BOARDWATCH: Board continues to insult parents, critics who disagree with CPS and City Hall school policies while encouraging slanderous versions of reality during testimonies on behalf of turnarounds and charter schools

At the the regular monthly meeting of the Chicago Board of Education on Wednesday, May 28, 2014, at 125 S. Clark Street, there were many serious items on the public agenda. These included the approval and renewal of contracts with charter schools and the approval of hiring hundreds of Teach for America (TFA) and New Teacher Project teachers. All were listed on the public agenda of more than 200 pages. The continued privatization of the teacher recruitment policies -- especially in light of the layoffs caused by school closings one year ago and the looming "turnarounds" this year -- gave rise to some of the controversies that came up during the meeting.

Substance staff noted that the Board's restrictions on public speakers at the meeting had again reduced the supposed number of speakers from a maximum of 60 to no more than 40. Fifteen speakers were "no shows" and a number of others were not allowed to speak because their time was consolidated according to a CPS practice of "consolidating" speakers who were scheduled to speak on the same general topic. It was also noted that the time for signing up for the precious 60 slots lasted less than one-and-a-half hours on May 19. The sign-in opened at 8:00 a.m. on May 19, and all 60 "available slots" had been filled by 9:30 a.m. As usual, the Board Secretary announced that the June Board meeting would be holding sign in beginning the Monday before the Monday before the Board meeting -- beginning at eight in the morning and continuing to Friday or "until all slots are filled."

Three of the six members of the Chicago Board of Eduction who were present at the May 28, 2014 meeting were (left to right above) Mahalia Hines, Jesse Ruiz, and David Vitale. Substance photo by David Vance.The roll call was taken. Board member Henry Bienen was absent. Present were Dr. Mahalia Hines, Board Vice-President Jesse Ruiz, Board President David Vitale, Andrea Zopp, Dr. Carlos Azcoitia, and Deborah Quazzo. Also present as announced by the Secretary were Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Chief Counsel James Bebley as well as about 20 executives seated in an array around the Board members.

After the "Honoring Excellence" portion of the meeting, CEO Byrd-Bennett spoke about enabling "males of color" to reach their potential and how Chicago Public Schools (CPS) plans to go about this. Part of that plan, as the meeting would show, was to increase privatized alternative school placements for public school students.

Through the "Office of Strategic School Support Services" (in CPS jargon, "OS4"), created in July 2013 and headed by Chief Officer Tracy Martin-Thompson, CPS will provide resources and funds for 36 traditional neighborhood schools: 21 elementary and 15 secondary schools, according to Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett. Tracy Martin-Thompson then gave a Power Point presentation which listed the schools that would receive the resources from OS4. (A handout of this presentation was not given to reporters in the press section.) Each school must commit to work with an "external partner", she noted. Administrators from each school were invited to a dinner meeting where the program was explained. Student achievement will be evaluated mid-year and end-of-year.

For the second month in a row, CPS officials refused to provide members of the press and public with documents about the important items that were on the public agenda. Above, a screen shot of one of the pages from the "OS4" report done in Power Point by Tracy Martin Thompson. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.In response to a question from Dr. Carlos Azcoitia, Martin-Thompson said that this program was not a "turnaround" program and that teachers and principals would not be removed. In response to other questions and comments from Board members about timelines and interventions, Martin-Thompson said that each school has a set of performing targets that are defined by OS4 and that regular school walk-throughs followed by action steps will take place. Continuing her report, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett then spoke of the many school-aged youth who are not enrolled. She said that the Board wants to find them and "re-engage them." Some schools that would help to re-engage the lost children are Camelot and Pathways Alternative Schools, two privatization efforts that were on the agenda for approval. Students from Pathways then spoke of their positive experiences at Pathways.

Next, an announcement was made that Alain Locke Charter School, which is up for renewal, has been removed from the agenda and will not be considered today. In response to criticisms from the city's real public schools that charter schools are avoiding "accountability" while the real public schools are being closed of forced into "turnaround," Byrd Bennett said that low-performing charter schools will be called out and removed, too. She noted that last year, two charter schools were warned that their performance was inadequate.

