January 25, 2012 Board of Education meeting hears a large number of problems without the fireworks of the previous month

The regular monthly meeting of the Chicago Board of Education took place on Wednesday, January 25, 2012, at 125 S. Clark Street. The meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance at 10:41 a.m., followed by the roll call of members. Board member Penny Pritzker was absent.

Second Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti (above) told the January 25, 2012 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education that the Board should not institute the "phase out" of Crane High School, and that the Second Ward needs Jones to become a community high school in addition to the College Prep High School it now is. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.On the official published agenda were four health policies regarding Asthma Management, Diabetes Management, Administration of Medication, and ADA/504 Guidelines. Also on the agenda was a presentation on the planned Full School Day. Unlike the previous meeting, on December 14, 2011, there were no organized demonstrations and the Board went about its business without interruption.

The meeting began as usual with what Board President David Vitale calls the "Good News". Five elementary schools (Joplin, Pasteur, Poe Classical, Sherwood, and Vanderpoel) were commended for their commitment to student health and wellness and for serving healthier foods to students. Art by students at these schools will be featured on the sides of Food Service delivery trucks, according to CPS officials.

Public participation began with remarks by Alderman Fioretti of the Second Ward and Alderman Joe Moreno of the First Ward. Chicago Teachers Union President also spoke at the beginning of the meeting.

Alderman Fioretti spoke of the school closings and transfer of students. He said that the schools scheduled to receive transfer students were all (lower-performing) Level 3 schools which have been on probation for fifteen years. He added that as a result of the closings, schools in this area would be disrupted and students would be put in danger by having to cross gang lines to attend their new schools. He spoke of the improvements in student safety that, he said, the establishment of "Operation Safe Passage" had led to.

Beth Swanson (above, at the back of the Board chambers during the January 25 meeting while Jitu Brown was speaking) served in various posts at CPS earlier in the 21st Century, but left following Arne Duncan's departure. She worked for Penny Pritzker's foundation (the Pritzker Traubert Family Fund) until being appointed liaison between the mayor's office and CPS by Rahm Emanuel in May 2011. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.He said that Crane High School had asked for an International Baccalaureate (IB) Program at Crane for years. He asked for the restoration of the trade programs, the re-establishment of night school, Common Cores, and the hiring of top recruits to replace the teachers who retire from Crane. He also spoke of the importance of keeping Jones High School open as a school to serve the community, noting that Phillips High School (at Pershing Road, 39th Street) was the closest high school for downtown residents south and west of the Loop. He said that providing quality schools will keep people in Chicago. He urged the investment of TIF funds in the schools.

President David Vitale replied, "Jean-Claude and I will be happy to meet with you."

Alderman Moreno spoke in support of neighborhood schools that allow people in neighborhoods to walk to school. Two parents who stood with him supported the requests for a usable soccer field, a renovated playlot, and additional investment in the school. Alderman Moreno was then congratulated on his engagement.

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis spoke next. She spoke about justice in education. She mentioned that Art and other such subjects are important because these subjects round children. Following the recent anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday celebration, she echoed his concept of the important of justice. She mentioned that schools are treated differently; the schools that are now on probation have no opportunity to get off probation. (Three hundred schools are presently on probation.) She spoke of how violence spikes when children are forced to go to other schools, that taking Crane High School gangs to Wells High School and Manley High School shows the involvement of other gangs (as gang maps show). She remarked that for one-sixth of the cost of turnarounds, the school climate could be changed without the chaos of turnarounds. She gave a shout-out to the lunch ladies who will lose their jobs solely because they work at schools scheduled for turnaround. She concluded that choice without a voice is no choice.

"Choice without a voice is no choice..."

Mike Carlson, a parent who was not on the public participation list, was given a chance to speak. He thanked Dr. Smith regarding the planned health policies, policies that would help his son, a student with autism at McPherson School, and policies which might have saved the life of his daughter, who attended Edison Elementary School and who died because of an allergic reaction.

The first public participation speaker was Matthew Johnson, of Tilden High School. He said that the removal of the principal was the reason the school was now a turnaround school after being on probation for nine years. He remarked that he felt this was unfair because Tilden had gone from being a Level Three to a Level Two School. He requested a meeting with Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jean-Claude Brizard. He said he found out overnight that the school was going to be a turnaround school. Johnson also presented the Board with documents opposing the proposed turnaround of Tilden, prepared by teachers.

Next, Jitu Brown asked for a moment of silence for Bronzeville students who lost their lives. He was joined by Betty Dancy, a grandparent of students, a Local School Council (LSC) member and a member of Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO). The Board was asked if anyone had come to their community and told them of the plans, adding, "We feel as if we're standing on the edge of the cliff." The Board was asked to keep the schools open and give the schools the resources that are needed.

