Tumuluous hearing pits UNO charter school vs. public schools in Chicago's Mexican American community

The battle between charter and public schools broke out in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago Friday night (August 21, 2009) at a public hearing to hear community input on whether to place the UNO Octavio Paz charter school inside the former De La Cruz public school that was closed, supposedly due to low enrollment, in June 2009.

Chicago Public Schools Office of New Schools Community Outreach Chief Jaime Guzman (above left) stands with UNO Executive Director Juan Rangal at the beginning of the hearing on the proposal to move UNO's Octavio Paz charter school "campus" to the closed De La Cruz school site. The CPS New Schools office, which is staff almost exclusively by corporate employees with no teaching experience and an ideological "free market" hostility to traditional public schools, has been facilitating the massive expansion of the UNO charter schools for the past four years. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.While the hearing was packed with an overflowing crowd of many Hispanic parents and their children who support a new location for the Octavio Paz charter school, many speakers were passionate in their opposition to the Chicago Public Schools last-minute decision to place the politically powerful UNO charter school into an award-winning public school that had just been destroyed by CPS policy.

The Chicago Board of Education will decide at the next scheduled public meeting August 26 whether the United Neighborhood Organization UNO charter cchool Octavio Paz campus should be located for one year at De La Cruz because the St. Roman facility is too dangerous and repairs are estimated at over $1 million and could not be completed by the start of the school year, according to UNO.

“It’s just not fair for the children if they don’t get a new school,” Juan Rangel, the director of UNO, said in Spanish to the roar of approval from the parents. “We have invested over $60,000 in electrical and dining upgrades, so if anyone thinks we would just leave, they’re wrong. This will be for just one year and then we will build a new school.”

But many speakers then spoke out in opposition to the plan, taking aim at CPS and its alleged pattern of lies and deceit about the reason to close De La Cruz and what UNO’s real intentions are.

De la Cruz public school teacher Kristine Mayle delivered a passionate description of the school that was destroyed by the CPS connivance against "underutilized" public schools and the destruction of De la Cruz, while proudly wearing one of her De la Cruz shirts. But she was unable to complete her remarks because of what she said was the intense emotions that surrounded the 20 month struggle to save the school, which was recognized by the State of Illinois for its outstanding work with low income mostly Mexian-American children. While Mayle has found another teaching job in Chicago, she recently reported that most of the teachers who comprised the outstanding team at De la Cruz are still looking for teaching work in other Chicago public schools. Mayle is also a Substance reporter. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.“We had a saying at De La Cruz ‘To Live with Dignity’ but UNO does not live with dignity,” said Kristine Mayle, a former teacher at De La Cruz and member of CORE who spoke out against the plan. “We were an award-winning school and then UNO started pulling kids away from our school and our numbers dropped.”

Several speakers said UNO is not being truthful about money problems noting that they had just received over $100 million from the state in stimulus money to open more charter schools. After the first few speakers spoke in favor of the need to house La Paz temporarily at De La Cruz to thunderous applause, more speakers, many from the Pilsen Alliance and CORE — a caucus in the Chicago Teachers Union, denounced the decision, saying what CPS is doing is deceptive and illegal.

“The Board never even publicized this meeting, which is illegal,” said Norine Gutenkanst, a teacher at Whittier Elementary School and member of CORE.

According to CPS, Octavio Paz’s enrollment will be capped at 480 students at the new location. In addition to UNO officials, parents, teachers and other community members, CPS representatives included Josh Edelman and Jaime Guzman, two top officials in the Office of New Schools.

“This is a classic case of bait and switch,” Nate Goldbaum, another Whittier teacher and CORE member told the audience. “CPS told the community that De La Cruz would not be turned into a charter school.”

Although they didn't speak during the tumultuous meeting on August 21, 2009, two top officials of Chicago's public schools were watching the proceedings carefully. Josh Edelman (above left) is the "Chief Officer of the Office of New Schools" at a salary of more than $140,000 per year. Edelman's work has been to replace viable public schools like De la Cruz with privatized charter schools to the greatest extent possible under Mayor Daley's "Renaissance 2010" program. Seated beside Edelman at the meeting is James Dispensa, who creates the master maps and demographic data. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.According to CPS, the De La Cruz school was phased out due to extensive capital improvements needed for the building. “The Board had no intention of leasing this facility to a charter school and early plans for the De La Cruz included demolishing the facility and selling the property,” stated a letter signed by CPS Board President Michael Scott. “Due to this emergency situation, though, the CPS has reevaluated its plans for the De La Cruz facility since it could temporarily provide a safe learning environment for the students at the Octavio Paz campus for one year.”