After this, Board President David Vitale announced that office hours to meet with board members are available by calling 773-553-1600. Secretary Estela Beltran announced that the next board meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 25. Sign-up to speak during public participation will begin Monday, June 16, at 8:00 a.m. and end on Friday, June 20, or sooner, if all 60 slots are filled. All 60 slots are usually filled within the first hour or two after sign-up begins.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis was the only official who spoke before the opening of the public participation at the May 28, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. The Chicago City Council was meeting at the same time a few blocks away. Lewis praised some work by the Board (for example the work of "OS4") but questioned why CPS was privatizing the recruitment of new teachers, via a continuation of the contract with the controversial Teach for American organization and the equally controversial New Teacher Project group. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.When public participation began, Karen Lewis, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President, spoke first. She commended Tracy Martin-Thompson on her work in OS4. She said that it was very positive working with her and that their collaboration was very valuable. She added that different people have different opinions and said she felt that Tracy was working extra hard. Lewis pointed out that Jesse Ruiz (the Board's Vice-President) had said, "Can we make this work?" and then corrected herself to say that it was Dr. Carlos Azcoitia who asked that during Martin Thompson's presentation.

Lewis noted that under the plan OS4 will improve schools from the ground up and Tracy Martin-Thompson was available and "you can't beat that." She added that "wrap-around services" will help. Addressing the question of why more than 50,000 children were not in school, Lewis also said that we need to look at what causes children to leave. She added that we need to dive into that data and the issues of support. She said that we need to offer support, not to punish. She concluded that we are so punitive in our system. Then she went into budget issues. Referring to the proposed TFA and New Teacher Project contracts on the agenda, she asked, "Why are head hunters being used? We have qualified teachers." In regard to the system's discipline code, Lewis said that we need to keep Black males in our schools. She mentioned that there are challenges ahead and slashing budgets cannot help give our children what they really need. She also said that we need to convince parents to send their kids to CPS because they can get an excellent education.

The public finally began speaking.

George Ramirez spoke about overcrowding at Hanson Park Elementary School adjacent to Hanson Park Stadium on the city's Northwest Side. His brief testimony was detailed. He said that the enrollment was growing because of school closings and other major events. He told the Board that enrollment has increased by 400 students last year and was now at 1,600 students. A 1901 building across the street from Hanson Park has been leased, he said, but it was in poor condition and there is a 2015 expiration to the lease. He said that the structure was deteriorated, has cracked walls, mold, exposed hot waters pipes, electricity that has not been updated in years, and electrical systems that cannot support modern technology or window air-conditioners. The children are hot and dehydrated amd have headaches. He told the Board that the community wants a new annex on the main grounds. He added that there is plenty of room at that site for the expansion.

George Ramirez told the Board that an additional 400 students had arrived at Hanson Park Elementary School this school year, and that the leasing of a nearby building (which has many building code violations and problems) does not solve the problem. Ramirez told the Board there is adequate land adjacent to Hanson Park and that the Board should build an addition immediately so that the problems facing the school and the danger with some of the leased facility do not continue. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.When President Vitale asked him if he had been in contact with "the Facilities people," he responded, "Yes, going on five years."

The testimonials on behalf of the charter schools began when the Hanson Park people left the podium. Next, Aisha Jakes of "Foundations College Prep charter school", told the Board that she had transferred her children from a North side to a South side school, spoke of the improvement her children experienced by being there and thanked the Board. Like many of those who speak as if their children would have been murdered had they attended the local real public high school, Jakes was able to render her narrative without being questioned by any of the Board members about how the speaker knew that the local public school was so unsafe and inappropriate.

Next came an AUSL testimonial. Maria Coronel, spoke in Spanish which was translated. She gave updates on her Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) at her school, which was once Lewis Elementary School, but is now the AUSL "Lewis School of Excellence". She said has two children at "Lewis School of Excellence" and added that, for me, the change is "an improvement." She said that the teachers are very patient and special attention is given to student problems, speaking as if before the AUSL turnaround such attention was non-existent.

Another parent, Tomorrow Snyer, praised her children's AUSL school, "O'Keefe School of Excellence". She remarked that the AUSL turnaround is great. She added that she didn't want teachers to lose their jobs, but...her daughter has an IEP that is implemented and the staff gives her child extra time after school.

Next came an official from the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS), Stacy McAuliffe. She asked the Board for approval of both INCS charter schools included on the agenda for the meeting.

Critics of the "turnarounds" that had been approved at the previous Board meeting finally got to the floor.

