BOARDWATCH: Chicago Board of Education's October 2017 meeting

The Chicago Board of Education (CBOE) held its monthly meeting on Wednesday, October 25, 2017, at 42 West Madison Street, lower level. Many of the concerns were the same as last month, Special Education, Nightingale School, and fair and equal funding for charter schools.

The following board members were present: Mark Furlong, Arnie Rivera, Jaime Guzman, Dr. Mahalia Hines, Gail Ward, plus Board President Frank Clark. Also present were Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Forrest Claypool, Chief Counsel Ronald Marmer, and Chief Education Officer (CEdO) Janice Jackson.

During the Honoring Excellence portion of the meeting, William Cryer, new honorary student board member, was introduced, Blue Ribbon schools were recognized, and the Robotics Championship winner was announced.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Forrest Claypool then announced that we are coming off "Principal Appreciation Week." During that time, he visited schools, Cooper and Courtney among them. At Courtney, the principal set up a Snoozeland Room for those who need to reduce stress. CEO Claypool said he was struck by the complexity of the role of principal. He then went on to state that Illinois lawmakers support the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for the first time. There is now more in revenue, no mid-year cuts, and no furloughs for employees. He also praised Bill Gates of Microsoft.

Next, CEdO Jackson said that CPS was recognized nationally, principals and teachers deserve more credit, and budgets will be rolled out in Spring.

Board President Clark then made comments about CEO Claypool's earlier remarks. He stated that the $1.1 billion deficit from two years ago has been erased and is zero today. The debt has been eradicated and all branches of government came together for the first time for equitable spending.

After that, Jennifer Long Bennett, CPS officer, reported on the bond update, saying that CPS is financially stronger today and is on much stronger financial footing. She said that the $1.1 billion deficit had been eliminated in two years and that all school districts were better off and receiving more equitable treatment. She went on to say that the bonds are expected to be sold the week of November 13, replacing 9% interest bonds with 5% interest bonds., resulting in significant savings for the Board. A list of $250 million in capitol projects was also presented. She added that there was a strong market interest in the bonds.

Board President Clark remarked on the complexity of the big numbers and what a significant turnaround it was. He then reminded everyone to go to the CPS website

Board Secretary Estela Beltran announced that the November Board meeting and the December Board meeting were being combined into one Board meeting on Wednesday, December 6, with sign-up for public participation beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, December 4, and ending at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, December 5, or when all slots have been filled.

Three public officials spoke before public participation: Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza of the10th ward, Alderman Scott Waguespack of the 32nd ward, and Troy LaRavierre, President of the Chicago Principal's and Administrator's Association.

Alderman Garza talked about the recent WEBZ article about Special Education and the appearance of CEO Claypool at the City Council about the budget. She went on to say that classrooms in her ward were overcrowded.

CEO Claypool responded. "I don't believe that's happening."

She listed schools and class sizes in various grade levels and added that we need something to alleviate overcrowding. She remarked that on the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) website, there are supposed to be15 students in grades 0-4 and that is not happening in the 10th ward. She went on to say that Washington Elementary School, built in 1973, has no windows and needs new ones and that the carpet has never been replaced. She said Gallistel and Addams were hanging on to their students instead of sending them on to the new school meant for them, which holds 400 students and has room for many more. She also spoke of students who are bused to the north side from this far south side ward. She mentioned the need for cluster programs.

CEO Claypool asked for pictures and information.

Alderman Garza that she did give data.

CEO Claypool said, "I didn't write it down." He added that Frank Velicki can match his list with your, let's share the data.

Next, Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd ward), issued a formal invitation to a public education committee in the city council, a public meeting, and asked CEO Claypool to attend. He was interested in Alcott Elementary and High School being split.

He expressed his frustration after reading the WBEZ article about Special Education Funding cuts. He added that this is what we want to talk to you about at our public meeting at the City Council.

Board President Clark mentioned that the issue of the level of spending continually comes up.

Board staff member Ron DeNard added facts about Special Education money and staff numbers.

Board President Clark responded that spending has increased.

Next, Troy LaRaviere, President of the Principal's and Administrator's Association, spoke about the Special Education issue and said that Sarah Karp of WBEZ had followed up on this issue and added the voice of the principals. He listed statistics of responses to a 2016-2017 survey showing that Special Education is understaffed and staff who are required to collect data every 15 minutes are not able to do other work.

The first of the public participants to speak was Rebecca Weinberg of Eugene Field Elementary, a community Local School Council (LSC) member, who asked that no new charter schools be opened or expanded. She mentioned that 10,000 CPS students have been lost to the system this year. She said that the proposed local charter school was not innovative compared to Field and that Field already has these projects in place.

Joe Alter also expressed opposition to the proposed K-5 charter school in Rogers Park. He said that Sullivan High School was recognized locally and nationally and that we need to work to improve existing schools and support neighborhood schools. He asked the Board to reject the charter school proposal.