Bobby Townsend, of Dyett High School, told the Board, "This is a children's thing. How long are you going to diss us? Please help us. We didn't want Dyett a high school — Dyett is a middle school." She invited the Board to come to Dyett on February 22. She asked the Board to stop blaming our community — we know what's going on. Townsend reminded the Board that it owes the children of Bronzeville (and the inner city) the opportunity to learn to swim in a public school swimming pool (a project she has been protesting for at Board meetings for years).

Kitesha Reggs, of KOCO, a parent of two college students and a senior at Dyett and an LSC member at Dyett, said that Dyett was never given proper funding to succeed. She added that we don't have great textbooks that would enable our students to pass tests. She remarked that we never saw the paid parent protestors come to help the students in the community. She asked for support for Bronzeville Global Achievements and for the school to come off the closing list.

Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) promised the Board that KOCO and its supporters would not tolerate the closing of Dyett High School Price Elementary School or the "turnaround" of Fuller and Woodson elementary schools, all of which are in the city's Bronzeville community. During the City Hall Sit-In earlier in the month (see Substance January Home Page at, KOCO had presented the mayor, who refused to meet with the group, with a ten-year history of the destruction of Bronzeville public schools. The history, which was verified by reporters, became the basis of a front page story in the Chicago Tribune. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Jitu Brown, a KOCO organizer, closed by saying that Dyett had tried for four years to partner with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). He said he felt that the CPS goal was to destabilize schools. He compared the $25 million that went to King High School to the conditions at Dyett High School - no Advanced Placement (AP) classes, no honors classes, no air-conditioning (AC) and only seven books in the school library. He said they were paired with the Chicago Botanic Garden, but they had lost their Art teacher and subsequently, the children had to take Art on-line. He said violence had spiked after 125 students went to each of four schools. He thanked Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines for reading over the plans. He said she knew what we were talking about. He added that you can never pretend to know better than the people you represent and asked that the Board do right by the children in our neighborhood.

Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines mentioned that she and Staff Member Jamika Rose attended the hearing and read the plans. She told Jitu Brown that this is not a cookie-cutter Board; this Board is about the children.

Jitu Brown replied with a request that the Board stop having armed guards at community meetings. He said that at meetings, those who oppose Board policies are given precisely two minutes to speak, while others — those speaking in support of the Board — are not told to stop after two minutes.

Next to speak was Laura Paris, an LSC member at Mt. Greenwood Elementary School and a concerned parent of children in the 19th Ward. She spoke against the longer school day (90 more minutes). She said we have children involved in after-school activities and we want to exercise our parental rights. She added that we are a community that believes in taking care of children and that CPS needs to get insights from the parents and the community.

Donna Somerville of Sutherland Elementary School, a proud parent of two students, spoke against the 7.5 hour day. She told the Board that there was no model for a longer school day, that 7.5 hours was far too long for students, and that the student day should be no longer than 6.5 hours.

Dolores Fischinger, a Skinner North Elementary School parent, also spoke against the 7.5 hour day. She, too, said it was too long for elementary students and was not the ideal length of day for children. She mentioned the long commute for some, the need for future funding, that children need 10 to 11 hours of sleep to function, time for meals, and time to just be a kid.

Tracy Baldwin, parent of a five-year-old and a four-year-old at Coonley Elementary School and Portage Park Elementary School also spoke against the 7.5 hour day. She advocates 6.5 hours instead. She presented a petition with 900 signatures, more than half obtained in the last month. She said some schools have had 6.5 hours for ten years and also have recess and Physical Education (PE). She asked for autonomy in determining the length of the school day. She added, "I'd rather be your partner than a protestor."

Rebecca Malone, of Mt. Greenwood Elementary School in the 19th Ward, also presented signatures, 500 obtained in a week.

Jackson Potter of the CTU asked for a moment of silence for students who were put in harm's way after their schools were closed. He mentioned that a former student of his, Lashondra, now has a son in Kindergarten at Guggenheim. He asked that the Board look at each individual school that has its own history and don't just close them. He asked if funds will be withheld until decisions are made.

Elida Corrizoza, of Pablo Casals Elementary School, spoke against the closing of Casals and the takeover by AUSL. She is a former student at Casals and is now a parent of students at Casals. She said, "My children will not be experimented on. They are not corporate product." She added that it's obvious that you want our area, you are selling it to AUSL, you want the African-American and Latino children to leave. She asked that the Board invest $5 million in Casals, not AUSL.

Cecile Carroll also opposes the turnaround of Casals and Piccolo schools.

Linda Ehgartner said Casals Elementary School had been accused of being one of the lowest performing schools, but she said there were one hundred schools below Casals and seven AUSL schools below Casals. She asked the Board why they were replacing Casals with AUSL. She asked about $5 million in funds that had been allocated for a roof, furnace, and playground that had been ripped out at Casals.