Gresham alumna Tiffany Walker presented the Board with the historical record showing that Gresham's improvements had been sustained until Board policies sabotaged the school. Walker and other speakers asked the Board to rescind its previous vote, but the Board has continued the turnaround. Substance has learned that CPS security officials have taken the keys to the school away from Principal Diedrus Brown because she continues to organize in support of her staff and the community and against the plans to give the school -- and millions of extra dollars -- to AUSL. Substance photo by George Schmidt.Tiffany Walker, who said she was a Gresham alumna, gave the Board a large amount of information confirming the fact that Gresham had been sabotaged by CPS policies during the previous several hears. She said that Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) scores were 37% when Principal Diedrus Brown came to the school. In 2004-2005 scores improved ten points and then dropped .6 points. She said that in 2011, the school was "Level 2," but action against Gresham was taken when Gresham was improving. She asked, "Why were we not given the opportunity to be part of OS4?" She requested that the Board nullify the vote and no more action be taken against Gresham. She asked that Gresham be given the resources it needs and added that formal action against the Board has been taken by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Gregory Clements, of Gresham Elementary, noted the impact of the AUSL takeover on students. He listed the many current programs at Gresham. He read a long list of programs that were currently in place at the school, including Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and demanded to know if those programs would be continued when AUSL took over the school as a "turnaround." None of the Board members responded to his question.

Board President David Vitale allowed attorney Rose Joshua (above) to speak after she told the Board that the South Side NAACP (of which she is president) had agreed to investigate complaints about the turnaround of Gresham Elementary School. None of the Board members spoke, however, when Ms. Joshua asked whether the Board would cooperate by providing all the necessary information for the investigation that will be taking place on the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.With him was Rose Joshua, who had not signed up to speak but was allowed to speak when he told the Board that she was representing the NAACP, which was investigating a complaint against the Board for its treatment of Gresham. After David Vitale nodded that she would be allowed to speak, she said that she is the president of the South side NAACP. She said that the parents at Gresham had filed a complaint, and while the NAACP does not give legal advice, it gives recommendations in general. She asked the Board to allow a 15-day investigation. She said that the NAACP needs information from the Board and asked for cooperation from the Board. She was cut off and escorted out by security.

Next, from Patrick Henry Elementary School, a Level One School which goes to sixth grade, Emiliano Araujo said he was here with a petition regarding the proposed Obama High School. He also asked that seventh and eighth grades be added to Patrick Henry instead of having those students go to Thurgood Marshall Middle School.

Shoneice Reynolds, of Marcus Garvey Elementary School, demanded to know why CPS wasn't providing the school with a budget to do all the necessary jobs. She also opposed the addition of yet another charter school to her community. The Board members ignored her questions. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Shoneice Reynolds, a parent of a student at Marcus Garvey School, said that one year ago Garvey was removed from the closing list. Because of budget cuts, though, Garvey has lost three positions. Her son's school currently has one of the "dark libraries" at CPS -- the school has a library, but has no librarian. She told the Board that the kindergarten teacher is trying to do double duty so that the children can have at least some library opportunities. She said the kindergarten teacher comes over and assists with library. Reynolds opposed the Board's plan to further charter school expansion in her community on Chicago's South Side. She said that Foundations Charter was moving into the community and given funds. She remarked that Foundations will pull students and "starve our school" and put them in a position they were in a year ago. She asked, "How about OS4 for us?"

Ivan De Alba, a Whitney Young High School graduate, wanted to speak of "mindfulness" programs that he wants introduced at CPS schools. He wants to help the students to learn through love, not fear. He added that there are three essential things: to be more mindful, to be peaceful, and to focus.

The AUSL salvation stories resumed after De Alba spoke. Lashunya Moore, from "Dewey School of Excellence", an AUSL turnaround school, thanked the Board for the turnaround of Dewey School. Speaking as if none of the teachers there did much for the children before turnaround, she said previously she was not focused on the attendance of her children. But now, she told the Board, the children have been given positive incentives to come to school and now they are focusing on college in their futures. She also mentioned a color chart used for discipline in the school.

Mary Hughes told the Board that the new construction at Cassell Elementary School on the far Southwest Side will help, but added that the Board's so-called "Student Based Budgeting" was guaranteeing that the school would not have teachers for all the new classrooms. She added that the Board had promised a program for middle grades students with autism but was reneging on that promise. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Mary Hughes, representing Cassell School, a Level One Fine Arts School, said that eight classrooms will finally be built this summer to relieve the overcrowding the school has suffered for years. She also noted that because of CPS budgeting plans, there is a lack of staff for the 380 students. She told the Board that there were dramatic cuts last year, the Board's per pupil funding scheme is inadequate, and the school does not qualify for Title One Funds. She added that the school needs four additional positions so that library will possibly be restored. She also said that an Autism Cluster Program had been promised but that the older children who need services for their autism were not being provided for.

Elizabeth Mondragon, speaking in translated Spanish, a new member of the Local School Council (LSC) at Roosevelt High School, told of how budget cuts are affecting the school. She said the school cannot maintain its Level Two status without the funds that CPS is withdrawing from Roosevelt using the new "student based budgeting" formula. She asked that the mayor and CPS be held accountable.

