and record the event, a minister whose stirring oratory brought back memories of the civil rights fight, and Rainbow Push’s Jonathan Jackson imploring the Board of Education to not close the school.

The gym was packed with over 200 supporters on a cold January night in 2010, where speech after powerful speech was followed by loud cheers and later punctuated by a candle light vigil march around the school.

The Board of Education and then Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman took the school, as well as a few others, off the 2010 school closing Hit List.

Above, "Hearing Officer" Frederick Bates oversees the Guggenheim hearing on January 28, 2010. CPS officials presented the usual "Done Deal" data showing why Guggenheim had supposedly "failed." Between 2002 and 2012, the criteria have changed every year or two, with officials then presenting Power Points against the Hit List schools utilizing the so-called "criteria" for closing every year for the past ten years. In the photo above, in addition to the hearing officer (who generally rubber stamped the Board's position), can be seen the then Chief Performance Management Officer and two (then) members of the Board of Education. In 2010, the supposed criteria used to attack Guggenheim were based on a so-called "Performance Management" policy overseen by a "Chief Performance Officer" (Sarah Kremsner) who can be seen in the background in this photograph. By the time of the 2012 Hit List, all of the "performance" criteria have been changed by the administration of Jean-Claude Brizard and all of the old "officers" (such as Kremsner) and Board members (such as Davis and Carrero) are gone. But the function of the Hit List remains the same. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Now it's two years, two "Chief Executive Officers" (Huberman was followed by Terry Mazany, who was followed by Jean-Claude Brizard) and an entire Board of Education later, and, once again, Guggenheim at 7141 S. Morgan, was put right back on this year’s school closing Hit List — a mere two years later.

“We knew they would try to come back, but just not this soon,” said one Guggenheim teacher who asked that her name not be used for this story. (Teachers and other staff at the school are reluctant to speak on the record at this time because of the situation at the school and within CPS). In fact, two teachers and teacher aids currently at the school requested that their names also not be used to tell a sad story of how the Board of Education sabotaged the school from inside after their historic fight.

“We were prepared to work with the kids, we had a plan, but then they removed me and the principal and brought in a new principal,” said Gervaise Clay, who was the school’s vice principal and one of the key organizers against the school closure two years ago.

The school had put a plan in place to turn it around and make it a model school, Clay said. But then the Board, without the approval of the local school council, removed the administration and placed interim principal Vikki Stokes in the school who did not follow the plan, sources say.

“The test scores dropped, attendance dropped and the discipline got worse,” Clay said.

During January and February 2010, activists from CORE supported school teachers, parents and children from Guggenheim at the hearings, protests, and the candlelight vigil. Above, on the left, Karen Lewis, then a teacher at King High School, was part of the group that joined the candlelight vigil at Guggenheim. In July 2010, Lewis became Chicago Teachers Union President. Others in the photo who are now helping transform the CTU are Jay Rehak, Jesse Sharkey, Kristine Mayle, and Jackson Potter. Substance photo by Garth Liebhaber.Several sources at the school say, the new principal helped to destroy the school by not addressing discipline issues, sapping teacher morale and creating a hostile and unfriendly environment.

“We were set up to fail,” one classroom teacher aide said. “They deliberately did this to destroy us. Now what are we going to fight for?” Principals are the key to how well or how poorly a school operates. The ship’s captain can either inspire the crew to fight on in rough waters, or fold up and sink. In this case, it appeared the Board sent in a principal whose mission was to put the school back on the closing block. “They gave us another principal who came in with her own ideas, and it was downhill from there,” the teacher aide said. “There was so much disrespect from the students, the (students’) pants hanging down, they don’t wear the uniforms, we had no gym teacher, no after school, overcrowded classrooms.”

Many observers are noting the irony in the current closing criteria. In 2010, the last time Guggenheim has to fight to head off the closing, one of the criteria stated that a school could not be slated for closing it it had a principal for less than two years. This year, the Board is targeting the school despite the fact that a new principal has been in place less than two years and has been disrupting the school, according to many familiar with the situation.

This was not supposed to happen. Guggenheim was a public school on the rise when they fought off the Board’s first attempt to close it. Test scores were going up and moral was high, the teachers said. At their first closing hearing, former principal Mary McNair told the hearing officer the children are not numbers.

The test scores, a dubious measure in its own right, were high compared to schools in the surrounding area, but plummeted this year, the teacher aide said.

“There was total disrespect for the adults,” the teacher aide said, who added that there are national board certified teachers on the staff. “The Board probably did all this to show that we were wrong.”

Guggenheim students protested outside the mayor's office at City Hall in February 2010 (above). At that time, the Mayor was Richard M. Daley and the Hit List was under a program called "Renaissance 2010" overseen by a "Chief Executive Officer" named Ron Huberman. In 2012, the Mayor is Rahm Emanuel, there is no longer a "Renaissance 2010," and the "Chief Executive Officer" is Jean-Claude Brizard, who came to Chicago from Rochester New York (where he was being run out of town) at the invitation of Mayor Emanuel, and who knows almost nothing about the complex histories of Chicago's public schools. Brizard, nevertheless, repeats his carefully scripted talking points on behalf of the new mayor's new 2012 Hit List. Substance photo by Garth Liebhaber.One classroom teacher said the new administration and teachers did not work well together.

“I feel like the administration and the teachers were never on the same page,” the teacher said. “In the plan we had offered to teach summer school for free, do more before and after school tutoring and have more programs. But then the Board gave us this new principal and it was all shot down.”

There is speculation about who will be given the building should the closing be finalized at the Board of Ed meeting in February. The Board just approved a number of new charter schools, despite the fact studies show they do no better than regular public schools.

Substance contacted Alderman Latasha Thomas’s office to get her reaction to the attempt to close Guggenheim a second time, but has not responded yet. Thomas supported the school the first time and spoke against the closing at the hearing in 2010. [Editor's Note. The extensive coverage of the 2010 struggle to save Guggenheim is available through "Back Issues" here at Articles include the testimony by Kristine Mayle (then a CORE teacher, currently CTU Financial Secretary) against the closings, and others:

The URL for the Mayle article for those who can't get a hotlink is:]


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