The 'Turnaround' Lies of the Obama Administration in A Tale of Two Cities... Chicago's Reinberg Elementary School suffers overcrowding while privileged few get huge public building, new football field at AUSL's supposed training center for 'turnaround' teachers

On December 16, 2008, the President Elect of the United States sat with the Vice President Elect in a Chicago public school classroom to announce that Chicago's public schools chief executive officer, Arne Duncan, was his choice to become U.S. Secretary of Education. The following day, a photograph from the carefully staged media event appeared on Page One of The New York Times, making the entire narrative part of the official version of history.

But the choice of the Chicago public school -- a place called "Dodge Renaissance Acadmey" -- and the narrative itself were both part of a carefully constructed media hoax that has been developed in Chicago over the past decade, most times with the complicity of Chicago's corporate media.

The claim, now part of national policy for the "reform" of public education in the USA, is that Chicago has proven that a corporate model for so-called "school reform" -- the "turnaround model" -- has "worked" and that schools like "Dodge Renaissance Academy" are the example for the rest of the USA to follow as the Obama administration forces public schools to "turn around" failing schools.

Trouble is, not one part of the official narrative is true. Dodge marginally increased test scores for a couple of years, largely by getting rid of some of the poorest and most vulnerable children on Chicago's West Side. Those children were replaced by middle class children from stable families -- all of them still African-American -- whose families could afford to move into the $300,000 town houses that were replacing the rental apartments on the blocks around Dodge. What had "turned around" at Dodge was a community that was gentrified, not a school. But the official corporate version of Chicago school reform now had the imprimatur of American's newspaper of record. The Chicago hoax had succeeded, and in the months that followed it was to expand quickly and radically until it became a national policy of sorts that is aimed at replacing thousands of supposedly "failing" public schools (virtually all of which serve mostly poor children) with corporate fantasies called "turnaround."

Every day Chicago has numerous examples of the falsity of the official version of reality.

Reinberg school stays overcrowded

One example of Chicago's hoax and hypocrisy came to light, again, at the May 27, 2009 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education and deserves to be highlighted as the public schools of the United States move into summer vacation under the threat of financial peril if they do not succumb to the Chicago model and the Obama administration's insistence that they follow that model in order to qualify for future "stimulus" money from the federal government.

An overcrowded public school declared a fire hazard

ON May 27, 2009, a small group of parents and children from one of Chicago's more than 400 public elementary schools took the floor during the brief (two minutes per person) time each month that the public has to present its problems to the seven-member Chicago Board of Education.

The school was Reinberg Elementary, and the problems were many. But the most recent one was that the school had reportedly failed a fire inspection by the Chicago Fire Department because it is so overcrowded. The parents were polite, like most Chicago parents understating the problems their local school faces.

The response from Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott was predictable, something like the canned laughter that is heard on cheap TV comedy shows. "We'd love to help you with your problem, but there is no money..." Etc. Etc. Etc.

Reinberg Elementary School, from the Central Ave. side, sits at 3400 N. Central Ave. in Chicago, the corner of Central (5600 W.) and Roscoe (3400 N). The school's official address is 3425 N. Major Ave., a block west. At one time, the Reinberg school was at the corner of Major and Roscoe, but for the past decade it has been expanding east as new out-buildings have been added to relieve overcrowding. At the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year, Reinberg had 1,307 children attending school between kindergarten and eighth grade at its site. By May 2009, that number had increased to significantly more than 1,400. Although the Chicago Board of Education's official policy is to promote "small schools" of fewer than 500 students, during the 2008-2009 school year, CPS closed down or otherwise terminated a half dozen public schools that were, in the official narrative, too "small" to be efficient, while allowing more than 40 schools like Reinberg to become even more overcrowded. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.It was the May 27, 2009 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, and parents from Reinberg Elementary School on Chicago's Northwest Side had just presented, for the second time since Scott resumed his work as President of the Board, their description of the problems facing their severely overcrowded school.

According to the Board of Education's own data, this school year Reinberg, located at Central and Roscoe in Chicago's second most overcrowded part of town, has grown to nearly 1,400 students. At the beginning of the year, Reinberg had a little more than 1,300 students. But because Reinberg is a regular public school, like most in the USA, it is required to take in any child who lives in the community, as defined by a map of the surrounding area.

Since September 30, 2008, when Chicago counted 1,307 students at the time of its annual "Racial Ethnic Survey -- Stuents", Reinberg has added more than 100 additional children, according to parents.

Reinberg has been expanding on its one square block footprint for years, but the possibilities for expansion have run out, and further expansion will prove dangerous, as parents told Chicago's school board on May 27, 2009.