Stephanie Cirillo said that the neighborhood schools in Rogers Park already provide the services that charter schools are proposing to offer. She also wants the charter school proposal rejected.

Yvonne Franklin, of the Drake School LSC said that the conversion of National Teachers Academy (NTA) to a high school would be good for the community and that the principal there is excellent.

Earl Grandberry, a pastor who welcomes Dearborn Home students and Drake students, wants opportunities for these students.

Angela Bailey said that the previous speaker was her pastor and that the children in her inner-city community deserve the same education as others. She added that Special Education needs help.

Serena Sumrell said she represents the children of Drake and wants them to have better opportunities. She remarked, "It's not where you're from, but where you're going" (that matters). She added that Drake children should not be left behind and should be able to walk to high school. She told the Board to include our children when deciding about NTA Elementary.

Liren Liang, of Kelly High School, wants a near-south high school. He mentioned that at Kelly, it is noisy, students are not working, and some are smoking in areas around the school. He added that he is Chinese and needs help as an immigrant student.

Board Presient Clark remarked that you do see the difference between students in China and here.

Aaron Mallory, of Roseland and Kohn Elementary, wanted to know if a charter school was planned. He looked at the data and remarked that 56% of the schools are Level One, but not in Roseland, and that 83% of the schools in Roseland are Level Two.

Bernarda Wong, Founder and CEO of the Chinese-Amrican Service League who has retired after 39 years, wants a high school in the Chinatown area. She stated that some students get on buses very early to get to various high schools and that a long-term solution is needed for the south side.

Terronda Harris mentioned that when King Elementary School closed in 2013, his children attended a school in a worse area and are now in NTA which CPS wants to convert to a high school. He said NTA was great and many African-American students will be affected.

Christine Page, of Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools, said there was a lot of blame and finger-pointing now regarding children of color and low-income children. She said she is a parent of both CPS and charter students and wants her children to walk to school and receive a safe and quality education. She is thankful for KIPP.

Dr. Momma Hawks, a grandparent of a KIPP student and a senior at Urban Prep in Bronzeville, said that the KIPP student went from a behavior problem due to a medical disability to improvement. She asked for equal funding for charter schools.

Tamika Meeks, whose child is a KIPP student, said that charters deserve more equal funding. She said her child loves one-on-one time with his teachers.

Candice Marchan, of Rowe Elementary Charter School, said that every child in Chicago deserves a quality school. She said that her child travels far from Hyde Park and she would love for her child to be able to walk to school. She asked that all schools be funded equally.

Bianca Salgado, also of Rowe, told about her child's experiences at Rowe, included an Individualized Learning Program. She said she wants equal funding for all schools across Chicago, public and charter.

Keyania Brown, originally from Arkansas, told about her children at Baker College Prep Noble Charter School. She said that the Grade Point Average (GPA) increased for both in a matter of months. She stated that charters are under-funded and have been for years.

Idalia Corcoles, mother of two children who were sent to charter schools in the Noble network. She said her son is in honors chemistry and her daughter is now in now in the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She expressed thanks for funding charter schools more fairly.

Melissa Megliola was appreciative of the single high school application. She said that charter schools were originally planned as lab schools for school improvement. She told how other schools helped Intrinsic Charter School and pushed them to work together.

Nelly Alvarez, of Esmeraldo Santiago Charter School, told of her love of the top-performing Level One Charter School her daughter travels to in Humboldt Park. She added that, in the past, charters were not funded equally and fairly and expects the new budget to change that.

Matsuo Marti, a South Loop resident, mentioned that former President Obama said that education is the civil rights issue of our time. He commented on the gap between African-American students and others. He said that Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) charter schools consistently show improvement. He also asked the Board not to make NTA a high school.

Christine Palmieri spoke of Special Education funding and the cuts last year at Blaine Elementary that resulted in regression for her son. She asked where the Special Education funds had gone. She wants all open Special Education appeals to be funded by the first of November.

Darlene OBanner-Suttle, of Level One Earle STEM, thanked the Board for its support. She asked CEO Claypool what work orders were put in and asked for support for the schools in West Englewood.

Andrea Tolzmann, of Raise Your Hand (RYH), asked for removal of the bureaucratic hurdles for Special Education. She commented on the WBEZ report and asked for the elimination of middle management positions, that Federal guidelines be followed, that busing be restored for Special Education, and that contracts with Price-Waterhouse be canceled.

Gabriel Gonzalez, co-chair of Network 49 in Rogers Park, said a charter wants to open in Rogers Park but he does not want any more charters or chanter expansions in Rogers Park. He asked the Board to reject the charter proposal and help restore transparency and democracy in Rogers Park.

