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BOARDWATCH: Board's claims about 'turnaround' success are challenged by parents and community leaders while complaints about conflicts of interest are ignored... Parents, union and community leaders denounce AUSL 'network' in Black Chicago, West Side schools as new AUSL turnarounds are proposed

In a series of dramatic moments, parents, teachers, union and community leaders from Chicago's West Side repeatedly took the floor at the March 26, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education to denounce the latest proposal to "turn around" three more of the city's elementary schools based on test scores and other invalid measures of school performance. The speakers also noted that the Board of Education has several conflicts of interest in placing the schools in the hands of the clout-heavy AUSL group. They also charged that the AUSL "turnarounds" in the past have failed despite all of the extra resources that the Board gives to "turnaround" schools during the first years of the corporate-style process.

Surrounded by emotional parents and other community activists, Valerie Leonard presented the Board with research showing that the so-called "turnaround" process that had become the monopoly of AISL had failed in virtually every school that it had been used at. Leonard was gone from the meeting when, at the end of the meeting, Board President David Vitale and Board member Andrea Zopp (of the Chicago Urban League) talked about how some members of the public didn't understand the "facts," even though the Board members were silent or busily on their cell phones while Leonard and others spoke against the AUSL proposal on the Board's March 26, 2014 agenda. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. AUSL (the "Academy for Urban School Leadership") has been given the lucrative turnaround contracts since the Board began using the corporate nomenclature for the "reconstitution" of schools more than ten years ago.

The proposed "turnarounds" were announced in a CPS press release on March 21, but will not appear on the Board meeting agenda until the April Board meeting. The Board will next meet on April 23 at 125 S. Clark St. Sign in for public participation at the Board meeting will begin at 8:00 a.m. on April 14, 2014. The public agenda for that Board meeting will become available to the public according to the Open Meetings Act by 10:00 a.m. on April 21, 2014.

The proposed "turnaround" of the three schools was announced by CPS officials but did not appear on the public agenda for the Board's March 26 meeting. The seven members of the Board of Education and Board "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett sat stolidly or looked away as more than half dozen speakers denounced their latest corporate-style version of reality prior to the Board's vote to impose the turnarounds. The latest attack was on the Dvorak, McNair and Gresham elementary schools, all of which serve student populations that are all-Black and virtually all poor.

It was only at the end of the Board meeting that one Board member, Andrea Zopp of the Chicago Urban League, tried to defend the Board by saying "We know the truth" and implying that the Board members had secret information that was not known by the parents, teachers and activists who had opposed the turnarounds. Board President David Vitale, one of two people at the front who was singled out as having an AUSL conflict of interest, also intone that members of the public didn't know what they were talking about.

Although Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has never attended a meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, the mayor is present at every meeting in the form of his special assistant for education, Beth Swanson, a former CPS bureaucrat who monitors every meeting of the Board and reviews every Board action on behalf of City Hall. Above, Swanson and CPS "Chief Accountability Officer" John Barker shared a moment together before the beginning of the March 26, 2014 Board meeting. Barker, a proponent of the "junk science" "Value Added..." assessment methodology pioneered (and subsequently discredited) in Tennessee, was brought to Chicago from Memphis by the Board of Education appointed be Emanuel. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.As usual, the majority of the Board members looked away, read from their digital assistants, or yawned during the passionate presentations. All seven members of the Board of Education have been appointed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as has CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett. One of the most controversial components of the CPS "turnaround" activities is that AUSL fires the entire staff of each "turnaround" school -- including the engineer, custodial, and lunchroom workers -- based on the claim that a "clean sweep" is necessary to change the "culture" of the school.

When the Chicago Board of Education actually votes to do a "turnaround," the wording on the Board Report is careful to note that the Board is voting to do a "reconstitution" of the schools, since so-called "turnaround", a label favored in some corporate circles, does not exist under Illinois law. In a March 21, 2014 press release (sent to most media, but not provided to Substance due to CPS censorship policies), the Board stated that the "turnaround" proposals would be on the agenda of the April 2014 Board meeting.

