BOARDWATCH: After postponing the March Board of Education meeting until April out of fear of the March 27 protests, the Board hears CEO Byrd Bennett deny the racism of her racist school closing Hit List... While hundreds speak out against the racism of the plan on the eve of hearings

Accusations and denials of racism regarding school closings were tossed back and forth across the spaces of the chambers of the Chicago Board of Education at the Wednesday, April 3, 2013, rescheduled monthly meeting of the board at 125 S. Clark Street. The original Board meeting date, scheduled for Wednesday, March 27, would have been on the same day as the massive rally against school closings took place. That rally, by Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members and other groups that would be affected by the school closings, started at Daley Plaza, proceeded to City Hall, and ended at the Board Headquarters. Civil disobedience on March 27 took place in LaSalle St. under the windows of the mayor's office.

Instead of holding its March meeting in March, the Board met on April 3 for its March meeting.

Millionaires David Vitale (right) and Jesse Ruiz (left) currently serve as President and Vice President of the Chicago Board of Education, appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Ruiz, a corporate lawyer, and Vitale, a banker, are carrying out the plan to dismantle Chicago's public schools, privatize public services, and expand the city's charter schools as quickly as possible against massive public opposition. The April 3, 2013 meeting of the Board of Education was really the March meeting. Vitale and Ruiz postponed the meeting because of the massive protest organized by community groups and the unions, which had been scheduled for March 27, the original date of the March Board meeting. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt. The April 3 "rescheduled meeting" began with the announcement of the new shadow student, a National Honor Society student who has been accepted into the United States Air Force Academy. Next to him sat the current Honorary Board Student Member.

When roll call was taken, Penny Pritzker was missing because she had resigned, and Board Member Dr. Henry S. Bienen was absent, leaving the Board with five members. Present were Dr. Mahalia A. Hines, Vice-President Jesse H. Ruiz, President David Vitale, Andrea L. Zopp, and Dr. Carlos M. Azcotia.

The meeting began with the "good news" announcement of the current spelling champ who will represent CPS in Washington, D.C. from May 23-30.

Next two groups of Science Fair winners were announced. They will represent CPS on May 3-4 in Urbana-Champaign or May 12-17 in Phoenix Arizona for the state and national Science Fair competitions. Winners were from Dore Elementary, Seward Academy, Lane Tech High School, Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, and Chicago High School for the Agricultural Sciences.

Although Chicago schools "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett delivered her latest lines well and received support from both the Sun-Times and Tribune in her claims that the 2013 Hit List was not racist, her claims were refuted during the next two hours by speaker after speaker. One year ago, Byrd Bennett was just arriving in Chicago from Detroit, where she had performed a similar assassination of the public schools for the Broad Foundation and the "one percent." Her arrival in Chicago in March 2012 was as "Chief Education Officer." But she soon became central to the Board of Education's plans as the first out of town CEO, Rochester New York's Jean-Claude Brizard, collapsed as a leader during the contract negotiations and was replaced by Byrd Bennett before the strike. Immediately after the strike ended, Mayor Rahm Emanuel replaced Brizard (who was given a golden parachute) with Byrd Bennett. Claiming that CPS needed more time, she got the General Assembly to delay the required posting of the 2013 Hit List and the ten-year facilities plan. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.After this, the business portion of the meeting began with the Chief Executive Officer's (CEO) report by Barbara Byrd-Bennett. She stated that every student should have access to a high quality education. She repeated her claim that many schools are currently "underutilized" and "under-resourced", which she attributed to changes in population distribution across the city. According to Byrd-Bennett, these problems related to dramatic changes in population on the South and West sides (in predominantly African American schools). She insisted that there are140 half-empty schools, and that this has been resulting in split classrooms and a lack of art, music, nurses, counsellors, and critical services.

Byrd Bennett then continued to cast herself as someone forced by history to make the tough decisions. She said it would be simpler and easier to leave things as they are, but she said, we need to take action now. She told the public that every voice would have a chance to be heard. She added that she read the transcripts from the hearings that were held, sent e-mails, and responded to the letters of some of the 22,000 parents, students, and teachers who gave feedback in the last four months. After all this, she recommends that 54 schools close, 11 schools co-locate, and six schools be turned-around.

