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Educational issues at forefront in Hyde Park on a summer’s Wednesday night

Across the city, community partners and supporters of real public education with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) are sponsoring public forums to discuss issues regarding the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), particularly how to provide Chicago public school children with a quality education as well as discussing and answering questions regarding the possibility of a teachers’ union strike in Chicago.

One of the signs at the Wednesday protests. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.On Wednesday night, August 8, 2012, from 6:30 to 8:00 PM, one such community discussion group was brought together by Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) and a panel of teachers from the Hyde Park-Kenwood neighborhood on Chicago’s south side. The forum took place at the United Church of Hyde Park located at 1448 E. 53rd Street (corner of Blackstone).

Note: On Thursday, August 9, 2012, another forum was scheduled to be held at 6:00 PM at the Humboldt Park Fieldhouse located at 1440 N. Sacramento. One hour prior to the Wednesday night forum, and just one block east on 53rd Street at Lake Park, the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign held a press conference and informational picket on the mayoral-controlled TIF (tax increment financing) funds being siphoned off for the building of a Hyatt hotel instead of for public neighborhood schools. Under storm-threatening skies more than 100 people gathered, chanted, and marched just to the west of the construction site for the Hyatt hotel. Billionaire Penny Pritzker presently sits on the Board of Education. One flyer stated: “As a member of the Board of Ed., it’s Penny’s job to find money for our schools, not take our money for her business.” Full disclosure: I am a CPS teacher, and I helped pass out flyers. The majority of the people I spoke with on the street very simply had this to say about TIF money (read: taxpayer money) going to the Hyatt but not to the neighborhood public schools: “That is not right.” Lots of car horns beeped in support of the picketing as well. The Chicago Police Department had at least three vehicles parked near the intersection.

Another Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign flyer asked: “If the city can find more than $5 million in TIF money to give to Board member Penny Pritzker to build another Hyatt hotel, why can’t they find the money for a nurse in every school?” Chants included: “Education for the masses – not just for the ruling classes”; “We’re gonna beat – back – the Rahm attack – we’re gonna beat back the Rahm attack”; “Hey, hey, ho, ho – Penny Pritzker’s got to go”; and “Get up! Get down! (to which one goes up then down with dancelike moves) There’s a labor movement in this town!”

One oversized, rectangular, two-sided sign had a giant check written “Pay to the Order of: Billionaire, Penny Pritzker” in the amount of $5,200,000 paid for by “You and Me, the hard-working, middle class taxpayer” on one side. For contrast and comparison on the other side, a chart listed the amounts of cuts that seven nearby, neighborhood, real public schools (Dyett High School; Kenwood Academy; Mariam G. Canter Middle; Reavis Elementary; Burke Elementary; Ray School; and Kosminski Academy) were experiencing right now with a total cut of $3,379,629 financially as well as 27 staff position cuts. A sign read: “L’Education est un Droit Humain! Can’t Read This? More Funding for Public Schools!”

Note: The Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign holds its meetings every Monday at 6:00 PM at Teamster City located at 300 S. Ashland. All parents, community members, and working people are welcome.

While many marchers remained outside on the street, inside the United Church of Hyde Park over 75 people were in attendance for the forum. At a table in the front, Julie Woestehoff from PURE was seated in the center with three teachers on both sides. Teachers from local neighborhood schools at the forum included Gabriel Sheridan, Jane Averill, and John Cusick. Each of the panelists spoke, then the floor was opened for questions, comments, and discussion.

Ms. Woestehoff spoke about charter schools. She informed the audience that they were being used in Chicago to close schools and fire veteran teachers. In the poor state of Illinois, in the city of Chicago that has no money for libraries for neighborhood public schools, UNO charter schools received $100,000,000 not too long ago. She said that the word association of “charter schools” with “quality” was a lie, a myth, phony. Studies have shown that only 17% do better than their public school counterparts. The true meaning of the words “school choice” was that the charter schools had the choice, not the parents: the charter schools choose the high-performing and well-behaved students they want and push out the rest. The concept of “waiting lists” - since the neighborhood, public schools do not keep such lists because they simply enroll every student who enters - was comparing “apples and nothing.” If one parent filled out applications for his/her one child at 50 charter schools, this was counted as 50 on the charter school waiting lists.

Charter school graduation rates were lies. If the freshman class in a charter school began with 165 but all of the 105 students remaining in the senior year graduated, it was the dropout rate that should be looked at as opposed to the false claim of a “100% graduation rate” being praised and publicized by various TV news outlets, including Newsweek. In a nutshell, and according to one flyer, “interpret the news media with care. Remember the news coverage will be influenced by the people in power… not by our teachers.” Be suspicious of all things charter school.

