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Apparently the CEO didn't get the CEO's memo about 'protecting the CPS Brand...'... Byrd Bennett in May 2014 is trying to ignore her own February 2014 gag order memo to principals. News photographers have also been threatened with arrest for photographing the action during Board meetings

On May 13, 2014, Chicago Public Schools "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett told reporters, repeatedly, that she was not aware that CPS officials were threatening "retribution" or "retaliation" against principals -- and others who speak out publicly against CPS policies. Its a little saddening to believe that people think theres a fear of retaliation. I know I have never set that fear. I have never called a principal in and said, Off with your head." she is quoted as saying in the Chicago Sun-Times.

But behind the doubletalk has been a constant warning to principals, teachers and others working for the nation's third largest school system not to speak out publicly in ways critical of CPS or Rahm Emanuel's policies -- or talk to reporters without permission.

While Byrd Bennett may be technically telling the truth -- insofar as she probably has never threatened to "take off the head" of a principal the way, say, her boss Rahm Emanuel might proudly do -- she is lying when she pretends she hasn't been creating what free speech advocates have long called the "chilling effect" on free speech. Whether it was threatening unspecified disciplinary action against teachers (and parents and kids) who boycotted the ISAT tests or generally speaking, Byrd Bennett has run one of the most repressive regimes in CPS history.

For example, on February 18, 2014, her "Communications" staff issued a memo (reproduced here) to network chiefs and principals threatening anyone who spoke out without official permission.

But by the end of the day on May 13, 2014, Byrd Bennett was talking as if she had never heard of the gag orders and other memos issued under her authority from both the Central Office (usually the "Communications Dept.") or the "network offices." (See below for the May 2014 versions of Byrd Bennett's reality as reported in the Sun-Times, Tribune, and Catalyst; but first read the Central Office memo from February of this year warning principals not to jeopardize the "CPS Brand" by talking to reporters without being controlled by someone from the central office...).

Chicago Public Schools "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett was active during the February 16, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education (above), but apparently she had forgotten that one week before that meeting she had issued a gag order telling principals not to allow the press into school buildings without submitting to censorship from the Board's Office of Communications. By May 2014, the quarter million dollar a year CEO was claiming she had no idea that principals and other school workers were being bullied about what they could say in public. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Additionally, Byrd Bennett's security staff has been threatening to arrest reporters (including this reporter) for taking photographs during Board of Education meetings other than from officially approved angles (one of which is blocked by pillars).

And principals have told Substance for years that they were literally followed around by someone from "Communications" if and when they did get permission to speak to reporters.

Specifically, her staff said the following: "Network Chiefs and Principals that have developed relationships and partnerships with various external organizations will often participate in media events or interviews to highlight the success of those endeavors. While we welcome and celebrate these kinds of public engagement opportunities, we also must manage the message and (sic) in order to ensure consistency with the District's brand. Therefore, it is imperative that these actions are coordinated in advance with the Communications office. Barring emergencies/breaking news scenarios, these requests should be submitted to Communications at least one week before the event..."

Can it be that Byrd Bennett, whose office is on the sixth floor at 125 S. Clark St., missed what was going on at the expensive and ever-expanding CPS "Office of Communications," which is also on the sixth floor at 125 S. Clark St.? Hint: The next time instead of turning right when you get out of the elevator, turn left and ask the people in your "Office of Communications" what they've been up to. (And while you are at it ask how many years it's been since that press conference room down the hall there has been used...).

Apparently, Byrd Bennett doesn't read the memos that go out from her own executive staff. As we reported here at substancenews.net on February 21, 2014, the CPS "Office of Communications" issued a memo to principals on February 18, 2014 telling them, as we put it, to "sit down and shut up." But rather than summarize, here is the entire memo (again) now that the turmoil over the comments by the Blaine School principal seem to have touched a nerve. Perhaps in that nerve Byrd Bennett can conjure up a synapse or two to remember what her own staff was doing just a few months ago:

The February 18 memo was signed not by CPS "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett, but by a person named Keiana Barrett, who is identified as "Interim Chief Communications Officer" in the memo. The complete memo, including phone numbers and contact information for all of the people involved in this exercise in gagging is reproduced below.

MEMO RECEIVED BY CPS PRINCIPALS ON FEBRUARY 18, 2014:

CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS PRESS PROTOCOL

The District Office of Communications is the clearinghouse for all media engagement, including, but not limited to: interview requests, press conferences/building access, press releases/statements, and third-party projects documentaries.

