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BOARDWATCH: April 24, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education

Student protesters, followed by charter school supporters, filled the sidewalk in front of the Chicago Board of Education headquarters at 125 S. Clark Street before the the regularly scheduled monthly meeting in the fifth floor Board Chamber on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. There were also protesters from a group of charter school parents. The Board's security pushed some of the students out of the building. The charter schools people were more welcomed.

Board Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett (left) and Alderman Carrie Austin (right) spoke before the Board meeting on April 24, 2013. Substance photo by David Vance.The Board meeting began at 10:40 a.m. with the announcement that a vote on the public agenda would be first. Honorary Board Student Marquis Watson was absent because he was taking the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) today. Shadow Student, Ashley Bolton, of Kenwood Academy, who was his neighbor, according to Board President David Vitale, was present.

All six current Board members were present, plus Board President David Vitale, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and General Counsel James Bebley. Mayor Rahm Emanuel hasn't replaced the seventh Board member, Penny Pritzker, who resigned two months ago.

The "good news" as usual came first. Following the Pledge of Allegiance, winners in the Chicago Middle School Debate League and Chess Super Nationals were announced. Annie Schnoll, a winner in the Debate League also was a Chicago Spelling Bee champion last month.

One year ago, the schools that agreed to the mayor's early launch of the "Longer School Day" were called the "Pioneer Schools." This year, the schools that will be receiving students from the 54 schools being closed are being called "Welcoming Schools." Before introducing two "welcoming school" principals, CEO Byrd-Bennett made the following remarks:

She said:

* Students did not receive resources because of the underutilization of schools.

* In the fourth round of community engagement, we will plan WITH rather than FOR the community.

* In the fourth stage, we will continue to listen.

* We started with 330 school closures, but now there are 54.

* Safe Passage is being extended to areas affected by the closures.

* Last week, meetings were held with welcoming school principals.

The two "Welcoming School" principals — Sarah Abdolal of Brenneman Elementary and Anita Muse of Langston Hughes Elementary — detailed their plans to welcome students from nearby closing schools. The narrative did not include a Power Point presentation.

CPS Budget Chief Ginger Ostro delivered the Power Point explaining how CPS was going to issue bonds for more than $300 million to cover the costs of the "closings." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Next a Power Point presentation regarding the "FY2013 Supplemental Capital Budget Proposal Board Presentation" was given by CPS budget director Ginger Ostro. More information about individual "school-specific capital projects can be found at www.cps.edu/capitalplan."

After Ostro's presentation, Chief Counsel James Bebley announced that Board Report 01-0328-PO2 would be rescinded and a new Student Records Retention Policy would be adopted. Among the interesting items listed in the report was the statement that the "Minimum Record Retention period" for students at elementary or high school level would be "82 years after the student's date of birth." Destruction of these student records is authorized at "Student Age - 83." As it turns out, teachers who told students that their "permanent record" would be there forever were not quite accurate.

Then, Chief Counsel James Bebley announced the adoption of a "School Performance, Remediation and Probation Policy for the 2012-2013 School Year."

After this, the audience was reminded by President David Vitale that the Board offers office hour meetings with individual Board members by calling 773-553-1600.

First to speak during public participation was Alderman Carrie Austin, who said she was not as enthused as the principal at Langston Hughes Elementary, one of the toughest in the Roseland area. West Pullman Elementary, Songhai Elementary, and Kohn Elementary are scheduled to close and feed into other schools. Alderman Austin stated that the proposed route from Songhai Elementry to Curtis Elementary was not a safe route. She suggested a different route that would result in less chaos. She said another suggestion regarding the route from Kohn Elementary fell on deaf ears. She added that a Channel 5 reporter made a one-day assessment of the Marcus Garvey Elementary-Mount Vernon Elementary situation, which might have been different if the reporter had lived or worked in the area as long as Alderman Austin had. She repeated her concern about Songhai Elementary and thanked CEO Byrd-Bennett for her Fenger High School walk.

While Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis tried to speak politely to the Board members, while the juggernaut of school closings and the inaccurate claims about "underutilization" continued. Above, Lewis was watched carefully by several CPS executives (left to right): Joseph Moriarity, Tim Cawley, Alicia Winckler, Peter Rodgers, and Todd Babbitz. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President, Karen Lewis, said she was at Matthew A. Henson Elementary yesterday and expressed concern about the loss of community partnerships and shifting boundaries and schools that had been subject to school actions before. She asked the Board to take time before such a massive shift as the Board was preparing to make at its May 22 meeting. Lewis told the Board that it feels as if several schools should clearly not be on this year's Hit List. She asked the Board to think about the language we are using, addressing directly the latest guidelines for schools that had been presented by the Chief Counsel. She asked Bebley to get rid of the word "probation," and use "support" instead. She also requested that appropriate state funding for schools be sought. She said she wanted the slate to be wiped clean, adding that every school deserves a fair chance. She insisted, "Do it right, not quickly. This should not be a sprint." She finished by saying, "There are ways we can work together to come up with something infinitely better."

Next, 41st Ward Alderman Mary O'Connor expressed her anger and disappointment at the Board because schools in her ward, instead of being "underutilized" are facing serious overcrowding. She cited the overcrowding at Oriole Park Elementary and Wildwood Elementary schools, where classes are held in broom closets and cafeterias. She said that science labs were given up for the needed space, and that the schools don't have air-conditioning, facilities are inadequate, and hallways are packed with things that belong in closets — a violation of safety codes. She added that the OLD mobile units are in deteriorating condition. She said area residents say that they pay high property taxes and want to know where the money is going. She remarked that the community itself is raising money for basics.

A request was made for an addition to Oriole Park Elementary, one of the top-performing schools in the city, is operating at 165% capacity, and Wildwood Elementary operating at 175% capacity. Board members were also told that Oriole Park has to use additional facilities at two locations: some classes held in a church basement were cancelled when that facility was flooded last week.

Board President David Vitale said that they recognize the challenge and will try to deal with it. He added that some schools are underutilized while others were overcrowded. Board Member Dr. Henry Bienen said that after looking at the budget, "everything is a priority", but he is more sympathetic to the overcrowded situation.

The people signed up for public participation were then called on.

Darlene Williams (above at podium) spoke against the closing of Paderewski Elementary School. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Darlene Williams, of Paderewski Elementary School, thanked Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz for his visit to the school on April 22, when he got to see the beautiful campus first hand. She then addressed CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, saying that being a "woman of color does" not excuse the fact that someone is a racist. She said that CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she doesn't care to be the fall guy for school closings, and added, well, you should care. She remarked that Paderewski Elementary has everything you propose a school should have and Paderewski should be a partner building for overcrowded schools.

Nikhil Angelo, of Stand for Children, said that as a parent organizer, he knows that a vast majority of the parents are "not screaming in the streets." He said that "as a former teacher" (not a former CPS teacher; he didn't say what he's doing for a living today), he wants a great public school for every child, but not by promoting the rhetoric of "our kids versus your kids."

Mila Cohen, who has a daughter in Special Ed at Courtney Elementary (which is moving to Stockton Elementary although Stockton is the school being closed!), said that Courtney is among the top 25 schools in Chicago. She said that it was not a Level 1 school only because it has not made significant growth. She added that the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) would "downgrade Harvard for the same standard as Courtney." Courtney is being required to meet yearly "gains" standards that make it impossible to make those gains once your students are at or near the top. She added that the real estate in the area is attractive. She compared what CPS is doing to the work of Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain. She concluded that CPS does not care about our children.

Joy Clendennig, of Ray school and "Hyde Park Cares", began the criticism of the Board's plans for the schools of Hyde Park, including the closing of Canter Middle School. Joined by two others, she detailed the mistakes the Board was making in attacking the stability of the schools in the Hyde Park community. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Joy Clendenning, of Hyde Park Cares (HPCares), a grass-roots organization, is a CPS parent on the Local School Council (LSC) at Ray Elementary. She opposes the school actions in regard to Canter Elementary, Ray Elementary, and Bret Harte Elementary. She told the Board that you have an incredible responsibility. She gave reasons why Canter Elementary should remain open. She spoke of their alternative proposal and asked "why are you considering closing schools that work?"

Debra Hass, also of HPCares, and of the Shoesmith Elementary community, asked the Board to vote no on school actions and named several reasons why. She added, if you have any doubts, listen to them and take time to do this right.