Veronica Rodriguez, also speaking in translated Spanish, said that Roosevelt High School will be losing teachers, security, and programs. She mentioned that there are not enough books, students are using their own cell phones to find information for their classes, and budget cuts are violating the right to an education.

Another charter school parent, Vicky Enciso, a parent of two Noble School students, sobbed as she mentioned an eighth grader who will graduate from Pritker next week and go on scholarship to Iowa. She asked for equal facility funding.

Arnold Stieber, of Veterans for Peace and a Vietnam Veteran, asked for the de-militarization of CPS. He said that the military model of violence was being taught by Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). He told the Board that he took part in various Memorial Day programs each day last weekend, while also observing the militaristic work of CPS.

Before he was cut off and pulled from the podium, Stieber reminded the Board that when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked young gang member, "Why the violence?" the answer was that they were following the example of the government of the United States. After much thought and research, Dr. King delivered his famous speech against the Vietnam War, calling the U.S. government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world." When Mr. Stieber continued to speak of the military model of violence, the mic was yanked away from him.

Geraldine Johnson said that voting was powerful and wants an elected School Board. She asked, "Where are the audit reports and recommendations? Where are the priorities?" She questioned the amount of money being spent for new furniture in the planned new CPS headquarters. She asked for a Department of Education report. Once again, the mic was removed.

George Schmidt, editor of Substance News, told he had been coming to Board meetings longer than anyone sitting around the Board or the Board members. He said that he had originally signed up for another topic, but that he was going to speak about some unused Board property and the $40 to $100 million that can saved on facilities if the Board used property it already owns, rather than building a new facility.

After stating that he had originally intended to provide the Board with a list of what he calls its "Orwellian" wordings on things, Substance editor George N. Schmidt (above) told the Board with a smile that "We can save between $40 million and $100 million" by utilizing the site of the Near North Career Magnet High School building at 1340 N. Larrabbee St. instead of building the new "Obama High School" less than half a mile away. The Board members did not respond at the time to Schmidt's comment, but at the very end of the meeting, Board President David Vitale claimed that the Near North building, which Schmidt provided a photograph of to the Board members, was no longer a CPS property. A check of two years' Board actions reveals nothing on the public agendas that shows that the Board, which owned Near North and the valuable land under it, had sold the property. Research will be continuing on the issue. Substance photo by David Vance.Holding a photograph of the currently unused Near North Career Magnet High School building (1340 N. Larrabbe), Schmidt said that the Near North Career site and building, which is near the proposed Obama High School, could be utilized instead. He asked, "Why a new building for 40-100 million?" When he finished his presentation, he added that his wife, Sharon Schmidt, was scheduled to speak today, but could not be here because she is at work at Steinmetz High School working on the final edition of the school newspaper. He asked if he could have at least a minute of her two minutes to read what she would have said.

President Vitale okayed this. Mr. Schmidt then read the statement by Sharon Schmidt, which said that there were two top public school newspapers in Chicago according to a recent citywide competition judged by the Tribune Foundation, one at Morgan Park High School and the other at Steinmetz High School. At Steinmetz, Schmidt's wife, Sharon Schmidt, teaches and is sponsor of the newspaper, the Steinmetz Star. He added that few schools publish free newspapers and that every school should have a school newspaper and a library with a librarian also.

Charter school supporters came again after Schmidt. Ron Kint, a Chicago Tech Academy charter school, supports the renewal of ChiTech. He said that the students work side by side with entrepreneurs.

Operation PUSH's Jonathan Jackson outlined how the Board discriminates in its priorities during his remarks to the Board on May 28, 2014. Jackson noted that CPS has been putting most of its resources into the most affluent corner of the city, while taking resources away from the poorest communities and forcing long delays for anything on people who live in the bungalow belt. The Board members had no comment after Jackson's analysis, and Board President David Vitale ordered security to move the national leader away from the podium when the secretary called 'Time'. Substance photo by David Vance.Jonathan Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, spoke on the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs Board of Education Supreme Court decision. He said that Lincoln Elementary got millions for a cafe that will be torn down in three weeks for an annex, while Gresham got a library but not a librarian because adequate funding was not provided. He said that 50 schools were closed, yet there was 20 million for the Lincoln Elementary School addition in one of the most affluent areas in the United States. He asked the Board to give the teachers and the schools the assistance they need. He asked the Board to get at the root of this violence.

Vivian Young, of Miles Davis Magnet Academy, was concerned about how parents are not allowed to volunteer. She said that parents are not treated as partners in the education of their children. She said that the principal was not informed about the Policy Action Council (PAC). She added that her own name was on the Continuous Improvement Work Plan (CIWP), a school improvement plan, but she was not told it was there. She remarked that there is no transparency.

