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BOARDWATCH: Heated exchanges at March 26, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education as more than a dozen irate parents denounce investigations into the Opt Outs from the ISAT and other matters

Concerns about the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT), planned school closings of three so-called "under-performing schools," and the conversion of Ames Middle School into a military school dominated the public participation portion of the monthly meeting of the Chicago Board of Education (BOE) on March 26, 2014 at 125 S. Clark Street. Of the 60 available slots for public speakers, only 50 individuals were officially signed up between March 17 and March 21, at least according the the listing of Public Participation speakers provided by the Board. Sixteen of the 50 who signed up to speak did not show up when their names were called.

Singers from Hawthorne Elementary School began the meeting. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Roll call indicated that all seven Board members were present: Henry Bienen, Dr. Mahalia Hines, Board Vice-President Jesse Ruiz, Deborah Quazzo, Dr. Carlos Azcoitia, and Andrea Zopp, plus Board President David Vitale. Also present was Chief Education Officer (CEO) Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and the Board's lawyer James Bebley.

The "good news" portion of the meeting featured a choral group of students from Hawthorne Academy (elementary school), who sang "This is the Rainbow Connection" led by Dee Murphy, Vocal Teacher of kindergarten to eighth grade, and spelling, chess, and academic decathalon champions.

Following the singing, two Spelling Bee winners who will go to Washington, D.C. were honored. The runner-up remarked, "I've always been a stickler for spelling and grammar and now I have something to show for it."

Other students who were honored took part in the Academic Decathalon and the Chess Championships. The chess players will go on to the Illinois State championships and the Whitney Young Decathalon team will go to Hawaii for the national championship.

Instead of going to the podium and giving the traditional Power Point to report on her version of the successes of the school closings that were voted on at the May 2013 Board of Education meeting, Barbara Byrd Bennett read from a carefully vetted script that was only distributed to the members of the Board of Education and selected reporters. None of the Board members asked her why she hadn't presented her extravagant claims in the form of the Power Point, since her administration has at some Board meetings delivered its reports in three Power Points. Not one of the seven Board members asked any questions about why she had refused to present a footnoted Power Point, but the objective of the presentation was a success. Byrd Bennett's version of the school closing story became the central report in the two daily newspapers the following day. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.After the four "good news" events, Chicago Public Schools "Chief Executive Officer" Byrd-Bennett gave a report on the recent closing of 50 schools, the money she claimed was saved that, according to her, would have been spent on "half-empty buildings" and an array of charters showing the supposed improvements because of the closings. Byrd Bennett said a Consolidation Report was ongoing and would also be presented at the end of the year. Some observers noted that for the first time this school year, the presentation was not in Power Point format and was not done publicly. Copies of the document Byrd Bennett was speaking from were distributed only to reporters.

Byrd Bennett also talked about the ISAT testing, which she said was not optional this year. She said that the Board was also conducting investigation of "allegations of inappropriate conduct." After that, she noted that the agenda included an amendment she was proposing in the "Volunteer Policy" on the agenda.

At that point, "Chief Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Officer Philip Hampton presented in Power Point format an overview of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Volunteer Policy, which will be beginning School Year 2014-2015. Changes were planned in finger-printing schedules, he said, and not all levels of volunteers would be required to be finger printed. Categories of Level One Volunteers, which were listed in the report, would be required to be finger-printed, A criminal background check would not be required for Level Two Volunteers, which were also listed in the report. Opportunities would be provided for finger-printing in the community to make it more convenient for volunteers. Immigrant volunteers would be required to provide the kind of I.D. they currently provide and nothing more.

After Hampton's Power Point, Board President David Vitale reminded the public of office hour visits with board members available to the public by calling 773-533-1600. The next board meeting will be Wednesday, April 23, with sign-up scheduled for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday, April 14, to Friday, April 18, or when all slots are filled.

