Logan Square parties for neighborhood schools, withstands downpour, and celebrates Karen Lewis� anticipated run for Mayor of Chicago

Everyone �knows� that Latinos don�t care about education. Yet anyone who thinks that Latinos don�t care about education hasn�t met LSNA (Logan Square Neighborhood Association) and its� supporters in the Logan Square neighborhood on the northwest side of Chicago.

Children and teenagers from all of the schools in the Logan Square community gathered at the monument at the center of the community with signs showing how much Rahm Emanuel's Board of Education has robbed from their schools this year. The crowd assembled at "The Eagle" (a Civil War monument) as the storm clouds were gathering above the crowds. Substance photo by Kim Scipes. LSNA has long been involved in working with neighborhood schools in the neighborhood. In fact, even after Alderman Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward) defecated on Ames Middle School, turning it from a strongly supported neighborhood school into a selective enrollment and militarized �Marine Leadership Academy� � against strong and persistent opposition within the neighborhood � LSNA still has partnerships with nine Logan Square schools. On Friday, September 5, 2014, LSNA held a �Party for Neighborhood Schools� at the Logan Square �Eagle� (at the confluence of Kedzie, Milwaukee and Logan) to celebrate our neighborhood schools and to condemn the Chicago Board of Education for $3 million in cuts to the schools� budgets. They expected a celebratory gathering�but someone didn�t tell the weather goddess!

A press advisory had been sent out announcing the neighborhood rally, noting that according to the CPS (Chicago Public Schools) budget web site, Logan Square schools are starting off with budget cuts totaling over $3.1 million, and that could get even worse, depending on enrollment on the 20th day of the scholastic year. According to information obtained from the web site, LSNA Partner Schools had the following decrease in their budget, with some losing positions as well:

-- Darwin Elementary (-$299,741) and -5.5 positions;

-- Funston Elementary (-$98,571) and no positions lost;

-- Goethe Elementary (-$32,883) and -.5 positions;

-- Monroe Elementary (-$241,763) and -8.5 positions;

-- Avondale-Logandale Elementary (-$80,998) and -2 positions;

-- McAuliffe Elementary (+$263,175) and no positions lost;

-- Mozart Elementary (-$87,093) and 0 positions lost;

-- Kelvyn Park High School (-$1,816,110) and -8.9 positions;

-- and Schurz High School (-$711,100) and -2.6 positions.

Together, the differences between the FY 15 and FY 14 budgets totaled -$3,105,084, and 22.8 positions lost.

While all the cutbacks hurt, the $1.8 million being taken away from Kelvyn Park HS seems especially bad. In one of the sham CPS meetings around closing Ames Middle School that took place last December in the freezing cold, and that this reporter attended, CPS officials told the audience at McAuliffe Elementary that students at Ames who rejected the Marine academy could either transfer to McAuliffe Elementary for 7th-8th grade, or could transfer to Kelvyn Park for a soon-to-be developed 7th-8th grade program inside the high school. Something apparently didn�t work out at Kelvyn Park.

LSNA wrote �The continued budget cuts to neighborhood schools are a bad strategy for Chicago. Not only do neighborhood schools play a key role as community anchors, but also their academic gains are outpacing charters [charter schools-KS]. This week, the Chicago Sun-Times published an electrifying analysis showing that �Chicago�s public neighborhood elementary schools improved greatly in reading and slightly in math, outpacing average charter school growth last year�.�

Both to celebrate the schools and to protest the cuts, people gathered at the monument, slowly streaming into the park. LSNA had organized students with signs, condemning budgets cuts, and demanding an elected school board in Chicago. Music blasted on the sound system. Friends called out to each other, and conversations in Spanish and English were taking place across the area.

One of the heaviest downpours of the summer didn't dampen the spirits of the people who poured out for the Logan Square rally. Once the rain began, everyone headed to the nearby El Cid restaurant, where Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis greeted the crowd and smiled to the cheers of "Run, Karen, Run!" supporting her campaign to unseat Rahm Emanuel as Mayor of Chicago. Substance photo by Kim Scipes.People came to express their support for the schools, and also came because it had been confirmed that Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), would join the celebration. People know that Lewis is contemplating running against current Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is widely reviled in our part of the city for his attacks on education. Logan Square has been a hotbed of organizing over the past year and a half, as people have been actively organizing to defend their neighborhood schools against threatened closures and/or militarization, courtesy of Mayor Emanuel�s handpicked Board of Education.

