BOARDWATCH: 'Salvation' stories from AUSL enter their second decade... Michael Scott's ghost still walks the halls of Clark St. as a new generation of mercenaries and traitors continue the tradition of subservience to the City Hall Party Line
If the ghost of deceased Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott continues to walk the halls of the Chicago Public Schools headquarters at 125 S. Clark St., as some believe, then the Board's February 27 2013 meeting might have caused echoing laughter from the Dickensian presence. A well worn script, pioneered by Scott before his duplicity and treasons to his home and community were completely exposed, was dusted off and brought back to life at the February meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. The new players in the old play may never have met Michael Scott, but he would have recognized the script they were playing from, since he helped write it. It's the latest version of Chicago Public Schools "salvation story," about how some corporate reform has saved someone or something (at least long enough to bamboozle the audience).
Michael Scott is long gone, although some of us still stop by that spot down by the river side and wonder why all the facts are disappeared. For those who have forgotten, Michael Scott, then President of the Chicago Board of Education, "committed suicide" on November 16, 2009 by going down by the Chicago River's North Branch just south of Kinzie St. by the Merchandise Mart and shooting himself in the head with one of his guns. No suicide note. No explanation why a man educated by Jesuits and still a practicing Catholic would end it all with such theological finality. Quickly, case closed. And, hence, the haunting of Chicago... Scott's long gone, but the games and plays he helped pioneer are still in play pushing the corporate "school reform" agenda in Chicago.
Several of them in evidence during the February 27 meeting.
Once again, the audience was treated to a series of "Salvation" narratives that were in rehearsals back in Scott's days in the early 21st Century. Most of the salvation narratives were on behalf of the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) and its so-called "turnarounds." The script has been the same since 2002, when it was previewed against Dodge and Williams elementary schools back when Arne Duncan had just become Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools. The way the salvation narrative works is that a "parent" gets up at a meeting of the school board and bad mouths the school (and teachers and principal) that used to be there, and then sings the praises of the "new school" created by Chicago's corporate school reform.
In late 2002, the salvation had come to Williams Elementary School on the city's South Side and Dodge Elementary School on Chicago's West Side. Once the plans got going, it was almost (not quite) and annual affair, as school after school was turned around to the tunes scripted. At meeting after meeting of the city's school board (whose members during the entire time had been appointed by the mayor), the "two sides" of the story were made public. And if only one side was around at first (protests against school closings began with the first closings), it was Michael Scott more than anyone who made sure the other "side" came to the Board, and who then declared that "both sides" had a point, and that the Board had had to make the "hard choices." Depending upon the CEO (Scott worked with both Arne Duncan and Ron Huberman), the CEO also talked about how "change is hard..." etc., etc. The chorus was provided by the carefully scripted words of the parents who stood before the Board and read them. The AUSL "Turnarounds" are all dubbed "School of Excellence" once their teachers, principals and staffs have been fired for the sake of the children (it always was back then and now; the teachers are never scapegoated and fired because of some craven corporate agenda...). And with the game of "Good Teacher/Bad Teacher" goes the game of "Good Parent/Bad Parent" game. (After all, there can be no salvation unless there was some kind of sinning going on before...). Both Chicago theatrical scripts were groomed and revised to a kind of thespian perfection during the two terms Scott served former Mayor Richard M. Daley as President of the Chicago Board of Education. But Scott's strutting and fretting his hours upon the Chicago stage ended abruptly in 2008. The scripts, however, are being continued, with a new cast, under the school board and a new mayor, the Board appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the scripts approved by his propaganda departments.
First, the "Salvation" narrative. According to that script, a school that has been subjected to so-called "turnaround" by AUSL was so BAAAADDDD before the AUSL missionaries arrived that it was, almost unbelievable. During Scott's day, in the early days of the AUSL turnarounds, the school where that script was pioneered as Sherman, which continues seven years after AUSL first took it over as the "Sherman School of Excellence." Before AUSL had even been in charge of Sherman for a full year, Scott and the Board's publicity people rolled out the Salvation narrative and two narrators. The narrators, both parents, held press conference and spoke at Board of Educations about the dramatic wonders of "turnaround" for their children, while Board members, led by Scott, cooed in agreement. The script, which has been roughly the same since, reads like the lines out of "Guys and Dolls..." "I used to smoke. I used to drink! I used to lie in the gutter with loose women!!..."
The script will linger, for a time at least, on how badly the sinning was. But eventually...
