Sparsely attended Chicago Board of Education meeting still sees fireworks

Attendance was sparse at the Wednesday, April 25, 2010 monthly meeting of the Chicago Board of Education (BOE) at 125 S. Clark Street in the fifth floor chambers. Approximately fifteen minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m., about 41 audience members were in attendance (one of the first times in years that the 15th floor "holding room" was not in use and there were empty seats in the chambers). On the public participation list, 22 names were listed. No demonstrators were in evidence in front of the Board's headquarters building. In the elevator on the up way to the meeting, in response to a comment about the lack of demonstrators in front of the building, Board Member Henry Bienen remarked that apparently there are "no more issues."

Parents from across Chicago, including Michelle Bever (from Mount Greenwood on the far South Side) continued their critique of the 7.5 hour school day. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.At 10:41a.m., Board President David Vitale welcomed everyone. Six members were present. Board member Rodrigo A. Sierra was absent. He later arrived at 10:45 a.m., then left before the session was completely over.

After the pledge to the flag, the meeting began with the "Honoring Excellence" portion of the meeting. The current Honorary Student Board Member, Jessenia Martinez was honored. She had met earlier this week with First Lady Michelle Obama at a University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) World Summit for Nobel Peace Laureates.

Next, Barbara Bowman who is retiring from the Board was honored . President Vitale mentioned that she is his neighbor and mother of his good friend, Valerie. (Valerie Jarrett is her daughter.) Eight years ago, Barbara Bowman went to work for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as the head of the Early Childhood Department. She has had a fifty year commitment to the children of Chicago. Before working at CPS, she helped found the Erikson Institute and helped establish the Head Start Program created by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.

Letters from those who could not be present to honor her were read, including a hand-written note from President Barack Obama, letters from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and Dr. Sam Meisels, head of the Erikson Institute.

A formal resolution honoring Barbara Bowman was then adopted by the Board. In response Barbara Bowman mentioned that she is returning to Erikson Institute to teach full-time, because "I'm too young to retire."

After she was given a bouquet, the business portion of the meeting began with two reports and a press release. Although many of the people who had signed up to speak thought they would be heard sometime after 11:00 a.m., the structure of the Board meetings now pushed them back in time.

The first report, The Chicago Leadership Collaborative, was presented by Chief Education Officer (CEO) Jean-Claude Brizard, joined by Steve Gehring, who is currently Chief of "Talent Development" (which is not to be confused with the "Talent" office, the rebranded office that a year ago was called the "Office of Human Capital").

Gehrin presented a Power Point and spoke of the need for high-performing (autonomous) principals. His report stated that more than three hundred new principals are needed over the next three years, and that Chicago was going to go across the country to find them. The report included some "educationalese," such as, currently "Principal pipeline providers work independently in silos." Planned partnerships include Loyola University, New Leaders for New Schools, Teach for America, and the University of Illinois - Chicago. These institutions will supposedly provide internships for Assistant Principals and Principals in Chicago.

The Chicago Leadership Collaborative (CLC) "National Advisory Council" will meet in Chicago twice a year beginning April 27-28, 2012. Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines, a former principal, is a member of the Council. The Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA), the principals' union in Chicago, is not represented on the "Advisory Council."

Board members asked a number of questions regarding when the program will start, how the competencies were developed, how monitoring will be done, feedback from current principals, and involvement of the Local School Council (LSC). Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines invited other Board Members to join her on the Council this Saturday. This report also said the CPS Vision was to "create a system of schools that prepares every student in every community to succeed in college and career." (No mention was made of vocational training.) No Board member asked about the manner in which the organization currently representing Chicago principals is being snubbed in this latest move by the Brizard administration.

The next report, "CPS FY13 Budget Update, Board of Education, April 25, 2012," was presented in Power Point by Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley. Cawley stated that the budgets would be released to the schools beginning tomorrow (April 26), Thursday and Friday in the High Schools and Monday to Wednesday of next week in the Elementary Schools.