The Board's press release also stated that hearings would be held on April 2 (in the community) and April 9 (at the Board).

Speaking on behalf of Lawndale community residents, community activist Valerie Leonard presented the Board with data showing that despite claims, AUSL has been no more successful in the schools it has taken over then local community schools. She also told the Board that by creating what amounts to an "AUSL Network" on Chicago's West Side, the Board has denied parents who wish to send their children to "traditional public schools" the "choice" to do so. Board members did not respond to her requests for comment, nor did they say anything while others questioned the entire structure of "turnarounds" and the AUSL monopoly on recent "turnaround" activity in the nation's third largest school system.

Valerie Leonard presented the Board with a factsheet on the performance of the AUSL schools by comparison with the traditional public schools in the area.

Other speakers also outlined the reasons why Dvorak should not have its staff fired. One of the speakers, Tracie Worthy, gave the following remarks:

Presentation to the Board of Education 3/26/14 by Tracie Worthy...

My name is Tracie Worthy. I am a member of the North Lawndale Community Action Council, a former member of Dvoraks Local School Council and I live one block from Dvorak.

Dvorak is a Community School. I am opposed to Dvorak becoming a turnaround school. As an employee of Lawndale Christian Development Corporation and Lawndale Christian Health Center before that, I know that Dvorak has always opened their doors for programs and supportive services for their students and families. This is significant because statistics indicate that 99% of Dvorak students are low income and at least 20% are homeless.

My concern is that as AUSL focuses on test scores, they will lose sight of the needs of these students and the community support that can make a difference in their development and long term outcomes. As our school is turned around, our students will be turned away, only to end up on the streets in our community.

I am asking that CPS provide the necessary support for Dvorak to stay open as a community school to serve our students. Lastly, Ms White is a fairly new principal. I am asking that she, along with the teachers of Dvorak, be given the opportunity and the resources to work with our students to improve their academic performance while allowing them to remain in an environment that is supportive and familiar to them.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING ON THIS STORY WILL BE PROVIDED ON MARCH 27, 2014

CPS 'TURNAROUND' PRESS RELEASE ISSUED ON MARCH 21, 2014 AND 'MODIFIED' ON MARCH 25, 2014 APPEARS IN FULL BELOW:

CPS Recommends Three Elementary Schools for Proven AUSL Turnaround Process Thirteen of Sixteen AUSL turnarounds outpaced the District average on ISAT meets or exceeds growth since undergoing the turnaround process. March 21, 2014

At several points during the March 26, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, Board President David Vitale obviously stopped listening to the passionate challenges from parents, teachers and community leaders. Vitale didn't speak with any of the speakers during or after their presentations, but as usual at the end of the meeting, when most of the Board's critics had gone home, Vitale and other Board members repeated their claim that their critics didn't know -- or understand -- the "facts" and that they, the Board members, know THE TRUTH. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. CHICAGO Chicago Public Schools (CPS) today announced recommendations to implement a proven turnaround model for three low-performing elementary schools. These recommendations are part of a larger effort to provide a high-quality education for all of our students and to strengthen neighborhood schools. If approved by the Board of Education in April, these schools will be managed by the Academy for Urban School Learning (AUSL), which has proven track record of success turning around some of the Districts most challenged schools and expanding access to high quality options for more than 17,000 students. AUSL currently operates 29 schools and teacher training academies throughout CPS in neighborhoods such as Austin, Dunning, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, and South Shore.

Our goal is to ensure that our students are 100 percent college-ready and 100 percent college-bound, said CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. The power of a high school diploma is great and the power of a college diploma is even greater. Our children have one chance at a high-quality education and we are committed to doing everything we can to provide our students with the tools they need to be successful. For more than a decade, AUSL has improved schools from the ground up, showing increased attendance rate and academic growth, giving students a chance to receive the rich academic experience and engaging school environment they deserve.

