EDITORIAL: Heartless School Closings Affect Us All... A closer look at Casals Elementary School

It is virtually impossible these days to avoid the tragedy of school closings and ruptured communities. As a teacher in the public schools, I speak every week with substitute teachers who were full-time teachers that were terminated due to school closings and turnarounds.

The latest to hit home for me was the sudden and mysterious announcement that Pablo Casals Elementary School in Humboldt Park would be among the 10 turnaround schools.

How could a school achieving higher test scores than many schools in the district label its entire staff failures, who must be fired for the sake of the children.

Well, let’s take a step back. Test scores we should know by now – and so eloquently pointed out by pro-public school advocate and Hollywood “radical” Matt Damon – are merely a tool the ruling class is using to destroy public education.

Fire teachers because of test scores despite the fact that poverty is the biggest contributor to the challenges children face in the urban environment?

Casals is the first school my wife Joanna worked in when she began her public school teaching career.

I remember hearing her describe her days at this special elementary school on the rough side of town.

First, there was retiring principal Mr. Mazurak, who visited almost all the classrooms everyday to make sure the proper instruction was being delivered. He was there to help, not condemn.

He also made sure his teachers could handle not-so-easy children.

Joanna was made a day-to-day substitute and had to work with about 12 very “difficult” boys. She came home in tears at times.

Then something started to happen. She finally reached Tyrone, the boy who never said a word. He smiled and opened up one day when they discussed books and Joanna asked how it connected to their lives.

So Principal Mazurak rewarded her with a cadre position as the second grade teacher.

She remembered a little Romanian girl who walked into her classroom that first day and did not speak a word of English. The little girl cried hysterically.

Joanna then said, wait a minute, I know one word in Romanian – Buna = Good.

The girl’s eyes lit up, a wide smile crossed her face, and now she was helping the class learn a little Romanian.

It was a school where collaboration and a family flourished.

There was burly Ms. Avery, a teacher assistant who kept the children in line, and was indispensable to new teachers. There was Ms. Peacock, battling cancer, still teaching – showing children the true meaning of persistence.

Before I became a certified teacher I made several trips to the school for observation hours and I saw what a special family Casals was.

There was a new administration, and an assistant principal who helped coach the basketball team. There was the sixth grade math teacher, who also helped coach the team, and worked well with the kids who struggled.

I felt happy just going into the building and observing how the teachers seemed so connected to the students.

There was the 7th grade teacher putting on the play Romeo and Juliet, and the look of enchantment on the girls’ faces when their teacher explained true adoration of a boy for a girl.

I think Pablo Casals is what school is all about.

Let’s fight to make sure this family is not broken up!


December 22, 2011 at 1:14 PM

By: Maria Guerrero


The Casals Mr. Vail remembers is STILL the same today. It's a school with character and heart, and hard working teachers that daily overcome many challenges. It is NOT the Casals Mr. Brizard lies about , without ever having visited it.

Thank you, Mr. Vail, for your kind words.

December 27, 2011 at 5:55 PM

By: Jean Schwab


This is what a school should be like!

I've heard good things about Casals and I live in Humbolt Park.

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