Proving Real Men still read... Ousted Board President returns to Holmes Elementary to read with students

Despite being ousted from his job as President of the Chicago Board of Education after a public humiliation by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Rufus Williams has continued his "Real Men Read" work by returning to Holmes Elementary School and reading to students.

Williams spent part of March 20, 2009, at the Holmes library reading with students, according to Holmes teacher librarian and activist Lara Krejca.

Chicago Board of Education President Rufus Williams (above right) presides over his final meeting as a member of the board on January 28, 2009. Williams was publicly criticized and then ousted from his seat on the school board by Mayor Richard M. Daley a short time after this photograph was taken. Left in the above photo is Board Vice President Clara Muñana, who is still on the Board. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."He just showed up and spent time reading with the students, the way he had done more than a month ago," Lara Krejca told Substance after the end of the Carpenter Elementary School candle light march that evening. "He read with the students and said that he was glad that Holmes is staying open."

After a tumultuous series of hearings on proposed school closings, consolidations, phase outs and turnarounds in January and February 2009, Mayor Daley's press aides leaked a story to the media that the mayor was going to replace Williams with former Board President Michael Scott. Scott had helped lead the closings of schools with former Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan between 2002 and 2007. After five tumultuous years working to privatize as many public schools as possible with Arne Duncan, Scott left the Board to become a full-time real estate developer on the West Side.

Williams attends hearings, visits schools, faces mayoral wrath

Fir the first year after Scott left the Board, the Board continued to rubber stamp proposals generated by "Renaissance 2010" centers (usually, in the CPS "Office of New Schools") to close and slander regular public schools.

But that apparently changed after major battles against the closings and changes in January and February 2008.

Piqued by charges that they had neither attended the 16 hearings on school closings in January and February 2008, Williams and other Board members took the time to attend at least one of the hearings during the annual cycle in January and February 2009. Williams went even further; instead of just attending one hearing, Williams not only attended more than one, but took the time to visit Holmes Elementary School in person after hearing the Holmes teachers, parents, principal and students testify against the plan to turnaround the school through reconstitution in early February.

During his visit, Williams examined the Holmes library and reading programs.

From the beginning of his tenure as a member of the Chicago Board of Education, to which he was appointed by Mayor Daley prior to his being named Board President, Williams had made regular reading with children a central part of his efforts. Under the leadership of Williams and some school staff, and in conjunction with corporate partners, Williams launched a program called "Real Men Read." By 2007, "Real Men Read" was ready to host an annual reading fair and provide hundreds of children with books.

An oasis of reading in a sea of poverty and despair

Former Chicago Transit Authority President Ron Huberman (above right) was appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Chicago's public school system in january 2009 following the appointment of former CEO Arne Duncan to the post of U.S. Secretary of Education by President Barack Obama. Above, at the January 28 Chicago Board of Education meeting, Ron Huberman, who has no experience in education or credentials to serve as an official in any Illinois school system except Chicago's talks with CPS Attorney Patrick Rocks (facing away from camera) while Board member Alberto Carrero (far left, behind Rocks) lookes on and Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins reads. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.During his first visit to Holmes during the tumultuous weeks of hearings on the proposed list of 22 schools facing phase out, consolidation, closing, or "turnaround", Williams went through the school and spent a large amount of his time reviewing the library and reading programs.

What he found first hand was what he had been told by the Holmes community at the hearing the previous evening: Holmes offered an oasis of safety, learning, and reading with books in what was often a sea of violence, poverty and despair.

As teachers, parents, and students had testified at the hearings while Williams listened, Holmes serves one of the most impoverished student populations in Chicago. Many of the children who attend Holmes get their only regular meals and their only exposure to books in the school. The Holmes teachers, students, and community leaders charged that to declare Holmes a "failing school" based on test scores was ludicrous.

"We can't penalize students who are late because they are living in their family cars," Holmes teacher Krejca told Substance. Like teachers at the other schools slated for "turnaround" because of low test scores, Krejca had decided to organize against the slanders that blamed the low test scores of children who live in terrifying poverty (and who often face extreme gang violence) on their public schools and teachers. As the years have progressed since the onslaught of "Renaissance 2010," more and more teachers, parents, and students have realized that "Renaissance 2010" was a plan to undermine public schools and further privatization experiments at the expense of stability and improvement in public education, especially in the city's most extremely impoverished ghetto communities.

To a large extent, the Daley administration had succeeded in shifting the agenda away from the city's failure to stop the massive growth of drug gangs and the disheartening spread of poverty and to blame, instead, the public schools and teachers who served the children who were the youngest and most helpless victims of the forces created by the "global economy" promoted by the mayor and his corporate allies.

