BOARDWATCH: Report on the June 25, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education tried to focus public on Student Code of Conduct while ignoring millions in new privatization deals and more charter school expansions...

The Chicago Board of Education held its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, June 25, 2014, at 125 South Clark Street. The 306-page agenda included revisions to the Student Code of Conduct (SCC) dozens of other items, including multi-million dollar contracts. Under the Open Meetings Act, the Board also has to listen to the people who signed up to speak during public participation, even though the Board has been limiting the number who are allowed to sign up to 60 since January 2013. About half of the sixty people who signed up to speak did not show up, once again reducing the possibility of public input to the Board meetings.

When the Board Secretary Estela Beltran took the roll call, absent were Andrea Zopp and Dr. Henry Bienen. Present were Dr. Mahalia Hines, Board Vice-President Jesse Ruiz, Board President David Vitale, Dr. Carlos Azcoitia, and Deborah Quazzo. Also present, as noted by Beltran, were Chief Executive Office (CEO) Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Chief Counsel James Bebley. At the beginning of the meeting, it was announced that James Deanes who had worked for the Board in several central office positions had died recently. Deanes was influential in the establishment of Local School Councils (LSC) and worked in that office and in others. Appreciation was expressed for all he had done.

Aarti Dhupelia, whose title is "Chief Officer for College and Career Success", was hired in November 2013 at the request of Barbara Byrd Bennett. Dhupelia delivered the Power Point on revisions to the Student Code of Conduct. Board Communications staff refused to provide reporters with copies of the Power Point during the June 25, 2014 meeting. Like most of the top executives currently titled "Officer" at CPS, Dhupelia has no teaching or administrative experience in public schools, but was apparently hired because she has an MBA from a prestigious university and gives good Power Point. Her current salary is $175,000 per year, according to CPS position files. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The business portion of the meeting began with a Power-Point presentation by Aarti Dhupelia, who was introduced as "Chief Officer of Academic Enhancement," but whose current title in CPS documents is "Chief Officer for College and Career Success." Dhupelia reported on revisions to the Student Code of Conduct (SCC) which were in the massive (306 page) agenda for the meeting. Members of the press were not given copies of the information-filled Power-Point presentation. The information will be found, if the Board continues to follow its standard reporting procedures, however, in the complete agenda of the June 25th meeting (which is usually published at the Board's Website a week after the meeting. The denial of routine documents such as the Power Point is a new feature of the Chicago Board of Education's attempts to keep information from the press and public and was not explained during the meeting. According to Dhupelia, the Board is planning to move away from a "zero tolerance policy" toward a restorative, corrective and instructional policy. According to the presentation, "zero tolerance" was said to do more harm than good. The Student Code of Conduct, which was first formalized in 1990, was last updated in 2012, one year after the current Board took power following the inauguration of Rahm Emanuel. Dhupelia told the Board that the 2014 revisions would aim for a 36% reduction in out-of-school suspensions. At no point did she mention, or did the Board members ask, whether that statistical change would represent an actual decline in serious incidents of disruptions and violence in the schools, or would simply be another example of the kinds of statistical manipulations that have recently been exposed in police reporting by Chicago magazine. In February 2014, a plan was introduced that would reduce suspensions and use out-of-school suspensions as a last resort. For example, the general use of cell phones would no longer result in an out-of-school suspension. Now, out-of-school suspension would be used only when a threat is posed or the safety of the learning environment is compromised. One reason given for the change is that suspensions and expulsions "impact student achievement." There was no discussion about how disruptive and violent behavior in schools by certain students may also "impact student achievement", leaving the public meeting with the impression that the problem had been "too many suspensions" and not, possibly, gang activity and other violence in and around Chicago public schools.

According to Dhupelia's Power Point and report, plans are to simplify the policy language to improve accessibility, limit the use of out-of-school suspensions and emphasize the "restorative approach", and improve the specificity and appropriateness of behavior codes. She gave the example of "inappropriate cell phone use", which would move from Group 3 to Group 1, a lesser offense. She also noted that the new Code of Conduct would "expand the options for administrator discretion for the the serious offenses."

