BOARDWATCH: Chicago Board meeting shows disregard for protests from communities against AUSL, 'turnaround'

A large number of individuals who protested the proposed turnaround of Dvorak, McNair, and Gresham elementary schools dominated the public participation portion of the Chicago Board of Education monthly meeting held on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, at 125 S. Clark Street. But intense security against anyone critical of the Board's policies not only was dispatched against those who tried to speak their outrage against the Board's proposals, but also against Substance and other members of the press who tried to get the full stories inside the Board chambers, despite the fact that it was a public meeting in a public building.

Board of Education security staff were ordered by Board President David Vitale to silence protesters on at least six occasions during the tumultuous April 23, 2014 meeting of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago. Above, security reaches to snatch the microphone away from one of several speakers who opposed the turnaround of Gresham Elementary School and who charged that the claims of AUSL for success were fraudulent. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The Board barely had a quorum. Absent from the meeting were Board members Dr. Mahalia Hines and Deborah Quazzo.

Present were Henry Bienen, Board Vice- Presdent Jesse Ruiz, Board President David Vitale, Andrea Zopp and Dr. Carlos Azcoitia. Also present were Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Chief Counsel James Bebley.

The CEO's business reports came first. Prior to public participation, Denise Little, "Chief of Chiefs," spoke of the planned turnaround of Dvorak, McNair, and Gresham elementary schools. Little spoke from prepared remarks and did not provide the Board of the public with the usual Power Point presentations. After Little's presentation, Board members asked a number of questions or made a number of comments:

Chicago Board of Education member Henry Bienen (above left) could barely contain his disdain for the speakers who told the Board that "turnaround" was wrong. During most of the comments by parents, teachers, and children against turnaround, Beinen was either fending off sleep or reading his email, as above when caught by Substance during the remarks by Jennifer Walton of Gresham Elementary School. Under orders from Board President David Vitale, Board security staff have been trying to prevent Substance photographers from getting photographs such as the above. Prior to the Board meeting CPS Communications staff and two security people told Substance editor George Schmidt that he would be arrested on orders from Vitale if he continued to "disrupt" the meeting by going towards the stories that unfold during the meetings. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Why not give the new principal at McNair a chance? ANSWER: There are too many under-performing schools on the West side of Chicago. We don't see the possibility of adding additional resources. What about the teachers' abilities and the suspension rates in the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) the consultant school organization that will takeover Dvorak, McNair, and Gresham? ANSWER: The suspension rate at AUSL is a concern.

Little added "We have undertaken interventions and support to help these elementary schools improve and their performance has been reviewed with the Chiefs [the "Chiefs" of the Networks in which each school is located.].

The apolgetics for AUSL were also presented during the hearings during previous weeks and were part of the hearing officer reports that the Board members receive. What happens to the current faculty and staff, Board members asked? ANSWER: They can reapply to their same schools. In previous turnarounds, how many were rehired at the turnarounds?

Only five members of the seven member Chicago Board of Education were present for the April 23, 2014 meeting, and two of them, David Vitale (right) and Henry Bienen (left) could barely control their disdainful body language during presentations against the Board's proposed turnarounds of Dvorak, Gresham and McNair elementary schools. Vitale refused to recuse himself from the voting despite the fact that he had served on the ASUL Board in recent years and voted to turn the schools over to the controversial "consultants" at a cost of more than one million dollars per school per year over the next five years. Bienen regularly reads his email or finds himself barely awake during the most factual of challenges to the done deals he routinely votes in favor of. All of the current members of the Chicago school board were appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel under his mayoral control powers. Substance photo taken during the Gresham testimony by George N. Schmidt. This answer was fielded from Little to another member of the cabinet of Barbara Byrd Bennett. The Chief of the "Talent" office, Alicia Winckler, took the podium to answer. Winckler claimed that 60% of staff at turnaround schools were eventually rehired at other schools. She did not explain whether any of the incumbent staff was ever re-hired at the AUSL turnarounds, only stating that they had the right to apply for their old jobs.

After the Board members had finished their turnaround questions, Barbara Byrd Bennett continued her report by talking about the IB program. Aarti Duphelia, "Chief of Academic Enhancement," gave a Power Point presentation outlining the planned expansion of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program into Seward, Moos, Agassiz, Peirce, and Ebinger elementary schools. Her report was followed by a few comments by Board members. Byrd Bennett told the Board that CPS has the largest number of students enrolled in IB programs in the United States.