The original Reinberg building, at the corner of Major and Roscoe, was meant for fewer than 800 children.

The extra building (called a "modular") can safely serve around 200. The extra extra buildings (called "mobil classrooms") can serve another couple of hundred.

And yet the number of students attending Reinberg continues to increase, while CPS demographics and facilities attention are focused on flipping viable public schools into private hands as charter schools, or proving that schools that are working are "underutilized" and should be abandoned as public schools, even if they have served their communities for 100 years or more.

Less than on half mile west of Reinberg is the "Chicago Academy", whose sign boasts that it is "A Chicago Public School training future teachers." Operated by the privileged Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) and overseen by multi-millionaire Martin Koldyke, Chicago Academy at the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year was a K-12 school with 588 students in its elementary school and 103 students in its "high school", according to the Board of Education's Racial Ethnic Survey data of September 30, 2008. While Reinberg, less than one half mile to the east of Chicago Academy, is required as a public school to take in any child from the community, Chicago Academy, because of its special status in Chicago, controls its enrollment every year and retains its small student population and small classes in a building that could easily hold more than 2,000 children. Chicago Academy and AUSL are more likely to be featured in national news stories about Chicago or to be visited by President Barack Obama or U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, as the article explains. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Reinberg parents were at the Chicago Board of Education again, the issue overcrowding. The issue was made more imperative in May 2009 by the fact that, according to the parents, the school had failed a fire insepection, mostly because of the overcrowding. And in a community where many of the city's police and firefighters live, the combination of school overcrowding and a growing safety problem was supposed to attract attention.

Parent presentation on May 27, 2009

Reinberg Local School Council President Adamina Quinones (above, at microphone) told the Chicago Board of Education meeting on May 27 that Reinberg had just failed a fire inspection because the school (which now sprawls over several buildings on one full city block) is now dangerously overcrowded. Once again, Board members promised to help. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Surrounded by parents from Reiberg, Adamina Quinones, President of the Reinberg Local School Council, read the following statement to the Board:

"Hello, Mr. Scott and Members of the School Board. I am Ms. Quinones, President of the LSC at Reinberg.

"I want to thank you for allowing me to speak on behalf of our 1,370 students. As you can see there are some parents here with me hoping to get a response to a conclusion regarding our addition.

"We were here last month to present testimony letters and pictures showing how students are affected by the overcrowding.

"The LSC decided to ask for an addition for reasons of lack of space and safety issues.

"We have safety issues.

"The Fire Marshall came out to our school last month.

"Reinberg School failed a fire inspection.

"Why? Because Reinberg is dangerously overcrowded.

"Mr. President, I'm sure you must have a copy of this notice.

"What we are asking is for an addition to our school before we are forgotten again.

"We are hoping that by next school year to see this project started because we are in desperate need of a new school.

"Thank you for your consideration."

Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott (above, center) told the Reinberg parents he would do everything in his power to solve their problem. The fact is, Scott and his fellow Board members have spent the entire 21st Century promoting AUSL and the Chicago Academy at the expense of the majority of public schools, including Reinberg, and every school board members has spent numerous hours at corporate planning functions with AUSL's Martin Koldyke, with whom they are on a first name basis. Meanwhile, they don't know the names of anyone at the hundreds of Chicago public schools, like Reinberg, that have been neglected since the advent of Chicago's corporate "school reform." Above with Scott at the May 27 Board meeting are (left to right), Board Vice President Clara Muñana, student board member, Scott, Board member Traiq Butt, and Board member Alberto Carrero. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.

School Board President 'Looking for Space'

School Board President Michael Scott told the Reinberg parents that the Board was looking for space to build a new school in the area, without mentioning that one of the largest public lands in the area is less than a half mile west of Reinberg. Scott told the parents that it was difficult locating space for schools in that area, which is densely residential and commercial, without a great deal of vacant space (although vacant space is increasing as the economy worsens and commercial activities decline).

Scott told the parents that the Board had almost had a chance at some space for a new school, but that something had gone wrong. The parents, who have politely addressed the Board so far, politely pointed out that promises aren't solving their problems, or alleviating the dangers indicated by the fire marshall inspection.

