Hundreds rally with the Chicago Teachers Union on July 25

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) flyers presented the July 25 rally at the Board of Education as follows: “Budget cuts, an unfunded longer school day, 1000 layoffs and ‘redefinitions,’ endless unproven charters school $$$ and expansion, 300 schools without full time art and music, 160 schools without libraries, inadequate clinician staffing, unsafe playgrounds, over testing, crumbling facilities, and an unelected rubber stamp school board. Had enough?” More than 500 people marching and chanting in front of 125 S. Clark Street had apparently had enough.

More than 500 CTU members and supporters rallied at CPS headquarters, 125 S. Clark St., on July 25. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt. As the rally began just before 9:00, about 100 people were gathered in front of the headquarters of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), most wearing red t-shirts. They began to chant and march in a circle in front of the building. But by 9:35 over 550 people were moving in a circling march extending from the middle of Monroe to the north past the Board of Education on Clark to near the intersection of Dearborn and Addams to the south. Though by far most of the signs and t-shirts represented the CTU, various other groups identified by their t-shirts, signage, and flyers also came out to demonstrate their support for the CTU. Members from the recently-formed Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign held up a large banner. (See Substance report from July 14, 2012.)

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey (in center, behind "Fight Rahmunism" sign) marches with CTU members on July 25. He spoke at the rally on Clark St., and to the Board members during the Board of Education meeting later that morning. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.One teacher from Chicago ACTS (Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff) wore a “Stand With the Chicago Teachers Union” t-shirt. (This is the one and only unionized charter school in CPS.) The International Socialist Organization passed out flyers proclaiming: “We need schools not jails!” The opening sentences to the flyer handed out by the Illinois Green Party declared: “The Illinois Green Party is proud to stand in support of the Chicago Teachers Union. The CTU is on the front line of bipartisan attacks against the public sector.” O. A. Thorp elementary music teacher Dorthy McDaniel and O. A. Thorp elementary school art teacher Amy Wilson march in support of a better day for all Chicago public school students. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Many of the signs supported fine arts, such as: “The Arts Make Us Smart,” “Music Makes Children’s Hearts Sing” and “Support the Arts – Hire Certified Art Teachers.” CTU has been at the forefront in the fight for Chicago’s students to have a quality school day, not just a longer school day. CTU is advocating for classes including art, music, drama/theatre, and dance, as well as library, computer, physical education, and world language for all CPS students. Other signs were political: “ARTS Advocate and… I Vote,” “Fund Neighborhood Schools Not Charter Schools,” “Stop Killing Neighborhood Schools,” and “Fight Rahmunism.” Inside 125 S. Clark Street, one sign behind the sign-in desks for the Board meeting simply stated: “We’ve Gone Google.”

"Test scores do not equal educational success" is a concept the Chicago Board of Education members don't yet comprehend. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.At approximately 9:30, an alternative chanting could barely be heard from 25 or so adults and children across the street. One giant sign said: UNO. UNO originally stood for the United Neighborhood Organization; presently, it stands for a publicly-funded but privately-run (read: unaccountable) charter school organization run by CEO Juan Rangel. He did not appear to be with this group. They held a few signs, mostly of a content desperately trying to convince any readers that charters were real public schools. Although CPS’s proposed budget increased money for charters schools by $75 million while cutting from the real public schools, the UNO group chanted: “Equal – Funding – Equal – Funding.” The ratio of support out on the street this morning for real public schools versus charter schools was about 25:1. The CTU marchers stopped as CTU’s Christel Williams introduced the scheduled speakers. The speakers and a group surrounding them wore graduation robes and hats. This represented teachers as lifelong learners, as stated by the first speaker Raymond Wohl, CTU Arts Chair and Pension Representative. He listed the numbers of schools without music, art, libraries, and P.E. He demanded unequivocally, “CPS, fund a quality school day.”

Displaced teacher Rodney Pruitt spoke against the Board's policies of firing experienced teachers. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.The second speaker was Rodney Pruett, representing displaced teachers. He said, “You are all worth something.” But then he went on to explain that when you gained experience and earned multiple graduate degrees, CPS considered you too old and worthless. He said that he, as a son of teachers, born and raised in Chicago, as many others within CPS, differed from suburban teachers who enter then leave after one or two years. He said we do not discard Chicago’s children. He told the crowd that the nation was watching Chicago.

Kim Bowsky and Patty Wagner wore graduation robes, signifying their commitment to life-long learning. Their expression also spoke to the Board's intention to wipe out teachers' lanes and steps pay scale. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt. Wearing a white cap and gown, Patty Wagner said, “Hello to the greatest teachers in the world!” As a representative of CTU’s highly qualified membership, she listed all her degrees and endorsements. For each new certificate or endorsement, she had to take 4-5 hour tests. She said that like so many CTU teachers, it is her honor to be in the classroom, but it isn’t easy. Her school is surrounded by boarded-up houses, and there are rival gangs to the right and left of the school.

The CTU represents teachers, clerks, teacher aides, secretaries, social workers, nurses, and psychologists. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Kimberly Bowsky rallied the crowd with a fiery speech. If teachers were professionals with degrees, we should be respected to make decisions about what represented a quality day for our students, she said. But the Board was made up of number crunchers with policies against public education. Teachers and others out in the schools continually take money out of our own pockets, and, she joked, so do they. She loudly stated that it was not wrong to take care of teachers, PSRPs, and clinicians. Poverty is the main concern, and by that account we are swimming upstream in CPS. She loudly told the Board to stop saying they have no money. “Don’t ever tell our kids that they are not worth it. We don’t turn them away.”