After that, Board President David Vitale reminded everyone that individuals could schedule a meeting with board members during office hours by calling 773-553-1600. The Board Secretary, Estela Beltran, announced that the next board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 28, 2014, as usual at Clark St. Sign-up for public participation will take place from Monday, May 19 to Friday, May 23.

Chicago Public Schools "Chief of Chiefs" Denise Little presented the proposal to reconstitute and "turnaround" the three schools to the April 23, 2014 Board meeting without providing the public with any of the published information or Power Point details that CPS officials had previously used during the hearings at the schools and at the central office. The decision not to have the presentation delivered by Barbara Byrd Bennet and to deny the public information was a deliberate propaganda ploy. CPS officials knew that the official reasons their lower ranking people (including the so-called "Network Chiefs") had presented against Dvorak, Gresham and McNair schools were ridiculously full of legal and factual holes. In the most important presentation about school structure since she proposed the closing of 50 schools one year ago, CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett again avoided details in order to continue Mayor Rahm Emanuel's corporate agenda. Substance photo by David Vance. At that point, public participation began. It was noteworthy that a number of public officials had told the Board they would speak, but only one was in the chambers when the event began. Others arrived, as noted below, at various times during the meeting.

After a brief but deliberate moment of disrespect at the beginning of "public participation," Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis warned the Board of Education against subjecting Dvorak, Gresham and McNair to "reconstitution" and so-called "turnaround." Two hours later, the Board voted to continue the failed program anyway, humiliating another group of teachers, staff, and principals and disrupting the lives of hundreds of children, again. One of the reasons why Lewis's explanations fails on deaf ears is obvious from the above photograph, which shows five of the highest paid executives at CPS unsmilingly watching Lewis, a veteran teacher, present her case. Not one of the five executives has any teaching or educational administrative experience: Left to right in the rear of the above photo, Tim Cawley (CPS Chief Administrative Officer), Alicia Winckler, CPS "Chief Talent Officer"), Todd Babbitch (CPS "Chief Transformation Officer"). Tom Tyrell (CPS "Chief Operating Officer") and Reginald William (Second in command of CPS security office, title �Deputy Central Office Resources�). All of the bureaucrats in the picture above are paid more than $150,000 per year despite the fact that they have zero teaching or principaling experience. Cawley came to public education via Motorola Inc. and AUSL, where he was an executive. Winckler worked as an executive at Sears Holdings before discovering her true calling was in corporate �education management.� Babbitz got his job after getting an MBA at the University of Chicago and working as a consultant. Tyrrell learned to manage school operations for the nation�s third largest school system as an officer in the United States Marines, and Williams is a retired Chicago Police officer. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.First to speak was Alderman Michael Chandler, of the 24th ward. Angrily, Chandler spoke from a prepared text. He said that he opposes the turnaround of Dvorak into an AUSL school. He said that Cheryl White had been a principal for only 15 months and needs more time to institute programs, that the turnaround will be disruptive, that other methods need to be looked at, more resources need to go to the leadership. Chandler told the Board that the "Transformation Model" (which he described) needs to be looked into instead of turnaround. He also said that the schools need more funding. He concluded by stating he cannot support the turnarounds and wants the board to vote against them.

The first speakers praising AUSL following a scripted format that Substance has witnessed for nearly ten years. Terressa Gosa of Sherman School (a turnaround school), who said she is an active member of the Local School Council (LSC). She said her son is doing well and has an especially good teacher. Marlon Gosa, a father of seven at Dewey and Sherman (husband of Ms. Gosa), also spoke well of Sherman, saying that building strong schools will help to build a strong community. He mentioned that teachers at Sherman work on Saturdays and during Spring break.

Cassandra Creswell, of More Than A Score, said that New York City had recently changed the criteria for meeting standards by using portfolios. She said that the new Chicago Public Schools (CPS) policy was the same as the old policy, leading to many failures. She noted that the same number of children will go to summer school, and asked "What about opt-outs?"

Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), spoke next. Lewis had been sitting in front of the Board members since the presentations on turnaround but was ignored by CPS officials at the beginning of the public participation. Lewis opposed the turnarounds. She said that Dvorak was well-organized now, Gresham got good marks, and McNair also got good marks. She added that climate surveys should be taken into consideration. She added that she supports the IB programs. She noted that 40% of the staffs at turnarounds are not getting jobs, and that is a huge number (a percentage mentioned earlier in this meeting). She said that brand-new people were being hired off the street with no teaching experience to replace veteran teachers.