Data, Data, Data -- But Selectively So

The Chicago Board of Education members sit at each monthly meeting of the Board of Education with a large notebook in front of them, and with access, via the Board's huge administrative staff, to additional reams of data. During the 15 years since Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley was given complete control over Chicago's public schools, the claim has been that the Board is governed by "business principles". The stone facade of the 'Chicago Academy' (above) still announces that it was once home to Chicago's Wright College, a campus of the City Colleges of Chicago. When the building was transferred to the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), some in the community asked why it was not utilized to relieve overcrowding at nearby elementary schools. The building (above) has classroom space that could comfortably house 2,000 elementary or high school students. Because of AUSL clout with Mayor Richard M. Daley, however, the discussion was ended, and the overcrowding of the schools on the city's Northwest Side (including but not limited to Reinberg, three blocks east of the 'Chicago Academy') grew worse. With the influx of children whose parents can no longer afford Catholic schools, the overcrowding in the community is growing this year. AUSL's privileged position in the myth of Chicago's corporate school reform is now part of President Obama's national narrative on how the Education Department, under Arne Duncan, will "turn around" supposedly "failing" public schools. Only in Chicago are people able to see how hypocritical the entire story is, but Chicago's corporate media simply repeat the official version, ignoring the realities on the Reinberg - Chicago Academy community. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.In fact, not one of the members of the Chicago Board of Education is an educator. All are corporate people of one type of another, and since the 1995 advent of mayoral control the Board has always had at least two bankers in its ranks, but no teachers or former school principals.

On May 27, Michael Scott, who recently returned as President of the Board after a stint in the private sector as a real estate developer primarily in the area scheduled to host the Olympics 2016 swimming venues, had lectured parents that they needed to provide the Board with "data" in order to make the case that a particular school principal (in the cases on May 27, the principals of Gunsaulus and Prescott elementary schools) was doing a bad job. Without "data," Scott said, the parents and teachers complaining about tyrannical principals could not make a case that the Board had to listen to. By "data," Scott always means standardized test scores and the handful of other measures that CPS limits its viewpoints to and from.

Maps showing inequities are not 'data' in CPS

Not 'data' in the eyes of the Chicago Board of Education are the maps that would show where clout works and where it doesn't. With a simply map showing an area of less than one square mile, the members of the Chicago Board of Education would be able to visualize the difference between the haves and have nots in public education in Chicago. But to do so would be to acknowledge the gross disparities in the allocation of public resources under the administration of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and also to highlight just how hypocritical are the claims -- now national in scope -- that Chicago should become a "model" for corporate school reform in the USA under two Chicagoans, President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Meet 'The Chicago Academy' and Chicago's 'Academy for Urban School Leadership' (AUSL)

Above: The Chicago Academy has its own football/soccer field behind the building at 3400 N. Austin Blvd. The field was build as part of more than $10 million (minimum) in rehabilitation and capital improvement dollars that were spent on the Chicago Academy during the years (2001 - 2008) that Arne Duncan and Michael Scott served as CEO of Chicago's public schools and President of the Chicago Board of Education respectively. While nearby public schools such as Reinberg were told there is no money for even minor repairs, Chicago Academy received all the money it needed, for everything from new windows to extensive interior and exterior rehabilitation work. One of the ironies of the above field is that it can't be used for track-and-field competition because the turns on the running tracks (above) were not properly banked. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. It's a short walk west from the corner of Roscoe and Central, where the Reinberg buildings sprawl, to the corner of Roscoe and Austin, where a public school named "The Chicago Academy" is located. The distance is less than half a mile, three city blocks through Chicago's bungalow belt.

But the "Chicago Academy" is more than a public school.

Chicago Academy is now the center of the plans by the President of the United States to supposedly transform American public education by closing 5,000 "underperforming" public schools and subjecting them -- in all 50 states -- to something called "turnaround", a process which has supposedly worked in Chicago.

The "Chicago Academy" at 3400 N. Austin Blvd. in Chicago currently houses two schools. The elementary school this year had 588 students, the "high school" had 103. The building which houses the "Chicago Academy" is the former Wilbur Wright Junior College building, which could comfortably house 2,000 to 3,000 public school children in regular classrooms with regular class sizes. But the old Wright College building is not being utilized as a regular public school. As its sign says, it's "training teachers."

The "Chicago Academy" and AUSL were the brainchild of corporate Chicago and the specific project of multi-millionaire Martin Koldyke, a venture capitalist who began the "Golden Apple" program (the academy awards for Chicago teachers) two decades ago and has since been promoting various free market and choice programs as part of what is called "school reform" since.

For the past three years, Koldyke's AUSL has been the main recipient of millions of dollars in corporate and public money to do what Chicago calls "turnaround." Turnaround is the process that used to be called "reconstitution". A supposedly "failing school" is reconstituted by firing its entire staff (or most of it) and replacing it with a new staff that supposedly knows how to "turn around" the place.