Board members then responded. Deborah Quazzo asked if the SCC would be linked to renewals of charter schools. Dr. Carlos Azcoitia stated that it was "the right thing to do" but asked for details. Aarti Dhuphelia replied that we will come back with a school-by-school report. Vice-President Jesse Ruiz asked about students were being pushed out, especially by charter schools. Dhuphelia said that students do return to a neighborhood school or another charter school, but was unable to provide specific numbers of examples. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the legality of being more strict with charter schools is "being explored." Apparently becoming more sensitive to the charge that he and his fellow Board members don't even listen to the speakers during public participation, Board President David Vitale was alert during almost all of the speakers. Above, Vitale listens to Cristel Williams, while Jesse Ruiz, Board Vice President, reads a document. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. President Vitale asked about the role of the social promotion position and how schools were handling overage students.

Dr. Mahalia Hines, a former principal, asked about placement for disruptive students into the so-called "alternative schools." Hines said that principals are not always aware of alternative schools and have a lack of knowledge about what to do and where to send kids. Dhupelia noted that there would be more principal training on the use of the Student Code of Conduct.

That was the only public or Power Point presentation. The massive agenda for the meeting included major revisions to the policies about selecting principals, and a lengthy rendition of the contract that Local School Councils will be signing when they select new principals. There was also a six-page "policy" on the use of sick days that was not discussed, either in relation to the Board's non-union workers or its impact on workers under collective bargaining agreements.

The Board also continued without discussion to expand the charter schools (additional items were on the agenda) and to approve multi-million dollar contracts to privatize testing and certain instructional services. A multi-million dollar contract with NWEA, the corporation currently doing the high-stakes testing program in America's third-largest school system, was neither discussed nor challenged. And the Board agenda included a lengthy listing of "approved" providers for "early childhood education," continuing the further privatization of early childood services within Chicago's public schools.

Following Dhupelia's Power Point and the questions from Board members, President Vitale announced that Board members are available to meet with the public during office hours by calling 773-553-1600. Board members have been making a great deal about these meetings in recent months, in many cases implying that members of the public who criticized the Board members were acting and speaking out in bad faith. The next Board meeting will be Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Sign-up will be from 8 a.m. on Monday, June 14. to 5 p.m. on Friday, June 18, or "until all slots are filled", the Board Secretary announced. At 11:23 a.m., public participation began.

The first to speak was Clarice Berry, President of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAAA). She reported to the board that the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force had completed its report. She provided the Board members with the Executive Summary, which was highly critical of the Board's actions during the past year. Berry said that the members of the CEFTF had gathered hours of testimony during public hearings and the changes that should result. She said she hopes that the findings will be used to evaluate the performance the Chicago Public Schools.

Speaking on behalf of the Chicago Teachers Union, CTU Staff Coordinator Jackson Potter outlined a number of problems the union had with Board policies. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.After Berry spoke, Jackson Potter of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) spoke on behalf of the union. Noting that an FBI investigation of one of Chicago's expanding charter schools had recently been reported in the press, he said the union wants the Concept Charter Schools dismantled. He added that the Concept charter schools "make United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) charter schools look like a poster child for best practices." He reminded the Board members that Concept Charter Schools is now under federal investigation, that two schools that had not yet been opened should be rejected and a moratorium declared on Concept charter schools until the federal investigation is concluded.

After being interrupted by the Board Secretary, Potter continued with the union's positions on a number of issues before the Board.

Potter went on to say that more than 50 percent of Chicago's public schools schools are now without librarians!

He said that the Board should withdraw the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) turnaround contract in regards to Gresham Elementary School. Responding the Student Code of Conduct that had earlier been discussed, he added that once the Code is changed, personnel, such as social workers, psychologists and others will be needed to make it work. But those important staff will not be available after budget cuts because of inadequate staffing levels, he said.