Flanked by Jitu Brown (right) and other leaders from Chicago's Bronzeville community, University of Illinois professor Rico Gutstein presented the Board with the prepared plan for the resurrection of Dyett High School, which the Board has destabilized for three years. Dyett will be closed unless it is revived by Board action, and, as Gutstein pointed out, the result will be that children living in Bronzeville, like those living in Austin, will have no neighborhood general enrollment high school they can attend. The April 23 Board meeting marked the return of Jitu Brown to a Board meeting, following Brown's year-long boycott of the Chicago Board of Education in favor of a "Peoples Board of Education," which met from time to time during the year after the Chicago Board of Education voted, in May 2013, to close 50 of the city's real public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Eric (Rico) Gutstein, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, gave handouts to the Board and spoke of the importance of neighborhood schools. The handsouts were the plans that Gutstein and others (who were standing with him) had developed for Dyett High School. Five hundred signatures were obtained in Bronzeville opposing the closing of Dyett High School, which would result in no neighborhood schools in that area. He said the Social Justice High School, now a Level One neighborhood school, could be a model for what Dyett could be. He said that parents want quality neighborhood schools, and opposed the termination of Dyett, which will happen this year if nothing is done.

Andrew Broy, of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS), told the Board that he had attended the Springfield "Lobby Day" session sponsored by charter schools two weeks ago. He said that HB 4327 -- which would limit charter school growth -- did not pass the day after the charter schools went to Springfield to share their views of charter school expansion. He told the Board members that several legislators had changed their votes after being confronted by well organized charter school parents who had lobbied.

Broy was followed by another speaker on behalf of AUSL and turnaround. Pam Creed, principal of Fuller, an AUSL school (who said she was previously principal of Dulles turnaround school), stated that Bronzeville had had "no schools she wanted her children to attend" until AUSL had taken over Fuller (and other schools).

Alderman Tom Tunney, of the 44th ward, spoke in support of the IB expansion to Agassiz School. He said the community was thrilled with the proposed IB program, named other schools in the ward that have prospered, and listed the boundaries of the 44th ward.

After being introduced by Tunny, Principal Weber of Agassiz School thanked the Board for the IB program.

Joining the decade-long chorus of former opponents who then sing the praises of AUSL's "turnaround," Sofia Ragland told the Board on April 23 that she had opposed the "turnaround" of Carter Elementary School but that she had become an AUSL supporter. Like the others who sing the praises of AUSL, Ragland ignored what happened to the principal, teachers, and other staff who were fired when AUSL got the lucrative consulting contracts to take over the schools and dump all the veteran staff. Ragland included in her praises for AUSL that her own children had been able to take field trips to Dave and Busters Ice Cream and Mideaval Times. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.After the alderman, the AUSL proponents continued. Sofia Ragland, of "Carter School of Excellence" (an AUSL school; all AUSL schools called themselves "schools of excellence" after they have fired and replaced the schools' principals and all other staff), said that she was against AUSL last year, but now agrees with the new change. She said her children are on the honor roll and have perfect attendance. She also said that field trips that the students have gone on include Medieval Times and Dave and Buster's (restaurant).

Following the gasps when Ragland spoke, the topic returned to those schools facing turnaround this year.

Gresham Elementary Principal Dr. Diedrus Brown began by reminding the Board members that her experience in education was of 30 years standing. Then she challenged every aspect of the Board's claims against Gresham, ending by saying that the Board had sabotaged Gresham during recent years, and was now blaming the school for failures that had been created by Board action. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Dr. Diedrus Brown, principal of Gresham School, mentioned that she had been in Education for 30 years, had been with the Department of Education, and was a university professor, among other positions. She said she was representing the children, teachers, and staff at Gresham. She said that she had accepted the position as principal at Gresham when it went on probation. She added that when given proper funding, the school had improved and could improve more, but when money was taken away in the last two years, it destabilized the school and affected student progress. She added "It's the Chicago Public Schools, not the Chicago Private Schools." To mounting cheers, she added, "Don't be a good person doing the devil's work."

Gresham special education teacher Jennifer Walton (above at podium) told the Board members that Gresham doesn't turn away any children, no matter how challenging. The comment comes from the widespread knowledge that AUSL purges its schools not only of teachers and other staff when it takes over schools, but of students that pose particular challenges, including those with behavioral problems. Substance photo by George N Schmidt.Jennifer Walton, a learning behavior specialist who works with Special Ed students at Gresham, said that the students need consistency. She said that Gresham School accepts all students and no student is turned away. She added that Gresham was 100% compliant with requirements and has high-quality Individualized Education Programs (IEP)s. She concluded, "Do not turn our school around."