Ms. Woestehoff also warned the audience about yet another upcoming propaganda movie (previously there was “Waiting for Superman”) regarding “parent trigger laws.” The movie was a myth. The whole “parents who took over a terrible school for the sake of their children” in actuality involved not parents but another charter-company, (“astroturf”) front group funded by billionaires. (Please go to the PURE website at pureparents.org and/or parentsacrossamerica.org for further information on all of the above and more.) Two themes covered by the panel that starkly contrasted with media, so-called education reform groups, and mayoral with CEO and Board of Education portrayals on the subjects were: class size matters and teacher experience matters.

A flyer from the CTU reported that “95% of Illinois school districts have smaller class sizes than Chicago’s. Average class size has decreased statewide in the past ten years while it has risen in Chicago.” CTU estimates the cost that the mayor’s Board of Education will not allocate for reducing class size from 28 to 20 this year at $170 million; allocated, by contrast, is $351 million for the Office of New Schools (charter expansion). In order to retain qualified teachers in the system, for which experience and higher education matter significantly, pensions needed to be funded. And it was repeated tonight that teachers do not receive social security.

The major theme underscoring everything else was the possibility of a strike. The following was spelled out on another flyer: “…parents know their children’s teachers. They know we don’t want to strike and that 90% of educators wouldn’t vote for something unless it would help us win better schools for our students.” The interim agreement covered a few things, but a lot of other important issues have not been worked out. One teacher/parent (presently working at CTU) asked from the audience how her daughter in a west side school was going to have recess and gym with no playground and no gym in the school; the kids needed to cross the street to go to gym in the nearby high school. She warned the audience that reality was going to catch up to Rahm Emanuel, who thought that all he had to do for things to happen was put a check on a checklist. Parents, as the first teachers of their children, and teachers, as the second teachers of the children, needed to stick together as the natural allies that they were. Mr. Cusick, presently teaching 5th and 6th grade at the nearby Ray Elementary School but with experience in North Lawndale, described the interim agreement as “bare bones for Track E students to be in school,” with the strike threat (or actuality) needed to be used as leverage to work out important things needed for a quality education for the students in CPS. He asked, “What kind of America do we want?”

Jane Averill, a PreK teacher at Ray School, spoke about the demonization she had heard over the years of “overpaid and underworked” teachers. She wondered as her career advanced how she could have been so wrong thinking that she had entered “a reputable profession.”

Research showed her “there are no educators in the education reform movement.” When 50% of a Board of Directors was made up of hedge fund managers and corporations, this was about privatization and union-busting not education. Research showed the quality of teaching, the quality of education as well as test scores had not gone down across America as claimed. There was only one portion declining in our country: the scores of children, rural or urban, in poverty. (In fact, the United States ranks 34th of 35 economically advanced countries in the percent of its children in poverty.) She spoke of Detroit compared to Finland; instead of educational platitudes they prioritized education with their money allocations in Finland. Ms. Averill’s account of what happened to her son, a CPS student, unfortunately characterized the experience of far too many students in schools across the United States: he enjoyed going to school until everything they were doing in the classroom stopped for two months of standardized test prep which caused him to not enjoy going to school any longer.

Those in attendance were encouraged to stay involved. Call representatives. Hound them as parents. As teachers, tell them the stories that will make their jaws drop about the realities in CPS. Don’t let them or anyone else get their information from other politicians with questionable ties and motives, with Illinois State Representative Robin Steans mentioned by name, or from the likes of the Chicago Tribune. Attend LSC meetings, go to websites for information, advocate, and organize. Stand strong and stand together with the teachers (and paraprofessionals and clinicians) of Chicago.

When John Cusick began speaking, he had asked if anyone present was a hedge fund manager or investment banker - no hands went up - before he told a variation of a joke that even if you have heard it’s worth repeating: A banker, a member of the tea party, and a teacher are in a pizzeria. The banker takes ¾ of the pizza and tells the tea party guy, “Watch out, the teacher wants your piece.” Regarding the piece that CTU is going for in its contract negotiations, one parent from the audience stated it best at tonight’s forum: “Your contract will be our kids’ contract as well.” She also had the forum’s final, loud words: “You really need to strike!”



Comments:

August 13, 2012 at 8:58 PM

By: Lisa

great article

I am really proud of those who stood up against this. Isn't Chicago supposed to be Democratic? Rahm Emanuel is a greedy capitalist and is not working for the people. It is appalling that Penny Pritzker is given these funds for her corporation while our students lack the tools they need for a decent education. CROOKED CROOKED politics!!! Stand up and fight against corporate welfare.

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