Tilden parent continues his fight outlining CPS sabotage of his high school... 'The Miracle of Dissatisfaction'

Ronald Jackson is a very ordinary man on what many consider an extraordinary mission. Anyone paying attention to CPS has seen him at the monthly Board of Education meetings. He may be asking about a grant of $6 million that the school never received, or pointing out that the vocational classes were removed from Tilden in 2010, causing a number of students to leave; the fact that seniors paid for a school yearbook last year but never received the yearbook or money back.

Observers may find Jackson talking at a rally against school closings, at an elected school board meeting, or riding a bus to Springfield to lobby. Jackson talks about so many issues, he is surely a dissatisfied man. But anyone who spends time listening to him learns that Jackson is dissatisfied because he lives in the neighborhood, is a parent of a former student and is on the Tilden LSC. He is a man on a mission to make Tilden Academy even better than before.

Privately, Jackson talks about the destabilization of Tilden from 2002 to 2013, during which time Tilden had five principals. Phyllis Hammond was the principal at the school from 2002-2010. Hammond was removed because the school would be ineligible for the CPS "transformation" grant unless the principal was removed. The LSC was told that if they removed the principal they would be given the $6 million "Transformation" grant. The school never received the money, but the principal was gone.

John Thomas and Eugene Crawford, at the time CPS officials, told the school that if four steps were followed, they would receive $6 million over three years. Also in 2010 the school lost the vocational programs, which included Certified Nursing Assistant, automobile mechanic, carpentry, computer technology and business programs.

The next principal from 2010 – May 2011 was Marcy Sorenson, who was gone from Tilden just as Rahm Emanuel was coming in as mayor and Jean-Calude Brizard was arriving from Rochester, New York, to become "Chief Executive Officer" of CPS. During the time Sorenson served as principal, according to Jackson, a local news station, CBS2, reported on questions raised about the Tilden Academy payroll. CBS2’s Dana Kozlov stated “the question is whether those irregularities are the result of ghost pay rolling or improper record keeping." Some of the abnormalities in Tilden payroll records, according to Jackson, include "children classified as security guards and employees with no photos in their file.”

There was also a question about whether staff members were qualified for the positions they were holding. During Sorenson’s tenure at Tilden, she unsuccessfully tried to cancel physical education, according to Ronald Jackson.

In 2011 and 2012, Safiya Karimak was interim principal. Jackson describes this period as “chaotic.“

Jackson is dissatisfied because, he says, if the LSC had been able to use its full powers in 2010, maybe the vocational classes might still be at the school, qualified people might have been teaching classes, there would be only one new principal over the years and students would not be left without a yearbook. The school might have received the $6 million grant.

Unfortunately, as Jackson states, "When the school went to transformation, the LSC was told by central office that they had no power.”

Tilden wasn't the only school tempted by "transformation."

Jerry Skinner, a teacher and union delegate at Kelvyn Park High School agrees. "When a school is transformed or turned around the LSC loses the ability to evaluate the principal which takes their power away.”

Skinner adds: “LSCs may ask for information, but the principal does not always provide it because they know that the LSC does not evaluate them. “

The present Tilden principal, Maurice Sweeney, came to Chicago from New Orleans schools last August.

The Local School Council met on January 15, 2013. The council has had meetings this year, but has not had a quorum and some officers are still being elected. Principal Maurice Sweeney opened the meeting by reporting on Senior Night where parents can bring in tax forms to get an early start on filing for student college loans.

Jackson requested an itemized list of the grants given to the school and where the money was spent. He asked if Sweeney could find out what happened to the $6 million Transformation Grant over three years. Sweeney reported that Tilden is currently in year 2 of a 3-year SY13 School Improvement Grant (SIG), and the library and classrooms all have new computers but no technology classes.

The student newspaper states that the grant has also provided technology equipment. New programs supporting the culture and climate are: City Year, UMOJA , A Knock @ Midnight.

Jackson asked about returning some of the vocational programs cancelled in 2010. Principal Sweeney reported that the school filled out and sent a survey to get some CTE programs. The LSC discussed a special election to get new members on the council. Jackson requested that a letter to parents be sent out telling about the Facilities Task Force which meets every second Saturday from 10:00 am-12:00. The February meeting will be at 5835 S. Princeton Ave.

The next Tilden LSC Meeting will be Monday, February 13 at 4:00pm.

Sweeney told the LSC that he would provide a list of grants that the school presently has and try to find out what happened to the $6 million Transformation Grant. Sweeney said he will provide a list of what the grant money was spent on.

Principal Sweeney reported that on Monday, February 18, the Alderman will tour the school. Sweeney stated that they have A+ Promise which works with students on their Core classes because at this time half of the sophomore class and half of the junior class are behind a year in core subjects. Tilden has an art class. There is a music class and the school plans to spend $3,500- $5,000 to buy or repair instruments and start a school band.

Jackson and Sweeney observed that the problems from 2002 to 2010 were not caused by present school administration. The present LSC members agreed to work together this year to make the school better.

After the meeting, Freshman Counselor, Edmond Amos showed us to the second floor. Amos said he feels that the school is progressing well. When asked about the vocational programs that were canceled, he said that the school does have some programs, such as the culinary arts program, which won third place at the “Cooking Up Change” Student Contest. Amos said the school is also interested in bringing back some of the vocational programs, but first would like to raise scores in core subjects because students were “doing well in the vocational classes but their grades were so low in core subjects that they did not graduate.”

The school newspaper reported that Michael Finney is in charge of After School Activities which include: MIKVA Challenge, Hip Hop/R& B Dance, Tilden TV, AV Club, Black Gurls, Inc. Second City, Sports 37, Yearbook, Poetry, Marshal Arts, and Pre Barber Training.

I next met Jubilee Westergaard, a staff member of City Year, which partners with AmeriCorps, an educational non-profit group. Eight people work with freshmen students before, during and after school on core subjects. Westergaard sated that the freshman core subject passing rate has jumped from 33% to 80%. Westergaard says,” These students are on track to graduate. “ Westergaard says that Principal Sweeney was instrumental in bringing City Year to the school. Westergaard talked about an event that brought in 200 people for a Family Engagement Night. They ate Panda Express and played games.

She also mentioned the Holiday Bash for students with perfect attendance. According to Westergaard,” These events affect the whole school.”

While Jackson plans to work with the school and other LSC members, he feels that the school needs to be more transparent about the LSC elections and how grant money is being spent. Jackson says that in the past the LSC has tried to add programs but has met resistance so he wonders what programs will be added and whether they will benefit from the authority of a functioning LSC . He wants a functioning LSC with parents informed about meeting dates and time. Jackson said he called eight parents to ask them why they did not attend the LSC meeting and they said that they were not informed. One woman said she was off work that day and could have come. Also if Tilden had a functioning LSC the council would be able to decide which programs to add and where the money should go.

Rev. Stephanie Jaeger, the pastor of Augustana Luteran Church in Hyde Park, Jaegar our attention back to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., by quoting King’s powerful words from 45 years ago:

“Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty, and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.

"Let us be dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.

"Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.

"Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.

"Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.

"Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. Let us be dissatisfied. Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol will be housed by a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with his God.

"Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

"Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid. Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, “White Power!” – when nobody will shout “Black Power!”-but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.”

[The Title and several quotes in this article come from a sermon given by Rev. Stephanie Jaeger, Augustana Lutheran Church of Hyde Park].


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