January 28, 2009... Massive Protest Fires Opening Shot

They came, and they came fast and furious, and before one knew it, as many as a thousand children, teachers, parents and other concerned community members came out in mass to protest the Renaissance 2010 plan to close, turnaround, phase out, consolidate and otherwise turn the Chicago public school syst em upside down and inside out.

After a heated board meeting in which parent after student after teacher threw punches continuously at an opponent who found himself mostly against the ropes, they spilled into the streets and marched first to the Chase building that houses the Civic Committee where the Renaissance 2010 plan was hatched and then to City Hall and the Mayor’s office to demand an end to their radical privatization plan. They chanted “Save our Schools!” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho – Renaissance 2010 has got to go!”

The Ren10 plan is to privatize the Chicago public school system – close as many schools due to “underutilization” or “failing test scores” – and once the dust of the blown-up public schools settles – one will see a much different picture. Charters replacing public schools, public schools run by private management companies or contract schools replacing veteran educators with brand new teachers and Local School Councils replaced by business advisory committees.

But not without a fight.

Speaker after speaker denounced Chicago Mayor Daley’s plan to privatize the public schools at the Chicago Board meeting. Almost everyone demanded a moratorium on Ren2010.

“It’s harming the very people its trying to serve,” CTU President Marilyn Stewart told a hoard of television, radio and print media assembled around her in a press conference before the Board hearing. Students, parents, teachers and members of CORE (the Caucus of Rank and File Educators) who helped to organize this major protest in conjunction with the Chicago Teachers Union -- denounced continuously at the Board of Education meeting a plan to radically alter public education for the children of Chicago.

“Let me get this straight,” Holmes teacher Daisy Sharp told the Board of Education member. “You’re telling our school that we have to fire everyone because of low test scores. Everyone -- including the cafeteria workers, the maintenance people, the clerks, and the security guards? Oh no, it's not about that.”

Rufus Williams, the president of the Board of Education, could only smile and say he does not have an answer right now, but he will try to gather the information, adding that the Board will make every effort to attend the hearings for the schools on the hit list. But so far, representatives from Las Casas noted that this week nobody from the Board who make the decision to close the schools showed up to their hearing. Last year not one Board member attended the hearings, nor even read the finished individual reports, but unanimously agreed to close, turnaround, consolidate and phase out just about every school on former CPS CEO Arne Duncan’s 2008 list. The exception -- Abbott Elementary School -- was removed from the 2008 list at the last minute and is now on the 2009 list, according to Board of Education records.

The impressive mass mobilization of angry people was a rather rude awakening for the newly appointed chief of the Chicago Public Schools Ron Huberman, who many question why someone with no education experience would be named once again to head the Chicago public schools. Duncan, now named Education Secretary by President Barrack Obama, also had no education experience while he helped to privatize many public schools during his tenure.

“This is a slap in the face to educators,” said Dorothy Brown, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County who ran for mayor of Chicago in 2007. “It’s a travesty and it sends the wrong message to kids.” Brown also agreed with the protesters that there should be a moratorium. “I don’t see where it’s worked so far.”

A parent from Peabody Elementary School said her grandson can’t sleep at night. Another parent from Carpenter Elementary School said her son is crying that he will lose all his friends after they phase out their neighborhood school out and scatter the kids to different schools further away.

“They’re trying to silence all the parents,” said Denise Jones- Gibbs, a Holmes elementary school parent.

At Holmes, that is exactly what they are trying to do. The community rallied to support their school and dare the Board to destroy the "Holmes family." Then the shock troops were sent in. First, Alderwoman Jo Ann Thompson, a strong ally of Mayor Daley and the Ren2010 plan, said she would not support the community and even told a parent earlier that the teachers don’t care and they are just there to receive a paycheck. This despite the fact Holmes has made significant test score gains and earned numerous awards among its teachers and implemented many nationally recognized programs. The alderwoman and Board employees then lied to the Holmes community by stating that the turnaround plan has nothing to do with Mayor Daley or Renaissance 2010. Thompson also implicated Holmes Principal Wendy Naughton, saying that she knew about this turnaround plan to fire everyone on the staff in June, while the principal had told everyone she just found out about it. The principal has also been putting heavy pressure on the teachers and parents to not fight.

Parents at Carpenter School, who met with their State Representative Cynthia Soto who will sponsor a bill asking for a one-year moratorium on Ren2010, said the same scare tactics are being employed at their school, trying to divide the community with fear tactics such as retaliation and job loss.

“Let’s be clear,” said Whitney Young delegate and parent Jay Rehak. “For some of our students, the school is the basis for stability. When schools are closed, families are ripped apart. Anyone who has been through a divorce or who has worked with children who have lost a parent recognizes that the trauma of a family being ripped apart has a very negative impact on student learning. By closing schools, dismissing everyone in a building, the Board of Education is creating instability for our children as well as for the community in which people work and live. “

The corporate media was so impressed with Rehak’s remarks, that ABC News asked for an exclusive interview. Afterwards, the reporter told Substance News that change is tough, but something needs to be done about failing schools. This sentiment is exactly what the business community which supports the pri vatizatio n of public services in all spheres of life wants people to think. That view was challenged by everyone at the massive protest.

“If you can kick us out of our houses and out of our schools, what’s to say you can’t kick us out of Chicago,” parent Tanya Dickens told the Board. There is the belief that the Ren2010 plan revolves around gentrification in which higher real estate prices are replacing low income housing. In fact, many believe the bid for the Olympics would be Mayor Daley’s parting gift to the corporations and a one-way ticket to Pelugaville for the rest of the needy citizens of Chicago.

“I can’t send my kids across the city cause it’s dangerous,” Gibbs, the Holmes parent, said. This is exactly what the Ren2010 is forcing many students to do. What makes you think you need to separate the kids from the teachers. You all need to step back and see what you’re doing.”

Laura Krejca, another Holmes teacher who spok e el oquently against the Ren2010 turnaround plan for her school, noted that there are still students in therapy this year after a Holmes student was murdered last year, caught up in a gang cross fire. Despite the dangerous area in Englewood, all the Holmes teachers returned for the beginning of this school year, she said, unlike the Sherman school, touted by Duncan as a model “turnaround,” where 40% of the teachers left. Holmes also has higher test scores than Sherman.

Teachers and community activists also noticed a pattern in which school renovations and improvements are made right before the building is handed over to a private operator and the teachers, staff and to varying degrees the entire student body are thrown out. “We gave the Mayor two weeks to meet with us about our demands for a Moratorium,” Jackson Potter, a founding member of Core, told an energized crowd that braved cold temperatures by marching around the city for over two hours. “I say join us for a planning action this Saturday at the UE Hall at 37 S. Ashland to plan our next actions. And consider boycotting Walgreens which is funding the Renaissance plan.” 


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