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BOARDWATCH: Detailed report of the Chicago Board of Education meeting January 23, 2013

The Chicago Board of Education (BOE) held its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, January 23, 2013, at 125 S. Clark Street. Board Members who were present were Dr. Carlos M. Azcoitia, Dr. Henry S, Bienen, Dr. Mahalia Hines, Jesse Ruiz, and Andrea Zopp. Also present was Board President David Vitale, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and General Counsel James Bebley. Absent was Board Member Penny Pritzker.

Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett (above during the presentation from the National Board Certified teachers at the January 23, 2013 Board meeting). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Prior to the opening of the meeting, the Board honored the cooking program from Washington High School and the newly inducted National Board Certified Teachers who came through the most recent program through the Chicago Teachers Union QUEST Center.

One of the items covered at the beginning of the meeting was the appreciation shown regarding Community Action Councils. Alderman Deborah Graham (29th Ward) spoke for the Austin Community and CAC, while others spoke for the Humboldt Park Community, and Bronzeville.

The business portion of the meeting began with a report by CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett with respect to the commission that is planning school closings. Her interim report mentioned these specific recommendations:

+ All high schools will be exempt from closing or consolidation. If because of the facility there is a threat to the community or staff, then students and staff will be removed to a safer school building.

+ Level 1 schools will not be closed.

Todd Babbitz and Barbara Byrd Bennett presenting the latest CPS Power Point on facilities and "underutilization." Neither of them was with CPS when the first Power Points on the same subject were presented 14 months earlier by their predecessors, Oliver Sicat and Jean-Claude Brizard. Neither Babbitz nor Byrd Bennett has every taught in a Chicago public school. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. + Under-utilized schools adding grades will not be closed.

+ Schools serving more than 600 students will not be closed, but will be evaluated individually.

+ A school that is close to efficient utilization will not be closed.

+ If there were recent school actions, the school will not be closed.

+ A Level 2 school that is "on the rise" will not be closed. Evaluation will be done to determine, what does it mean to be on the rise.

+ There will be creative solutions for schools that are 61% overcrowded.

'Rigor' is one of the latest buzzwords from the latest iteration of the CPS administration. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.+ Charter schools and contract schools will be held to the same standards as regular schools.

+ Consolidation will be considered greatly.

Chicago Public Schools now has a "Chief Transformation Officer," Todd Babbitz (above testifying at the January 23, 2013 Board of Education meeting). Babbitz was hired by the Board of Education by a vote at its July 25, 2012 meeting for the newly created position of "Chief Transformation Office" at an annual salary of $195,000. Babbitz has no Chicago teaching experience and is not certified as a teacher or administrator in Illinois. Because the Chicago Board of Education has continued to make such decisions in secret (and then vote, as it did again on January 23, 2013) to keep its executive session proceedings secrety, no one knows why the Board decided it needed a "Chief Transformation Officer", why Babbitz was the best person for that job, and why --- ultimately -- the "Chief Transformation Officer in 2013 became the executive who presented the school closing Power Point when the Power Point on the 2011 - 2012 changes had been presented by the Board's "Chief Portfolio Officer" (Oliver Sicat, whose departure has been announced, but not yet taken place). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Following the CEO's report on the Commission, Chief Transformation Officer Todd Babitz presented a Power Point presentation referred to as "Realigning Our Footprint For The Next Generation of Chicago's Children." The extensive Power Point, which is supposed to be published on the Board's Website, was the latest plan on how CPS will deal with school closings, confronting what it has been calling the "underutilization crisis." Topics covered were "What we aspire to deliver for our students," "the challenges facing CPS," (including another repetition of the claim that CPS faces a $1 billion budget deficit looming for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins July 1, 2013).

Babbitz repeated the CPS claim that there had been "significant population drops" in Chicago's school-age population although CPS officials have begun to acknowledge that the drop in school age population (as measured by census date) is much greater than the drop in the actual population of children in Chicago's public school. Without providing examples, Babbitz added that CPS has school buildings that "lack basics", schools without enough resources, and thinly-spread limited resources. He noted that CPS enrollment decline is slower than but in line with population decline. He also noted that the administration was aware of the impact of school enrollment on a neighborhood, enrollment decline because of CPS population decrease, and a lack of enrollment that leads to split-grade classrooms.