The turnaround method is a proven strategy CPS utilizes to overhaul consistently under-performing neighborhood schools without moving students. The process brings highly qualified staff, including union teachers, who are specially trained to work in low-performing schools to help meet the specific needs of those schools children. Turnarounds have a laser focus on driving student learning and improving achievement immediately, providing additional academic support in core subjects, implementing a high-quality instruction aligned to the Common Core State Standards and setting transparent goals for schools, staff and students to reach.

Working in some of the Districts most challenging environments, AUSL has had a profound impact on academic performance and school culture:

Thirteen of sixteen AUSL turnarounds outpaced the District average on ISAT meets or exceeds growth since undergoing the turnaround process.

In 2013, four AUSL schools including Piccolo, Herzl, Fuller and Marquette placed in the top 10 percent of growth for the District. All of these schools were in their first year under AUSLs management.

On average, students enrolled in AUSL turnaround schools outpaced the District on the percentage of making or exceeding average growth in core subjects including math and science on NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments.

More than 67 percent of students at AUSL turnaround schools met or exceeded average growth in reading, while 63 percent of District students met this benchmark. More than 74 percent of AUSL students in turnaround schools met or exceeded the average growth in math, compared to the 69 percent in District-managed schools.

In four years under AUSL management, Phillips has moved from a chronically low-performing Level 3 school to Level 1.

Board Member Andrea Zopp (above) talked about how the Board members "know the truth" apparently in reference to the information provided by Lawndale activists and others critical of AUSL's supposed "performance" in school turnarounds. Zopp, Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Urban League, has voted in favor of every attack on the city's black community's traditional public schools since her May 2011 appointment to the Board by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.CPS undergoes an exhaustive review process to determine the appropriate schools for turnaround. The District looked at almost 50 schools that had a Level 3 rating in each of the last two years and were currently on academic probation. In making its final determinations, CPS sought input from current and past Network Chiefs regarding each individual schools principal and staff, the quality of the academic program, and the schools culture, and its academic performance data compared to other low-performing schools within its Network and across the District.

Based on that criterion, CPS recommends the following elementary schools for turnaround beginning in School Year 2014-15:

-- Ronald E. McNair Elementary School, 4820 W. Walton St.

Level 3 school; on academic probation for the past 14 years.

McNair is over 20 percentage points below the District average in meets/exceeds.

-- Dvorak Technology Academy, 3615 W. 16th St.

Level 3 school; on academic probation for the past 7 years.

Dvorak is nearly 30 percentage points below the District average in meets/exceeds.

--Walter Q. Gresham Elementary School, 8524 S. Green St.

Level 3 school; on academic probation for the past 6 years.

Gresham is over 20 percentage points below the District average in meets/exceeds.

In addition to overhauling the schools leadership, teaching staff and academic climate, the turnaround process includes targeted facilities improvements such as new paint, technology upgrades and new furniture based on the needs of the school. These investments are a key component of the turnaround method, signaling a fresh start for students as they get on a path to success inside the classroom.

CPS will hold community meetings at each of the schools recommended for turnaround on April 2 and will host public hearings on April 9 and 10th at CPS headquarters. The Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the Districts recommendations at the April Board meeting.

Chicago Public Schools serves 400,000 students in 658 schools. It is the nations third-largest school district. Page Last Modified on Tuesday, March 25, 2014



Comments:

March 31, 2014 at 6:41 PM

By: Wendy M. Pearson

Board members should be forced out...

The members of the Board of Education would rather stand on lies then tell the truth if it killed them. Hertzl is a level 3 school. The board has no idea what is going on in these schools it has given to AUSL.The network has no control over this school, the LSC has been removed, and the principal has complete control of the budget. Conflicts of interest started in the beginning of the President of the Board's reign as he was holding both positions, with AUSL and with CPS. BBB also was allowed to hold two positions superintendent and her position with the Broad Academy. Andrea Zopp needs to step down. She also has a conflict as she can't decide if she wants to defend the minority communities -- or go along with destroying the lives of the poor.

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