She closed by saying that she cannot understand the "racist" charge. She said that as "a woman of color," I don't understand this. She argued that demographic changes, not race, are the reason the the closings.

Then she went into the current claims about the closings, beginning with the description of the so-called "Welcoming Schools." She said that all "welcoming" schools would have air-conditioning, a library, Safe Passage, iPads for 3-8, and upper-grade technology, such as computers and science labs. Also, she claimed that every student is less than a mile from home. She said she cannot give anyone "veto power" over these decisions.

Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines then remarked that this was a difficult situation for all of us, we can disagree without being disrespectful, we wouldn't do this to you (public participants) at the podium. Last year we had to leave, but it won't happen now.

It was then announced that public hearings, a legal requirement, would begin on Saturday, April 6. (The complete list is available elsewhere at in this month's Home Page)

Board Member Andrea Zopp said a list of the meetings are available on the CPS website, letters were also sent, and the purpose of the meetings is to listen and make sure we have a mechanism to funnel questions at the meetings.

Board Member Carlos Azcoitia asked if each under-utilized school would be moving to a high-performing school.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that was "valid and accurate."

Board Member Hines asked if there were plans to move charter schools into the closed buildings. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said none will be offered to charters or to any other kind of schools.

Board President David Vitale then reminded everyone that meeting times with Board Members during office hours were available by calling 773-553-1600. He added that the new on-line registration process to sign up to speak as a public participant at the Board meetings seems to be working well. However, you need access to a computer in order to sign up. Sign up for the April 24 Board Meeting begins at 8:00 a.m. on Monday, April 15, and ends at 5 p.m. or as soon as the 60 slots are filled. For the April 3 meeting, all slots were filled by 8:15 a.m. on Monday, March 25, according to Substance reports.

Public participation then began.

Clarice Berry, President of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, was the first to answer Barbara Byrd Bennett's attempt to counter the charges of racism in the development of the 2013 Hit List. Berry spoke forcefully about the ways in which Byrd Bennett and the administration dodged the Chicago facilities law and came up with a list that only those with no contact or concern for Chicago's poor black children could have concocted. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.The first to speak during public participation was Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPPA). She said that students are in communities that do not need additional disruptions. She insisted that there had been no lasting benefits from the previous ten years of disruption. Berry then went into the recent delays achieved by the Board. She said that the CPPA had worked to have legislation regarding closings in Chicago, the Chicago Education Facilities Task Force (CEFTF), but had received a minimum of support from CPS. Under the legislation, CP{S was supposed to have announced a preliminary ten year "facilities plan" on January 1, 2013. She added that a ten-year plan was needed. She requested that CPS come before the task force because without long-term plans, the plan due in May is the same as a closing announcement.

It became clear when the public participation began that charter school supporters are lining up at their computers to sign up as soon as the sign-up is begun.

Following Berry's powerful remarks, Marta Almaguer, a parent of three at the Gary Comer College Prep Charter School, said that her oldest child graduated last year and is now at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. She added that 100% of the students at Comer were accepted into four-year colleges.

Crystal Beverly, a parent at Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS) Basil, also a charter school, said that Basil was being put on a watch list. She wanted to know, when will our campus know how that watch list will move forward?

Katie Reed, from Courtenay Elementary School, spoke angrily. According to the Board's announced closing plans, Courtney is being merged with Stockton Elementary School (which is being closed). But the "new" Courtney will be at the Stockton building, with the Courtney building the one to be closed! She said that Courtney is fully-utilized and high-performing -- and has 30 percent special education students. She said that after the merger, Stockton will be renamed Courtney. She said that Courtney is able to keep class size low by being a 100% lottery-based school.

Wendy Auffant then spoke and said she is concerned about Courtney Language Arts Center. She said that Courtney was not on the original list of closing schools. As a result, there was no closing forum at any time for parents, students, teachers and others from Courtney. Why there was no forum for Courtney? she asked the Board members. She said children were being lost to the suburbs because of the closings.

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey spoke against the 2013 Hit List during the April 3, 2013 Board of Education meeting. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Jesse Sharkey, CTU Vice-President, said that for too long, the closing schools by CPS has been the status quo. He remarked there were questions about merging schools. He mentioned that the justification for closing schools didn't hold water. He added that it's about politics; take a moratorium.

