Marquette Park march on Martin Luther King holiday challenges CPS attack and 'turnaround' proposal for Marquette Elementary School

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 16, 2012, nearly 300 people protested with the Chicago Teachers Union against the Board of Education’s plan to “turnaround” Marquette Elementary school. Students, teachers, parents, CTU officials, and community members marched through the Marquette neighborhood, protesting the board’s plan to fire the 80 teachers and 40 other staff persons and give the school to AUSL. Marquette, one of Chicago's largest elementary schools, is located at 65th and Richmond on the city's South Side (and in one of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods).

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis spoke to the crowd about the legacy of Dr. King's struggle for justice in the context of the current struggles for the rights of unions and against the privatization of public schools during the January 16, 2012 march at Chicago's Marquette Elementary School. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.The January 16 march began at Marquette school, wound its way around nearby Marquette Park, stopped at the site of the December murder of Damonte Malone, a Marquette 8th grader, and concluded back at the school. The murder was just one reminder that the challenges facing Marquette teachers, staff, parents and children can't be reduced to simplistic "data" sets such as those used by Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard to slander a school and label its teachers and staff a "failure."

Under "turnaround," CPS fires almost all of the school's staff, from teachers to lunchroom workers and janitors, and replaces them with supposedly specially trained outsiders, who either come from a corporation called the "Academy for Urban School Leadership" (AUSL) or from an office at CPS. "Turnaround" (which under state law is really the policy called "Reconstitution") has been utilized in Chicago since it was begun under former CEO Arne Duncan in 2002 at Dodge, Williams and Terrell elementary schools. Duncan has since taken the policy nationwide based on the power of his position as U.S. Secretary of Education.

But this year, more than ever before, thousands are mobilizing against the practice, under the leadership of community organizations and the Chicago Teachers Union.

“Education justice is the civil rights issue of our time,” CTU president Karen Lewis said in her speech at Marquette Park. “Our children are a lot more than their test scores,” Lewis said. “Don’t allow public schools to be privatized. Education justice is stopping these takeovers of public schools for profit.”

Chicago Teachers Union members were among those leading the January 16 Marquette Park march. Above, Kristine Mayle (Financial Secretary) and Jesse Sharkey (Vice President) with some of the marchers as they walked through the community against the proposed turnaround of Marquette Elementary School. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Lewis asked protesters, “Was anybody here paid to hold a sign?” illustrating the difference between CTU community protests and many organized by the Board of Education and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, in which uninformed people were paid to picket. Since August, Substance and others have been documenting the fact that a handful of Chicago preachers are being paid to organize protesters on behalf of the policies of the Emanuel administration. Most recently, teachers exposed the use of paid protesters during hearings on school closings held on the West Side and South Side on January 6.

The protesters on King Day at Marquette laughed in response to Lewis's rhetorical question.

In addition to Lewis, two others spoke at Marquette Park.

Chicago State student Christan Bufford said he attended Marquette from sixth through eighth grades. The Bogan High School graduate and South West Youth Collaborate organizer praised Marquette and its teachers and challenged the slanders against Marquette being spread by Jean-Claude Brizard and other supporters of Rahm Emanuel. “From an alumi perspective I can tell you we have great students who have become great leaders because of hard work and dedication of teachers at Marquette,” Bufford said. “Marquette teachers are invested in the community, unlike new teachers who will have no connection with the community. [Turnaround] is the wrong thing.”

Shamar Hemphill, from the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, said “let’s make sure we realize the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Let’s make the dream a reality.”

Following CTU President Karen Lewis’s speech, CTU organizer Alix Gonzalez Guevera, who led the march and introduced speakers, asked participants to raise their hands us “to feel the connection with Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Protesters sang “We Shall Overcome,” changing the chorus the second time to “we shall save our schools.”

