Brizard's appointed principal tries to bar public from a public meeting... Protests continue against tyranny at Social Justice High School as the community, teachers and students continue traditions of the school born from hunger strike

The start to this new school year was turbulent for Social Justice High School, one of the schools inside Little Village High School on Chicago's Southwest Side. School was supposed to begin with the other "Track E" schools on August 13, but the Board of Education created controversy that continues and resulted in a mass meeting on August 23 at which the "Network Chief" failed to appear to explain CPS actions, the principal appointed against the vote of the community threatened teachers and students (and then walked out of the meeting), and a high school that was built after a community mobilization (and hunger strike during the years of the Vallas administration) continued to be a school of activism and democracy.

Students explaining their demands during the protests against the new principal and cuts at Chicago's Social Justice High School on August 23, 2012. Substance photo by Sarah Chambers.It all began in early August, when CPS officials removed the principal chosen by the Local School Council and imposed a new principal. Protests, including a sit-in and occupation of the building, erupted.

In addition to this slap in the face to the community, parents, teachers and students, the new principal continued the CPS strategy of imposing destructive changes by cutting three advanced placement classes. Instead of encouraging Advanced Placement classes, the newly installed principal cut them, eliminating teachers. More protests ensued. The students, in an uproar, mobilized an occupation of the school with a sit-in to demand that the principal reverse these changes. The chief of the Westside High School "Network" agreed to return the AP classes — but only brought back one AP class, according to the students and teachers at the school.

Due to these unfulfilled promises by CPS, the parents demanded a meeting with the "network." The meeting was scheduled for August 23, 2012. The day before the meeting, the principal announced that all staff, students and community members would be denied access to the meeting.

In protest of this attempt to thwart democracy, all those that were denied access protested in front of the school — until they were allowed in.

After the newly appointed principal failed to exclude teachers and students from the August 23, 2012 meeting at Social Justice High School, the meeting swelled to more than 200 people. Substance photo by Sarah Chambers.The room quickly filled with 200 community members, parents, students, and staff. The principal began her speech with a list of her qualifications, followed by a slideshow of data. She stated that one AP English Literature course and the AP Psychology course would be reinstated next week, but one AP English Literature course would not return. Immediately following her statements, there was an uproar from the audience.

Pati, one of the parents and original hunger strikers, jumped up and said, “Now, you say that you are reinstating the classes, but why did you take them away?”

The crowd cheered and waited for her response.

The principal responded with recounting data from 2011 that was on the Power Point and stated that the reading scores were not where they should be.

David Morales-Doyle, a teacher from Social Justice, countered that her data was old and that the 2012 data showed major gains. “Based off of this, we need to increase AP enrollment, not decrease it. All that data showed a positive trend, so it makes no sense to disrupt that.”

After this comment was made, multiple people in the crowd were cheering, jumping up and shouting, “Why would you remove AP classes to increase reading?”

At this point, a flow of speakers came. Carolina Geate, a well respected community activist, stood and shouted to the principal, “Do you know the values of this school? Those CPS officials over there are not your bosses. The community is your boss!”

Rico Gustein, a University of Illinois Professors and leader of Teachers for Social Justice, explained how the school was fought for with a hunger strike and the hunger strikers are supporting the students now. He explained how he knew the reason for these actions: CPS wants to privatize Little Village High School.

Dr. David Stoval, a community representative on the ALSC, came to the mic and said, “How is the decision made over the last two weeks in the best interest of the students?”

The CPS network staff did not speak until the whole audience began to chant, “Go to the mic, go to the mic!”

Maria Amador, a CPS instructional coordinator, and Anthony Spivy, the chief of high school support, told the audience that they did not have answers to their questions, because the network chief was not in attendance.

The principal appointed by CPS bureaucrats took office and tried to assert power against the wishes of the community and the Local School Council. Above, during the August 23 meeting, she tried to utilize the typical Brizard administration Power Point ploy to stall the meeting with "mission statement" boilerplate, while officials from the "Network" (also appointed by the central office over the community's wishes) tried to dodge any participation in the meeting, and the "Network Chief" played hooky. A reminder to our readers about the class nature of these politics. Let's call it the "Jamie Ortega Rule." More than a year ago, before the "Areas" became "Networks," many people were focused on a tinpot tyrant on the Southwest Side (then, a CAO, or "Chief Area Officer") named Janie Ortega. At the time, the "Chief Executive Officer" was a cop named Ron Huberman, and the "data" attacks on teachers were being orchestrated by a "data driven management" team headed by a former CTA bureaucrats named Sara Somethingor other. Like Jean-Claude Brizard, all of these people are the overpaid and cravenly loyal servants of their masters. The name of the current SoJo principal doesn't matter, despite the intensity of community feeling. Like the Power Point nonsense she uses to stall meetings and befuddle certain marks, she is basically a spare part in the current system. Her name is Marissa Velasquez. There are a dozen like her in line if she can't handle the current assignment, no matter how self-important or Janie Ortega she gets on people this month and next. Substance photo by Sarah Chambers.This further infuriated the audience. People began shouting, “Why not?” “Where is the network chief?” “Why isn’t she here if this meeting was set up?” The CPS network staff returned their seats, providing no answers.