The charter school supporters continued their praises.

Jacqueline Johnson, a Noble College Prep parent, said that she had to move from the suburbs to the city and put her children in private schools after a divorce. She spoke in favor of Noble Gary Comer Middle School and what she called "high quality options."

Josephine Durand, of Johnson College Prep in Englewood, said her child is challenged and involved in many programs. This summer, her child will head to a Boston area college.

Juan Gonzalez, of Stand for Children, said that he and his organization support Byrd Bennett's proposals and that he believes CPS is moving to better-performing schools. He said went into his "community" to discuss the changes that are coming.

Adriana Villegas, a graduate of Wells High School, and with two children in elementary schools, told why she loves Rowe Elementary, a charter school.

Matthew Luskin, CTU organizer, and a parent of children at LaSalle Language Academy, spoke of the billion-dollar deficit claim. He said the scheduled closings, mostly in African-American communities, were the largest number of school closings in the nation. He mentioned that 100 closings doesn't equal one billion in savings. He said TIF needs to be reformed and the banks need to renegotiate toxic swaps. He spoke of the Hyatt Hotel and asked that the Board join us in finding real funding for our schools. Security guards hovered around him at the end of his speech.

Juanita Ariola said her children attend a Noble charter school where high quality education is being provided and where they are college-bound. She advocated for equal funding for children in the charter schools.

Sarah Lopez, a Trumbull Elementary parent, said incorrect information about under-utilization was given by CPS. She said Trumbull was set to be closed despite an 88 percent utilization rate. She said the CPS standard for closing a school was a utilization rate under 80%. She asked about the training plan and timetable and wanted to know, will they be ready?

Chicago Teachers Union organizer Kathy Murray told the Board that speaking at a Board meeting was depressing because the Board didn't really listen to the democratic voice of the people. Murray's remarks provoked hostile responses from several Board members. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Allison Burke, a parent and Local School Council (LSC) member at Trumbull, said she spoke previously at the Board in December. She said she moved to the community a year ago to deliberately choose a public school. She added that Trumbull should be kept open.

Olga Serrano, spoke in Spanish which was translated, about the Special Education Department at Kelvyn Park High School and how she wants the school to improve. She is a mentor and a parent of a daughter at Kelvyn Park. She said there has been confusion for the last two years, students are exiting, and she wants CPS support. Katherine Penaloza also spoke of not enough books, not enough teachers, a Geometry teacher that was changed three times, and programs, such as Restorative Justice, that are needed.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett told her she would meet with the Principal and LSC and we'll take care of it.

Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand told the Board members that they should attend the hearings that begin on Saturday April 6. She reported that she had been visiting the schools that Barbara Byrd Bennett claimed were "underutilized" and found that those schools were using their space for the benefit of the children and the communities. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Wendy Katten, of Raise Your Hand, told the Board that her organization had done twenty "walk-throughs" she said she had done in the last three months, as the Hit Lists were being discussed and compiled. She said CPS needs to visit schools and do research. She named many schools that are being utilized and are performing. She said a wrecking ball is being taken to city's public schools. She added that the closings will result in mass over-crowding. She said that we need equitable standards. She urged the Board to "go to every school before you vote", reminding the Board that this will rest on your shoulders for the rest of your lives.

Rebecca Martinez an LSC member at Cardenas and a CTU organizer, wants CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to "walk the walk." She asked the Board to stop rubber-stamping and ask the bankers to renegotiate interest rates on the swaps. She told them that the public was told that Paderewski was going to a higher-quality school, but this was not true. She asked the Board members to visit the schools and go to the hearings.

Valeria Nelson, a parent of two at Lafayette, one with autism and one with Attention-Deficit Hyeractive Disorder (ADHD), said it takes a long time for children to form a bond with a teacher. She wanted to know if the teachers will go with the children to Lafayette, the best place for children with special needs.

Kathleen Murray, CTU organizer with numerous other union affiliations, called speaking at the BOE a demoralizing experience. She said the scheduled number of closings was the largest in the history of the nation. She is not convinced it is going to happen properly. She said Kohn was supposed to go into three elementary schools, not two. She added that the parents are confused, anxious and afraid. She mentioned one student who said, they can't close the crack house by my school, but they can close my school.

Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines said she volunteered at Kohn for more than two years and is aware of the many times she had to duck bullets, etc., adding this is a disaster. Ms. Murray wanted to know, what kind of security will be provided? We demand respect just like you.

Board President David Vitale could barely control the hostility in his voice as he attempted to respond to the remarks of Kathy Murray. As the Board continues to expose its own hypocrisy and more and more people demand that the Board members "walk the walk" and actually attend the hearings on the 2013 Hit List, the Board members become more and more testy as they prepare to continue slavishly following the orders of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Board President Vitale said he was tired of accusations that the Board members don't go out to the schools. Board Member Andrea Zopp spoke of the mischaracterization of facts. She said parents are being give the option of one of the three schools to choose.

Andrew Broy, of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS), said that resources are a means to an end, a better education. He said that he heard from nine charter school parents today. He spoke about charter school renewals and closures.

Dr. Sarah Cohen, of Illinois State University (ISU), said that ISU was a partner with Clara Barton School which was already being turned around. University of Chicago (UC) Urban Education Teacher Program was also a partner with Barton. She mentioned that over 50 percent of Barton teachers have ten years of experience and 25 percent are National Board Certified Teachers (NBCT). She added the compliance level has been brought up to 100 percent and special ed students were sometimes removed in one year.

Sonya Williams, an LSC chair at Barton School, said the school had made gains. She said under Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) sanctions in 2009, programs were put in place to get the school off sanctions; in 2011, the school was removed from sanctions. She mentioned that the prior principal now works for the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). She added that AUSL was now in the school today. She told the Board that we have brought two busloads of parents down here today.

When John F. Kennedy, of Barton School, announced his name, a respectful hush fell over the room. He said that there was no need for a takeover, that it would be disruptive, and have negative repercussions on the learning process. He said four schools that are under AUSL are now on probation. He added that AUSL does not have a proven record of success. He asserted that Barton is now succeeding.

Queen Sister, who taught at Manierre and whose own children go to Franklin, said she will play the color card (like CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett). She said that every child in these schools is my child and we encourage you "to use back bone."

The next two speakers were wearing plastic caps covering their hair and dressed in white cover-all aprons saying "I Cook." Gloria Drew, who has been with CPS for 10 years, asked the Board to consider fresh food. Linda Green, who worked with CPS 23 years, said the children need fresh, healthy food, real food, not micro-waved food. She spoke of First Lady Michelle Obama's cause for healthier eating. She asked the Board to stop using prepared foods and get back to cooking real foods. (Some of us in the audience were secretly wishing they had brought home-cooked samples of the famous CPS sugar cookies.)

Sarah Simmons, of Talcott school, a CPS parent for more than 20 years and affiliated with Parents 4 Teachers, remarked that the BOE decision has already been made and that the input was a facade. She asked for a moment of silence for the schools that would be closed, the teachers, and the violence that will follow. She asked for zero school closings. She mentioned that her North Side student commutes two hours each way. She added that Paderewski, which is 80 percent African-American, was only one of three (Pilsen) schools on the list.

Latisha Griffin, of Jesse Owens in the Lake Calumet "Network", spoke against the closing of Owens school and the move to Samuel Gompers. She said that the school already has air-conditioning, a library, science technology and a math lab. She added that the school has a very qualified principal, assistant principal, and teachers.

Mary Rattler, a parent, a volunteer and an LSC member at Jesse Owens, remarked that Owens met the standards and urged the Board to reevaluate its decision and keep the school open.

Danielle Pate Horton, a Marconi parent and LSC president, said "you have made up your minds and you aren't listening to us." It's robbing the community. There should be no time clock. Presentations need to have more than two minutes. She asked for lunch with CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett about the closing of Marconi. (CEO Barbara Byrd- Bennett agreed.) She also asked that truant officers be put back in the schools. She mentioned that there are more than 200 sex offenders in the 60624 area code. She read a story about "Johnny and his sister" to illustrate that there would be no Safe Passage for late students.

Jesus Campuzano, of Southside Together Organizing for Power (S.T.O.P.), said there needs to be an "off" switch, "so I can switch you guys off." He asked, why don't you take the time to come out to these meetings? He asked the Board to walk the walk with me.