'Southwest Side' alderman Marty Quinn (13th Ward) complained to the Board that there were no easily accessible selective enrollment high schools in his part of town. Unaware of the history going back to the development of the six "college prep high schools" by Paul Vallas and Mayor Richard M. Daley, Quinn didn't realize that the high schools had been located in the more affluent areas of the "regions" where they had been sited, two within a half mile of Lake Michigan in some of the most expensive communities in the USA. Examples of the favoritism for the rich include Payton High School ("Gold Coast College Prep"), which was located as far to the east as possible to accommodate the children of Gold Coast billionaires, and Jones College Prep High School. Jones evicted the highly praised Jones Commercial High School so that the new (and very expensive) "community" -- "Museum Campus" -- where Mayor Daley was living would have a nearby high school. Nobody from Quinn's part of town complained at the time about the fact that they selective enrollment high schools were not located farther west in the "regions" where they had been placed. The data provided by Quinn claiming enormous travel distances for some of his constituents was also racist: Lindblom College Prep High School, one of the state's best high schools, is closer to some of his constituents (less than two miles) than Quinn told the Board. But the Board members sat silently while Quinn, perhaps without even knowing it, replicated the traditional racist version of Chicago's South Side geography -- where the "South Side" is where the Black people live, and the "Southwest Side" means white and other not-Black people. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Before public participation began, Alderman Marty Quinn, of the 13th ward, located in Clearing, Garfield Ridge, etc. spoke of the long commute required by students of his district in order to attend selective enrollment schools located at various parts of the city. He said that it takes two to three hours to commute from 65th and Pulaski to 80% those college prep selective enrollment schools. According to Quinn, this geographic factor limits participation in before- and after-school activities. Quinn wants the board to begin the process of increasing the number of selective enrollment high schools schools on the "Southwest Side." Quinn also submitted letters of support from the community and from local elementary school principals.

Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), spoke of the "Friday night notices" to three schools which would be affected by Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL) turnarounds. She said that there was no clear criteria for which schools were selected for turnaround. She noted the problems facing the schools that were named. Lewis said that 20% of students at Dvorak Elementary School are homeless. The Board's "turnround" announcement was based on bad information and should be ended.

Lewis also challenged the claims made earlier in Barbara Byrd Bennett's report on the ostensible success of the school closings voted on at the May 22, 2013 Board meeting. For example, Lewis said, 800 students from the closed schools were still unaccounted for since last year's closings. She then added the huge infusion of cash to AUSL during turnarounds can push up test scores -- but only briefly. Comparing AUSL to the similar schools, she said that AUSL was at the very bottom of achievement. But, she added, AUSL was tops in one thing. AUSL schools are number one in suspensions and expulsions, having a zero-tolerance level. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis tried to remind the Board that, among other things, CPS still hadn't accounted for more than 800 children from the closed schools since the massive closings approved in May 2013. Board members smiled, as the usually do when Lewis speaks, but refused to challenge the fairy tale version of the success of the closings that had earlier, and without a public Power Point presentation, been given to the Board by Barbara Byrd Bennett. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Lewis demanded that the Board not do turnarounds this year, and she added that now was not the time for these turnarounds. Noting the racist result of the turnarounds, she stated that over 50 percent of the staff of the planned turnaround schools was African-American and the average age of the faculty was fifty years old. She stressed, "Please take this into consideration." She also said that lunch ladies and security guards would lose their jobs in the turnaround schools. Under "turnaround," CPS fires everyone in the supposedly failing schools, including the administrators, the custodians and even the lunchroom staff.

In regard to the ISAT Opt Out, Lewis said that the two weeks spent giving the test which is being phased out were two weeks when schools could have had real instruction.

Valerie Leonard from North Lawndale presented the Board with sophisticated research showing that the Turnaround programs had been failing year after year for more than a decade since AUSL was first designated as the main "turnaround" expert. Although the Board members sat silently while Leonard made her presentation, at the end of the meeting they proclaimed that they knew "the truth" without specifically naming Leonard's research as the source of their concerns. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Public participation began with four speakers who had concerns about Dvorak School. Valerie Leonard, a Lawndale resident, was concerned about the proposed turnarounds and about privatizing. She said that there were only eight traditional schools left in her area. She added that it was a conflict of interest for AUSL to have an affiliation with the board president and others on the board. She asked, "Why do you have to fire the lunchroom staff to improve my school?"