After Potter finished, Alderman Will Burns of Fourth Ward, spoke of the Canter Middle School phase out. Canter had been one of the 50 schools the Board voted to close at its May 22, 2013 meeting, but the school got a one year reprieve so that its eighth graders could graduate. As of June 17, there were no more students for Canter. Burns asked that the Kenwood "Academic Center" be shifted into the Canter building. He said that more slots be made available at the Kenwood High School building, noting that Kenwood was "a Level One" neighborhood high school. He said he would support those changes.

When Berry, Potter and Burns had finished, the Board finally began with those who had signed up for the actual "public participation." As usual, the Board announcement had stated that the public participation would begin at 10:30, but the public wasn't allowed to begin speaking until nearly noon.

Joel Rodriguez of the Southwest Organizing Project told the Board that his community did not want the corrupt Concept Charter Schools to open in their area and that the Board should put money into the area's real public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.First to speak was Joel Rodriguez, of the Southwest Organizing Project (SWO). He said his organization did not want Concept Charter Schools opening in Chicago Lawn. He added that the controversial charter school's questionable ties and practices are being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He told the Board members that the residents of his part of town didn't want more charter schools, but wanted the money to go into the area's real public schools.

Carolina Rivera, also with SWO, said she is against Concept Charters Schools, too, and that the Board needs to invest in neighborhood schools and schools that are doing a great job.

Dwayne Truss, a community leader from the Austin community, came next. He spoke of a conflict of interest between the Board and AUSL, which gets the turnaround contract with no bid deals. He said that reconstituting schools should be abolished and that the inside track is being given to some. Noting the AUSL's claims to success are limited to only some of its schools, he added that "you don't hear about Sherman School..." and others whose scores have declined. He noted that parents had been left out of the whole process and that Options Schools are targeting students with money attached.

After him, Rochelle Davis of the Healthy Schools Campaign spoke of what they hope to see in the food service program: high nutrition standards, expansion of the local and sustainable food program to all schools, and improved kitchen facilities. She told the Board that they would be hearing from her and her organization during the next year.

After introducing herself as a single parent who had been able to raise three successful children on the West Side thanks to the city's real public schools, CTU organizer Cristel Williams told the Board members they should support the increase in the minimum wage so that poor and working class families had a better chance to provide for their children and help them in schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Next, Christel Williams spoke, noting first that she was a West Sider and a mother of children who had been successful thanks in part to Chicago's real public schools. She added that she has been a single parent wants support for a higher minimum wage for Chicago workers. She said that many have been affected by West Side school closings and many are working for a minimum wage which makes it more difficult to help their children get to the schools that have been offered to those children whose schools were closed.

A group of librarians spoke next. Megan Cusick, a CPS librarian at Nancy B. Jefferson School and a parent, said that libraries are disappearing from the CPS landscape. She said that next year, more than 50% of schools will have no librarian because CPS has been getting rid of qualified librarians.

Ellen Damlich, a CPS librarian at Senn High School, presented a "Declaration for the Right to School Libraries" to the Board. She said 2000 signatures had been collected. Even Governor Quinn signed. She added that others present could sign after the meeting.

Senn High School librarian Ellen Damlich (at podium) was one of four librarians who presented the Board members with a study showing that under this Board the nation's third largest school system is eliminating school libraries by eliminating school librarians. She noted that libraries without librarians were now sitting at some of Chicago's most famous high schools, including Walter Payton, Lane College Prep High School, Clemente High School and others, as well as numerous elementary schools. The librarians surprised the Board members with the precision of their study, resulting in a lie from CPS "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett. When asked by Board members about the charges, instead of admitting that her "Student Based Budgeting" was forcing principals to eliminate certified librarians, Byrd Bennett claimed that there was a shortage of librarians available, that only seven were available. Librarians and school sources told Substance that there are more than seven librarians across Chicago who have been removed from their libraries and forced to teach academic subjects, including English. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Marci Merola, of the American Library Association, asked that school libraries be funded and school library positions be restored. She said that the future of school libraries is in question for Chicago, while the title "Murder Capital" is retained.