Katrina Richards, a teacher from Dyett High School, voted by the Board this year to be phased-out, told the crowd that CPS was telling the students to transfer now so that the phase-out would not take 5 years. Nine teachers were left at Dyett. Relationships developed between faculty and staff and students were destroyed. She attended five funerals for students in this school year. Yet the Board was requiring the students of Dyett to now travel 30 blocks to Phillips High School. In CPS, the students who need the resources the most do not get them.

The final speaker was CTU Vice President, Jesse Sharkey. He attempted to speak with the “mic check” tactic of the Occupy Movement in order for the 500-plus crowd gathered around to be able to hear, but even with loud speakers this was not possible. Mr. Sharkey joked, “We’ll take a class later.” It was especially difficult for anyone at any distance from the speakers to hear because the Chicago Police Department would not allow anyone into the street in front of the speakers; the crowd was forced to pack itself along Clark Street.

More than 500 CTU members and supporters marched outside 125 S. Clark St. on July 25. Substance photo by Susan Zupan. Sharkey spoke about the captains of finance, the masters of industry, the hedge-fund bankers, and the 1 percent trying to tell us what’s good for the schools: “These people are fools, even if they carried signs that said, “I’m not a fool. The people who did the bidding of the 1% were pawns, even if they carried signs that stated, “I am not a pawn.” (Sharkey must have seen the sign “We are not pawns” held by someone from UNO just across the street.) He yelled, “Shame on the pawns!” Sharkey characterized the way the Board of Education began negotiations with the CTU as dictating every turn, with their proposals as “‘death of public education.’ They cast aside experience for turnover to private operators, but we met the attack. We occupied schools, filled the streets, and, yes, voted to authorize a strike. This was not the voice of those at the negotiating table, this was every voice here. That, and that alone, forced the Board to climb out of the bulldozer to talk with us. They said, okay, we’ll talk. But we have no illusions that the tiger has changed its stripes or that the powers-that-be care about the people they are supposed to serve.”

CTU marchers responded to UNO charter school demonstrators who carried signs reading, "I am not a pawn." Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Sharkey said that the Board has recently backed away from positions for which they spent millions fighting. They are promising to fund art and physical education. For the first time, the Board has agreed to hire from the ranks of displaced teachers, who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. This is good, but we also want more counselors, Sharkey said. We must ask, “Why are you closing schools?” and “Why are you trying to staff schools with volunteers instead of PRSPs?” So, we have this “step” in the right direction, but the contract still needs to be settled. And the fight for educational justice will need to continue.

Retired school nurse and union delegate Helen Ramirez speaks to the need for school nurses and social workers in every school. Substance photos by Sharon Schmidt.When speeches on the street in front of 125 Clark Street are completed, usually those in attendance disperse. This morning, 400-plus people remained and began to march and chant once again. For the benefit of the 25 or so supporters of UNO across the street, one chant was: “WE TEACH ALL KIDS!” (For those who do not understand: charter schools in Chicago loudly claim to have an open front door policy for student admission, but they softly complement this with a much larger kick-‘em-out-the-back door policy. The real public schools cannot/do not kick students out.) Shortly after the speeches and resumed march and chants, the UNO group wrapped it up. This reporter followed them to their bus waiting on Monroe. When asked if anyone had any comment, the responses were “no comment” and “not really.” After they were safely on the bus, one man began yelling various numbers out the door at me. One thing he yelled was that 60-70 percent of CTU members had their own kids in charter or private schools. He said that UNO was a public school. When I asked him why the CPS budget didn’t tell the public the number of teachers or students in the charters as for the public schools, he said it did. I’m not sure he understood what I was talking about. (See budget lessons on this Substance page.) When I asked him his name, he yelled, “My name is Superman!”

Monroe elementary music teacher Ted Ehnle at the July 25 rally. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.
The supporters of the real, public schools marched and chanted until 10:45, when the CTU organizers finally had to wrap it up. Everyone was invited to wear their CTU red for the Bud Billiken parade on August 11, 2012.


August 2, 2012 at 9:08 PM

By: Michelle Klein

Test scores do not equal educational success

Hello, I am the woman in the red hat in the 4th photo. I am very worried about the increasing standardized testing in our city, state and country. These tests have a certain value and use but have become overused and for the wrong things. Most people do not even realize that these tests are normed so that there can never be a large group doing extremely well. The results must fit into a normal bell curve. we do our students and ourselves as a nation, a disservice when we teach children to fill in circles and not to think outside the box.

August 3, 2012 at 1:07 AM

By: Susan Zupan






Profiteers from the standardized testing industry must now find other ways to make tons of money. Since the actual cause of the problem they are paid for pointing out over and over and over and over has finally been determined - their "services" are no longer so essentially needed.

All public education employees, especially teachers, plus students and their parents in America's underfunded public schools and communities will be issued official apology letters from the government and the mainstream media for being slandered and libeled as "failures" when it was the poverty, stupid, all along.

(And I agree with you 100%, Michelle.)

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