Large 19th Ward meeting rejects CPS 'Longest School Day' as Brizard continues to duck parent anger and sends underlings who repeat talking points to defend his plans

Approximately 200 parents, teachers, and community members (overwhelmingly from Chicago’s 19th Ward) packed a 7:00 PM meeting held on Thursday, March 8, 2011 in the Morgan Park High School auditorium to challenge the "Longer School Day" being proposed by Chicago Public Schools. Morgan Park H.S. is located at 1744 W. Pryor Avenue (better known as 111th Street and Vincennes) on Chicago’s far southwest side.

Part of the crowd at Morgan Park High School on March 8 for the forum on the "Longer School Day." CPS officials were unable to convince the community that the 19th Ward should get the 7.5 hour school day, and many were angry that CEO Jean-Claude Brizard again insulted them and sent an underling who refused to answer most questions or answered with a repetition of talking points. The people in the green tee shirts are from the group calling itself "6.5 to thrive," which proposed that the Chicago public school day be 6.5 (not 7.5) hours long. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.The meeting was called by 19th Ward Alderman Matthew O’Shea in order to give representatives from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) an opportunity to address concerns his office has received from many parents and other members of the 19th Ward regarding CPS’s Longer School Day. Many green t-shirts with “Ask me about the longer school day” on the front and “6.5 to THRIVE” on the back were scattered throughout the auditorium. The parents who organized the "6.5 to thrive" movement against the Longer School Day (which would require children to be in school for 7.5 hours per day in Chicago) had already taken their case to the February 22 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, where they complained that no one had responded to their criticisms.

A large screen for what turned out to be dueling Power Point presentations was front and center on the stage. (Note: The Power Point presentation from the 19th Ward Parents basically point-by-point beat the stuffing out of the one presented first by CPS.)

To the right of the screen sat three representatives from CPS: Jennifer Cheatham, "Chief Officer of Instruction"; Dick Smith, "Chief Officer for Special Services"; and Bogdana Gueorgieva Chkoumbova, principal of Disney II Magnet Elementary School, which is more than 20 miles away from the 19th Ward in the Old Irving Park neighborhood on the Northwest Side.

While most of the highest paid CPS officials ignore comments by parents during the meetings of the Chicago Board of Education, usually devoting themselves to email on their Blackberries or to Angry Birds, few are as blatant in their rudeness as was CPS "Chief of Schools" Harrison Peters (above right, working with his CPS iPad during the Morgan Park meeting). Peters ignored the alderman and every parent who spoke, checking email and doing a host of other important tasks but never listening to the parents, political leaders, or others who are opposing the Longer School Day in his "Calumet Network." Peters, like all of the other "Chiefs of Schools" who oversee the "Networks" across Chicago, is paid $151,000 this year, and is in line for a bonus if he can force test scores "up". One of the ways CPS officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel hope to do that is through an accountant's trick as old as "Chainsaw Al Dunlap" — change the baseline before calculating the "gains." Substance photo by Susan Zupan.And although most of the first row in the center of the hall appeared to be filled with non-introduced personnel from CPS, Ms. Cheatham did almost all of the speaking.

To the left sat four representatives of the 19th Ward: Margie Gallagher, parent of two special needs students; Mary Fahey Hughes, chairperson of Beverly Area Parents for Special Education; Becky Malone, 19th Ward Parents; and Alderman O’Shea. Ms. Malone and Alderman O’Shea moderated.

Alderman O’Shea opened with remarks describing his ward as a neighborhood of police, fire fighters, teachers, and most of all neighbors who respected each other and stood up for what they believed in. He asked for a moment of silence for 19th ward resident Corporal Conner Lowry, who was recently killed in action in Afghanistan.

