MEDIA WATCH: Corporate media coverage of the February 22, 2012 Chicago Board of Education meeting

With more than 1,000 people scattered at and around the headquarters of Chicago Public Schools and 83 signed up to speak, the regular monthly meeting of the Chicago Board of Education would have proved a challenge to news reporters even if CPS officials weren't pushing through some of the most controversial policies in history on orders from Mayor Rahm Emanuel behind a smokescreen of factoids, spins, and outright distortions. Ironically, it was one of the members of the Board of Education who put it best when he reiterated the cliché — "You have the right to your opinion, but not to your own facts." When Henry Bienen said those words, he obviously believed that he was defending what he and the other six Board members were to do a couple of hours later, vote unanimously in favor of closing seven schools and subjecting ten others to "turnaround" based on distortions and some of the most deliberately dishonest policy in the history of Chicago's schools. But Bienen actually believed that his side had the facts.

Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard covered his face as community activists and teachers walked out of the Board chambers shouting "Sell out!," and "Rubber stamp!" following the Board's unanimous vote to destroy more than a dozen Chicago public schools at its February 22, 2012 meeting. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.In other stories at Substance this week, we will cover as many of the facts as possible. This particular column will stream the news reports that have come out.


After sharp criticisms, CPS board OKs school closings, turnarounds Lengthy meeting on fate of 17 struggling sites contentious at times

By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah and Joel Hood, Chicago Tribune reporters

10:52 p.m. CST, February 22, 2012

They came from across the city Wednesday, on foot and by the busload, many arriving before 5 a.m., to plead in vain that the Chicago school board reject plans to close or "turn around" 17 struggling schools.

For 31/2 hours, upset parents and community leaders, civic activists and union officials, teachers and students took their turns at the microphone. Some complained that they had been left out of the process. Some said they felt disrespected. Others said the conditions at the schools that Chicago Public Schools targeted aren't as bad as the district wants people to believe.

At the end of the emotionally charged meeting, almost four hours after the community testimony had ended, board members quickly and unanimously approved the district's full slate of closings, turnarounds and phaseouts. The handful of residents who had waited until 6 p.m. for the decision began to boo.

"Rubber stamp!" yelled Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

"They do what the mayor says," said Latrice Watkins, a local school council member at Piccolo Elementary, which was approved for turnaround. But she came to the meeting anyway, Watkins had said earlier, "because we need our voices to be heard."

The board approved turnarounds — which involve replacing school staff and investing in new programs — at Tilden High School, Chicago Vocational Career Academy and eight elementary schools: Stagg, Piccolo, Woodson South, Marquette, Fuller, Casals, Herzl and Smith. The board also approved closing Price Elementary and Guggenheim Elementary and three-year phaseouts at Crane Technical Prep and Dyett High School.

Three other high schools have completed their phaseouts and were officially closed.

Board member Mahalia Hines said later that the board members did not simply rubber stamp the administration's proposal. She said she was troubled to hear parents and teachers were satisfied with a 5 percent improvement in test scores over three years at the failing schools, saying a "culture of mediocrity" had set in.

Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz said he was comfortable with his vote, although he would have liked a little more time so board members could have worked more closely with the affected communities. He and Hines said CPS will work with other community groups to incorporate some of their suggestions for alternatives for Dyett, much as it did for Crane Tech, where CPS has agreed to establish a new neighborhood school in fall 2013.

But most in the audience, including theRev. Jesse Jacksonand Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, said CPS' shifting priorities and funding inequalities have put poor minority children at a disadvantage. And they called again for a moratorium on school closings and turnarounds until the deeper issues of poverty in the city can be addressed.

"Chicago is at the epicenter of the education justice fight in America," an emotional Lewis told board members. "Because of these force-fed reforms, the majority of our students, most of whom are black and brown, are experiencing a form of education apartheid."

Jackson compared the discrepancies between CPS' poor schools and affluent schools with what existed in parts of the South before the civil rights movement.

"It's a type of segregation when, within the same school system, you have an upper tier and a lower tier," Jackson said.

He said he is talking with state politicians about stripping control of the Chicago school system from the mayor and bringing back elected school board positions.

Protesters are common when CPS considers closing schools, but the public response was larger this time, considering the number of schools on the chopping block and because it was the first such vote for Mayor Rahm Emanuel's appointed school board.