Elizabeth Herring also spoke in opposition to school closings. She said that we should base class size on what students need, not how many can we cram into a classroom.

Jennifer Biggs of the "Raise Your Hand" coalition presented the usual well-researched refutations to the Board's formulas and financial claims, only to be shut down in her remarks by security when the Board called "Time!" Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Jennifer Biggs, of "Raise Your Hand," told the Board that she personally went on a school walk through four areas, adding that terrible decisions were being made on the proposed school closings. She asked the Board to keep visiting schools and spoke of the so-called "Welcoming schools" that are on academic probation.

She was followed by another charter school supporter. Barbara Huggins, of Roseland, who said she is a parent of school-age children, wants approval of the "Chicago Collegiate Charter School" -- which apparently is going into the old St. Salomea Catholic Elementary School. Angela Wilson, a Roseland resident with a third-grade child, also said she supports Chicago Collegiate Charter School, where she said there are academic scholarships, not just basketball and football scholarships. She added that violence in the area was due to older students.

Bonita Robinson, a thirty-nine year retired teacher, asked "What would Harold do today?" She said, "I am a woman of color," and called the closings disingenuous, dangerous, brutal, deceptive, and racist. She added that what happened in the 1950s, when she began as a student in Chicago public schools during the racist days of "Willis Wagons" and double shifts for black children, pales in comparison to today. She said that the testing now being emphasized in the schools had led to a loss of African-American teachers and a destabilization of the community. She called the closings insidious racism, words on words, and asked the Board to stop trying to justify the oppression of the race. Then she gave what many listeners felt was a zinger: She asked the Board to end what she calls "this modern-day Tuskegee experiment." She said the black-white achievement gap may be due to closings. She then asked, "Can I get an answer?" as she was surrounded by security men. Board President David Vitale replied, "You've had your time."

After Robinson was removed from the podium without getting an answer to her question, the charter supporters continued. Lucille (Lucy) Reese, of Noble Street's Gary Comer College Prep, spoke of a "Parents bill of rights," emphasizing among other things, equal funding, a voice in the CPS decision-making process, and the opportunity to be involved. She informed the Board of a May 8 rally in support of charter schools, but didn't note that almost all charter schools in Chicago refuse to have a Local School Council, a main feature of the rights of parents in the city's real public schools.

Stacy McAuliffe, of International Network of Charter Schools (INCS), told the Board we need enough safe high quality schools, better schools, and real options. She said that 200 parents had rallied outside.

James Morgan, LSC chair for Trumbull Elementary in Andersonville, said that Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines came to Trumbull on Aprl 23 and saw the truth about the school's actual utilization. He told the Board that Special Ed students were not being taken into consideration - the formula was not correct - and that Trumbull really would have 80% "utllization" if the formula is calculated correctly. Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines asked, "How does the appeal process work?" She said that the Board had been incorrect on the calculation for Trumbull. "We made a mistake."

Joined by supporters of the real public schools of the Austin community, Dwayne Truss presented the case against the Board's "underutilization" claims at the April 24, 2013 Board meeting while CPS bureaucrats (right rear) with no Chicago teaching experience looked on or dittled with their i-phones. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Dwayne Truss, of the Austin Community Action Council (CAC), said that Emmet Elementary is scheduled to close, but is really 66% "utilized" -- and is a top-performing school. He said 36 children in a classroom is some kind of math and "someone down there cannot do math." He charged that the Board is destroying a high-performing school, and he cited many statistics. He also noted that the Austin communty never had a magnet school, which many other communities in the city do.

Lettrice Jamison also spoke of the closing of Emmet Elementary. She said the school has had outstanding performance for three years and was on probation for the first time this year related to the closings. She added that her child was originally turned down at Ellington, but was able to attend Emmet and has attended there since.

Matthew Moeller, of the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) Charter School Network, requested the addition of 9th grade at the Roger Park Campus. He cited many statistics in claiming that there was a need for the expansion of the grades to 9th and eventually 12th. Salvador Delgado, of UNO, spoke in Spanish, which was translated. He said a students do not want to end up selling hamburgers or cleaning houses. He gave the Board a copy of a letter written by a fifth grader.