Above: Children at Chicago Academy Elementary School have recess on May 29, 2009. With at least two adults in most classrooms and class sizes that are almost all below 30, the Chicago Academy Elementary School fails to prepare its cadre of "turnaround" teachers for the real world of Chicago's elementary schools, and never asks the young teachers in training at its training center to work a year at a school like Reinberg, where classes are routinely more than 30, where the children eat lunch in the school's auditorium, and where one staff member may be required to supervise 50 or more children during recess. It is only through the deft manipulation of corporate public relations work that the Chicago Academy and the Obama administration have been able to pose the Chicago Academy "turnaround" model as a real solution to the problems of urban schools in America. But with the appointment of Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education, the frantic job of pushing the supposed "successes" of AUSL is becoming even more pronounced. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Ignoring the failure of the majority of so-called corporate "turnaround" models (the most notorious example of the corporate "turnaround" fraud was Chicago's own "Chainawa Al" Al Dunlap, who destroyed Chicago's Sunbeam corporation as part of his career in corporate fraud before getting caught), Chicago's public schools have forged ahead as the 21st Century moved forward. Since 2006, Chicago has proclaimed that its "turnaround" plans "work." Since December 2008, Chicago's "turnaround" model -- and AUSL -- have become national news.

On December 17, 2008, President Elect Barack Obama sat at one of AUSL's "turnaround" schools (the so-called "Dodge Renaissance Academy" with Vice President Joe Biden and soon-to-be U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who had been selected because of the supposed success of Chicago's models for school reform and turnaround.

President Obama had explicitly endorsed the Dodge model and AUSL for nearly a year, citing anecdotes from Dodge during his stump speeches and making a point of citing Dodge during his speeches to the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association in July 2008, a few months before the two teacher unions helped bring him the votes that made him President of the United States.

AUSL takes up valuable space, leaving nearby schools viciously overcrowded

Once AUSL moved into the old Wright College site, the overcrowding at nearby schools continued to worsen. Reinberg was only one of a dozen schools on the city's Northwest Side that were experiencing overcrowding since the dawn of the 21st Century, but the largest public school building in the area was not made available to the general public. The Chicago Academy caps its population at 500 for the elementary school and so far serves fewer than 150 in its "high school."

Although the Chicago Academy is supposed to be training teachers for specialized duty (they supply most of the young teachers who are dispatched to "turnaround" schools after the Board reconstitutes schools following a kangaroo court hearing based exclusive on low test scores), the conditions at Chicago Academy are so different from the most challenging Chicago elementary and high schools that Chicago Academy training would better prepare its young teachers for work in the city's middle class suburbs. In addition to small school size, most classes also feature smaller than average class sizes (especially in contrast the the overcrowded schools within three miles of Roscoe and Austin), while there are often two or three adults in a room.

Nevertheless, when the Chicago Academy opened its own "High School" two years ago, the results were far from edifying. Problems including violence and street gang activity resulted in numerous police calls, according to police sources. The training and methods utilized at the city's "turnaround" training center had not prepared the school's staff for its high school mission.

Despite these contradictions, Chicago voted once again this year to "turnaround" more schools, and AUSL and Chicago Academy teachers will once again be replacing veteran teachers in public schools that have been slandered, then shuttered under "reconstitution" by the Chicago Board of Education. 


May 30, 2009 at 2:33 PM

By: Prescott Outraged Teacher

Get the Fools Out of Office

Dear Mrs. Quinones,

We at Prescott know fully well the outrage you are experiencing. We can't get even one of the clowns sitting in those fancy chairs at 125 S. Clark to move their behinds over to our school to watch the premier tyrant of the 21st century (although I think Gunsaulus teachers would challenge us for the title) ruin teachers' finances and careers. Principal Roche's erratic behavior is impacting the students' futures as well, because he has ruined the heart of the school. No one at the Board appears to be able to comprehend that. All of us could sit down over coffee and understand each other immediately. We know what's right and wrong. Data, indeed! We're with you.

June 2, 2009 at 4:09 PM

By: Garth Liebhaber

Divide and Conquer

The number one strategy of those in power is to divide and conquer. It's critical to start uniting on our individual issues and work together to overturn Mayoral Control (the Amendatory Act) so that we can have a democratic school board.

September 7, 2009 at 10:40 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Substance deletes gang messages, identifiers

This thread recently received a message from a young man claiming to be affiliated with Reinberg who signed his name "___ D." The message has been deleted. Substance will not retain comments from individuals who openly announced their gang affiliations. Anyone trying to post in a pseudonym that includes a gang identifier (e.g., "D" in the post referred to) will be left off this site.

Anyone who wishes to discuss problems in the schools should try to use his or her real name. While we respect the traditions of the blogosphere, we still ask that most of our readers identify themselves with their real names. Exceptions are OK, but try and figure out whether they are necessary. Imagine where we'd be today if the Declaration of Independence were signed "Names Withheld by Request."

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