Patricia Henderson, of Gresham School, said that funds were decreased every year for the last eight years. She asked that the school not be turned around. She said that she has four grandkids who go to Gresham and that the second grader was above average because of how the child was taught at Gresham.

EvAngel YHWHnewBN remarked that a kid is a goat with four legs and a child is a person with two legs. She asked that respect be shown to children. She directed a question to CEO Byrd-Bennett. She said that in March CEO Byrd-Bennett had told her that she would be given a written answer to a question about Black history; she said that she had not received the written answer. She spoke of President Obama being a male of color who was from the South side and asked that the proposed Obama High School be put on the South side. She said that it would be a boost to the self-esteem of males of color. When she received no answer, she remarked that "Justice delayed is justice denied" and that "Silence is rude."

Although Pritzker parent Rousemary Vega tried to grip the microphone after David Vitale ordered security to stop her from speaking beyond her allocated two minutes, two CPS security staff wrestled the mic from her grip. They were then joined by three others who alternately pushed and pulled Vega away from the podium, where she had been standing with her youngest child. Substance photo by David Vance.Rousemary Vega, whose children now attend Pritzker School, told President Vitale, "You're falling asleep right now." She said, "You can't you give me more than 15 minutes at a meeting with you. Unbelievable! and racist." She requested that the question about illegals on a test be erased. She asked the Board, "What kind of monsters have you become? sleeping, on your cell phones, laughing at us as if we are crazy." She added, "David Vitale, you failed."

Security surrounded her and she remarked that she had her child with her. One security member then waved and smiled at the child as security escorted Rousemary Vega and her child out.

Next, Gloria Burgos, of Wells School, said "You're not listening to the parents." She said that she got an email and was frustrated about the change when disciplining children, especially Individual Education Plan (IEP) children. She said that the school should be the child's second home, safe. She said there was no need to feel intimidation by the principal and asked CEO Byrd-Bennett for a change.

Mary Cooper, of CICS Wrightwood Charter School, a member of Charter Parents United, thanked CEO Byrd-Bennett and others. She said she was concerned with this year's budget and felt that there was not equity with regard to facility funding. She mentioned that there are problems with the windows, the boiler, and the roof. She asked for a fair share of the resources.

Stacy Babich, of Canty School, thanked the Board for the annex addition after a 15 year fight. She brought letters and pictures from the students. She mentioned that the name Canty was being celebrated 65 years after the school was named [after Arthur E. Canty, a Chicago Public Schools custodian and a state commander of the Illinois American Legion].

After turning in surprise as Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz (above in white shirt and tie) expressed his outrage at a question CPS had asked students about "immigrants", Barbara Byrd Bennett tried to discuss the issue with Ruiz as the Board members were packing up to go into executive session. Substance photo by David Vance.Board President Vitale then asked the Board members for their reactions. Board Vice-President Ruiz said he was enraged about a question on a CPS test that slandered immigrants. He said that the district had been failed to supervise whoever wrote the question, and he was personally offended by the test question. He said that the test question contained "ignorant language". He wanted an assessment of how this became a test question and asked that it never happen again.

Dr. Azcoitia wanted clarification about the public agenda and asked what is needed for the TFA contract.

Alicia Winckler, Chief Talent Officer, said there was a need for this "pipeline" program to recruit new teacher and said that over half of TFA teachers remain in the system for three years. In regard to diversity of TFA teachers, she said that nationally, 8.6 were African-American and 10.6 were Hispanic in 2013, but in Chicago, 40% "will be diverse next year." She also said that the reason they are doing the "pipeline" in the first place is that it is harder to staff World Language, English Language Learners, Math, and Science. In response to Board members' questions, she added that there are 1,700 student teacher candidates each year, that we grow our own employees who are para-professionals into teachers and our own students into teachers, and that extending the TFA two-year contract is being explored.

Dr. Hines wanted to know how many minority teachers exited because of closings and turnarounds. CTO Winkler replied that almost 80% of displaced teachers are hired back.

At the very end before the Board went into executive session, President Vitale mentioned that Near North Career site was much more complicated. He said that at this time, CPS "no longer owns the building" which, he claimed, has been transferred to the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). Thus, he said, "the building is not available." Vitale did not indicate why he hadn't spoken about this supposed change in ownership when Mr. Schmidt was speaking, and did not present any documentation as to when the Board had supposedly turned the valuable property over to the CHA -- and why.

Shortly after this remark, the Board went into closed session.