Kati Gilson, National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), said she had spoken at a February hearing regarding the pre-school applications. She said a two-hour period is scheduled on one day to enroll the students. Proof of residency, a birth certificate, and a sliding fee were required. She stated that flexibility was not allowed, sixteen sites will be lost by school closings, and that charters at UNO are demanding more money. She added, "For what you've done to pre-school, you should be ashamed of yourselves."

Rhonda Kochlefl, of Noble Charter School, which she said was founded by two CPS teachers, stated that there has were twelve campuses, open enrollment, high demand, and 5,000 on the "waiting list." She asked for continued support.

Henson Elementary School Amada Cleves (above at microphone) spoke in defense of the school. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Amanda Cleves, said that Matthew S. Henson Elementary School needs to stay open. She told the Board that Henson has computer labs, an iPad in every classroom, and pre-K with two Head Start classrooms. Like the others, she was challenging the CPS "utilization" formula. She added that all areas of the building have been painted including the auditorium, 50% of the classrooms have air-conditioning, and there is a health center on site. She told the Board that the health clinic was very important to the school's children. Litteania Bailey, also of Henson, added to the importance of the health clinic. She said her son has asthma and carries and Epi Pen. She said the clinic at Henson was helpful, while at the "Welcoming school," there was only one nurse -- only one day a week! She added that the parents meet weekly at Henson to find out about community resources and field trips.

Aspira representatives asked for approval of the expansion of their campuses.

O"Kema Lewis handed out materials in regard to Title 1. She said there had been no response from CPS, that the process and procedures must include parents, and a vote would take place on this today. She remarked that CPS was in violation of Title 1.

Joel Rodriguez of Lafayette Elementary School had harsh criticisms for the CPS proposal to close Lafayette. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Joel Rodriguez, of Lafayette Elementary, quoted C.S. Lewis, who said "The task of modern education is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts." He added that at Lafayette, "we have created an oasis in the middle of this desert, but you say that it is underutilized." He noted that Lafayette people are all fed up, and quoted Victor Hugo who said, "He who opens school doors closes a prison." He didn't add the obvious: That anyone who closes a school door opens a prison, but paused to let the Board members consider that.

Laura Flores, of Golder College Prep, has a daughter at Nobel who will attend Golder College Prep. She said she chose three different schools before she chose Nobel and wants CPS to support the increase in funds.

Davonda Buck, an LSC chairperson at West Pullman Elementary, said the school had brought in a Boys and Girls Club, parent center, school store, and a healthy food center. She added that it has become a beacon of light for the neighborhood. She told CPS that others things should have been done for the school.

Tyisha Whitmore, of Marcus Garvey Elementary School, gave statistics to show that Marcus Garvey was higher-performing than the "Welcoming school" -- Mount Vernon Elementary. Christa Thomas, also a parent at Marcus Garvey Elementary, said the school is bright and clean, has a rigorous curriculum, air-conditioning in every classroom, and "Kids Witness News" which produces movies and has led to a school trip to Tokyo, Japan, and this year to New York. She remarked that the school is an asset to the neighborhood, they have a garden that provides produce for the school, and all this is done without CPS funding.

Asea Johnson, at microphone, could barely be seen over the podium but made one of the most powerful impacts in months with his testimony about the proposed closing of Marcus Garvey because of "underutilization." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Thomas was followed by what was one of the most dramatic two minutes in recent Board members. Asean Johnson, a student at Marcus Garvey Elementary, said at first he didn't want to attend there, but now feels safe. He said there is structure and rules are expected to be followed. He added that there is a peace center for problems. Last year, Fox 32 News featured the school and on April 4, 2013, the Chicago Sun-Times had an article about Marcus Garvey Elementary. Addressing CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Board President David Vitale, he said, you came to our school, you tried to be a surprise, but we were all ready.

Anisha Patel, of the Grassroots Collaborative, said he agrees with the students who are boycotting school today. Regarding the CPS budget, he said that 3100 signatures had been obtained on a petition regarding bank swindles and toxic interest rate swaps. He added that they are demanding that banks renegotiate the swaps. As he ended, students standing with him chanted: "We need teachers, we need books, we need money that banks took." One student attempted to speak, but wasn't allowed to.

Martin Ritter, of the Whitney Young LSC, said that CPS is part of a group that is lobbying for raising Special Ed class sizes. He advocated for returning the TIF surplus to the schools. He asked, "Why are you continuing the status quo of these failed policies.