In fact, the battle against school closures affected the race for Illinois State Representative in the 39th District last March, where Will Guzzardi � who worked against the closures, and against the militarization of Ames � defeated Toni Berrios, the incumbent and daughter of one of the most powerful Latinos in Chicago, Joe Berrios, Cook County Democratic Party Chair and City Assessor.

As the program began, so did the rain. Slowly at first, it didn�t take long for things to get very wet. People used their umbrellas to keep them and bystanders as dry as possible, but the torrential downpour soon made that option unsustainable.

Word was passed to relocate to El Cid Restaurant, a nearby business on Kedzie where an after-rally party had been planned. People were soaked. A couple hundred people easily entered the restaurant, with the morale high of folks who had refused to give in to the weather. People were so wet that the floor was quickly covered with water. Before long, the chanting started in Spanish and English: �The schools united will never be defeated!� Then, of course, �The people united will never be defeated.� And then, a murmur went through the crowd: Karen Lewis was inside the building and was on her way up to our gathering on the second floor. Spontaneously, the community spoke as one: �Run, Karen, Run! Run, Karen, Run!�

Ms. Lewis came into the open room, clearly enjoying the adulation. She was relaxed, and obviously felt at home. She knows how important education is, and what it means to parents who want desperately for their kids to have a shot at �the American dream.� People were excited to see her, and the crowd quieted respectfully to listen to what she had to say.

Lewis spoke spontaneously, not needing a prepared script. Pages of my reporters� notebook had disintegrated in the rain, so my notes were lost; what follows is from my memory.

One of the things she talked about is �accountability.� She pointed out that there�s a lot of talk about accountability, but she says it only goes one way: it�s got to go both ways, she said pointedly.

Lewis also spoke about the need for an elected school board, and the audience responded enthusiastically.

She talked about a few other things, but those got lost. But to me, more important was how the audience responded to her and what she said. People listened respectfully�and responded enthusiastically to almost everything she said. But afterward, people clamored toward her, seeking to have their picture taken with her. Many, many people�especially women�asked if she would be in a picture with them. Lewis responded positively, in warm and relaxed manner: it was clear she felt at home, and people had accepted her into the Logan Square �family.�

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis stood proudly with members of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) who had organized the back-to-school event at the Eagle at Logan Square. The CTU had worked with the community during the year-long struggle to stop Alderman Roberto Maldonado and the Chicago Board of Education from destroying the neighborhood school at Ames Middle School and replacing it with the "Marine Military Academy." Substance photo by Marine vet Kim Scipes.A group of LSNA staffers got her to take a picture with them, with their blue organizational shirts matching her blue dress. People wouldn�t let her leave quickly, even though she had earlier said her husband was waiting outside for her, and that she had another event to attend. Even a couple of grandmothers shyly approached her, spoke to her, had their pictures taken with her.

What was especially interesting to this reporter was the racial composition of the crowd, not only at the Eagle but at El Cid. I�ve heard it said elsewhere that the Latino community doesn�t know Karen Lewis. I don�t know about the folks in Pilsen and Little Village, but it certainly wasn�t true in Logan Square. The crowd was overwhelmingly Latino�both Mexicans and Puerto Ricans � along with a fair proportion being white. There were few African Americans present, but there are not many who live in the Logan Square area. The point is that Lewis� support has clearly transcended racial lines, and that she has strong support in this area among Latinos.

The other thing that was interesting is that the mainstream media didn�t bother to cover the rally; no TV trucks showed up, and no one appeared to be interviewing people. Finally, a TV crew from Telemundo showed and interviewed Lewis inside of El Cid. My guess is that much of Lewis� support is �below the radar� of the powers that be, and hopefully it will remain so til the election. But the interaction between Karen Lewis and the people of Logan Square wasn�t artificial, it wasn�t pro-forma; it was genuine. This woman is going to surprise a lot of people. You�ll have to watch �Labor Beat� on CAN-TV or read to get the real story.

[Kim Scipes is the Chair of the Chicago Chapter of the National Writers Union.]


September 6, 2014 at 12:50 PM

By: Suzie Lopez

Happy to see Karen Lewis by Logan Square

It was nice to see Karen Lewis at Logan Square. Hopefully she will run for mayor of Chicago. It seems as if every year teachers get positions cut, however other teachers fill similar positions that same year. Things are changes;This year I was wondering why teachers are getting paid until September 19, 2014. Are they going to be paid for three weeks instead of two.

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