Matthew Luskin, a CPS parent and a CTU organizer, said that after the principal at Guggenheim Elementary School was gone, Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS), the homeless, had to find new schools.Transfer forms were taped to doors and parents were told the transfer forms were Options for Knowledge applications. After-school tutoring was shut down.

Bettye Plair, whose son attends Guggenheim Elementary School, said that no funding was ever put into Guggenheim. She asked the Board to give Guggenheim a chance. She asked them to fund our schools. She told them that nobody seems to hear us; we are getting nothing for our school.

At this point, it became apparent that an analog clock face on the television monitors in the Board chambers was showing the passing of the alloted two minutes as each speaker spoke.

Dwayne Truss, of the Progressive Action Coalition for Education, said that ACT Charter School had never reapplied to be a charter school and was legally dissolved. He also said KIPP Charter School should be on probation and that there are no magnet schools in Austin. He told the Board that they could not send Nash Elementary School students to Level 3 schools and if the Board voted yes to do this, he, Dwayne Truss, would go to the Attorney General.

Ainaka Unaka, with KIPP which has been in Austin since 2004, spoke of an eighth-grader who got a scholarship to Latin School and subsequently attended Grinnell College.

Bernetta Cannon, also of KIPP, spoke of the performance of KIPP students.

Emma Tai, of VOYCE and Maria Degillo of VOYCE, said they stand with KOCO. They told of a student who had been expelled from a charter school and killed by the police at a time when he normally would have been in school. They spoke of the overuse of expulsions and transfers by charter schools. They told the Board that you are silent and silencing us and canceled a meeting four times in a row. They added that this is our lives on the line and not just Board testimony to you.

Emma Tai asked that the Code of Conduct be rewritten and asked for a public data base. Maria Degillo asked the Board, will you make sure the meeting we are requesting will happen before February 15.

Board President David Vitale told them that we will get in touch with you and set something up.

Jay Ramirez, of Stand for Children, spoke of a telephone town hall meeting, comparing it to a call-in radio show. He stated that 76% of callers did not know what the performance was at their schools. He said a parent mentioned that an A is not the same as an A in low-performing school. He asked the Board how can we communicate better with each other.

Maria Mikel, also of Stand for Children, said that parents are not aware of how low the low-performing schools really are. She asked if ranking could be simplified and centralized.

Board President David Vitale told her that the School Report Cards are on the CPS website.

CEO Jean-Claude Brizard added that we want to make it simpler for parents.

Howard Emmer spoke in opposition to the school closings. He asked for a moment of silence for students who ended up in the "Schools to Prisons" pipeline. He said he is a retired thirty-year elementary veteran, twenty-eight of those years in CPS. He asked the Board to make every neighborhood school a great school. He spoke of the inequalities he sees in the system. He said he took part in a boycott of schools fifty years ago and fifty years later there are the same inequalities. He asked why move money to North Side schools, why not South and West Side schools? He said there is an inequality in who is listened to. He told of how the LaSalle School decision was reversed after parent protests. He mentioned how humorous it was that the paid protestors put down their signs and clapped for not closing the schools.

Norine Gutekanst, a veteran teacher and an organizer with the CTU, asked for a moment of silence for students attending neighborhood schools that the CPS feels should not be invested in. She added that 350 students at Dyett lost their Art teacher. She spoke of the $102 million that would be voted on for turnaround schools. She asked why the funds were withheld till now. She asked the Board to give funds to school communities to improve from within, rather than close or turnaround the schools. She added that rankings are only one window into a school.

Maryjane Bunzol is a parent of a Special Education student. In 2006, he went to CPS from the Western suburbs with multiple disabilities. He attends a neighborhood school. She said CPS has denied and withdrawn services. She said he has Asperger's syndrome and is a great test-taker. Another son, who is four years younger, is ahead in his skills. She said the Board cut programs and that Special Education needs to be treated as a valuable commodity.

Christopher Swanson, an LSC parent representative at Steinmetz High School, said no one got back to him after the October Board Meeting. He requested a fire-alarm system and plumbing at Steinmetz. He asked the Board to come to Steinmetz to see our needs. He said his daughter has seizures and a school nurse is important. He spoke of asthma and insulin needs. He said he was speaking for the students at Steinmetz.

Board President David Vitale said he would follow up this time.

Cheketa Smith said she pulled her son out of Gage Park High School because he was treated like a criminal. She said she wants her son in school; that's all. She said she needs a school close enough to the neighborhood high school.

Chief Counsel Patrick Rocks asked her to see Michelle Hurley who will find out what the issues are.

Ms. Smith replied that I'll talk to these people, but I get no help.

Next, a group of parents from Stagg Elementary School spoke.