Rebecca Lopez, of Nightingale School, spoke of the disruptive events caused by the current principal of Nightingale. Police have been called, arrests have been made, and the principal has blocked the transfer of her child to Nightingale because of her child's IEP. She added that her son, employed at Nightingale, suffered retaliation and that the principal creates fear in those who disagree with her.

Christina Jennings, also of Nightingale, left the school six to seven weeks ago. She talked of the principal verbally and psychologically abusing others. She mentioned 21 former teachers who left, an art program that was shut down in retaliation, a hand-picked LSC, slanderous comments, and the sharing of personal information of staff members. She remarked that justice delayed is justice denied and likened the abusive treatment to the situation of Harvey Weinstein.

The next speaker, also from Nightingale, spoke in translated Spanish, about how the teacher had pushed back and mentioned the many teachers who had left the school. She asked, "How many more will leave?" She stated that she was confident that the Board could fix this and reiterated, "We have been abused."

Monica Balesh was the only one to support the Nightingale principal. She said that the principal and the assistant principal had led the school to high levels of achievement and that they put the kids first.

CEdO Jackson said, "We have been looking at this."

Lolita Bond, of Montessori of Englewood, has a son who is autistic, spoke of what Special Education students need: Structure and Survival.

Rob Cron, also of Montessori of Englewood, spoke of diverse learners there and their butterfly logo. He invited Board members to visit the school.

Rita Nolan, of Montessori of Englewood, spoke of students who suffer trauma. She said helping these children is our mission. She mentioned that there are so many Special Education students and that some are waiting for evaluation from last year.

Jennifer Jones, mother of two Special Education children, said that the website of the Office of Diverse Learners was not helpful. She added that a phone call resulted in a long wait before someone responded. She also said that the Task Force was not cited and that it was an unhelpful resource. She stated one shouldn't have to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to receive information. She stressed that clarity was needed.

Terri Smith, of Ray School, is a volunteer advocate who attended many IEP meetings last year. She said the Board responses were not good and that the WBEZ report is proof that CEO Claypool lied to us. She added that CPS needs to do the right thing by Special Education.

Nick Limbeck, an elementary CPS teacher, said he was saddened by the attempt to harm black and brown students and the attempt to cover it up. The WBEZ article disclosed the cover up: the burden of proof was raised for Special Education students, teachers worked into the night on extra paperwork, and children were waiting a year to get services. He said he wanted to echo

the demands of those who spoke before him. He asked the Board to give us the support and resources we need.

William Velez, who came from Puerto Rico, said he was denied at CPS schools but was accepted right away at charter schools.

Sharon Banks-Pincham, of Gillespie Magnet and Harlan High School, said we don't need another charter in Roseland. She remarked that closed schools were not supposed to be turned into charter schools.

The next speaker provided a handout telling about the overcrowding at Dirksen Elementary, a school with a diverse population. The school has 932 students, 392 more than the 540 it was meant to serve. He said there were 33-34 students in each class and 118 students in four kindergartens. He remarked that some teachers are teaching in closets and the lunchroom can hold 80 children with 200 students per line. He added that nothing is planned for the future.

Norma Lopez, of Belden-Cragin Elementary, said the school has 569 students. She read a proclamation stating that a new dual-language school is needed.

After the last speaker, Board President Clark commented on the overcrowding at the last two schools and CEdO Jackson replied that she would follow up.

Board President Clark then remarked that we heard from many about the lack of adequate funding for Special Education.

CEO Claypool wanted to reassure parents and teachers that individual plans are done correctly and faithfully. He said that WBEZ raised concerns and that the WBEZ report was riddled with errors. He asked everyone to go to the Board website which addresses the errors in the report. He said that Special Education flat-lined in the last several years and that this was not acceptable. He added that Best Practices are not being followed and that African-American and Latino children are over-represented. He mentioned a white paper by Denise Little, former Chief of Schools, over a year ago. He said now those reforms are in place. He concluded that we want to bring equity, we welcome feedback, and the truth matters.

Board member Dr. Hines stated that she had not read the WBEZ article, felt that the media was slanted, and mentioned that that was why she didn't read most of it. She asked, "Can we improve service?" and stated "We've got to do something different."

Board member Guzman expressed concern with how long the processes take and said we need more discussion on this.

CEO Claypool remarked that we are not getting the results we want.

Board member Ward said she began in the system in1973 and as a principal in the 1990s, she learned a lot about Special Education. She stated that there are 58,000 IEPs in CPS and things will get better.

Liz Keenan, Chief of Diverse Learner Support and Services, said parents want immediate supports right away and that the Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS) can help until we get resources.

CEO Claypool then remarked that an individual uses ink by the pen while the media uses ink by the truckload. He asked everyone to read his report for balance.

Board member Rivera added that since becoming a parent, he sees things differently.

After Board President announced the conclusion of the meeting at almost 2:00 p.m., Board member Dr. Hines read the motion that allowed the Board to go into closed session.