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The word 'turnaround' wasn't even on the public's agenda... Chicago Board of Education votes to close or turnaround 17 schools

Among the most uniquely Orwellian Chicago realities on February 22, 2012, at the Chicago Board of Education was that the city's public schools had been in turmoil for three months, mostly about a program widely referred to as "turnaround," but the word "turnaround" itself didn't even appear on the agenda that was going to be voted on by the seven members of the city's school board. When the vote finally came, many of the people who were trying to follow what was happening at the headquarters of Chicago's public schools, the nation's third largest public school system, had been at the Board for more than 12 hours. It was dark again, and dozens of people had lined up before the sun rose to speak against the proposal on the agenda for the monthly meeting of the Chicago Board of Education that ten public schools be subjected to "turnaround" and seven others closed in various ways.

Prior to the vote on the school closing and reconstitution proposals made by his administration to the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education, Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard presented the Board and the public with another Power Point, this one purporting to show how the administration had modified its plans in response to three months of hearings and other input. Although nothing had been changed since October and November 2011, when Brizard presented the public with what is called the "Performance" matrices used to judge Chicago public schools on a spreadsheet (and based on information which was repeatedly challenged), at each point administration officials claimed they were listening and taking the public's input seriously. In fact, as several critics have been noting, the design of each of the "performance" matrices demands that all Chicago schools be ranked and sorted so that a kind of eugenics-based array showing success and failure using simplistic numbers can be arrived at and become the basis for all corporate decision-making. As a result, the actual complexity of schooling in some of America's most impoverished communities can be erased from the Power Point and from the pretenses of executive decision making. One of the aspects of what was happening can be seen in the personnel Brizard chose to present various parts of the Power Point to the seven members of the Board of Education. Not one of the people in the photograph above has ever taught in a real Chicago public school, and all but one have been hired by CPS during the past nine months (Winckler was hired from Sears Holdings two years ago, the rest have been hired since June 2011). Using corporate jargon, Chicago has "chiefs" and "officers," beginning at the top of the corporate pyramid with the "Chief Executive Officer." Above, left to right, "Chief Talent Officer" Alicia Winckler, Chief Officer Security and Safety Jadine Chou, Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard, Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso, Chief Officer for Community and Family Engagement Jamiko Rose, Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley, and Chief Portfolio Officer Oliver Sicat. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.But when the actual vote came, the word "turnaround" was nowhere on the massive agenda of the Board. What was actually stated on the agenda was that the ten schools would be "reconstituted," the legal term in Illinois for declaring that a public school is an absolute failure and that everyone on the school's staff from the principal to the janitors has to be fired and replaced.

And even that was not what the hundreds people still in the chambers of the Board heard when the vote actually came. The Board's secretary only read the "Board Report" number for each of the ten motions on the agenda. "EX 12, EX 13, EX 14, EX 15..." Estela Beltran droned on going up to "EX 21..." After those designators were read, Beltran waited while the Board President, David Vitale, called for a motion and a second, and the roll call was read:

"Mr. Bienen..."

"Yes."

"Dr. Hines..."

"Yes."

"Mr. Ruiz."

"Yes."

"Ms. Pritzker..."

"Yes."

"Mr. Sierra..."

"Yes."

"Ms. Zopp..."

"Yes."

"President Vitale..."

"Yes."

And with those words, the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education who had been appointed by Mayor Rahm Emaneul in June 2011 affirmed the destruction of the lives and careers of hundreds of teachers, administrators, and other school workers at ten Chicago schools: Tilden High School, Chicago Vocational Career Academy High School and eight elementary schools Stagg, Piccolo, Woodson South, Marquette, Fuller, Casals, Herzl and Smith. A few minutes earlier, the Board had voted in a similar manner to approve Board Reports regarding the closing of Best Practices High School (which had already lost all of its students) and four elementary schools — Price Elementary, Guggenheim Lathrop, and Reed. The Board also approved a strange three-year "phase out" of Crane High School that seemed to leave the Crane building with Crane High School students for three years, along with some kind of new high school featuring a medical sciences theme as well as a charter high school called "Talent Development High School." Dyett High School on the South Side was also approved for "phase out". Also approved were the "co-location" of Chicago High School for the Arts and Doolittle East Elementary School and the "co-location" of the charter school called the "Academy of Communications and Technology" (now a KIPP school) and Nash Elementary School.

Within a few minutes after the Board voted on the "EX..." Board Reports for the "reconstitutions", a group of community activists, teachers, parents and students began chanting and left the room in a rage, holding a brief press conference in the hallway behind the Board chambers while the Board members rushed through the rest of their business and then rushed out a back door. "Rubber stamps!" some shouted. "Shame!" others said. But once the "Yes" voted had been tallied, the fate of each of those schools was sealed, just as it had been during the previous ten years as Chicago advanced a controversial, often dishonest, and always disruptive form of corporate school reform based on a supposed corporate model that talks about "turnaround" and "performance matrices" but doesn't listen to children and parents who for years have been saying they have been ground up in this nouveau process. It began in 2002 with a vote of the Board of Education to subject three elementary schools to a process much like the current one. Dodge, Terrell and Williams elementary schools were declared to have "failed" based on test scores by then Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan (now U.S. Secretary of Education) in April 2002, and the students of those schools were sent elsewhere (many never to return) while the school was reorganized into something supposedly new and better. After that, every year (with two exceptions), the Chicago Board of Education voted to gut and supposedly save additional schools.

The activists and others then went over to the headquarters of the Chicago Teachers Union a mile away at the Merchandise Mart, passing City Hall along the way, for a later press conference announcing a lawsuit challenging what had been done.