The next speakers spoke about Lincoln School and the planned addition to the school, which sits in one of Chicago's most affluent communities. Michelle Villegas said that the Mid-North Neighborhood Association had launched a legal challenge to the Lincoln School action. The Board of Education plans to build the new building over the current playground, and the community protests against the playground being replaced by an unnecessary annex.

Long-time Lincoln Park resident Jay Armstrong (above at podium) joined two other speakers in opposition to the plan to eliminate the Lincoln Elementary School playlot and build an unnecessary annex to the school on the site of the playlot. Armstrong noted along with the other speakers that most community residents oppose the elimination of the playlot and disagreed with the claim that Lincoln Elementary is "overcrowded." The speakers noted that adjacent elementary schools have more than 500 available seats to take the children who are supposedly suffering from the so-called "overcrowding" at Lincoln. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.She opposes the CPS money allocated to Lincoln, saying that the Lincoln development was inequitable compared to other communities in Chicago and lacking in due process. She added that their group had been joined by Rainbow PUSH and consider the allocation of resources for the building that's not needed to be a civil rights violation. She said Lincoln school is not growing, that that is false information.

Jay Armstrong, who said he lives at 642 Belden in the Lincoln School neighborhood, is opposed to the annex. He said the school has not grown, that that is faulty logic. He added that room is available at Armstrong, Mayer, and Alcott schools, all of which adjacent to Lincoln Elementary. He said that Alcott is trying to raise $1 million for a "dream" playground and baseball field while the playground at Lincoln is being destroyed by the school board to create an annex that is not really needed. Contrary to the claims that Lincoln is "overcrowded," he said, there are 500 available seats in adjacent schools. He concluded by saying that the $20 million to be spent after closing 50 schools a year ago is wrong.

Davis Gaito said he also opposes the annex at Lincoln School. He said it was a hasty decision. He says that 95% of the neighborhood is opposed to the construction and wants the current playground preserved. He added that his daughter asked, "Why would anyone take away our playground?" He said the playground is a "safe haven" in the neighborhood and that 14 trees will be removed to build the annex. He urged CPS to scrap the annex.

Hortensia Santos, a volunteer at Hanson Park School, told of the need for an annex at Hanson Park. Speaking in translated Spanish, she said that currently Hanson Park is leasing a K-2 building from the Archdiocese of Chicago -- until June 2015. She noted that the leased building is in deteriorating condition. Photos were shown. She told the Board that CPS said they would come out, but that getting in contact with those in power was difficult. She said that Patricia Taylor, who is head of facilities (although someone else is "Chief Operating Officer") had been contacted by email, but was "out of town." She repeated that an annex would help at Hanson Park.

President Vitale replied that staff did go out and will schedule time with the principal.

Anti-semitism was the topic mentioned by the next speaker, Michael Arnold, who brought up the scandal, reported widely in the press, about anti-Semitic bullying at the Gold Coast high school, Ogden International.

Michael Arnold challenged the Board members about how they had handled the anti-Semitic bullying at Ogden International High School, which draws most of its students from Chicago's wealthiest community, the Gold Coast. Arnold said that the Board's discipline of the anti-Semites resulted in the victim being victimized twice. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Arnold said he was disappointed in the handling of this issue at Ogden. He felt that weakness and hesitation were shown in the handling of the situation and that punishments were minimal for those who had done the bullying. He added that the "action plan" the supposedly dealt with the problem included segregation for the victim as if the victim were the problem for the school.

He recommended removal of Ogden's administrators. He said he was curious about whether CPS considered bullying to be a serious issue and wondered why the victim was segregated by being required to use a separate door to enter the building. He added that what CPS has done to the victim is bullying and asked for a simple statement from Ogden about what was done, etc.

When he registered to speak, he had also expressed concerns about non-neighborhood people registering and contributing to over-crowding at the school.

