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BOARDWATCH: Jerry Skinner on Kelvyn Park High School problems... 'The double standard applied by CPS to the teachers of Kelvyn Park reeks of the irresponsible practice of power...'

[Editor's Note: Substance's BOARDWATCH is publishing the remarks prepared and delivered by the speakers at the monthly meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. The meeting of November 19, 2014 saw more than 500 people present for the meeting. The meeting was held in the auditorium at Westinghouse High School, with 60 people signed up to speak. Many more people would have signed up and spoken, but the Board of Education censors the number -- as well as the speakers with which Board members disagree. The Board forbids more than 60 speakers at each of its once-a-month meeting, no matter how many people wish to try and exercise their rights under the First Amendment to "petition the government for a redress of grievances." The following material was prepared by Jerry Skinner and provided to Substance by him. Two piece are here: The first is the statement Mr. Skinner read to the Board. The second is a paper that he distributed to the Board members because there was not enough time to serve the facts and the truth in the two minutes each speaker is allowed. George N. Schmidt, Editor, Substance].

I. STATEMENT DELIVERED TO THE BOARD OF EDUCATION

Kelvyn Park High School teacher Jerry Skinner speaking to the November 19, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board ofE Education. Substance photo by David Vance.Statement for November 19, 2014 Board of Education Meeting

Dear CEO Byrd-Bennett, President Vitale, and Members of the Board of Education,

I am Jerry Skinner, a 20-year veteran teacher-coach and current LSC member at Kelvyn Park High School.

First, the good news: Thank you for providing Kelvyn Park with a Network Chief, Mr. Ernesto Matias, and a principal, Ms. Allyson Fox-Crump, who are both professional educators and excellent leaders. Morale among the faculty and staff, and the students and their families at my school has not been so high at any time since the CPS-engineered “Troubles” began there five years ago.

But the past has not completely disappeared from my school. Some of its consequences live on to haunt the present, particularly those from the recently released REACH summative teacher ratings. I have provided you with a document [Editor's Note: See following this document] that contains a history of the unprofessional and incompetent manner in which teacher evaluations have been carried out at my school in recent years. I will briefly summarize this document’s main points and read from its “Concluding Remarks.”

1. No evaluations conducted or the documentation lost by the CEO-installed principal during the 2011-12 school year.

2. CEO-installed administrators consistent failure to follow CPS guidelines for evaluations all of last year.

3. Harassing and targeted unannounced evaluative observations during Final Examination and Save the Grade days last year.

The CPS administrator in charge of the "Network Chiefs" during the years discussed by Jerry Skinner of Kelvyn Park High School was Denise Little (above right during the November 19, 2014 Board meeting). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.4.A lowering of almost all teachers’ ratings last year, with the exception of the principal’s own “favorite,” a teacher rated “distinguished” by the principal but soon afterwards investigated by CPS and removed from the classroom for showing a racially and religiously inflammatory YOUtube comedy video (Akmed, the Dead Terrorist) as an inclusion math lesson.

Concluding Remarks

The "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools, Barbara Byrd Bennett, was appointed to her present job by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to replace her predecessor, Jean-Claude Brizard, in October 2012. Byrd Bennett came to Chicago from out of town, having previously helped undermine the remaining public schools of Detroit Michigan prior to being vetted for the Chicago job by the Broad Foundation and others among Rahm Emanuel's union busting and pro-privatization circle of enemies of public schools. Substance photo by Nate Goldbaum.Every CPS official who had any responsibility for hiring and supervising principals and assistant principals such as Ms. Tellez, Ms. Mekarski, and Ms. Bylaitis failed in her or his duties. These officials and administrators collected (and often are still collecting) salaries of over $100,000 or even over $200,000 but are still evading their collective responsibility for what their negligence has done to the careers of many dedicated teachers at Kelvyn Park.

The double standard applied by CPS to the teachers of Kelvyn Park reeks of the irresponsible practice of power.

If a Kelvyn Park teacher neglected to do any teaching for an entire year or provided students with not a single assignment or individual grade during that time, you would hardly expect the school or CPS authorities to make sure that all the students of that teacher were given a failing grade and forced to take the course all over again . . . with another incompetent teacher in their classroom!

If a penalty is to be paid for such behavior, that penalty should be paid by the individual responsible, the teacher, and not by the teacher’s students. But when Principal Tellez fails to conduct teacher evaluations in 2011-2012, and Principal Mekarski and Assistant Principal Bylaitis then conduct themselves in a manner that results in some of the lowest scores possible (1 out of a possible 100) on components for “Effective Leaders” on the University of Chicago Consortium of School Research’s 5 Essentials Full Report, what is the response of Schools

CEO Dr. Bryd-Bennett? Does she take any responsibility or hold accountable the immediate superiors to such administrators?

How does CEO Byrd-Bennett plan to ensure that justice is done?