CTU organizers noted in literature promoting the event that Martin Luther King Jr. marched in the Marquette neighborhood in 1966. Observers noted that in 1966 and for years afterwards, Marquette Park was once a symbol of Chicago racism and segregation. The march went from Marquette Elementary School into nearby Marquette Park itself. Teachers, parents, students, and community and political leaders were among those taking part. Above, students from nearby Curie High School took part in the march learning by doing the legacy of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.The integrated march of 2012, which included people from all races, marched to the park and back celebrating changes that have been won by Martin Luther King Jr. and his political descendants. King said that Marquette Park and Gage Park were as violent in their responses to civil rights marches in the 1960s as anyplace in the South. As late as the summer of 1976, Substance helped lead an open housing march into Marquette Park that was met by a mob of 2,000 people, throwing huge stones and bottles, according to Substance veterans. Chicago has come a long way. The CTU provided the following history: "Dr. King and the families who marched with him were clear on what dream they fought for. They marched for desegregated schools. They knew that even educational equity could not paper over economic injustice. They knew that unions strengthened the struggle for racial justice.

"Today, Chicago’s corporate “education reformers” mouth platitudes about Dr. King’s dream. Yet they respond to educational inequity with largely segregated “charter” schools and attack unions using racially discriminatory school closings and mass teacher firings (so-called “Turnarounds”) that fire teachers of color at a higher rate.

"In 1966, Dr. King moved his family into a North Lawndale apartment to start a campaign against housing discrimination in which he led a courageous march through Marquette Park. Today, Marquette Elementary School is 99% African-American and Latino. Yet CPS has starved the school of resources and now threatens it with a scorched-earth “Turnaround.”

"This Martin Luther King Day, let’s stand together and take back the dream for all of our children."

Some teachers and others were crying when the march arrived at the site of the recent murder of Marquette eighth grader Demonte Malone, one symbol of the challenges faced by the teachers and children of Chicago's inner city schools. At the site of the murder of Demonte Malone, many people laid out roses on the ground in the shape of a peace sign. Alderman Raymond Lopez (15th) and Rabbi Joshua Salter spoke. Above, Marquette teacher Jackie Price-Ward, one of Demonte's teachers, cries at the murder site. Next to her is Shamar Hemphill, from the Inner-City Muslim Action Network. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Some teachers and others were crying when confronted with one symbol of the challenges faced by the teachers and children of Chicago's inner city schools. At the site of the murder of Demonte Malone, many people laid out roses on the ground in the shape of a peace sign. Alderman Raymond Lopez (15th) and Rabbi Joshua Salter spoke. Lopez encouraged community members to come together and work with the police to end gang violence, which is a major problem in the community and impacts all of the schools.

Rabbi Salter said referred to Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1966 march in Marquette Park against segregated housing. “Now we stand against separate housing, people separated from their homes by foreclosure. We stand against violence and children and teachers put out of their schools.”

When the march returned to Marquette school, Curie teacher Adam Heenan read a letter by former Marquette teacher Marianna Shadden, who praised the skills and care of her colleagues, now slated to be fired.

On Behalf of my Former Colleagues at Marquette Elementary,

I am a 2001 graduate of CPS, and Marquette Elementary was my introduction to teaching in the Chicago Public School system. In my time there, the most inspiring and helpful people were my fellow teachers. CPS’s decision to turnaround this school belittles and dismisses the fact that the faculty there is a hardworking and dedicated group and ignores the true needs of the community.

While there, I was surrounded by colleagues who arrived early and left late. Colleagues who used their own money to help their students be successful in class. Colleagues who visited students’ homes to help build better relationships with students, parents and the community. I was always encouraged to search for and continue my professional development. My colleagues taught me how to use data to plan engaging and responsive lessons, as well as how to keep working in spite of the overwhelming odds against my students and by extension, myself.

If it hadn’t been for my colleagues, I wouldn’t have learned how to deal with an often demeaning administration or how to meet the area office requirements (which often had more to do with how my classroom looked physically, rather than how it operated as a learning environment).