Security was ordered to depart Marty Ritter, Amisha Patel and the students when the students tried to speak to the Board. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Jalainea Leslie said she doesn't want Parkman Elementary to close; it feels like home. She added that Sherwood Elementary is dangerous. there are two gangs there, and last month there were shootings. She addressed CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and remarked, think about Boston, etc., Texas, and your grandchildren. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett replied, "I know you have a heart."

Even though she had developed the 2013 Hit List on orders from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Barbara Byrd Bennett could not control herself during the remarks by young Asea Johnson. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Then the charter schools were back. Amaka Unaka supports Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Chicago. She said KIPP schools in North Lawndale and Austin have received many awards. She said KIPP will serve Englewood well and left letters of support from Englewood. Melinda Herred also supports KIPP and wants KIPP to be allowed to expand.

Domonique Battle spoke to the Board about the partnership between City Year Chicago and Kelvyn Park High School and Tilden Career Community Academy.

Lincoln Park High School teacher Jen Johnson spoke to the Board about the need for trust, which she said was lacking in current CPS work. Substance photo by David Vance.Jennifer Johnson, of Lincoln Park High School, said that every year, trust with the students should be established and every year CPS is breaking that trust. She remarked that many charter schools are underutilized according to CPS standards. She added that two weeks ago, CPS said a deal didn't exist for International Baccalaureate (IB) classes.

The Board had apparently heard all of the speakers, and David Vitale asked for Board member comments. Board Member Dr. Carlos Ascoitia stated that he doesn't want seats in charters expanded until CPS closures are completed.

But CPS had missed on registered speaker. Queen Sister, of "It Takes a Village," addressed nepotism, patronage, racism, and money discrepancies. She issued an invitation to CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett that was unclear, and she was interrupted by security, which ended her presentation. No one on the Board asked her about her invitation before she was removed from the podium.

Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines wanted to know, "How are we addressing Special Ed needs?

Markay Winston (above) assured the Board that any worries about the contuation of services to children with special needs are unfounded, as the department charged with serving those children has everything planned and ready to go. Winston, who was hired by the Board from Cincinnati last summer, has overseen the further reduction in staff for providing services to children with special needs since her arrival in Chicago for her $170,000-per-year job in July 2012. Substance photo by David Vance. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett asked Dr. Markay Winston, the recently appointed head of special education, to speak. She said that we are reaching out to each individual family, arranging tele-town hall conferences, meeting with building principals, providing training for staff members, and providing for diverse learning needs.

Board Member Andrea Zopp wanted to know what it will look like in the receiving school, how will space be used, and asked that the numbers be explained so we can understand about Trumbull.

Dr. Markay Winston said that she would talk about the delivery of support services.

Board Member Vice-President Jesse Ruiz asked for feedback and questions, ideally in writing.

Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines wanted to know how many children are being moved in non-Americans with Diabilities Act (ADA) compliant buildings. She added that Trumbull presented a Plan B that made sense to her, not to stay in the school, but a different kind of plan.

Board Member Andrea Zopp said that regarding the security issues raised starting with Alderman Austin, the Commission would not support the Songhai move.

Board Member Dr. Mahalia Hines said that she couldn't get to all the schools, but the ride to Melody School was not a route I would send my child on. She added that there was no way she would send her child - she won't vote for it.

Dr.Carlos Azcoitia became the first member of the Board of Education appointed by Rahm Emanuel to vote against charter school expansion at the April 24, 2013 meeting. Azcoitia voted against all three charter school expansions on the agenda. Substance photo by David Vance.Board President David Vitale said that it is imperative for us to know what we're going to vote on on the 22nd (of May). We need to understand the utilization and safety issues. He remarked that the utilization issue has been a bone of contention and it is easy to say the formula is wrong. He added that we understand what we're talking about when we say utilization.

He then said that we are moving into voting on the public agenda. The Board voted in favor of all the items on the public agenda, except that Dr. Azcoitia voted "No" on the three items pertaining to charter schools, while Dr. Hines voted "No" on one and abstained on two others. The motions all passed because the other four Board members (Bienen, Ruiz, Zopp and Vitale) all voted in favor of the latest charter expansions.

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