Jennifer Cheatham thanked the audience for coming, telling them that CPS cared about their children and their schools, and “we’re here to listen.” Throughout her presentation and during the question-and-answer session that followed, she needed to be told to speak into the microphone so that everyone could hear her. She gave a CPS Power Point presentation of the (questionable) dismal-data-and-what-we’re-proposing-about-it-now variety. She said there was “no magic bullet,” but CPS was planning, with three key elements, to “dramatically change the way teachers are teaching”:

These dramatic changes in the way teachers are teaching are:

"Common Core" - what is taught;

"Instructional Framework" – how it is taught;

and "Full School Day - time for it to be taught.

CPS had been referring to the program as the "Longer School Day," but in a tradition that is growing under the administration of Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard, the "Longer School Day" has been "rebranded". CPS is now calling it the "Full School Day." (Other rebrandings are being reported regularly by Substance).

Cheatham stated that CPS within broad parameters was "building in" certain ingredients that would ensure a well-rounded and full school day. She assured the audience that “intervention should not be an either/or” thing, even though CPS was federally-mandated to do so now but they were not doing so at a lot of schools. “It’s a beautiful vision,” and it was all hands on deck at CPS to bring it to life.

As for the school budgets for the longer school day, Ms. Cheatham reported that the principals and the CPS Chiefs expressed that they did not want to get budget information in a piecemeal way; they’d rather wait until April and get it all at once. CPS felt that if the schools got their budgets in full immediately, they’d feel constrained in the planning for the longer school day. For that and other reasons, she said, no budget information was available at this time. (Note: Throughout Ms. Cheatham’s CPS presentation, and especially with regard to the non-information about funding, the audience as politely as possible — but audibly — expressed, shall we say, great skepticism.)

Cheatham stated that CPS plans, as of this date, were for each school to receive a lump sum with some kind of a base line per school. She said (to a response of loud moans) that from Kindergarten to grade 12, the longer day “will be fine for little kids” because it all depended on how you used it. One woman on the side in one of the green shirts had to admonish an audience member for yelling something out: “This is an eloquent forum, not a yelling-at-the-lady forum.”

Ms. Cheatham’s reply apparently to the woman in the green shirt was: “My name is Dr. Cheathan by the way” (which produced more moans from the audience.)

CPS’s Dick Smith said very little about how the longer school day would impact special education students. He reported that CPS had allocated additional money for the task of working on IEPs (individual education plans).

Note: Presently there is great frustration and confusion out in the schools regarding IEPs. Employees related to special education services (speech therapists, counselors, etc.) are reporting that they have been directed to rewrite all the IEPs within CPS (by one estimate 30,000) to reflect a 7.5 hour school day. Thus, a 7.5 hour school day is either a done deal or presently CPS is requiring that a massive amount of time be utilized not for services to the students but for what may amount to massive amounts of unnecessary paperwork.

At this point, Alderman O’Shea complimented all aspects of education in the 19th Ward, from the schools to their principals, assistant principals, and teachers to students and parents. 19th Ward parents were engaged and involved in their schools, he said. He then introduced a group of parents, who formed the "19th Ward Parents" just four months ago, who were not going to just stand there and take it from CPS on this longer school day plan. He knew this well because they have called, e-mailed, and dropped by his offices every day. (The audience chuckled along with Alderman O’Shea over this statement.)

Becky Malone introduced Kate Brandt of “6.5 To Thrive.” Ms. Brandt reported that over 1,600 people signed their petition drive which began in October. She questioned the studies from the CPS Power Point, at one point referring to research from the National Center for Time and Learning, hired by CPS. She said that research on a longer school day showed at worst no academic achievement gains and at best a small relationship to achievement. Every hour in a day, especially for children, was zero-sum.

She asked how it would improve performance if children did not have time for sports, enrichment activities, time with family and friends, or time to sleep. CPS needed to respect the development of whole people not just test scores. She refuted the CPS statistics presented: every top ten school in the suburbs had 6.5 hours or less; 13 top-scoring schools in CPS with 6.5 hour school days outscored others by 20 percent (except, she said, for charter schools, which were at level with the district overall and 20 percent worse for 8th graders despite the longer day).