At present, according to Babbitz, there are 140 "half-empty buildings". Different aspects of the enrollment trends and current building use by principals are being evaluated. Babbitz told the Board that the goal is "a safe and seamless transition" for all students beginning in School Year 2013-2014 when closings and consolidations are announced. He said that the key priorities of transition planning were outlined. Babitz pointed out that state law requires parents be offered a higher-performing school if the original school is closed.

Board Member Andrea Zopp began what became a regular questioning during the meeting. She stated, "We should be careful about what we say and how we say it." She said that a higher performing school may or may not be in that same neighborhood. Babitz responded that some schools are far apart. Zopp added that there also have parts of the city where CPS doesn't have higher-performing options.

Todd Babbitz's "aspirational" objectives as presented in his Power Point for the January 23 Board of Education meeting. The slides drew some snickers in the audience, since in the past three years CPS has presented this type of information over and over and over, with a new jargon each time. Substance photo from the overhead slides presented during the January 23, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education.CEO Byrd-Bennett said that CPS needed to "shore up support and provide wrap-around services to under-performing schools" when needed. She said she welcomed input from the community. Zopp asked what the time frame is. Byrd-Bennett said that the scheduled meetings begin January 28, 2013.

Board Member Henry Bienen asked about large classes in under-utilized schools and the impact of charters.

Board Member Carlos Azcoitia recommended partnering with other city agencies. Byrd-Bennett responded that creative ways for building utilization will be explored, but that this task is not part of the commission.

Defending the Board's talking points both on its budget claims and on its "underutilization" presentation, Board Member Bienen asked about budget impacts and savings from school closings. He added that some buildings are old and need lots of repairs and renovation. Board Member Mahalia Hines said that transition has not always been a good experience in the past. She added that "culture shock" is not a pleasant experience with many students being academically ready, but not culturally ready, for transition. Byrd-Bennett remarked that some Level 1 school have small school populations.

Todd Babitz added that there have been past problems with the transferring of materials from one school to another. CEO Byrd-Bennett referred to past closings, openings, cultural transitions, and compliance with the law. Board Member Zopp and Babitz discussed the availability of resources, with Board Member Zopp adding that only 10 schools were affected last year, while many more will probably be affected this year.

The next topic was the new school calendar for 2013-2014 and the future. Track R schedules and Track E schedules will be blended into one scedule. CEO Byrd-Bennett said that there will be "One district, One vision, and One calendar." According to Byrd Bennett, CPS surveys and focus groups showed that 51% of parents and 80% of teachers would like the school year to begin in August. As a result, the 2013 - 2014 school year will begin for students on August 26, 2013. The Thanksgiving holiday will extend to a five-day weekend, beginning on Wednesday, and including the traditional Thanksgiving Thursday, and Friday. (Wednesday will be an unpaid holiday, she said.)

Board Member Hines remarked that this was long overdue and asked if charter schools would also follow this new calendar. She was told "No" because the state law for charter schools allows them to set their own calendars. She also mentioned that the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) will take place on April 23rd, the Wednesday after Spring Break. Azcoitia, a former principal, noted that the calendar would give some schools the ability to run a summer school as he had done.

After the school calendar Power Point was completed, "Chief of Talent" (formerly "Chief Human Capital Officer," before that "Chief Human Resources Officer") Alicia Winkler gave details of the plan for Principal Quality and Effectiveness, again using a Power Point. She said that seventy-five new individuals are being prepared to be principals this fall. In January 2010, she said, the State Legislature passed the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA) which requires a new principal evaluation process. The CPS PERA is aligned with Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago Students (REACH) for teachers. None of the Board members asked how the "Principal Quality and Effectiveness" plan of January 2013 differed from the previous principal leadership plan that had been presented to the Board in November 2011.

Board President Vitale then announced that office hours are available monthly to meet with Board Members. The number to call for an appointment is 773-553-1600. Also, the advanced registration system for all public participation which will be done only online is now complete. As a result, for the first time in history everyone signed up for public participation had registered on line, and the number had been limited to 60 people. Board Secretary Estella Beltran announced that online registration will begin one week prior to the Board Meeting and end whenever registration is "full" (full being a total of 60 speakers no matter how many people might wish to bring items to the Board).