Whether rightly or not, CEO Byrd-Bennett has been given much power over the public schools in Chicago. She should use such power to advance what is right and fair for the students and teachers of Kelvyn Park High School.

II. HISTORY DELIVERED IN WRITING TO THE BOARD MEMBERS

The History of CEO, Network Chief, and Principal Negligence at Kelvyn Park High School

August 2011 to June 2012

Kelvyn Park High School’s (KPHS) Chicago Public Schools CEO-installed Principal, Ms. Isabel Tellez, both fails to conduct her contractually obligated evaluations of most of the school’s teaches and loses the official documentation of the evaluations that she does conduct. Over 100 KPHS teacher, therefore, receive no official evaluative rating for the 2011-2012 school year, retaining the ratings that they had received in previous school years. None of this was unknown to the CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Ms. Tellez’s and her administration’s practice of losing large numbers (in the hundreds or even the thousands or more) of official, legal documents was first reported at a February 26, 2010 Professionals Problems Committee meeting, and soon afterwards witnessed by CPS Network Officer Mr. David Gilligan at a meeting in the Principal’s Office on May 28, 2010. Official and public notification of this negligence in the handling of official documents was given to the CEO of Chicago Public Schools and the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education by the President of the Kelvyn Park High School Local School Council (LSC), Mr. Hector Basave, and the school’s Chicago Teachers Union Delegate (CTU), Mr. Jerry Skinner, at the October 27, 2010 Chicago Board of Education meeting. (See “A Kelvyn Park High School Timeline,” “Section C Documents,” and “Section I Documents” of the Kelvyn Park High School: A Timeline and Documents, a copy of which was personally given by LSC President Basave to Schools CEO Ronald Huberman and all seven members of the Chicago Board of Education at the October 27, 2010 Chicago Board of Education meeting.)

July 2013

KPHS’s Chicago Public Schools CEO-installed Principal, Ms. Susan Mekarski, receives a score of 1 out of a possible 100 on both the “Teacher-Principal Trust” and the “Principal Instructional Leadership” indicators of the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research’s 5Essentials Full Report. In spite of these low scores, perhaps the lowest scores received by any principal in the state of Illinois, the Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Network Chief Dr. Leslie Boozer decide to retain Ms. Mekarski as the KPHS principal, giving her full powers to conduct the new REACH evaluations of the faculty and other staff at the school. August 20, 2013

At an all-staff meeting on the REACH evaluation system, Ms. Mekarski informs the KPHS staff, “If there is no rating for a teacher during the 11-12 school year, go to the middle column above. There needs to be a paper trail.” The reference in this quote is to a Powerpoint slide reproduced on page 8 of the CPS Teacher Evaluation Handbook 2013-2014. Using this justification, Ms. Mekarski states that she and her assistant principal, Ms. Daniella Bylaitis, will evaluate most KPHS teachers, including tenured teachers who received either an “excellent’ or a “superior” rating on their most recent evaluation cycle, on an annual evaluation cycle involving two formal and two informal evaluations. Essentially, Ms. Mekarski states that she gets to use the failure of her predecessor, Ms. Tellez, to either conduct contractually-obligated evaluations or to maintain proper records of such evaluations that she did conduct to treat tenured teachers rated “excellent” or “superior” as if they were either non-tenured teachers or rated “unsatisfactory/satisfactory” or both.

Fall Semester, 2013

In the carrying out hundreds of evaluations, KPHS Assistant Principal Daniella Bylaitis consistently fails to follow CPS’s guide to “Educator Effectiveness” when conducting post-observation conferences and component-level ratings, ignoring CPS Talent Office’s directive that, “It is best practice for evaluators to bring draft component-level ratings to the post-conference, so that teachers will have the opportunity to join in the discussion of practices observed and participate in a collegial discussion about the possible ratings.” Ms. Bylaitis persists in her violation of “best practices” even after she receives notification from the school’s CTU delegate, Mr. Eric Wagner, that she is not following the guidelines stipulated by the Talent Office. In fact, as late as March 4, 2014, in response to a written request that she provide an observed teacher the draft component-level ratings at the post-conference, Ms. Bylaitis states that, “It has been my consistent practice in regard to formal observations to conduct a pre-conference meeting, an observation, and formal post-conference meeting. I provide observed teachers a copy of the evidence/notes shortly after their observation . . . After the post-conference, teacher scores are finalized” (emphasis added). There is no mention of the Talent Office directive in her response.