She asked why CPS was in such a rush to implement something so extreme. Why not use what is already working? 6.5. (Ms. Brandt’s talk drew loud applause from the audience.)

Becky Malone introduced herself as a mother of students at Mount Greenwood Elementary School. Throughout the Power Point presentation, she drew applause and approval. She stated, “We are parents for a reason.” She said that for this 7.5 hour school day CPS offered no funding and ignored parents. The parents of the 19th Ward wanted CPS to look at “our needs” which may be different than the needs of other CPS school communities; she stated this is a way that legitimized all school communities. The 19th Ward Parents were against a CPS top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. The Power Point slides one after the other knocked CPS’s presentation to pieces.

A few slides were entitled “Debunking CPS Rhetoric” and specifically debunked data claims of Jean-Claude Brizard and Chicago Board of Education member Jesse Ruiz. The slides which contained data cited sources at the bottom, unlike the slides from CPS – with one, for example, broadly claiming “a meta-analysis of 15 studies.” The average school day in the U.S. is 6.64 hours, with Illinois averaging 6.5 hours. No school district in the U.S. mandates a 7.5 hour extended school day. One slide from the parents listed schools and the numbers of parents surveyed who were against the longer school day – CPS is not sharing that 87% of the parents surveyed at Skinner North, a CPS “pioneer school” for the longer school day, are against the longer school day.

As the parents' Power Point developed, it became clear to many in the audience that CPS was presenting its own talking points as "evidence," and that the CPS Power Point on the Longer School Day was deliberately leaving out most of the information needed to make valid comparisons. Ms. Malone asked why CPS would extend the day for a system that was "failing" without fixing what might be broken first. CPS uses the term “failure” but CPS has no research to offer indicting any reasons for that failure. What about smaller class sizes? Their analysis of CPS’s longer school day plan showed that class sizes would be forced to increase.

One of the best lines on one slide was as follows: “If you are baking a cake and you do not add flour, sugar, and eggs, cooking it longer won’t fix it. It will still taste horrible!”

Ms. Malone addressed issues of safety and security. Contrary to the claims of CPS, teachers would have even less time to collaborate. Studies showed that a longer school day was the least cost effective way to improve student achievement. She said she had not seen some of the slides presented by CPS before tonight; previously they had used different ones, perhaps particularly in regard to input and timelines. She greatly questioned CPS on the funding for the longer school day; CPS was telling schools to fill up their carts without any money. The slide on “Final Thoughts” drew loud applause with this line in particular: “As parents, we ultimately have the right to decide what is best for our children.”

Margie Gallagher shared her family’s story of having two children (of 4) with special needs who were presently thriving: one child had processing issues and another child had Downs’ Syndrome. She was concerned about continuing very needed (and expensive) after-school therapy for both children if they would just be tired, over-stimulated, and crabby after experiencing an adult 7.5 hour work day. The auditorium was still as she described how Molly taught all around her about empathy, tolerance, and respect. Molly’s mom was greatly concerned that Molly would not have time any more to break into the too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ra of an “Irish Lullaby” every time she saw her grandfather, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, because time for such visits would now be limited.

Mary Fahey Hughes spoke of the need for overcrowding to be addressed, particularly as that concern related to classrooms for special education students, before CPS extended the time of students in such presently unacceptable settings even longer.

At 8:20 the question-and-answer — or rather question-and-no answers — session began.

The procedure was supposed to consist of pre-written questions from index cards, but audience members also raised their hands and asked questions and commented as well. Names were not given. On stage, Becky Malone asked if CPS would survey all the parents at every school on Report Card Pick-Up Day for a true picture, community by community, of how parents felt about a 7.5 hour school day. There was no response to this.