The first to speak during public participation was 29th Ward Alderman Deborah Graham from the Austin area. She said that her big concern was this: Should a school have to close, will children be sent to a quality school? She asked about the effects of charter schools on neighborhood schools. She mentioned that the charter schools had been "marketing," while the local public schools are not doing this. She said that "door-to-door solicitation" was okay apparently for charter schools, but not okay for neighborhood schools. After noting that nothing in the earlier presentations had mentioned the homeless, she asked: How do we serve the homeless population, on the one hand. or children with mental health students or disabilities, on the other? She said she didn't hear about either of these groups today and asked that they be put on the radar.

CEO Byrd-Bennett told her that a staff member would talk with her later about how to market schools.

Next, Second Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti mentioned homeless people and people who spoke many languages in his ward. He pointed out the wish that his constituents have for a high-quality neighborhood school in the old Jones College Prep High School building in the South Loop area, now that the new Jones College Prep building will be opening. He noted that he and his constituents had been asking that the "Old Jones" land not be sold and the old building not be torn down, which had finally been granted. However, he objected to the plan to expand the selective enrollment Jones College Prep into the old building, since the community wants a safe, quality neighborhood school will be established to help keep families in Chicago.

Those signed up for public participation began speaking more than two hours after the meeting had convened at 10:30 a.m.

The first speaker, Sarah Baker, who identified herself as "Principal and Co-Founder" of Foundations College Prep, asked for approval of their planned 6-12 open-enrollment facility for the Roseland/Pullman community. Board Member Zopp asked if she had spoken to either of the aldermen, and Baker said they had not yet gotten that done.

KyleTerry, a board member of the Orange Group (proposing the "Orange" charter school) told the Board that he was a product of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), then he spoke in support of the planned Orange School, which he hoped would be a model for inventive education. An arts-based curriculum is planned, he said.

The charter school speakers continued. Anton Seals, of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS), said he supports the schools that are up for adoption today, Foundations and Orange Arts School, and asked for approval today.

Anne Brown, scheduled to speak, said that the previous statements represent her stand and that she would not repeat their requests.

Davetta Williams, of the Auburn-Gresham community and "New Schools for Chicago," was continued the speakers who were demanding more charter schools. She told the Board she wants approval of charter schools and wants school "choice" expanded. She spoke of the numbers who attended the recent New Schools Expo.

Andre Johnson, of Magic Johnson Bridgescape, introduced the planned school that would focus on drop-outs, wrap-around services, jobs and college prep. He said there would be scholarships for those going to college.

Patricia Porter, of what she calls "the 123 Campaign," said she wants to find a quality school in Englewood for her 8th grader, Antoinette and added that the lack of quality schools in Englewood is affecting our children. Porter said she had been trained by Stand for Children.

Glenda Pettigrew, also of Englewood, a grandparent who said she had been trained as a parent leader with New Schools of Chicago, said spends two and a half hours every day on public transportation taking the grandchildren to what she said were high quality charter schools because, she said, the public schools of Englewood were inferior. She urged the Board to open more high-quality schools.

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Vice-President Jesse Sharkey began "Welcome to the rumble-tumble world of the CPS."

He said thousands of children will learn of the school closings after the deadline for applications for special schools has closed. He inquired about middle schools and asked if students will go from well-resourced schools to more poorly-resourced He said that Rogers Park, where he lives, has a CMS Charter School and a new Uno Charter school is going in this year, while Gale School is facing closure.

Jesse Sharkey was followed by three parents who trashed the former public schools and praised "turnaround."

Sonita Lewis, who told the Board she was a parent of two children in Woodlawn, told of her experience with the turnaround of "Dulles School of Excellence" )an AUSL turnaround school). She said once turnaround came, there was a great difference. She spoke of the dedication of the teachers at Dulles.

Samuel Brown, whose said that his wife is the chairperson at Bradwell School, said his child was depressed before the Bradwell turnaround, and that the school had showed a lack of discipline. He said that now there was great improvement, now there was great improvement, and the school had gone from Level 3 to Level 2 in a short time after the turnaround. He added that he is a member of Stand For Children and asked the Board to continue to invest in turnarounds.

Nehemiah Wesley, of Bradwell School of Excellence in South Shore and a member of Stand For Children, said there were many issues before the turnaround. Now she gets study guides for homework for her child and receives letters from the school. She added that the principal is Ms. Bennett.

Sysairesse Miller, with two children at Fuller School in Bronzeville, said that Vice-Principal White and the principal know the students by their first names. She added that it is the parents who are the first teachers of their children.