After that the capital budget will be announced May 2, and the full FY2013 budget will be released in June, followed by community hearings and Board review. Cawley noted that this will be the first time in years that the Proposed Budget will be released for public hearings before the end of the school year. [The last time the budget hearings were in June rather than August was in June 2006. Since then, a succession of CEOs — Arne Duncan, Ron Huberman, and Jean-Claude Brizard — had the hearings in August, two months after the CPS fiscal year had begun].

The report stated that "this release accounts for about 60% ($2.9 billion) of the CPS budget." According to Cawley, the principals will be given flexibility over a larger pot of money with less central office control over the funds. Areas of highest priority include "class size, full day kindergarten, early childhood education, magnet schools, new IB and STEM programs, effective safety programs, e.g. Safe Passage, and Sports." Also mentioned was Senate Bill 630 requiring more transparency, that the mayor is the role model on presentation of the budget, and that there will be more printed copies of the budget. Cawley said that SV 7 was a good thing, and that CPS intended to provide even more information than that law requires.

A news release told the public that "CPS Announces Schools to Receive $130 Million More in Discretionary Funding to Drive Student Achievement for School Year 2012-2013."

Lastly, before public participation began, Board Attorney Patrick Rocks said that there would be amendments to sexual harassment policies, the Americans with Disability Act, and Title IX. The policy changes were on the published public agenda, which is now available in full on line on the Monday before the Board meeting.

Public participation began shortly before noon.

Alderman Michael Chandler of Ward 24, said that the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter school is now inside of Penn School. He spoke in support of a move of half of KIPP to the recently closed Lathrop School.

Alderman Mary O'Connor of the 41st Ward, on the far Northwest side, spoke of the declining physical condition of Oriole Park School and the need for an annex. She stated that classes are held in the hallways and mobile units, water leaks into the building, the roof has been patched many times, and that an old church has been rented for the pre-K classes. She remarked that bake sales and raffle tickets are not enough to pay for the needs of the school. She said she expects more middle-class families to leave if school needs are not met. She invited the Board to visit the school.

Pamela Lesch, a parent at Oriole Park School, stated that the school was built in 1941. She said that 46% of the students are in the building, while others are in mobile units which need to be replaced. She mentioned that the tutoring program was part of the success of the school and asked the Board to support over-performing schools, such as Oriole Park.

Michael Brunson, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Recording Secretary, said he was speaking for Karen Lewis, President of the CTU. He began his remarks by quoting the poem "The Second Coming" by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, which began "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world..."

He mentioned that a recent poll by the CTU showed that the voters support teachers, not the CPS and that CPS pushes unpopular unproven reforms. He added that the public does not support expansion of the school day or year, that Common Core needs to be a pilot program first, and asked why charter schools are held to a different standard. He gave the Board copies of a book explaining a model school system. Before Brunson had completed his remarks, he was cut off by Board President David Vitale.

Jonathan Goldman, of Drummond School, said he was told in January of 2012, that the budget would be out by April 15 and that there would be $150 million in savings. He said there were no plans yet for the longer school day (LSD) and that parents learned of this from the media, not the Board. He remarked that Common Core was not so great and that he would like quality based on research, not on political slogans.

Rebecca Malone, of the 19th Ward parents, spoke of her concerns about the Longer School Day, the Mayor's decision, library, lunchroom, safe physical facilities and technology. She asked the Board to make the current day the best that it can be before adding more time.

Laura Paris, holding a copy of a Mother Goose children's book, read from a story about the city, about a mayor who never came to the Board meetings while people lined up early, asked questions, and begged that schools not be closed or turned around. The story continued by saying the teachers are loved and understand our children, while money is given to "Stand On Children." She concluded by saying, "Tune in next month."

Michelle Bever, of the Mount Greenwood community, spoke in opposition to the longer school day. She said CPS claims it is broke. She wants a 6.5 hour day; she said 7 hours is too much. She told the Board that the national average is 6.6 hours and the Illinois average is 6.5. including art, music, and gym. She said class size is 22 or 15 or less in the suburbs, while it is 28 in the city. She remarked that in one first grade school in her area, there are 43 children.