Teachers at Holmes testified at the hearings on the proposed "turnaround" of the school that despite the murder of one of their students by gangs last year, every teacher returned to the school this year, and that the commitment of the Holmes staff and community was still firm despite the slanders against the school and its teachers from the Board of Education at the time of the "failing school" declaration.

Replacement unlikely to disagree with mayoral programs

Michael Scott (above left) and Ron Huberman (right) were unable to answer reporters' questions at a February 26, 2009, "media availability" and hastily exited the room. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Michael Scott, who replaced Williams on the Board and resumed his work as President of the Chicago Board of Education on February 25, is viewed by most observers in the community as one of the city's most loyal servants of Mayor Daley.

During his first term on the Board and as President, Scott worked with former CEO Arne Duncan to perfect the attacks on inner city schools that became a hallmark of the mayor's "Renaissance 2010" program.

Facing constant criticism for his furtherance of the proliferation of unproven charter schools and other "New Schools" during the Duncan administration, Scott became adepts at one liners which included both teacher bashing ("failing schools") and a snide attitude towards parents. "I've never known parents to admit that their school was failing," Scott would say. Scott would always cite test scores to the exclusion of all other measures. In promoting charter schools, such as North Lawndale College Prep, which became a favorite of his Reaganesque anecdotes about the value of "Renaissance 2010", Scott would tell the press and listeners how every child at North Lawndale College Prep proclaimed that they wanted to attend college, ignoring facts that contradicted his beliefs. Scott also repeated on several occasions that the teachers in "failing schools" did not believe that "all children can learn."

Collins High School (1313 S. Sacramento) was turned over to one charter school (North Lawndale College Prep) and a corporate "turnaround" operation ("Collins Academy") after Michael Scott presided over the attack that proclaimed the school a "failure" based on low standardized test scores. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.During the two years he was not a member of the Chicago Board of Education, Scott was a highly successful real estate developer, with his work concentrated in the areas of the West Side where he grew up.

One of Scott's last acts during his last term on the Chicago Board of Education was to preside over the destruction of the high school in his old community that his mother had helped organize to create.

In 2006, Michael Scott led the Board in approving the closing of George W. Collins High School, at 1313 S. Sacramento, claiming that the school was a "failure" because of its low test scores. Thirty years earlier, Scott's family had been active in the pressure on Chicago's leaders to create the "school in the park" for children from the North Lawndale community where Scott grew up. One of the leaders of the project had been Scott's mother. After Scott ensured the destruction of Collins High School as a general high school serving all the children of the community, the school's building was turned over the the "Academy for Urban School Leadership" (AUSL) and North Lawndale College Prep High School, which currently jointly operate in the building.

Scott was also responsible for the destruction of Austin, Calumet, and Englewood high schools during his time as partner with Arne Duncan in promoting Mayor Daley's "Renaissance 2010" privatization and charterization plans. Among the results of the multiple closings of general high schools in the African American communities of Chicago has been an increase in gang violence, as students who once attended certain schools are forced to either drop out of school or cross multiple gang borders to attend schools where they are often identified as enemies of the dominant gang in the school.

Many leaders of the Black Community on the West Side blame Scott personally (along with a handful of elected officials) for the fact that the Austin community, the largest African American community in the USA, has no general high school for its graduating eighth graders. Scott used the pretext of gang violence at the old Austin High School to declare the school a "danger" (not, at the time, a "failing school") in June 2004.

Calumet High School (above at 8131 S. May St. in a December 2006 photo, shortly after Michael Scott had helped declare the public school a "failure" based on standardized test scores) was one of four all-black inner city high schools that were closed while Michael Scott and Arne Duncan promoted Mayor Daley's "Renaissance 2010" school privatization program. Calumet (above) had been deprived of necessary repairs for more than 20 years, during some of which Scott consistently told people that the Board of Education did not have the money to do the work. Once Calumet was privatized and turned over to a charter school, the Board found more than $10 million to quickly rehabilitate the building. Calumet is now operated by Perspectives Charter School, once of several Chicago charter schools promoted by Scott that are now facing sexual abuse and other scandals because of the failure of the massive deregulation philosophy that created them. Substance photo taken December 2006 by George N. Schmidt.Along with Arne Duncan, Scott them promoted the successive closing of each 9th grade class at Austin. At the same time, the Scott administration placed the Austin Entrepreneurship Academy (operated by the clout-heavy American Quality Schools and former Illinois Schools Supt. Michael Bakalis) within the building. Austin High School, which once served more than 3,000 students from the community, currently is home to three mini-schools whose student population totals fewer than 600 this school year.

School board licensed 'Real Men Read' after Chicago success

One of the ironies of the decision by the mayor to oust Williams and dump his reading project is that the "Real Men Read" became so successful that Chicago is actually making money from the trademark.

A year ago, the Chicago Board of Education signed a licensing agreement for the promotion of the project nationally under the name "Real Men Read." 


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