Someone from the audience asked about the monitoring of recess during Chicago winters. Jennifer Cheatham said that CPS would definitely be building that into the funding picture. Then she threw the question to the principal of Disney II; Ms. Chkoumbova replied that at her school they utilized teacher assistants and school security personnel for recess duty, not teachers.

One man from the audience stood up and stated that his sister-in-law’s kids were at Disney and she related to him that the kids were exhausted from the longer day there. Disney’s principal responded, “Then why are so many students in after school programs?” (The audience was not pleased with the response or the tone of the response.)

Alderman O’Shea brought up safety and security concerns. Ms. Cheatham replied that CPS was taking safety concerns very very seriously; principals were to flag any concerns, and CPS was lucky to have Jadine Chou, recently transplanted from CHA (Chicago Housing Authority), as the new head of CPS Safety & Security. Related to safety and security, questions of funding were repeated throughout this session, with Ms. Cheatham mostly responding that she felt she “already addressed that.” Because of a lack of staff, CPS would be “very reliant on volunteers.” When someone asked what happened if the volunteers didn’t show up, she replied that strong principals always have contingency plans. Cheatham, who arrived in Chicago from out of town to join the growing ranks of CPS administrators without any Chicago teaching experience or Chicago knowledge, was apparently oblivious to the fact that she was telling families who included law enforcement professionals that "volunteers" could do the job of security as well as professionals, and that if the volunteers didn't show up, then the principals would take care of things...

In response to questions of CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) transportation issues — such as longer bus waits, especially during dark hours — Ms. Cheatham replied that representatives from CTA serve on CPS’s "Longer day advisory board" and were helping them work that out. Someone asked how CPS could ensure as claimed (that no students in elementary school would be in school past 3:30 and no high school students past 4:00) when some overcrowded schools were staggered for start and end times with students staying until even later than that right now. Ms. Cheatham said that CPS would address that, and parents should sincerely work with their principals on those issues.

The front row center of the auditorium appeared to be filled with non-participating CPS personnel. When asked by one woman from the 19th Ward Parents if Harrison Peters, Chief of School for the Lake Calumet/Far South Side Network including high schools such as Morgan Park, could address any issues, Mr. Peters indicated that the question would be answered from the stage. At another point in the session, he stood to answer a question about contract principal’s (such as the contract principal of Morgan Park High School, Everett Edwards) involvement level by stating that there was no difference between an LSC-selected principal and any principal appointed by CPS regarding the planning for the longer school day.

Matt Farmer, who said he came from the Rogers Park area to ask one question, asked: why was CPS wasting the time of principals with their teams of teachers and staff in the schools to build a house of cards without any funding? When he said that principals were afraid to speak out, Ms. Cheatham expressed worry that anyone would report principals being bullied within CPS over anything. Dick Smith said that the principals he knew were not shy. Ms. Cheatham said that she realized that it was difficult to plan without budgets and that people feared losing funds — to which a woman yelled out that they already had. Mr. Smith said that as a principal he would plan to have some ideas ready even without any money so that when he got the money he could tweak and adapt it.

Ms. Cheatham said that schools would get “a lump sum.” When pressured — “this year?” “from Title I funds?” — she replied that CPS would take a closer look, but she couldn’t at this time tell exactly what funds.

A woman from the audience stated that CPS continually said that “hard decisions had to be made,” and they were already holding fundraisers for pencils and books out in the schools.

Ms. Cheatham said CPS would be looking at cutting programs that have become “legacies,” meaning not effective over the years. When pressed by Alderman O’Shea, she said that she could not speak publicly at this time. One woman reported that Ms. Cheatham said 4-5 times at a prior meeting at the library on 95th Street in the community that “we have tons of money.” Ms. Cheatham tried to deny this, but finally said, “Yes, but once only.”

Concerns that only CPS and CTU (Chicago Teachers Union) would have input on the longer day were met with a mini-lesson on Senate Bill 7 (SB7). Ms. Cheatham said that CPS had the right to set the parameters for school days, but the impacts of that day were to be negotiated.