But as many experienced observers had been saying since the Board announced the proposed "Performance Matrices" for school closings and "turnarounds" in November 2011, it was a "Done Deal" all along, Chicago-style. Even though by law there is no such thing as a "turnaround," in Chicago, under a form of school governance where the mayor has all the power, anything is possible and it had just happened.

To understand a bit about the Orwell part of all this, consider the two agendas that exist for each meeting of the Chicago Board of Education.

Every month, usually in compliance with the law, CPS publishes an "Agenda" for the Board of Education meeting. Under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, the agenda for such public meetings is supposed to be made public 48 hours before the meeting. With the usual Board of Education meetings taking place on Wednesdays, and beginning at 10:30 a.m., CPS officials generally post the "Agenda" on line on the Board's website (www.cps.edu) and have paper copies available only at Board headquarters on the morning of the Monday previous.

Because Monday, February 20, was the President's Day holiday this year, the agenda was required to be published by 10:30 a.m. on Friday February 17. The Board eventually got the agenda up on its website by 3:00 p.m. on February 17, and people were also able to get copies at the Board offices. The URL for the "agenda" that was available on line for most members of the public is http://www.cps.edu/About_CPS/The_Board_of_Education/BoardAgenda/Documents/Notice_Agenda%20for%20Posting.pdf.

But the "Agenda" that is available on line is only eight pages long.

The actual agenda for the Board meeting, which is only available at CPS headquarters at 125 S. Clark St., was more than 200 pages long. Prior to the era of mayoral control, CPS would distribute a copy of the long agenda to every public library, public offices (usually, aldermanic offices) and (by mail) to members of the public who requested them. Since the mid-1990s, CPS has claimed that it is too poor financially to continue to provide that information in that form, and has claimed that the information is available on line so there is no loss to the public.

But the information available on line is the "short' agenda, in the case of February 22, 2012, eight pages plus a cover letter.

Thus, the motion to do a so-called "turnaround" for each school didn't include the word "turnaround" at all. The first Board Report on that was 1200222-EX12 and the title reads: "Reconstitute Pablo Casals Elementary School and Remove and Replace the Pablo Casals Elementary School Staff, including the Principal." No mention of "turnaround." And that was all that was available on line, or in the lobby of the Board chambers on the day of the meeting. (People could locate the "long" agenda if they knew their way around the Byzantine warrens of the Board's 20-story headquarters building...).

For those few people who were able to get a copy of the complete Board Report on Casals (or any of the other nine schools facing reconstitution), a story unfolded in each line and paragraph of the Board Report, and for the future it's worth reprinting the entire document here (the document will eventually be available on line, when the Board publishes what it calls its "Action" agenda within the next month; that agenda is always subjected to lengthy delays and is the only way most members of the public get the full wording of each action).

12-0222-EX12. FEBRUARY 22, 2012

RECONSTITUTE PABLO CASALS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL AND REMOVE AND REPLACE THE PABLOS CASALS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STAFF, INCLUDING THE PRINCIPAL

THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER RECOMMENDS:

That effective June 30, 2012, the Chicago Board of Education (the "Board") approve the reconstitution of Pablo Casals Elementary School (School ID 610021)("Casals"), located at 3501 W. Potomac Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, and remove and replace the staff, including the principal.

Statutory Authority: Pursuant to Section 5/34 - 8.3 (d) of the Illinois School Code, 105 ILSCS 5/34-8.3(d), and following the opportunity for a public hearing, the Chief Executive Officer ("CEO") of the Chicago Public Schools may recommend the reconstitution of a school on probation for at least one year and after failing to make adequate progress in correcting deficiencies.

Procedural History. On or about November 30, 2011, the CEO gave written notice of his proposal to reconstitute Casals in accordance with Section 5/34-8.3(d) of the Illinois School Code to:

(a) the parents of Casals students

(b) the Casals staff, and (c) Casals' Local School Council members

Beginning on November 30, 2011, the CEO's designee published notice of the public hearing regarding the proposal to reconstitute Casals on the district website. The public hearing was scheduled for January 30, 2012, at 5:30 p.m. at 125 S. Clark St,, 5th Floor, Chicago, Illinois.

On January 30, 2012, the appointed hearing officer, Fredrick Bates, Esq., convened the public hearing to receive public comment on the proposal to reconstitute Casals. The hearing officer received oral and written comments and supporting documents at the hearing and kept the record open after the hearing to receive additional written comments or documentation. The hearing officer's report and a transcript of the hearing has been provided to the Board. The hearing officer reported that the CEO's proposal met the requirements of Section 5/34-8.3(d) of the Illinois School Code, 105 ILCS 5/34-8.3(d), summarized comments and written documentation received, and recommended that the Board approve the CEO's proposal to reconstitute Casals. After receiving the hearing officer's report, the CEO has decided to recommend that the Board reconstitute Casals effective June 30, 2012.

LSC IMPLICATIONS. As Casals will remain on probation after its reconstitution, the powers and duties of the Casals Local School Council with respect to the School Improvement Plan and the School Expenditure Plan will remain the same after reconstitution. As the result of the removal and replacement of the current principal pursuant to section 5/34-8.3(d) of the Illinois School Code, the Casals Local School Council will not have authority to select a new four-year contract principal until the school is removed from probation pursuant to Section VII of the Board's School Performance, Remediation and Probation Policy for the 2011 - 2012 School Year, or any successor policy on school probation.

PERSONNEL IMPLICATIONS: Pursuant to 105ILCS 5/34-8.3(d), all Casals employees, including the principal, will be removed and replaced in accordance with Board policies and any applicable collective bargaining agreements.

Approved for Consideration:

Oliver Sicat, Chief Portfolio Officer

Approved:

Jean-Claude Brizard, Chief Executive Officer

Within Appropriation:

David Watkins, Chief Financial Officer

Approved as to legal form:

Patrick Rocks, General Counsel



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