Network Chiefs and Principals that have developed relationships and partnerships with various external organizations will often participate in media events or interviews to highlight the success of those endeavors. While we welcome and celebrate these kinds of public engagement opportunities, we also must manage the message and (sic) in order to ensure consistency with the District's brand. Therefore, it is imperative that these actions are coordinated in advance with the Communications office. Barring emergencies/breaking news scenarios, these requests should be submitted to Communications at least one week before the event.

The following outlines a process to ensure effective two-way communication:

Points of Contact in Communications Office. Each Deputy Press Secretary has been assigned oversight of a network. As such, they will contact their designated Chief on a weekly basis to learn of upcoming events, activities, challenges and/or red flags. Likewise, the Office of Communications will immediately contact chiefs to vet schools/principals (and develop messaging) before authorizing any media interview.

If a school principal is approached to have either themselves or their school participate in a media event, activity or interview, they should inform both their network chief and the communications office in advance. They should provide the proposed dates of any such activities, list the participants, as well as an overview of what the event/activity (sic, the pseudo-sentence actually ends at this point).

Media consent forms: Parents/guardians should be encouraged to fill-out (sic) and return media consent forms so the school office has one on file for students. Robo calls/parent letters: Principals should be instructed to notify the Communications office before they release a robo call and/or send home backpack letters. While our primary role is not to edit the language, we do have to ensure the messaging is appropriate, given the fact that this information is likely to reach the media.

Media access in school buildings. Members of the press have been instructed to contact the Communications office, if they would like to shot (sic) b-roll inside a school building and/or interview school staff and students. However, many times they fail to do so and will arrive at the school seeking access, in those case the Communications office should be contacted right away by school officials or the media should be instructed to call our office (sic -- the device used here is called a "comma splice" and the second sic is because this becomes a runaway run-on sentence).

Local School Council Meetings: Since LSC meetings are governed by the Open Meetings Act, members of the press are allowed to attend without seeking consent from the Communications office. However, it is a good idea for the principal to notify our office post (sic, ??? does this mean "following" or "after"?) the meeting of which media was (sic) present, so we can follow-up and monitor coverage.

Communications Phone List

Main Line: 773 - 553 - 1620

Keiana Barrett, Interim Chief Communications Officer

Email: kabarrett1@cps.edu

Office: 773-553-1628

Cell: 312 - 505 - 6002

Joel Hood, Director of News Affairs

Email: jhood8@cps.edu

Office: 773-553-1638

Cell: 312 - 771 - 8445

Lauren Huffman, Deputy Press Secretary (Lauren is the liaison for Networks 1 - 4)

Email: lehuffman@cps.edu

Office: 773-553-1611

Cell: 773 - 569 - 9048

Michael Passman, Deputy Press Secretary (Michael is the liaison for Networks 5 - 9)

Email: mrpassman@cps.edu

Office: 773-553-1614

Cell: 773 - 251 - 6255

Jamila Johnson, Deputy Press Secretary (Jamila is the liaison for Networks 10 - 13)

Email: jhjohnson6@cps.edu

Office: 773-553-1616

Cell: 708 - 997 - 0005

Note: Jackie Rodgers, Director of Stakeholder Communications and Colleen Kozubowski, Manager of Stakeholder Communications, handle Spotlight stories for the CPS website.

SUN-TIMES REPORT ON MAY 13, 2014:

CPS chief vows she'll get to the bottom of principal's complaints. TUE, 05/13/2014 - 12:49AM, LAUREN FITZPATRICK AND FRAN SPIELMAN

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett vowed Monday to get to the bottom of a respected principals complaints first voiced in an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times that CPS bullies its principals, leaving them paralyzed by fear.

In a telephone call Monday, Byrd-Bennett said she was surprised to read the op-ed by Troy LaRaviere, principal at Blaine Elementary School in Lake View, whom she called clearly one of our most distinguished.

On Monday, at least three other principals echoed LaRavieres criticisms.

The thing I dont want to get distracted from is, this is less about our ability to speak than what it is we want to speak up for. LaRaviere told the Sun-Times on Monday. We want to speak up for the end of a school system that relies on shaming rather than capacity building ...

In the piece published Saturday, LaRaviere characterized the administrations interaction with principals as insulting. He said City Hall ignored and even suppressed principals voices while pushing its education agenda. Sarah Hamilton, Mayor Rahm Emanuels communications director, said there was no immediate comment on the issue.

Responding to LaRavieres op-ed, Byrd-Bennett said Monday, He does a wonderful job. But he is feeling as if somehow there is this repressive environment coming from me and or my office, that he feels if he says anything therell be a retribution, I need to understand that and know where its coming from.