One of the most impactful moments of the night was when a group of students gathered at the microphone in support of a peer. The student explained the principal would not allow her to read a poem or speak about the occupation at the school town hall earlier that week. With tears falling down her face, the student read a poem by Silverstein called, “The Voice,”

There is a voice inside of you

That whispers all day long,

"I feel that this is right for me,

I know that this is wrong."

No teacher, preacher, parent, friend

Or wise man can decide

What's right for you -- just listen to

The voice that speaks inside.

Following the poetry reading, parents asked why the student was not allowed to read her poem. The principal stated, “She was trying to make a political statement…”

The audience immediately began booing and yelling, “Do you know what school you are at? You are at Social Justice High School!”

Then the students began chanting, “Where’s the justice in social justice?” and the whole audience joined in chanting. The principal walked out of the room to the chants of, “We were born out of struggle, the struggle continues.”

It was powerful to see this amazing display of community member courage and unity, students and staff standing up to administration, saying no to privatization and demanding what is best for the students. Hopefully, other schools will learn from Social Justice’s struggle, and see how community can reclaim the power in education and demand change. 


August 25, 2012 at 1:31 PM

By: Patricia Breckenridge

CORE leader Katie Hogan purged by SOJO's evil principal

Katie Hogan, founding teacher of Social Justice High School and a Caucus of Rank and File Eduators (CORE), the winning caucus of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), member lost her job over this set-up for failure school reform -- ready to replace honest hard working teachers with historical scabs.

As a Christian, all I can say is God is watching and unGodly people will be brought to justice.

August 26, 2012 at 1:33 AM

By: Jerry Skinner

Tursday's community meeting at Social Justice High School

Yet another example of how the people in charge of our city's public school don't care about our students or the adults who teach them. Just days before the start of school CPS fires a popular and ALSC-approved principal and replaces her with an outsider who has no knowledge of either the history or values of Little Village's Social Justice High School (SoJo). The newly installed principal immediately begins to act more like a conquistadore than an educator, completely ignoring the voices of the people who know SoJo best. At Thursday community meeting, principal Marissa Velasquez's opening powerpoint boasting her credentials and her claim that she made the "hard decisions" that were needed would have been merely comical if the victims of her conceit and ignorance were limited to her own vanity and the Network suits that she kowtows to. Sadly, it is the students of SoJo who will suffer. And yet, it is the response of these students and their community to her malpractice that is so inspiring. Unlike so many of the other 100+ neighborhood schools that have been attacked by CPS in recent years, they have not simply waited passively in the hope that those in positions of power would come to their senses, but took concerted action through a mass sit-in and Thursday's meeting. Everyone who attended the meeting received a lesson in CPS's standard operating practice and how to respond to it. People like Ms. Velasquez and her truant Network Chief will probably always be more anxious for their next promotion than interested in the education of our children, and so we can expect them to continue to carry out the most harmful and destructive of policies. The Friday order to have dedicated teachers like Katie and Angela (both of whom, unlike Ms. Velasquez, have been trusted by the students and parents of SoJo since the school's inception)fired through "redefinition" and then escorted out of the building by security guards shows the harm they are willing to inflict. The answer to such arrogance is to live the students' credo "We were born out of struggle. The struggle continues!"

August 26, 2012 at 7:39 AM

By: Susan Ohanian

Sarah Chambers story

Thanks for this detailed coverage. It helps us outside Chicago understand the power plays and diversions going on.

August 26, 2012 at 8:50 AM

By: Al Ramirez

SOJO story

Great coverage! Again, the Chicago Board of Education and Chicago's Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, show how disconnected they are from the community. La lucha continua!

August 26, 2012 at 3:36 PM

By: Kenzo Shibata

Marisa Velasquez, well-paid saboteur

Marisa Velasquez worked on Turnarounds for the Office of New Schools. Check out this letter from Josh Edelman, brother of Jonah Edelman (who is best known about lying to get the longest school day in Chicago). who head up her department at the time.

She is not an educator, she's a a well-paid saboteur.


August 28, 2012 at 12:45 PM

By: Cathaline Carter

Reporting of the SOJO story.

Thanks so much for this reporting. It is so heartening to see that there are students/community members and teachers who are willing to stand up, and speak out intelligently.

August 31, 2012 at 7:35 PM

By: Elena Silva

Little Village HS principal a saboteur

I had the misfortune of working at one the schools that Marissa Velazquez previously worked at and I agree wholeheartedly that she has excellent credentials and experience — at been a great saboteur .

August 31, 2012 at 8:54 PM

By: John Kugler

Shock Doctrine, New Orleans model coming to Chicago

All these CPS administrative hacks are doing exactly what is planned: draining the system with their high salaries and outside vendors plus completely destroying all systems and protections in-place now for 100 years. Why are they doing it? So there can be an emergency declared and CPS will be dissolved or taken over by a state or federal agency for a mass turnaround like in New Orleans or Detroit.

September 1, 2012 at 8:17 PM

By: Vanessa Clark

Please share all the facts

So...the ALSC actually only approved Kathy Farr to be the principal with a 6 to 5 vote. To my understanding meant that the ALSC was complete divided on their selection of Farr. Also, didn't Farr close several positions over the summer before the new principal started? Plus, Farr was only in the school building for 6 weeks before the students took the ACT. There is no way that create can be given to a school administrator for increasing ACT scores after only being in the building for 6 weeks. Farr was a horrible leader at Little Village just like she was at Chicago Discovery Academy. She never should have been selected to lead that school.

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