Lisa Russell said she was a product of neighborhood schools. She stated that neighborhood schools take every child from anywhere. She asked that Dvorak be given some of the turnaround money that will go to AUSL for resources for the children who are at the school now. She asked that the board not turnaround the school but provide new furniture and other things the school desperately needs today.

Wendy Pearson also spoke in support of Dvorak. In an unusual move by the Board, she was allowed to take the place of Angie Gordon. Pearson said that some AUSL schools were Level Three, had no accountability, did not answer phone calls, and had a Safe Passage that wasn't safe. She stated that there is no safety in CPS and in the streets. She also criticized because of two simultaneous jobs that are held by CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett (an official for the Broad Foundation's training program for school administrators and CEO of CPS). She also talked about the fact that Chief Administration Officer (CAO) Tim Cawley and Board President David Vitale both had conflicts of interest because they had been with AUSL before coming to the Board.

Parent Tracie Worthy said that Dvorak was 99 percent low-income and 20 percent homeless. She stated that, as AUSL focuses on test scores, "our students will be turned away." She asked that the new principal at Dvorak be given the opportunity to succeed.

Dwayne Truss, of Raise Your Hand (RYH), and a long time Austin community activist spoke next. Truss spoke of the Austin (High School) campus and played a recording of the conditions at Austin. He said that a third-world education was being provided at Austin, told how the area had been charterized, etc., and that students don't have teachers or books in front of them.

The next three speakers were from Saucedo elementary school, which had the largest Opt Out of any school and whose teachers also voted to boycott the administration of the ISAT.

Martha Arriaga, a teacher at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, noted that a letter from Barbara Byrd Bennett had been sent to parents just before Christmas telling them that they could opt their children out of the ISAT test. Following this, she said, there were calls from the school administration to opt "back in." The administration told the parents that the teachers who had informed parents of their right to opt their children out were liars. She said that "we work with parents for the benefit of the children." She added that there are now twelve assessments a year in kindergarten, and that her kindergarten class has to take three months to administer them all, Yet Mayor Rahm Emanuel's children are assessed only one time each year at the expensive University of Chicago Lab school which they attend. She said she wants no retaliation against the teachers at Saucedo. She also complained about the investigations -- strangers, who questioned their children, refusing to show ID's.

Maribel Martinez reads from her two-minute statement to the Board of Education while supporters from Saucedo look on. Martinez told the Board that her children had been forced to sit on a floor while they were opting out. Another person who testified from Saucedo said that three months out of the school year was wasted on testing the kindergarten children. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Maribel Martinez, a mother of four, said she was worried about the persons sent to the school by CPS. She mentioned that 40-50 students who opted out were placed in one classroom and mistreated while they opted out. She said they had to eat using their hands (no utensils were provided) while sitting on the floor because they were opting out.

Juanita Torres, a mother of a child at Saucedo, said she was not comfortable with what happened at the school. First, there was a CEO letter giving the option to opt out, saying that there was no obligation to take the ISAT test, and that the ISAT was being phased out. She asked that the right to opt out be respected. She added that we feel that we got no response from CPS and asked that the board show respect and stop questioning the children.

Manolita Huber, parent of two who graduated from Peterson Elementary School, is running for the Local School Council (LSC) and requested less standardized testing. She said that the Board was obsessed with standardized testing. She said her daughter in high school said she is not learning as much as she could because too much testing and test prep is taking place. She added that "education is not filling out bubbles, but allowing our teachers to teach in the classroom."

The next two speakers were from Drummond School.

Drummond Montessori (elementary) school parent Mary Zerkel was the first speaker from Drummond to report to the Board that the majority of the school supported Opt Out. Parents were also at the Board to demand that CPS investigators stop calling down children to get the children to testify against their teachers for providing families with accurate information on their right to Opt Out. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Mary Zerkel, a parent, said that 77 percent of the parents opted their children out. She said that on Thursday, March 20, the Law Department asked questions about teacher misconduct. She affirmed that this opting out was PARENT-LED. She added that we don't want retaliation. She also said that we want to investigate YOU and interrogate YOU. She asked who decided to question, did the mayor approve this sneaky and unfair questioning, why were investigators mean to them, and what were you thinking?