Debra Beinstein, a parent of a student at Northside College Prep, remarked that it is the best performing in Illinois. She said that students are committed to activities outside school and need commute time and time to do homework. She said (with the longer school day), sleep time will be affected. She felt that better quality was not guaranteed and asked that the longer school day be postponed for a year. She added that one size fits all - doesn't, and that student surveys are needed for feedback.

Board President David Vitale, who has a daughter at Walter Payton High School, another high-performing high school, says his daughter has a one hour commute and supports the 7.5 hour day. He told her that when you get out there (in the communities), you don't hear the level of complaint that you hear here. Vitale began taking issue with comments, or praising those who agreed with the Board, as the meeting went on.

Constance Means, of the Chicago Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and a past CPS principal, said that there is nothing wrong with paying teachers for what they do. She added that poor decisions filter down to the classroom. She asked the Board to support the teachers with salaries and working conditions.

Mike Elliot, also of CBTU, asked questions about the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. He stated that the Pension Fund was underfunded and that teachers don't even receive Social Security. He said that pension "holidays" will reduce pension funds and teachers deserve secure pensions. He asked the Board to state their position in regard to pensions.

Letitia Taylor, of CBTU, said she came out of the CPS system. She spoke against the longer day, adding that 150 schools out of 600 have no libraries. She said that we need to spend money on our best resources - our children. She remarked that when you mess with the teachers' union, you mess with all of labor.

Annamarie Garza, of Gallistel Language Academy, told the Board that a new school is not wanted because the land is not suitable. She said that benzene and other chemicals are in the contaminated soil and that the site was across the street from a coal-firing station and next to a highway that is a six-lane highway leading to Horseshoe Casino. She said that an annex and modernizations were requested instead. She invited the Board to view the proposed new school site. President David Vitale told her we will take this into consideration.

Matthew King, of EPIC (Educationally Progressive Integrated Community) Academy, which he called "a neighborhood public charter school in South Chicago", wants more students, 480 to 600. He said we will need to build more classrooms and cited how EPIC is better than some other schools and why. He supports expansion of the school, the 7.5 hour day, and an additional hour for homework time.

Juan Jose Gonzalez, Chicago Director for Stand for Children (SFC), mentioned that Board Vice-President Jesse Ruiz came and heard the parents concerns. Mr. Gonzalez supports the 7.5 hour day. President Vitale clarified that Stand for Children is not on the vendor list, which was not the issue that had been raised before the Board. Critics of Stand for Children had previously noted that Board member Penny Pritzker in December 2010, a year before she was appointed to the Board, had helped raise nearly $1 million for Stand for Children's lobbying against the Chicago Teachers Union in Springfield. Not that Stand for Children received contracts from CPS.

Milton Alexander, of Camelot Schools, charter alternative schools, asked for one alternative school, block scheduling, the extended day, partnerships with job for the future, and computer-based instruction. He asked for Board approval for Excel Academy.

Ronald Jackson, of Tilden High School, wondered why the Board approved a turnaround at Tilden and why programs (art and music) were taken out of the building. He asked the Board, did you forget where you came from? He remarked that in 2008, Chief Counsel Patrick Rocks was involved in a case and that he could see the smirk on Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines face, adding, you all think it's a joke about children' education. He labeled them the "New Klansmen."

Martin Ritter lives in the West Loop and mentioned schools that have libraries, music and art. He remarked that other schools don't have these resources. He spoke of the schools that Chicago children deserve. He mentioned the base line that is needed in all schools from day one, not after the twentieth day.

Deborah Parizek, of Power House High School in North Lawndale, said she appreciated CPS support.

Andres Durbak, formerly in charge of CPS security, said he was a product of CPS, attending Mozart School and Lane Tech High School. He spoke of student victimization and that less than half of crimes in schools were reported to the police. He said there was pervasive violence in Philly schools that was underreported and mentioned the schoolhouse to jailhouse track. He added that children weren't born violent; they learn. He asked that CPS Safety and Security not be cut back because of budget constraints.

After this, around 1:00 p.m., the Board went into closed session.


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