Richard Weindorfer, of the South Loop and the Second Ward, thanked the Board for the new Jones High School, for which TIF funds were spent. He said if a new community high school for the growing South Loop is not provided, parents and children will leave.

John Jacoby, of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance (PDNA), said a neighborhood high school is needed. He spoke of claims of repairs on the old high school in excess of $50 million . He added that Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about this issue yesterday. He asked CEO Byrd-Bennett to meet with them and tell them the plan.

Enrique (Ricky) Perez, a resident of the South Loop community, wanted to discuss flexible uses for the current Jones College Prep facility once the new school is complete. He told the Board that your policies are driving families out of Chicago. He said $85 million in TIF funds had been spent for the new Jones and said there were one thousand applications already for the new Jones. He repeated that we need a neighborhood high school.

Dennis O'Neill, of Connecting4Communities, wanted to discuss the need for a high school in his community. His fourth-grade daughter was allowed to speak and read an essay she had written about the need for a new high school. She also mentioned educational rights for all.

Latoya Jones, of Woodlawn and the 123 Campaign and a parent of a child at a charter school, wants CPS to open more quality schools and wants CPS to approve two more charter schools.

Angelica Alfaro said Noble Street Charter High School is now accepting applications. She said that there are 6000 applications for 3000 seats. She added that 90% of their students go on to college.

Board member Henry Bienen tried to defend the Board's mendacious "deficit" claims in a response to George Schmidt's remarks about the CAFR. Unfortunately, Bienen had not read the CAFR, which was in front of him. It showed that the claims of the Board from Bienen's first year of stewardship of Chicago's public schools was almost twice as big as the 2011- 2012 "Deficit" Big Lie Schmidt and others had criticized. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.George Schmidt, retired teacher and reporter for Substance Newspaper, spoke of the destruction by CPS of records of Board actions and the refusal of CPS to provide public information, including the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). He said the CAFR was supposed to come out today. He remarked that we need to end the policy of projecting unrealistic deficits. He added that we need to readopt a policy of local hiring. He remarked that old Board Agendas from 2000-2002 are no longer on the web site; apparently, they have been deleted. He mentioned that 2002 was the last time the Board met out in the schools, and opined that the reason Board Reports from 2002 and earlier had been deleted was that they would show that the Board had not always met in what he called the "Bunker".

Schmidt also criticized the Board's ever expanding "Office of Communications," which for the first time in history has refused to hold press conferences at which Board members and officials answer questions during a democratic give-and-take. He handed out his business cards to be given to the Board Members and asked them to call if they had comments or corrections to materials published at substancenews.net. He said the strangling of information by the Board is unprecedented and the record of Board actions all the way back to the 1840's should be available on line, since Chicago's public schools began in the 19th Century and the Internet allows such archiving.

Rosita Chatonda, of the Chicago Alliance of Urban School Educators (C.A.U.S.E.) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), expressed concern about school closures, especially the impact on the South and West Side schools. She said that Renaissance 2010 was balanced on the backs of poor and minority families. She mentioned the great loss of African-American students and African-American teachers and the exodus of African-American families. She spoke of violence and the loss of jobs. When reminded of the expiration of her alloted time, she said, "I'm just going to sum it up." She was continued to speak long past the end of the two minutes alloted for each speaker, but finally security turned off the mic.

Frances Newman wanted to speak about concerns at Williams School. She accused Board President Vitale of not answering, reading papers, and allowing others to speak who had not signed up to speak. She added that she has not idea what will be done with the children.

Not all of the facilities problems facing CPS schools and buildings result in or from "underutilization." Jerome Quandt, of Lincoln Elementary School in Chicago's Lincoln Park community, spoke of short-term and long-term overcrowding needs. He said more people are choosing this excellent school, which has led to overcrowding for the last few years. He told the Board that there are children in closets, hallways, and on stairways. He said the school was continuing to excel in spite of the overcrowding. He asked the Board to help them to acquire the necessary space to serve all the children attending.

Anne Carlson, parent of three who teaches 31 students at the Level 1 Drummond Elementary School, remarked that she is a "mandated reporter" who is required to report child abuse. She called the excessive high-stakes testing abusive. [Carlson's complete testimony is available on this Home Page]. She said that kindergarten students are required to take fourteen tests a year. She said the computer lab is used for testing and that is took 225 minutes for one student to complete the computer test. She remarked that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also confirmed that the MAP tests, which teachers in Seattle were refusing to administer, were useless.