Byrd-Bennett continued: Its a little saddening to believe that people think theres a fear of retaliation. I know I have never set that fear. I have never called a principal in and said, Off with your head. She asks principals about their problems at school visits, she said. And all principals have her email and direct phone number if they want to talk about policy or problems. Maybe its a conversation I need to have a follow up with my principals and convene them and address this head-on. This is clearly like in my entire career not anything that Ive ever experienced, where somebody has a fear of retaliation, Byrd-Bennett said. Thats not an atmosphere in which people can work and be productive for kids. Im now looking at my schedule and saying, When can I get principal groups together in addition to the advisory group Ive already established?

LaRaviere said Monday that the way CPS treats its principals is doing a disservice to our students. . . . Our rights are less of an issue than the rights of our students to get a quality education. That is what drives us. Thats why we got into this.

Right now the policies of CPS are not allowing us to have that effect on our students and that is why we must speak out, he said, adding that he was flooded with grateful emails and telephone calls from other principals.

By Monday, three more principals had signed their names to posts on a blog LaRaviere started to publish responses to his piece, troylaraviere.blogspot.com, and to an op-ed in Catalyst Chicago. One called on fellow principals to organize and speak out.

The privatization of education in our city and nation wide alarms me, Heather Yutzy, principal at Belding Elementary, wrote on the blog, calling on fellow principals to organize. Unfunded mandates (PE and art) weigh heavily on my shoulders as I prepare to present a budget recommendation to my LSC. My deep passion for differentiation and meeting the needs of all students is extremely difficult to make a reality with such a bare-bones budget . . .

Principals and the Chicago Teachers Union should be working shoulder-to-shoulder and standing together at microphones on most matters in education, Yutzy wrote.

Deborah Bonner, principal of Dett Elementary School, 2131 W. Monroe, wrote on the same blog of feeling like a puppet.

Why is there the need to treat professionals as if we work in sweat shops? she wrote. The annoying micro managing and finger pointing without the slightest bit of intelligent conversation and support . . . I just wanted to write to you and say that you have sparked a great deal of conversation in many of us and I thank you for having the courage to do so.

And in a lengthy piece published Monday at Catalyst-Chicago.org, Principal Adam Parrott-Sheffer of Mary Gage Peterson Elementary School, 5510 N. Christiana, wrote that administrators who have raised concerns in meetings such as what to do when we see lunchroom employees in tears from being overworked as the district cut school positions by 33 percent to 50 percent receive no response.

Parrott-Sheffer wrote he believes in most of CPS reforms, Yet the lack of principal and teacher voice in this dialogue which my heroic colleague Troy LaRaviere has written about in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed has turned promising ideas into harmful practice. When this is coupled with implementation so poor it borders on malpractice, it is time for significant changes in our approach, he wrote. Pat Baccellieri, a principal in his second year at Bateman Elementary School, 4420 N. Richmond, said hes had a voice as part of a districtwide group that talks about how to better serve special education students. He has spoken up with concerns, he said, adding, I didnt get in trouble from asking a question. It was appreciated and respected.

Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, said LaRaviere is one of the few principals willing to stand up to City Hall and the central office, but he may have opened the floodgates.

People are so frustrated and so angry. We were trying to get a count of the number of principals who have thrown their keys on the desk and walked away from the job in the last year. Its in the double digits, Berry said Monday.

You cannot manage with a budget that doesnt provide enough money to cover the things you need. You cannot work in a situation where youre not allowed to complain, Berry said. You cant continue in an atmosphere where youre being threatened all the time. Principals cant say anything. Youre told not to open your mouth. Otherwise, there will be consequences. Youll get a bad evaluation or an auditor will walk in to your school and audit your books.

Berry traced the tidal wave of discontent among principals to school-based budgeting and to new mandates that come straight from Emanuels education agenda.

Berry said shes not certain how much of the blame lies directly with Emanuel.

But, she said, Now that its out, I want to know what hes going to do to alleviate it. He is the head of the school system. The buck stops at his desk. What he needs to do is listen and hear what the principals are saying. These mandates they have to look at them and see, are they reasonable?



Comments:

May 18, 2014 at 11:38 PM

By: Charles Larson

Opinions

Principals often are themselves guilty of gagging their own staff. Just a few years ago...I remember at my elementary school we used to have meetings ....and I REMEMBER teachers, old and new, used to be able to voice their opinions freely from the smallest to the biggest decisions. Now we can't even ask for an extension on an activity or deviate in the smallest way from any plans. Principals DO NOT LIKE their decisions questioned

Also,

The Consortium Survey - I was told by one of my own "fellow union brothers/sisters" that I should favorably reply to our teacher survey. After I heard this, I refused to to fill out the survey. I almost reported this to the union and school. But why bother.

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