Anne Carlson had called Drummond to ask that her child not be questioned. When one fifth-grade student was questioned and answered well, the investigator was amazed. She called the questioning a "witch hunt." She said that 70 percent of the students were opted out by their parents. She said the testing was robbing students of instructional time so that they could be asked to snitch on their teachers. She stated, "This is not CPS, it is a Chicago Police State."

Noah Sobe, of Stone Scholastic Academy and a professor of education policy at Loyola and parent of first and fourth graders, said that a parent should be able to opt out. He urged the Board to establish clear policies for parents who wish to opt out.

Greg Goodman expressed concern over excessive testing. He said that two minutes was not enough time to talk meaningfully. He added that standardized tests hurt schools and education. He also said that shifting the blame to Springfield or Washington, D.C. is not what should have been done and that the Board should stop blaming somewhere else. and end the overtesting of Chicago children. Security was told to interrupt Goodman's remarks and he did not get to complete them.

Jennifer Biggs, a parent, spoke on Behalf of Raise Your Hand and denounced the Board's claims of cuts in administration while cutting schools in a major way. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Jennifer Biggs, of Raise Your Hand (RYH), opted out her two oldest children. She also coached her children when she heard of the investigations CPS was doing: "Don't say a word. Wait for Mom and Dad to be in the room with you. Ask for a lawyer." She wanted to know why children were taken away from learning for the CPS questioning. She also asked for an increase in per-pupil funding.

Arnold Stieber, of Veterans for Peace and a father, a grandfather, and a Viet Nam veteran, said that violence was being taught to children in many Chicago schools, noting the Chicago's public schools, thanks to the military schools and ROTC, was the most militarized school system in the United States. He said that the phrase, "Send in the Marines," meant that there was "no room for dialogue." He added that the military teaches violence and that the CPS was the most militarized school system, where 9,000 are in military schools or ROTC programs. He also said that violence can be made to look glamorous by dressing it in uniform. He named all kinds of violence and said that at the core of this violence is the "military method of conflict resolution."

Emily Fong thanked the board for the Montessori option at Suder School. She said that Suder offers all subjects and that even Mandarin was once taught. She went on to list the problems the school has faced since the Board cut funding to it last year. She asked for financial support for the school.

Rhoda Rae Gutierrez, of "Parents 4 Teachers", parent of two children at Coonley School, opted her children out and is grateful. She said that she supports the teachers and parents at Drummond and Saucedo. She remarked that her son did a hero project on Rosa Parks. She told her son that Rosa Parks planned her action, that it was not spontaneous. She added that she sees the ISAT boycott the same way.

After telling the seven members of the Board to pay attention (many of them spend Board meetings checking their email and reading the latest CPS data sheets), parent Zerlina Smith demanded to know why there was a police state-like investigation of teachers being conducted when all parents received a note from Barbara Byrd Bennett, the CPS CEO, saying they had the right to opt out. Smith is holding a copy of the note. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Zerlina Smith, parent of a Headstart child, said that their were few opportunities in her community. She asked the board, "Don't just make it for the rich, make it for the poor," adding that, "My taxes provide for schools not in our community," and "The best schools are not in my community." She criticized the Board members for the investigation into the ISAT Opt Out and reminded them that parents were informed of their right to Opt Out in a letter from Barbara Byrd Bennett herself.

Shawn Gowder said that his problem which was presented at the January board meeting was not addressed. He thanked CEO Byrd-Bennett for Black Studies. He mentioned a Clara Barton Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that he had submitted but had no response to except to be asked by the board, "Has anyone called you?" He added that this was the worst he had ever been treated since Michael Scott was board president. He also said, "I will be back." He was directed to a staff member.

Wrennie Williamson, who has a first-grader at Reavis School, said the principal was great and the teacher was committed. She said that the school had lost $350,000 in funding, the library was not open for book circulation, there was no librarian, and they lost the art teacher and the music teacher and other services. She wants an increase in per-pupil funding for all the schools in the district.