By turning around Marquette, CPS is getting rid of its most valuable assets in the community: the teachers who have built bonds and an understanding of the problems Marquette students face every day. They do not sit in an office and make policies based solely on numbers; they see the actual students affected by those numbers and policies.

Dismissing the faculty also validates the -politically valuable and acceptable, but completely inaccurate- idea that if a school is performing poorly, those to blame must be the teachers. Yet, CPS has failed to acknowledge that at Marquette, poverty and violence make education secondary to survival.

Closing this school, dismissing its teachers and making it harder for students in the community to get to their place of education will only make things more difficult for every student affected. CPS must look beyond the numbers at the real people and children whom your policies are supposed to be helping.

Marianna Shadden

Spanish teacher

Some students from suburban Evanston (above) hoisted a banner honoring Dr. King — "Quality Schools For All in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." — and joined their Chicago brothers and sisters in the march for justice against Chicago's policies of scapegoating teachers and other school workers. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.


January 16, 2012 at 8:29 PM

By: John Kugler

a Twin-Headed Creature

Negroes are almost entirely a working people. There are pitifully few Negro millionaires, and few Negro employers. Our needs are identical with labor's needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor's demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.

-- Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., AFL-CIO Convention, December 1961

January 16, 2012 at 10:46 PM

By: Jay Rehak

I felt Dr. King's Spirit Today

As I walked in Marquette Park with the protestors, men, women and children who are trying to advocate for social justice amidst greed and indifference, I felt Dr. King's spirit. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for Dr. King to have walked through segregated Chicago back in the 1960's, but I'd like to think he'd have appreciated the brave souls who marched today in the snow. Our welcome from the community was much kinder than Dr. King received when he marched. Our effort to stop the Board of Ed from "Turning Around" Marquette Elementary was greeted with waves and appreciate car honking. It was all non-violent, it was all a collective prayer for peace and social change, and it was all done in the spirit of community. I was moved. I thank Dr. King for inspiring me by the actions he took while alive.

January 17, 2012 at 7:49 AM

By: Bob Busch

Marquette's 'IB' program lacked a library because of Arne...

Marquette? About a decade ago, back after Paul Vallas was being criticized for abandoning the neighborhood elementary and high schools (creating a string of "college prep" high schools) Marquette Elementary and Bogan High School were two schools partnered in a IB Middle School program.

Arne Duncan (early in his time at CEO) was going to hold a press conference at Marquette to take credit for all the truly hard work both schools had done to get the program approved. The IB program is not a flavor of the month scam; it is real. The application took years and had to be approved by IB investigators The trio that evaluated Bogan included a lady from Canada.

They had big eyes and took no bullshit from anybody. Both schools were approved. That alone proves Marquette is a real school. But there was a problem. The board had yet to assign a new librarian to Marquette. It was late October, and the IB coordinator asked me to run over there and check out the library so Arne could hold his kick off press conference. Classes had been held in the library since September and the room, while not trashed, was a mess.

Knowing full well how truly hard a grammar school Librarian works both of Bogan's librarians went over and straightened out the room. While at Marquette, we met some of the best teachers in the city. Everyone who could — including the principal, engineer, and teachers — came to help. The principal even offered either of us jobs on the spot.

I sometimes wonder if we did the right thing in getting the room ready. The 20-day rule caused the dilemma, according to CPS. We should have let him babble amongst piles of un-stacked books, but we were all professionals who had pride in our schools.

What is about to be imposed on Marquette is a crime.

February 2, 2012 at 5:52 PM

By: Sandra Mondragon

Proud Student of Marquette

I am a proud student of Marquette. I have been here since kindergaten, and next year I will be a Marquette graduate. Marquette has been through alot. From changing our principal, to track e. Marquette has alot to offer our community. I have known these teachers and staff for a long time because it is a family school.No one knows Marquette better then the teachers and staff that have been there for a long time.Marquette does not need to be a turnaround school.

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