Another librarian spoke next. Nora Wiltse, who identified herself as a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) teacher librarian, from Coonley Elementary School, joined the criticism of the way in which CPS was denuding itself of libraries by eliminating librarians. Wiltse said that a lot of time is spent testing students, but that what children need is the time to explore things the way they can do with the help of librarians in real libraries. She added that research shows a "strong link" between libraries/librarians and "student performance."

She said that libraries and librarians are disappearing rapidly and that libraries are becoming store rooms. She remarked that students need a place where they can check out books. She stated that libraries create a level playing field. She added that a librarian should be funded for each school by the Board and not come out of the school budget.

Robert Heise spoke next. He said he was with the Chicago Alliance of Charter School Teachers and Staff (ACTS), affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). He said he was concerned about charter school expansion, which continued on the agenda of the June 25 Board meeting, despite the recent revelations about the Concept charter schools. He said money is being used to pay management fees while extra-curricular activities are not provided. He said in some schools there is no library and that staff turnover at the charters is very high. He told the Board that at his school, of a staff of 48 four years ago, only six remain today -- and that millions of dollars are being used to create a worse environment.

Brian Harris, of ACTS Local 4343 which represents charter school teachers, said little respect is being shown for organized teachers. He is opposed to the CPS policy of shutting down neighborhood schools. He said that the charter school model is being used to privatize schools in Chicago, that there is insufficient regulation of charter schools, and that there are poor working conditions in charter schools. He asked for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools.

Joyce Chapman, who identified herself as being with Corliss High School, quoted Nelson Mandela, who said, "Education is a most powerful weapon and you can use it to change the world." She then spoke of the wonderful things she said were going on at Corliss: dual enrollment with Olive-Harvey College, a corporate partnership with Verizon, and Bill Gates' scholarships. Chapman added that she is head of the CAC in that part of town.

Martin Ritter, a Whitney Young LSC member who is also a CTU organizer, was critical of the Board's priorities for training LSC members. He noted that several experienced groups had offered training, including PURE, Designs for Change, and others. But, he said, the Board has refused to approve those groups to do training. He added that the budget is not available for LSC modules three and four. He also asked, "Why doesn't the Inspector General investigate charter schools?"

Ollie Clements of Gresham Elementary School was back, noting that the Gresham family was not going to back down despite the fact that the Board had voted to "reconstitute" Gresham and that AUSL had begun the process of destroying the careers of the Gresham staff under so-called "turnaround." Clements chastised the Board and wanted to know, "When is enough enough?" She said that denial of money and resources to Gresham and the lack of a librarian in the library were examples of how the Board had sabotaged the school when it was a real Chicago elementary school, and how a massive influx of resources was now scheduled for AUSL as part of the "turnaround."

Former Motorola and AUSL executive Tim Cawley lights up with a smile for the Substance news camera while Phil Hampton maintains his poker face for FACE and former Sears Holdings executive Alicia Winckler ponders her next moves with CPS "Talent" (of which she is "Chief Talent Officer" having previously served as "Chief Human Resources Officer" and "Chief Human Capital Officer" as CPS rebranded the department again and again). Like most of the executive "team" under Barbara Byrd Bennett, none of the three had any experience teaching or being principals in Chicago's real public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Anthony Jackson, also of Gresham, spoke of a conflict of interest in handing the school over to AUSL. David Vitale had been chairman of the AUSL Board and Tim Cawley, the CPS "Chief Administrative Officer," had been an executive for AUSL. He said Gresham was not provided adequate resources and the budget had been cut in recent years. He noted that money was being given to Concept Charter Schools, which is being investigated by the FBI, and other charter schools. "You are hypocrites," he told the Board, "You seek to privatize so your friends benefit. A Board member sits on the AUSL Board."

Wendy Katten, of Raise Your Hand (RYH), told the Board of an analysis her group did of class size data based on a widespread survey. She said the number of children in kindergarten classes was too large. She said that class size matters. Noting examples of the impact of the 2013 school closings, she mentioned one child who had been in Austism classes at Lafayette School (now a closed school) who is now at Lowell school. She said that one-to-one aides had been removed and the child was being treated poorly. She said that Board President Vitale gave himself an A in school closings, but RYH gave him a different grade.