Jan Peczkis is a former teacher who taught for 16 years with CPS and then six years as a substitute teacher. He said that he was accused of sleeping in the classroom and let go. Subsequently, he was diagnosed with sleep apnea. That problem has now been corrected, his doctor testified, he took and passed the Wakefulness Test given to airline pilots, but he still has a Do Not Hire (DNH) on his record. He asked that the DNH be removed.

Christina Torres reported on a local referendum that was on the ballot on Election Day in the area adjacent to Ames Middle School. She said that 69 percent of area voters want Ames as a community school -- not a military academy. She said that Marine students went door-knocking during school hours before the referendum. She added that Alderman Roberto Maldonado was trying to intimidate voters on March 18, but failed. She said that in Latino countries in Central and South America, the military "is considered the enemy". She asked that the board find another facility for the military academy and leave Ames alone.

Joel Monarch, a lawyer, said he put together the Ames School referendum. He said that the board voted 5-2 to convert Ames to a military school and asked the board to reconsider this and put it on the calendar for April. He added that Ames has a suburban feel to it and he would be happy to help Alderman Maldonado find another school for the military academy.

O"Kema Lewis spoke of the reimbursement policy. She said individuals who attend conferences must pay first, and then wait for reimbursement, according to board directives.Yet principals are given the autonomy to give cash advances. She said that it causes confusion that money is not provided up front for conferences.

George Blakemore spoke of the "miseducation" of Black children. He mentioned that this country was built by Black slave labor and that some Blacks sell their own people out.

Parent (and CTU organizer) Matt Luskin criticized the Board's handling of Opt Out and the fact that the Board announced the turnaround of three schools after the sign-in time for speaking at the Board was over. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Matthew Luskin, parent of a child at LaSalle Academy and a CPS organizer, said that CEO Byrd-Bennett first told the parents that they could opt out and since then teachers have been threatened. He asked that there be no retaliation. He said that the number one reason for the opt-policy was to punish. He added that last year Gresham School took in students from a closed school and this year is being turned around.

Wanda Hopkins, of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) and parent of a student at Whitney Young, asked that there be no retaliation in regard to the ISAT opting-out. She spoke of the craziness of AUSL and asked why the first AUSL school was closed without any warning. She also chastised CEO Byrd-Bennett and board members Dr. Mahalia Hines and Andrea Zopp.

EvAngel YHWHnewBN reminded everyone to "kick the k word." She said that a kid is a goat, but a child is a human being. She mentioned the Brown vs Board of Education decision sixty years ago and its historic impact. She requested a copy of the Black History Study curriculum from CEO Byrd-Bennett.

Chicago Public Schools parent Rousemary Vega demanded the Barbara Byrd Bennett give her more than two minutes to speak on behalf of her four children, but instead CPS security (rear) was poised to hustle the diminutive mother of four away from the podium as soon as the "TIME!" was called by the Board's secretary. Vega's children had attended Lafayette Elementary School, which was closed last year despite large protests. A promise that the Lafayette building would not be converted into a charter school was broken, according to Vega, when Byrd Bennett recommended earlier this year that the Lafayette building go to the "Chi Arts" school, which is a quasi-charter school (called a "contract" school). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Rousemary Vega asked that her two minutes be extended. She spoke of how teachers got in trouble when children opted out of the ISAT and yet CEO Byrd-Bennett had said that children could opt out. She stated that parents were acting on their own when they opted their children out. She added that her children had been at Lafayette, but that now the building was not useful and that a new charter would be there. She repeated, "Ching, Ching, Ching, Money, Money, Money." Security guards escorted her out.

Alfred Rodgers, of the Latino Organization of the Southwest, said, "Let's follow the rules all of the time, not only when it hurts the children."

Biran Caref told the Board he has four children in the schools and is on the LSC at Westinghouse High School. He noted, among other things, that the budget cuts are undermining all of the city's real public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Brian Caref, parent of three children at Suder and one at Westinghouse, is on the LSC at Westinghouse High School. He said he is concerned with the budget cuts which affect programs at Westinghouse.