However, opposition speakers noted that CPS started to make repairs on the De La Cruz school building as it was closing, installing new windows and replacing a leaky roof, despite comments to the contrary.

CPS claims it will still sell the building while UNO will finance some building repairs.

Other criticisms of the move included a parent saying it will be more dangerous for the children to have to cross busy streets to go to the new location and another teacher demanding a second opinion about the structural foundation of the Church because if it’s so dangerous, why are church services still being held in the building. Just before Whittier teacher Gutenkanst started to speak, about 100 Octavio Paz parents and children stood up and left the room following their leader Rangel who seemed to sense the rest of the speakers were fiercely against moving his charter school into the former public school building. 


August 26, 2009 at 11:09 AM

By: Teacher at Paz


It's Octavio Paz. Not Octavio La Paz.

August 27, 2009 at 12:32 AM


spelled wrong or not. UNO PAZ teacher

UNO does not bring 'peace.' ! UNO brings distruction. and the parents follow like sheep.

August 27, 2009 at 4:51 PM

By: Paz Teacher Too


What ever happened to being an educator that is more concerned about the needs of the children than their own needs? UNO is not the enemy! Our goal is only to educate the individual child. I'm getting upset with all of these attacks because they seem to be void of the real issue at hand. Instead of attacking UNO you should be asking the question of... Why is it that as soon as a school such as UNO opens up in our neighborhoods, your students are quick to leave the school that they are in to run to us? It's ok though because HATERS our our MOTIVATION!!!

August 27, 2009 at 5:48 PM

By: Their Noses Are Growing

We Need a Good Laugh

Why is it that not one teacher would ever take the side of the Board of Education? Why does no one believe the Board of Education when their oh-so-heartfelt-statements become public?

Because of their track record, Baby!

There is a history of unconcern by the BOE about anything but their own agenda , but it is MEGA with this Board.

The only levity in the Chicago Public Schools nowadays is when Michael Scott or Ron Huberman or Barbara Eason-Watkins speak. Teachers and in-the-know-citizens say that they don't even need to know the facts about a situation. If those 3 are making statements--they're lying.

August 27, 2009 at 7:35 PM

By: To UNO Teacher 2

Unequal support

From my experience, families aren't "quick to run" to your school. De la Cruz, was a great school that UNO couldn't out teach, so the Board had to cut all busing to the school to destroy enrollment.

It's truly amazing to what lengths the "reformers" have to go to promote your school over better neighborhood schools.

Whittier is another outstanding neighborhood school. The problem is two fold.

1) If you opened the UNO: Reading the Newspaper with your feet on the desk Campus, you would pull some kids. That's just a fact. People like new crap. Look at the Cabbage Patch Dolls phenomenon.

2) UNO despite using old-school, research dis proven curriculum tactics, is well resourced. That may be a reason for parents to send their kids to the school, but it doesn't mean the model is any good. It just means that the state and district enjoy creating educational double standards. How does UNO get so many free buildings and grants when the best neighborhood schools are falling down?

August 29, 2009 at 12:25 AM

By: hey UNO supporter

Why do you think parents leave UNO?

How about all those parents that pulled their children out of UNO to return to Saucedo? They got sick of UNO and their lies to them and returned to their neighborhood school that they missed.

Word is that these UNO children returned 1-2 years academically behind AFTER being in UNO for 2 years. Saucedo, yet again, had to clean up UNO's educational mess.

Now there is the UNO truth!

August 29, 2009 at 2:26 AM


Why no stories, interviews?

If parents have been leaving UNO charter schools (returning to Saucedo and other real public schools) why haven't there been any stories in the media? Substance has been covering charter school stories for years, even when others simply praise the charter schools. Why hasn't anybody spoken out?

September 2, 2010 at 11:02 AM

By: Nieghborhood Watcher

One Year Later........

Dela Cruz is destroyed and like any plague of locusts UNO moves on to another location, as a matter of fact, back to where they came from. Reason: Juan the Don says he got a better deal from the church.

So our children went through a year at Dela Cruz with UNO claiming Octavio Paz was a Phoenix rising from the ashes, but it wasn't. It was more of the same we have been seeing for years. A ruined building, inadequate special education facilities, no modern education tools, not enough books, not enough classrooms, schools leaders with less than perfect work records, and, no surprise, once again state testing showed that students aren't at the level they should be.

Juan the Don is interested in power and money. UNO is not committed to education. UNO is committed to putting Juan the Don into the mayor's office.

Chicagoans need to understand that charter schools are not the answer to poor school management by the city. They're using our children as pawns for power.

Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

3 + 5 =