Security staff removed the mic while she was still talking.

Heather Kelly, of Cassell School, in the 19th Ward, and a mother of three autistic boys, said that there is only one Intermediate Autistic classroom in the ward. She said that we need to leave our neighborhood for services. She added that the teachers' lounge was used as an autistic classroom.

Teresa Thorp, of Keller School in the 19th Ward, said that one out of 13 autistic children at Keller Austistic Cluster have nowhere to go for the intermediate grades. She adopted a child, Mia, from China, and won't let her daughter go on the bus to school. She repeated that an intermediate autistic classroom is needed at Keller School in the 19th Ward.

Yamani Hernandez, who has an eight-year old son who attends Walsh School, said he is very smart but has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and is afraid of being touched. She said that he was touched by a substitute teacher over a pencil incident. She told of the sub putting his arm around her son while poking him in the chest and directing him to his chair.She added that her right to view and copy her son's school records is being denied.

Board Vice-President Ruiz directed her to speak to a staff member in the hall.

Alderman Anthony Beale of the ninth Ward spoke next. He requested an academic center in Gwendolyn Brooks High School. He said that Harlan High School has one, that there is a huge need for one, and such a quality option would be a huge asset to the community. He also asked for a synthetic football field for Gwendolyn Brooks High School. He repeated, "It's time for this."

The next group of speakers were CPS students. William Floyd, of Jones College Prep, said that he is proud of the Chicago neighborhoods and not just the downtown amenties. He spoke of the need for a democratically-elected Board. He added that the Board representatives are reprehensible, for profit, and accountable to the mayor and not the true stakeholders. He wants the schools to be run by a democratically-elected school board.

Cyan Pallasch, of Lincoln Park High School, said that she doesn't trust this board. She stated that the Board has tunnel vision. She added that the real experts are the teachers in the schools. She remarked that the voices of parents, teachers, and students are not taken into account. She added that the Board must turn itself around.

Adia Njie, of Lincoln Park High School, recited her school identification number. She mentioned a kindergarten class with forty children, 40-1. She spoke of TIF funds, $120 million for Jones and $17 million for Payton. She also remarked that the Lincoln School annex cost millions and yet a billion dollar deficit closed schools.

William Patterson, also of Lincoln Park High School, said that the money was not there for Obama College Prep High School. He added that this school would not be in the best interest of CPS students, that it would drain funds, and that CPS shouldn't waste money on useless schools.

James O"Toole, a senior at Jones College Prep, said that the planned Obama College Prep High School would be a selective enrollment high school which more privileged students will be able to attend. He remarked that this system favors the fortunate, not the whole city. He concluded that all students deserve equal opportunities.

Evan Reifman, who will be a senior in the fall at Jones High School mentioned the architectural flaws at the new Jones building. He remarked that something is not working and needs to be improved. He added that all students need the tools to reach their highest potential.

Baylee Champion, at Jones High School, spoke of the $120 million that could have been spent to keep neighborhood schools open. Mention was made of the Obama pictures that almost convince you that he cares.

A speaker from Prosser High School called the funding "sucky." He spoke of a teacher who took his own money to provide for drama students for ten years and chess boards for chess students. He mentioned that Belmont-Cragin School and Northwest Middle School all share a three-story building, while a new charter school is being built across the parking lot. He called this a priority problem.

The last speaker, Gaelen Stewart, of the Chicago Student Committee, spoke of the need for an elected school board. The Board was told, "Take this as a good-bye and thanks for keeping the seats warm," and asked, "Will you meet with us?"

The Board then gave their own feedback to the comments that had been made by the public. Among the remarks they made, they spoke of their visits to schools, the elected school board in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the lack of state funding. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that there was not a pool of licensed librarians, that there were only seven.

After this, the Board went into closed session.


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