Regarding SB7, audience member Wayne Schlegl stated that he remembered a trick he learned from his Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Berry: connect the dots. And he now connected the dots from Stand for Children, a group that lobbied the hell out of Illinois, to the Pritzkers and Sam Zell (who contributed millions of dollars to "Stand for Children" during the SB7 fight) to CPS to parents having no rights when it came to their children’s schools any more.

Becky Malone brought up the issue of why CPS couldn’t just leave the teachers’ 45-minute lunch period (presently at the end of the day and thus open-ended) where it was so that school’s might individually utilize the time for a longer day or not as they chose. Ms. Cheatham said they have deeply considered that, but then she said she wasn’t sure how to answer the question.

Ms. Malone referred to rhetoric with CPS officials telling them it was “highly unlikely” anything would change. Ms. Cheatham apologized for that remark and said they were very much listening. At the end, only Mr. Smith remarked that he would stay to speak with audience members. The meeting ended with a student from Kellogg expressing concerns about more homework in the longer day. Response: We are looking closely at that.

Just before that, Ms. Malone pointed out the handprints on display throughout the room, about 500 or so. This is about our children, the hands of our children who will be negatively affected by this plan.


March 9, 2012 at 1:40 PM

By: Sharon Schmidt

Susan Zupan's reporting

Excellent piece, Susan. I feel like I was there, as frustrated as those other parents.

March 9, 2012 at 11:40 PM

By: Jennie Mullen Hein

Longer school day.

I was at the meeting. Susan did an excellent job of depicting the frustration of CPS parents and teachers. Becky and the 6.5 to thrive team have done their research and know their statistics. We, as involved parents, are willing (in fact, screaming) to come to a compromise for this longer school day. CPS was a broken record of 'we'll look into that' and 'that's under serious consideration'.

March 10, 2012 at 3:32 PM

By: Frank Thompson

Voted school board

This is the biggest reason that this district needs a voted school board. Right now parents can only vote 1 school board member out every 4 years. That member's name is Rahm. With a voter controlled school board, the option to look condescendingly down at the parents that want a voice in their child's education would be extinguished. We must wrestle control of the schools from Rahm. That is the biggest silver bullet in this whole

game. There needs to be accountability because JC and the board are really just a rubber stamp.

March 11, 2012 at 11:29 AM

By: Kati Gilson

Longer school day for pre-school children

My preschoolers are exhausted at the end of their 2 1/2 hour class. Especially the afternoon 3 year olds. They no longer get lunch or a snack and money that is supposed to go to preschool students for supplies, field trips, etc. is being put into principal's "discretionary funds" and used for other purposes. The special needs children wait months for services and if they are lucky they finally get them - barely. Many schools are not allowed outside for recess and are lacking gross motor equipment indoors. All of this is supposed to be part of a high quality preschool program. Our class sizes have increased from 17 to 20 while the nurses, social workers, parent coordinaters and other staff have been cut or as in the cases of nurses completely eliminated. A longer day isn't going to fix any of this. Also, the current head of early childhood eliminated nap / rest period for all day preschools. They are little, they are tired, they are hungry. The longer school day will not be good for the little ones.

March 24, 2012 at 7:46 PM

By: Kimberly Bowsky

Longer Day

The longer day is about containment and disrespect. Students and teachers will be constricted in expanding the knowledge of the children through play and experimentation. It'll be more time for quiet and tests in boiling or freezing buildings. Recess won't take care of this, because many students won't be able to go outdoors or be accommodated in small rooms, overcrowded with children. The Board is dooming students of Chicago to any chance of trying for a desired life of afterschool clubs, music lessons, intramural sports, and quiet time for reflection, socialization, work practice (homework or tutoring). The status quo is in full effect: blame educators and restrict students. Tell them the sourest medicine is the best, and SOMEbody will believe it.

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