Sharon Taylor, a parent at Granville T. Woods Academy, said that the Tribune reported that Woods was four points away from being an achieving school. She asked the Board to "give us a chance.: We are on board. We were just taken off probation. We are between two police stations (one closing and one new), adding that you can't get any safer than that.

Nelson Soza, a parent in the Pilsen Alliance, told Board President Vitale that he didn't know how much President Vitale knows about the schools. He remarked that President Vitale knows about banking. He remarked that Black and Mexicans had left the city in the last few years, adding that that's the plan.

Davetta Williams, a parent of five in CPS, represents the Black Star Project and Chicago Alliance of Urban School Educators (C.A.U.S.E.). She said she objects to the manner of closings. She said it is racist. Except for one school, all the affected schools are African-American schools. She remarked that African-American teachers are down to 7% in the system. She said closings are not the answer. She added that when the Irish and Italians faced educational problems, they started their own systems.

Matthew Johnson, of Dewey, said we still have an LSC and wanted to know, where are we in the process. He mentioned that Dewey has art, music, iPads for Pre-K. etc. He told the Board that 90% of the staff at Dewey is now new. He added that the CEO is supposed to help the school.

Sharon Schmidt, who spoke as the parent of children at O. A. Thorp Scholastic Academy (she is also a Substance reporter and Steinmetz High School teacher), said that her children had skipped tests. She said other parents can opt out by telling the principal that they wish to. She urged such parents to go to "" to add their voices to the outcry against testing. She added that next month (at the Board meeting), voting will take place on the closings. She said that the Washington Post reported that Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia (D.C.) public schools, said the closing of 23 schools would save a lot of money, but it didn't happen. The closing of those schools cost that system 40 million.

Natalie Wahlberg, a member of Occupy CPS told Board Member Mahalia Hines that you say to hold you accountable. But How? You were appointed by Rahm (Mayor Rahm Emanuel). You were not elected. You know nothing of our schools, our communities. You are education authorities, but not experts...we are coming for you.

The last public participant, Fenton Patterson, of Corporated Block Clubs, said that he thought the Board was supposed to protect our children. Just as other organizations establish a Rainy Day Fund, CPS should have done so and should not be able to close any of the schools.

After a reaction from Marquis Watson, Honorary Board Student Member, the Board went into closed session.


April 5, 2013 at 9:56 PM

By: Sharon Schmidt

Clarice Berry

Clarice Berry, President of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, was amazing and left BBB and everything she said in the dust. Hoping Ms. Berry will send us her prepared remarks. They were great.

April 7, 2013 at 6:04 AM

By: Danielle Horton

Little Johnny and Marconi

A story about Little Johnnie

Little Johnnie is 13 year’s old boy and has a little sister, Name John net who is 7 years old.

Little Johnnie lives at 229 North Kolmar and goes to Marconi Community Academy.

Which address is 230 North Kolmar. (He lives right across the street from the school.

Little Johnnie Parents gets a letter, saying there a proposal to close Little Johnnie School. (Eviction)

Now Little Johnnie has to go to Tilton,

Little John is a tuff little cookie.

One Morning little johnnie wake-up late for school, 10:30 A.M

School starts at 8:45 a.m. He and his little 7 year old sister John net starts getting ready for school. Now it 10:45 A.M

They leave out of there house to walk to school. They do not see any parent patrol, or safety passage.

Little Johnnie and his sister start walking down Kolmar to Maypole,

Before they get to the corner there is a abanded building (Maypole and Kilborn) there over 200 sex offender register in the 60624

Zip code.

They walk to the next block which is Kostner, gang turf.

Little Johnnie is on the west side of Kostner, (remember little Jonnie 13 year’s old) and the other side is a different gang, east of kostner

Little Johnnie look down the street before, him and his little sister were to walk across the street.

One of the gang banger’s had been beat Johnnie for a whole month trying to get Johnnie to join there gang, but remember Johnnie was a tuff cookie. (He took the beatings)

But this time in the middle of the block there were 3 gang banger's waiting on Johnnie.

Johnnie take his little sister John net who only 7 by the hand, and they set on the curb and played patty cake

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