George Blakemore, a concerned citizen, said he signed up on the Internet and expected to be among the top ten, but here he was almost at the end of the public participants. He said he always comes to the Board and is focused on Black History. He remarked that we just celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, but racism still exists. He spoke of the Board motto: Educate Me, Inspire Me, and Transform Me. He remarked that we're up North, not down South, but we still have racism. He added that where there is poverty, there is ignorance.

Nadia Gould, a parent whose two children were in two different schools with two different calendars, complimented the Board on the new calendar, said that the new calendar will work for the majority of stakeholders, and asked the Board to approve the new calendar. She stated that she is impressed with the CPS leadership.

Karen Soto, a parent, CPS teacher, and a CPS delegate, remarked that a lack of voice was a problem. She said the school year proposal needed to be printed out as well as online to allow all to have a voice. She asked that the Board not vote on the calendar, but give the parents a choice.

Christopher Ball, of Mayer Elementary School, also spoke of the calendar changes. He said he was contacted forty-eight hours in advance of the calendar action, he did not receive the survey information, the parents found the questions hard to understand, and student responses were merged with parent responses. He said that we don't have access to data and that this does not build trust in the system.

Pavlyn Jankov, of the Chicago Teachers Union, spoke of the turnaround of Pablo Casals Elementary School, where scores had doubled and last year were above average, yet 90% of the staff was fired and replaced by new first-year teachers. He said Walter Reed School had also been affected this way. He spoke of the additional turnarounds that were expected this year.

Gloria Hanna had concerns about the safety of Lindblom High School students when they are walking to school. She said her niece was raped within one block of Lindblom, that there was no security for the later start of school, and that two others were robbed near the school. The rapist was charged with numerous felonies and additional security had been requested prior to the incidents. She said her niece no longer feels comfortable at Lindblom. She remarked that her niece should not be limited in her transfer options. When Ms. Hanna tried to contact CEO Byrd-Bennett, she was bumped from one person to another. She wants her niece to get a transfer to another school that is a safe, quality school.

Both Board President Vitale and CEO Byrd-Bennett expressed sympathy and responded to her request. Staff member Denise Little was asked to speak to Ms. Hanna.

Daniel Marquez, of Aztec Supply Corporation, expressed concerns about the new janitorial contract. He said his organization supplies janitorial products. He thanked Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz. He said he was of Mexican-American descent, born and raised in Chicago, whose mother worked as a clerk at Jewel and whose brother was a fallen police officer who had a charter school named after him. He continued to express concern about the new bidding procedure this year, but was cut off after he exceeded the two-minute allotment.

Daniel Marquez was the last public-participation speaker. Following his testimony, Board Members responded.

Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz referred to the release of closed session minutes.

Board Member Bienen spoke of Mr. Schmidt as being tendentious when he said that the past budgets have not been real. Board Member Bienen said the claim that the reserves have been used to cover deficits from time to time and that the deficit is cooked up is not so.

Board President Vitale said that the stories put forth here today in regard to Jones and Lincoln school were not accurate or complete. He said the demand for selective enrollment is large and many qualify. He said we have not ignored the Jones neighborhood. He added that is was absolutely false that long term solutions have not been offered at Lincoln. He said the community has not gathered around one solution.

Board Member Zopp asked for an update.

Board President Vitale said that 300 seats will more than satisfy.

Board Member Azcoitia said that the two charter proposals on the agenda had been deferred from the past and asked what is the connection to neighborhood schools?

CEO Byrd-Bennett responded that we won't authorize the charter schools if conditions are not me; the target is 2014.

Board Member Zopp wanted to know where the Orange School would be. She said that so far, there is no principal and the model is not proven. She expressed concern about voting without knowing this information.

General Counsel James Bebley stated that we need an address and a location by 2014 in order to approve the school.

Board Member Zopp then said that the Orange School does not have a proven track record.

CEO Byrd-Bennett said the Board would be approving it conditionally, depending on the location. The proposed principal previously served a similar population.

Board Member Hines wanted to know if we are now approving schools conditionally.

Board President Vitale responded that conditionality is not a new concept.

Board Member Hines asked, but is that right?

CEO Byrd-Bennett then asked for the printing of the conditions and said we'll bring it back to the Board.

Board Vice President Ruiz spoke of a reverse auction process in regard to the remarks by Daniel Marquez.

The Board then voted to go into closed session.

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