AUSL 'hearings' may be quickies, but they are corporate Chicago's answer to democracy

Not one parent from Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School showed up for the "hearing" on the proposal to "turnaround" Bethune on the evening of February 9, 2009. The February 9 hearing was held at Chalmers Elementary School, a half mile southeast of Bethune, in Chicago's North Lawndale community. Nobody from Bethune Elementary School attended the "hearing" sponsored by the Chicago Board of Education and the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) at Chalmers Elementary School (above) on the night of February 9, 2009. AUSL had quickly assembled a marketing team to pitch its "turnaround" plans to parents and others after the regularly scheduled hearings on the proposals turnaed unanimously against the plans, beginning with the hearing on the proposed turnaround of Dulles Elementary School (February 5) and continuing with the hearings on Bethune and Johnson schools (February 6). Despite the fact that AUSL had at least two representatives at each of the official "turnaround" hearings, none of them spoke. Instead, AUSL got the Chicago Board of Education to pay for a second set of "hearings," controlled by AUSL. The first of those was at Chalmers. Bethune parents had warned on February 6 that they would not cross California Ave. after dark (it's one of those gang borders that AUSL doesn't know about and that the Daley administration pretends doesn't exist). AUSL will get an official report written by the Board's expensive hearing officer, Fred Bates, despite the fact that the hearing was barely publicized and the fact that the community, parents, and school unanimously rejected AUSL and "turnaround." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Despite the fact that Bethune parents had told members of the Board of Education the week before that nobody from the Behune community could cross California Ave. to go to a hearing after dark at Chalmers, AUSL forged ahead with the "hearing" and the Chicago Board of Education dutifully sanctioned the hearing by sending a well-paid "Hearing Officer," attorney Fred Bates, to conduct the hearing that never took place.

According to Debby Pope, a Gage Park High School teacher who went to the Chalmers hearing on February 9, the only people there were people from AUSL, a representative from the community organization Blocks Together, and Fred Bates.

"I went to the AUSL hearing at Chalmers (re:Bethune) this evening," Pope e-mailed to members of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) after the Chalmers event. " It was very depressing. I arrived close to the 6:30 cutoff time for signing up to speak. I spoke about loss of dedicated teachers who have devoted their careers to the community... about the need for adequate resources and smaller classes. About how wrong it is to condemn schools who have never been given the support and resources and the chance to succeed fully."

Pope said there was hardly anyone there.

"The room was empty except for the hearing officer, Fred Bates, a court reporter and three people in the audience," Pope continued. " Two of these were employees of AUSL -- one, quite ironically, is a former principal of Gage Park where I now teach... Dr. Donnelson. The third member of the audience was a young woman from Blocks Together who was observing but had not spoken. Mr. Bates told me that Rico Gutstein had testified earlier in the hour but that Rico and I were the only people who came to speak! No teachers, no parents..."

Audrey Donaldson, a former CPS administrator, had attended all four of the "turnaround" hearings at CPS headquarters so far, but did not speak at any of them. Audrey Donaldson (center) and Madeline Miraldi (right) have attended all four of the hearings at which the Board is proposing to "turnaround" Chicago elementary schools using the methods of the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). Miraldi and Donaldson are both $100,000-per-year executives with AUSL (and former CPS employees). Neither Miraldi, Donaldson, nor anyone else from AUSL has spoken at any of the official hearings on the proposed turnarounds. These began with the hearing on Dulles (February 5) and continued with hearings on Johnson and Bethune (February 6) and Holmes (February 9). Instead of speaking out at the official hearings, AUSL got the Board of Education's "Office of New Schools" to quickly schedule additional "hearings" in the community. The additional hearings are conducted by AUSL as marketing events for their version of "turnaround." Official sanction for the "hearings" (which began at Chalmers on February 9) is given by the CPS "Office of New Schools," without much notification to parents, teachers, students, or community residents. The person on the left in the photo above is unidentified. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.At each of the CPS hearings, every person who spoke (more than 30 at the Holmes school hearing on February 9) spoke against "turnaround."

Many of the teachers and parents who went downtown to the CPS hearings complained that the hearings were scheduled at a time that made it difficult (or impossible) for most teachers and working parents to attend. Three of the four hearings on turnaround since February 5 were scheduled to begin at 3:00 p.m. All are being held at 125 S. Clark St., where it costs most people more than $20 to park in Chicago's privatized parking lots.

On February 9, CPS distributed a "hearing" notice stating that there would be a "hearing" on the proposed "turnaround" of Holmes Elementary School. The "hearing" on Holmes will be tonight (February 10) at Sheman Park, near Holmes, beginning at 6:00. As of the writing of this report, people at Holmes had not generally been informed of the AUSL hearings, and those who have been informed were deciding whether to attend of to boycott the event.

In the past, the Chicago Board of Education's "Office of New Schools" has scheduled such hearings without informing the community or the school about which the hearing is taking place. "New Schools" staff then explain to the Board of Education that "a hearing was held" without noting the fact that the community was not told of the hearing. This process began when Beatriz Rendon was chief of new schools and has continued under the current "Chief Officer, New School" Joshua Edelman. The official hearings on school reconstitution (which is what state law says the CPS "turnaround" is) must be conducted in a certain way, with an elaborate record maintained. Apparently, the Academy for Urban School Leadership, with the assistance of the CPS "Office of New Schools" is attempting to circumvent the actual hearings (outlined in the briefing books shown above) with their own AUSL "hearings." After parents boycotted the AUSL "hearing" on the turnaround proposal for Bethune Elementary School on February 9, AUSL continued to host its version of "hearings" anyway, with the full quasi-legal support of the Chicago Board of Education (via the Office of New Schools). Parents, teachers, students, and community supporters of the Holmes school (who unanimously opposed "turnaround") discovered when they arrived downtown on February 9 for the official hearing (above left) that the Chicago Board of Education had also sponsored a "hearing" for AUSL do give its marketing pitch the following night in the Holmes community. As of Substance press time on February 10, the people of Holmes were not sure whether they would attend the February 10 hearing and denounce AUSL or boycott it like the people of Bethune boycotted the February 9 Bethune hearing at Chualmers Elementary School on the west side. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.

To many observers, the independent power of the CPS "Office of New Schools" (located on the 5th floor of CPS headquarters within the offices of the CEO) has more power than the Chicago Board of Education itself. "New Schools" for the past four years has been empowered to decimate more than 40 public schools, either subjecting them to "turnaround" or otherwise privatizing them, usually against the express wishes of the majority of the community and virtually all of the parents, teachers and students in the building.

Observers also noted that the advertisements for the "community" hearings featuring AUSL were distributed under the logo of "Renaissance 2010" and told interested persons to contact the CPS "Office of New Schools" and not the Chicago Board of Education. The precise legal relationship between the CPS Office of New Schools and the Chicago Board of Education was supposed to be one of subordinate ("New Schools") to management (the office of the Chief Executive Officer and the Board), but for the past four years, more and more of the activities of "New Schools" (such as the current scheduling of additional expensive hearings) seem to be carried out without the knowledge of either the CEO or the members of the Chicago Board of Education.


February 11, 2009 at 12:29 AM

By: Jim Vail


For the record, Holmes school slated for Turnaround/Reconstitution boycotted their AUSL hearing Tue. nite. Only 4 showed up.

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