Christopher Ball, of RYH and More Than a Score, expressed concern with the overuse of standardized testing and the NWEA MAP that will be given students in grades three, six, and eighth this spring. He said that it will determine promotion regardless of grades even though it is not intended for this purpose. He said that this test is taken on a computer and crashes have occurred. John Barker was asked to speak to him.

Rousemary Vega has four children, and helped organize the protest against the Board's vote to close Lafayette Elementary School in May 2013. Among other things, the school closing means that the children who had an orchestra program and other activities the school had built were taken away from her children. During her passionate remarks to the Board, two Board members, Henry Bienen (left) and Mahalia Hines (right) were caught by the Substance camera making fun of the speaker. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Denise Delgado, who went to Noble School and will soon graduate from the University of Illinois, praised Noble School and thanked the board.

The last public participant, Rosita Chatonda spoke of the "human toll and the mean streets". She wants stability in the schools and feels that safety is important. She foresaw twelve years ago that testing would cause closings. After seeing the movie, "Twelve Years a Slave, she was reminded that "We've been invisible and nobody cares."

Chicago Board of Education member Mahalia Hines (above, during the March 26, 2014 meeting of the Board) usually takes the time at the end of the meeting to proclaim what her "community" (supposedly, Black Chicago) needs. At the March 2014 Board meeting, however, every African American who spoke denounced the Board on which Hines has served so slavishly for nearly two years and the policies for which Hines has voted so devotedly. So Hines decided to become an expert on testing and challenged the supporters of Opt Out by proclaiming, with virtually no evidence, that "everyone" who wants to get into college had to take the SAT and the ACT -- ignoring the growing list of more than 1,000 colleges and universities that have stopped using the dubious ACT and SAT tests or have made such tests optional in college applicants. Like the other Board members who pontificate about how they know more than the speakers each month, Hines waited until the end of the meeting, when most of the speakers were gone, to make her ridiculous statement. A complete current list of colleges and universities that avoid SAT and ACT or make it optional is at Fair Test, and a commentary on Hines's statement is here at substancenews.net at: http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=4901§ion=ArticleSubstance photo by George N. Schmidt. Next, board members discussed the testing issue, the move to One North Dearborn, and the savings that would ensue because fewer persons and less "space per person" would be available there. Called upon to discuss more thoroughly the planning for the November 2014 move, Chicago Administrative Officer Tim Cawley claimed in public that the move would "save" CPS $60 million over 15 years," without presenting any cost projections to justify the statement. Cawley said that furniture and other things that he claimed couldn't be moved from 125 S. Clark Street to the Dearborn St. site would be offered first to schools, then to satellite offices and finally, be sold. The Board members also talked about how the facts and analysis presented during the meeting by their critics were "not true," but did so without presenting any alternatives to the charges made about the failures of AUSL turnaround (by Valerie Leonard and the people from Dvorak), the school closings (by CTU president Karen Lewis) and the challenges to other CPS facts and claims made by others, including Raise Your Hand and More Than A Score. Five of the seven members of the Board made remarks. Then Board member Mahalia Hines read a resolution to go into executive session under the provisions of the Open Meetings Act, and the board went into closed session and security staff cleared the room.



Comments:

March 30, 2014 at 2:56 PM

By: Mr. Jan Peczkis

Freedom of Information: CPS Do Not Hire Policies and Substitute Teachers

Readers who want to learn about the 60% firing rate of accused CPS substitute teachers, and how a good teacher got accused and fired, please click on:

http://secondcityteachers.blogspot.com/2014/03/dnh.html

This situation has attracted international interest. Please click on:

http://secondcityteachers.blogspot.com/2014/03/teachers-and-sleep.html

December 1, 2015 at 5:04 PM

By: Mary Hartsfield

The Coruption in CPS

I would like to see an internal investigation to find out where the financial crisis begin in the Chicago Public School, while i was working for the Cradle to Classroom program under CPS, money was being mismanaged at that time years ago what is really happen Mrs. Barbara Bird Bennett is still able to get charge with a crime and still collect taxes payers money. Rules and Ethics who does them?

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