January 21-22, 2014

Ms. Mekarski and Ms. Bylaitis conduct unannounced evaluative observations on the two designated Save the Grade days, days that were to be set aside from regular REACH-based teaching practices in order to provide different opportunities for different students to make up the very different type of assignments that they were missing. (Teacher were informed by their department chairs, who had met with Ms. Mekarski and Ms. Bylaitis to discuss and plan the Save the Grade days that they did not need to create any other lesson plans than ones that simply stated “Save the Grade” for the two days, with no Common Core State Standards or College Readiness Standards as it would require the posting of hundreds of different standards for any such lesson.) For her January 13, 2014 Panther Newsletter, Ms. Mekarski wrote that, “This decision [for two Save the Grade days] was made so that every student has the opportunity to make up work and also to provide additional incentives for students to attend school during these days after finals and before grades are due.” A day later, Ms. Bylaitis described Save the Grade to a teacher as “Save the Grade Intervention – dept to provide student opportunity to recover missing work/assignments” (incorrect grammar in the original). In emails, conversations, and meetings in the weeks that followed, both Ms. Mekarski and Ms. Bylaitis attempt to deny that Save the Grade was to be focused on students making up missing work, forgetting what they had stated and written to staff earlier. Ms. Mekarski and Ms. Bylaitis had also entered classrooms during fall semester final exams the week before on January 14 and 15 in order to conduct unannounced evaluative observations. As with the unannounced evaluative observations on the Save the Grade days, the two administrators were very selective in whose classroom they chose to enter, targeting certain teachers for harassment. In regards to these actions and towards all the ramifications that followed, neither the Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett nor Network Chief Tracy Martin appeared to intervene to advise Ms. Mekarski and Ms. Bylaitis to desist from such unprofessional actions.

February 26, 2014

A petition protesting Ms. Mekarski’s and Ms. Bylaitis’s evaluative observations on the Save the Grade days is signed by over 80% of the KPHS faculty. In the following days, the petition is shared with the school’s LSC and with various CPS officials. It appears that sometime in March 2014 Ms. Mekarski’s evaluation responsibilities are taken from her and transferred to a new administrator placed in the school. While this is positive news to the KPHS faculty, hundreds of earlier evaluations by Ms. Mekarski and Ms. Bylaitis are still part of the official records of dozens of KPHS teachers. (Ms. Mekarski does, in fact, give a “distinguished” rating to a “favorite” teacher of hers who was later investigated and relieved of his teaching duties by CPS for bullying and harassing his inclusion teacher colleague—which behavior included showing a religiously and racially inflammatory YOUtube comedy video during a math lesson. Ms. Mekarski had hired this “distinguished” teacher and immediately placed him in the position of math department chair in late October 2012, soon after he had been fired as an administrator at another north side high school. Schools CEO Bryd-Bennett emails the harassed teacher that she will personally “look into this matter.”)

October 2014

REACH summative ratings based predominantly upon the unprofessional and biased evaluations conducted by Ms. Mekarski and Ms. Bylaitis (and originally made possible by the negligence of Ms. Tellez to carry out her duties and responsibilities as the school’s principal) are provided to KPHS teachers. Almost every one of these teachers discovers that his or her rating has fallen by at least one, usually two, and even as many as three levels (which would involve a fall from “superior” to “unsatisfactory” within a single evaluation cycle). Now almost every teacher at KPHS is at much greater risk of termination. As far as anyone at KPHS knows, this situation has not elicited any response or offers of assistance from such individuals connected to it as Schools CEO Byrd-Bennett, Dr. Boozer, or Ms. Martin.

Concluding Remarks

Every CPS official who had any responsibility for hiring and supervising principals and assistant principals such as Ms. Tellez, Ms. Mekarski, and Ms. Bylaitis failed in her duties. These officials and administrators collected (and often are still collecting) salaries of over $100,000 or even over $200,000 but are still evading their collective responsibility for what their negligence has done to the careers of many dedicated teachers at KPHS. The double standard applied by CPS to the teachers of Kelvyn Park High School—be those teachers female or male, Black or White or Hispanic or Asian, straight or gay—reeks of the irresponsible practice of power. If a KPHS teacher neglected to do any teaching for an entire year or provided students with not a single assignment or individual grade during that time, you would hardly expect the school or CPS authorities to make sure that all the students of that teacher were given a failing grade and forced to take the course all over again . . . with another incompetent teacher in their classroom! If a penalty is to be paid for such behavior, then that penalty should be paid by the individual responsible, the teacher, and not by the teacher’s students. But when Principal Tellez fails to conduct any evaluations (or loses the documentation for those she did conduct), and Ms. Mekarski and Ms. Bylaitis then conduct themselves in a manner that results in some of the lowest scores possible on the component for “Effective Leaders” on the 5Essentials Full Report, what is the response of Schools CEO Bryd-Bennett? Does she take any responsibility or hold accountable the immediate superiors to such administrators? When teachers who had been rated “superior” just prior to the installation by the Schools CEO of such negligent and/or unprofessional administrators are now suddenly deemed “unsatisfactory” and find themselves facing termination from positions that they have held with dignity and dedication for many years, how does CEO Byrd-Bennett plan to ensure that justice is done? Whether rightly or not, CEO Byrd-Bennett has been given much power over the public schools in Chicago; she should use such power to advance what is right and fair for the students and teachers of Kelvyn Park High School.



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