Board security guards, supervised by Reginald Jackson (second from right, in suit) surrounded one of the Gresham speakers who refused to kow-tow to the orders of David Vitale. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Next came a minister from the Gresham community, who said that CPS had asked for the assistance of faith-based organizations, but does not listen to them. He repeated, "We don't want a turnaround school." He added to CEO Byrd-Bennett that she should be very careful with Mayor Rahm Emanuel because if he can turn abound (former CEO) Brizard, he can turn around you. Board President David Vitale ordered CPS security to remove the speaker, who was wrestled away from the podium by a half dozen CPS security people.

Eddie Ferrell, former Gresham School student who also has children at Gresham, is on the LSC, and is a disabled veteran of the Marines, questioned resources. He said that hew equipment was needed and that students should be given the things that they need to excel.

Tosha Downey, of the Noble Netwwork, who identified herself as the Noble "Director of Government Affairs", said she had been formerly of AUSL. She spoke in favor of the name changes proposed at four Nobel campuses which were on the agenda for the meeting. She noted that the Noble Network had been founded 15 years ago "by CPS teachers."

Dion Stone, an LSC parent at McNair School, said that her school cannot offer what AUSL offers because of a lack of funds. She added that teachers bring their own laptops and paper.

Tonika Dockery, said her son has been diagnosed as in need of services for mental retardation and that McNair has a Trainable Mentally Handicapped (TMH) program that meets her son's needs. She said that she called AUSL and asked, "Do you have a TMH program?" She said AUSL replied, "No, what's that?"

She asked the Board, "Where is my son going to go? There is no TMH in my neighborhood." She asked, "Now what? What about my son?" As security removed her, she said "You don't have to grab me."

Anthony Jackson, a Gresham parent who wore an "I heart Gresham" t-shirt, said that most in the Gresham community do not want AUSL in the community. He said that his son got off an IEP in one year's time because of what a teacher did in first grade. He commented, "Do not turn Gresham around. Give us the funds."

Henry Beinen, one of the seven Board of Education members appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in May 2011, showed his disrespect for the speakers who opposed the Board's turnaround policy by looking away, eight sleepily or reading email on his cell phone. Only after Bienen was warned by CPS Communications staff that reporters were observing his disrespect did he began looking up during the critical speeches. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The praises for AUSL then resumed. Tamara Davis, principal of Herzel "School of Excellence" in North Lawndale, an AUSL turnaround, Davis said, "I am from the West Side, a product of CPS and had to ride a school bus 90 minutes to get an education." Then she spoke of how much she liked AUSL.

Angela Gordon, LSC chairperson at Dvorak, asked the Board members to pospone the decision because they don't know what is going on. She said the principal had been disrespected but she feels she is one of the greatest. She asked the board to allow us to turn ourselves around and provide the AUSL resources. She also mentioned the large number of homeless students at the school.

Candice Stigler, a parent of two students at Dvorak and a graduate of Dvorak, suggested that others should not live in North Lawndale. She questioned how parents can take kids to Medieval Times and Dave and Buster's (restaurant) on field trips. She asked the Board to give us CPS money, furniture, and books.

Antoinette Hunter has a son who has an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and is Bi-Polar, she told the Board. Previously, she had tried to enroll him in four schools, which said they would call back, but Dvorak kept the child. She asked that the Board give the support and resources.

Someone from the group standing in support of her said to Denise Little, "We're coming to your house for a visit."

Gayle Sturm said that 69% of voters want Ames as a neighborhood school, not a military academy. When she asked the Board if they were going to honor the referendum, and if someone could answer her question, please, she was met with a lengthy silence. Finally, after no answer, she concluded, "Shame on you."

Thomas Schreck, a teachers and thirteen-year veteran of Ames School, said that a survey showed that 85% want the school to stay as is, but were told the survey was not valid. Children at Ames offered to get up and speak, he said. They worked with adults to get signatures, and remind voters at the polls. He asked the Board to leave Ames as it is.

"Joline Lozano" spoke, again, in favor of the change from Ames Middle School to the Marine Military Academy, adding that her church supported the change. She also used her time, once again, to trash the high schools on the city's northwest side, saying that none of them had discipline, but that the Marines did a good job with discipline. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Joline Lozano (Emma Lozano), spoke in support on Marine Military Academy. She spoke of hand-outs, petitions, and a student-made DVD. She said that Ames utilized a fraction of the building and would soon be a turnover. During her remarks, Lozano again repeated the slanders others had earlier said about the lack of discipline at north side high schools. Virginia Reyes spoke in Spanish in support of Marine Military Academy.

Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr., of the 27th ward, thanked the Board for what the Board had done for Manierre School, adding that the scores had gone up.

After glancing disdainfully at the report provided to the Board members on behalf of Dyett High School by Rico Gutstein, Board member Henry Bienen returned to his practice of pointedly ignoring the intense public comments critical of policies he routinely votes to rubber stamp. Substance photo by George Schmidt taken during the comments by the Dyett team.The assistant to Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr., of the 21st ward, said that the alderman felt that Gresham should be supported.

Then it was back to the testimonials in support of AUSL. Shimaya Hudson, who identified herself as a parent, said that at first she was uneasy with the announcement that Marquette Elementary School would be subjected to turnaround. But now, she said, with AUSL, there is lots of support, her child is no longer bullied, the principal cares about them, and they have the tools and resources to help the children. She said that now she is not afraid of change. She did not say whether the previous teachers and principals, all of whom were fired by AUSL, had failed to provide support for her child and how the bullying had been handled prior to AUSL.

After that testimonial to AUSL, there was another testimonial on behalf of Noble Network. Arceli Escobedo wore a Nobel t-shirt and said in Spanish that her child was challenged, is now a junior at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and wants to go to a university in Wisconsin.

William Dickerson, LSC chair at Gresham, had three daughters who went through Gresham. One was studying to be a doctor, another is on scholarship to become a journalist, and a third is on the honor roll. He said that because of dwindling funds, Gresham could not maintain standards. He asked the Board to give us the money that you give to AUSL.

Demaria Dickerson, an eighth grader at Gresham said she was here to save her school and asked that it not be turned around.

Gwen Herbert, a parent of graduates at Gresham, said that no white schools had been approached about being a turnaround. She asked the board to give the schools the money that they need and the schools would be better off. She asked, "Why replace college-trained teachers with AUSL teachers?" She asked why AUSL doesn't accept all students. She said that Gresham students have no I-pads and no gym teachers and then you want to raise our taxes.

Keisha Campbell, an AUSL Director, shared accomplishments and named statistics. She said that a philanthropic committee provides resources for AUSL and that there was fund-raising to match CPS investments.

Patrice Hunter, of Dulles Elementary School of Excellence, said that Dulles became a turnaround in 2012. She praised AUSL and enumerated the changes in her children's experience.

Robert Lamont, of Veterans for Peace, said he had taught History for 25 years at Westinghouse High School and had served in Berlin. He stated that Chicago was the most military school system, that there were 9000 in Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and that he was one of them at one time. He recommended books by Paul K. Chappel, a Westpoint graduate. He asked for the demilitarization of CPS schools.

Nellie Cotton, a parent of two children at Grimes, wanted to know what CPS plans to do. She received no answer. She remarked that that is why we need an elected school board.

Silvia Miranda, had met with Aldermen Burke and Soliz. She said that streets next to the school were closed in order to provide a morning and afternoon break for the children, but that closing the streets created a problem for a local bank. She said that a new school was needed at Edwards.

Tina Bumbers Walker, a second-grade teacher at Gresham, said that it's not about scores, we are trying to figure out the rhyme or reason that the Board is turning around schools. She said that Bass was on probation for 18 years, why not them? She said that Gresham had no gym, art, music, or library, and that there were 38 students in second grade. She added that there was a disparity in the way funds had been given.

Ollie Clements, wearing an I heart Gresham t-shirt, is a grandmother of two boys at Gresham and a Cubs Den Leader. She mentioned her educational accomplishments and asked the Board to make the playing field level.

Jaylae Goodwin said that she was in the lead for valedictorian this year and felt that Gresham should not be turned around.

This concluded public participation and was followed by remarks by Board members before the Board went into closed session.


April 29, 2014 at 12:59 PM

By: John Kierig


Seward 0.5% African-American IB

Ebinger 1.0% African-American IB

Peirce 8.0% African-American IB

Moos 15.1% African-American IB

Agazziz 25.1% African-American IB

McNair 93.3% African-American turn-around

Dvorak 98.5% African-American turn-around

Gresham 99.4% African-American turn-around

As a teacher at McNair, I find it amazing that while "we don't see the possibility of adding additional resources" to our school, somehow the BoE will somehow find the $$$ to give to AUSL to add additional resources.

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