And then I found (fill in the blanks here with the name of the Mission that did the soul saving).
And so it came to pass in February 2013 that the ghost again rattled at Clark St. Four parents rose and testified, following the traditional scripting.
The first of the 2013 parents to repeat the script was Candace Harris, who trashed the old Herzl Elementary School and praised the new AUSL version (Herzl was put into "turnaround" last year after dramatic protests with most of the staff dumped and replaced) of Herzl reality. According to Candace Harris, Herzl was dysfunctional, but now it's working just fine.
Almost immediately after Harris's trashing of the old Herzl, a parent named Jennifer Scott took the podium and reiterated the trashing -- but this time of Bradwell Elementary School. Bradwell was AUSL'd years ago, and the trashing had begun a month earlier out of the voice of another parent. According to Jennifer Scott, the old Bradwell was unsafe and terrible, without focus. Then AUSL took over and got rid of the old teachers and staff and brought in the new.
Less than a half hour later, on the same stage, it was the turn of Dulles Elementary School to be "bad school" in the official story. The same story was repeated, only this time is consisted of the trashing of the former staff of Dulles Elementary School. Again, Salvation, courtesy of AUSL, had arrived -- now evident, according to parent and staff member Ronald Alexander.
Finally, it was Piccolo Elementary School's turn. According to parent Eric Winslow, Piccolo has been "transformed" from a bad school to a good one with improvements in "climate, safety and community" as a result of AUSL. Winslow, who works at Piccolo as a school security officer, neglected to mention how the "old" unsafe Piccolo had only two security people, but how the "new" Piccolo which he proclaims to be much safer now has six staff doing security. That fact, typical of the first year of an AUSL turnaround, is the result of the Board of Education awarding AUSL a quarter of a million dollars or more in additional funds during the first year of "turnaround." What Winslow and the other parents who have praised the improved "safety" of the schools during that time is that the money -- and the jobs -- doesn't last forever. For CPS officials in 2013, however, just as for Michael Scott and their predecessors in 2003 and 2005 and 2008, the first "salvation" part of the story is the only one that will be told.
When the AUSL salvation narrative was first in tryouts, after Sherman Elementary became "Sherman School of Excellence," CPS officials actually held press conferences to feature the parents who were repeating the same version of reality (often reading from pre-prepared speeches that some had trouble with). CPS doesn't hold press conferences any more, preferring to avoid any chance that someone would ask a pointed or even critical question. But the narrative continues, and some observers noted that the overflow of the AUSL salvation stories in February 2013 might indicate that when she is done trashing the schools on the "underutilization" hit list this year, CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett may move directly to more "turnaround." The AUSL salvation narrative usually peters out after a year or two, when the data begin coming in over a longer period of time and the wonders of "turnaround" that were proclaimed during the opening years end. By five years into the wonderments, AUSL schools generally stack up roughly the same as the other schools serving the same populations. That has been the ongoing reality for Sherman, one of the earliest AUSL "Schools of Excellence." (The first, Dodge Renaissance Academy School of Excellence, doesn't count for special demographic reasons).
The February 27 Board meeting was also treated to a different kind of trashing from another group of trained parents, usually identifying themselves as being from Stand for Children or Education Reform Now. This group (which led off public participation) reads from a slightly different script. In the face of the protests of more than 20,000 parents, teachers, children and political leaders against the claims of "underutilization" and the need for a massive number of closings, the Stand For Children/Education Reform Now parents support the Board's agenda.
The scripts read by Harris, Scott, Winslow and the other parents who praised the ASUL turnaround miracle could have been read seven years earlier by another AUSL parent, Ricky Fields of Sherman. Fields was one of the first parents to show up at Board meetings and in front of the city's corporate media to tout the miracles of AUSL. His narrative work began in 2007 and continued into 2011, regularly praising AUSL and its works. There were many other interesting features at the February 27 meeting, but the re-runs of the AUSL miracle show was one feature that had to be reported on in a special story, especially since it was pioneered by the late Michael Scott (along with then CEO Arne Duncan) and hasn't really changed that much since.
A new preemptive strike against a school that had just gotten a favorable press story came during the February 27 Board meeting, too. After the Chicago Tribune reported that Penn Elementary School was struggling with co-habitation (they are hosting the KIPP charter school inside their building) and quoted parents, teachers and community leaders about the complex problems facing Penn, CPS found that a parent from Penn thought things at the school were terrible.