Vivian Wallace, a member of the LSC, a parent, and a graduate of Stagg, wants CPS to reconsider the proposal to turnaround Stagg. She said the scores have increased, she wants the children to continue with teachers they are comfortable with, and the school is working to improve. She mentioned that they have a Montessori program, the only one in Englewood.

Erika Jenkins, a parent of three at Stagg, is against the turnaround of Stagg. She said the tests are improving, but the children have so many needs. She added that hope is taken from the parents if the school is turned around. She told of the relationships that the children have with the custodians and teachers that help the children. She asked the Board to reconsider and not to give money to AUSL.

Jacqueline Lee of Stagg spoke of inadequate resources and funding. She asked the Board to ponder and consider maybe they made a mistake.

Sherry Williams, a CTU delegate and Kindergarten teacher, spoke of her thirty-three students in one class with no teacher aide and one desk-top computer. She told the Board that we are not one of the lowest performing schools; we have shown growth three of the last four years. She asked the Board to visit the school.

Elizabeth Whitfield said that Stagg was a block away from her home. She said she herself cannot read of write and dropped out in ninth grade. She said her mother, a nurse, raised ten children, both black and white. She asked that the Stagg teachers be allowed to stay there. She asked the Board to do it for my children; give us the money now. She added that she had just had a tumor removed and now had a heart monitor.

As the Stagg group was leaving, Elizabeth Whitfield appeared to faint. A CPS staff person called 911 and paramedics arrived about two minutes later. They seated Elizabeth Whitfield in a movable chair and removed her from Board chambers. (Matthew Luskin, CTU organizer, later said he called the school and reportedly she was then okay.)

Martin Ritter, a teacher and Chicago resident, said the Board was giving janitorial supply contracts to an organization that was being investigated by the FBI. He asked if the funds were being spent on janitorial supplies for Central Office or for the schools.

Board President told him the funds were for the entire school system.

Gerald Doyle, a vice-president provost at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) said that five years ago a program was launched that had IIT visiting every school. Subsequently, 107 students enrolled at IIT. He said that last year, the commencement speaker was a CPS student who was not from a selective enrollment school. He said IIT was excited about the summer programs partnership of IIT with CPS.

George Blackmore, a concerned citizen, spoke of the teaching of Black History and school closings. He said that illegal immigrants are being brought into this country and city and this is having a negative effect on the CPS system. He emphasized that extra money is needed for illegal immigrant education, Black History must be taught, my people are getting less and less, and more Black teachers are needed in Black schools.

Peter Brogan, a Ph.D. candidate at a university, spoke against turnarounds, closings, and phase-outs.

Peggy Goddard, a retired twelve-year teacher-representative member of the LSC at Morgan Park High School, spoke of the very inclusive principal selection taking place at Morgan Park. She said two candidates were chosen, but neither was deemed eligible. The school received fifty-one resumes with seven or more errors in the cover letters. She mentioned a review of the policy of choosing a principal, that only one applicant had applied in twelve months, and that the school needs another opportunity for applicants to apply.

Board Member Andrea Zopp mentioned that they were tardy in responding and will be in touch.

Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines said your concerns are legit and the policy is being reviewed.

Next, Diondai Brown-Whitfield, a member of the Austin High School Alumni Association, spoke of the coming 121st anniversary of Austin High School, established after the community of Austin, founded by Henry Austin, was annexed to Chicago and made Chicago the second largest city in the United States. First, however, she mentioned that she was a retired nurse and told of her concern about the response to the incident Elizabeth Whitfield experienced.

Board President David Vitale thanked her for her earlier help.

Last to speak was Rosita Chatonda, of CAUSE, who asked for a break-down of teachers who were given E3s. She wanted to talk about turnarounds and parent choice, and the disparity in education. She mentioned her three sons, her experiences at Daniel Hale Williams, the first turnaround school, and what it's like to be a parent in an at-risk community.

Following this, CEO Jean-Claude Brizard spoke of the longer school day that is being proposed. Staff member Jennifer Cheatham and Nancy Hanks of Melody School, a Pioneer Longer Day School, explained the different aspects of the proposed longer 7.5 hour day. They spoke of recess monitoring, a 2 p.m. snack, less-stressed teachers, a duty-free lunch, one hour of planning every day, how the children have adjusted better than the adults and are there at 7:30 a.m.

CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said the Park Districts are ready to make adjustments and we will take a close look at the homework policy.

Next, the new health policies, regarding the management of asthma and diabetes, the administration of medicine, and ADA/504 guidelines were explained.

Board Member Rodrigo Sierra mentioned that the Board was not voting on a contract with any entity being investigated by the FBI, which was alluded to earlier. He said there was confusion between the organizations called Aztec and Azteca.

After this, the Board went into Closed Session.


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