Momentum had been building the past few weeks as parents and community activists staged rallies and protests at various CPS schools and at City Hall. By Wednesday morning, hundreds had gathered at CPS headquarters, so many that the district had to turn away dozens who wanted to speak.

Those who got inside packed the board chambers and filled an overflow room upstairs to air their grievances and to see what the board might do. The meeting was tense from the start, with some openly challenging school board members.

Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizardtold the crowd that school closings were challenging but necessary, but his remarks that CPS' process was "the most respectful of the community that I've ever seen" brought jeers from the audience.

As board members brought the meeting to a close, they thanked those in attendance for making their feelings known. Board member Henry Bienen said the system has flaws but that something needed to happen in these schools.

"We're not going to get perfect results," Bienen said. "We're going to have to keep trying and experimenting as we go, and learning as we go. You can hear what people say and not conclude what they conclude. It doesn't mean you haven't listened and you haven't heard.",


Board of Education OKs shake-ups for 17 schools, By ROSALIND ROSSI Education Reporter February 22, 2012 9:20PM

PHOTO appears on line: Jitu Brown yells at the Chicago Public School Board, after it voted to close neighborhood school, Wednesday evening. Brown is a local school board member at Walter H. Dyett High School. | Scott Stewart~Chicago Sun-Times.

Updated: February 23, 2012 2:21AM

Chicago School Board members Wednesday unanimously agreed to close or phase out seven flagging schools and to turn around a record 10 others, only to be greeted with cries of “Shame on you!” and “Rubber Stamp!’’

In the toughest test since their appointment by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, seven grim-faced board members agreed to shake up 17 schools officials labeled chronic failures.

Although not every plan for every school was “perfect,’’ School Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz explained later, the vote marked an opportunity “to do something today for our children.” Targeted schools, he said, had been “not serving our students for years.’’

Earlier, joining a crowd of hundreds that packed two rooms at Board of Education headquarters, the Rev. Jesse Jackson made his first appearance ever at a school closing vote. He declared that closings disproportionately impacted African-American communities and teachers and reflected an “apartheid” Chicago educational system.

Both Jackson and the Rev. Paul Jakes, a former mayoral candidate, said they were exploring civil rights lawsuits over the issue. And Jackson and others vowed that the board’s unanimous vote would give steam to calls to give Chicago an elected school board — like every other school district in the state.

Jackson Wednesday joined a long line of critics who complained that targeted schools had been starved of resources, lacked up-to-date-books, had no libraries, lost math and reading specialists and experienced an inequity in resources that contributed to their demise.

Said Jackson: “There are 160 CPS schools without libraries; 140 of them are south of North Avenue. That’s apartheid.’’

Others charged their schools had been subjected to a revolving door of district-appointed administrators, each with their own fix that never had the time to stick. Several schools presented their own plans for rejuvenation, but the only community-generated idea that gained traction involved Crane High School, the alma mater of a host of sports legends, including George Halas.

Board members approved original plans to phase out the old Crane and give half its building to a charter high school. But they also signed on to an 11th-hour proposal to replace the old Crane with a new neighborhood high school that would focus on health sciences and tap the medical expertise in the area.

The board heard the message that keeping Crane’s “name and identity’’ as a neighborhood school was important, said Board member Mahalia Hines, a former CPS principal.

The clean-sweep vote brought cries of “Shame on You!’’and “rubber stamp!’’ from the gaggle of school activists who waited out the board’s two hours of deliberation.

“They vote what the mayor says,’’ Carolina Gaeta of the community group Blocks Together yelled afterwards.

“We are not surprised that an unelected, unaccountable school board would vote unanimously to continue the same failed policies that have short-changed Chicago Public School students for years,’’ said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

“We are, however, disappointed that these board members lack the moral courage to do the right thing.”

Jitu Brown, a local school board member at Dyett High School, now due for phase-out, greeted the decision with a series of long, loud “boos’’ that reverberted through board chambers. He charged CPS had “destabilized’’ Bronzeville with more than 10 school actions in 10 years and now was ignoring community-written plans to rejuvenate Dyett and its Bronzeville feeder schools.

However, Board member Mahalia Hines, a former CPS principal, said board members want to continue to talk to Bronzeville community groups about their plans for the area. Dyett’s phase-out is a “three-year process’’ and local groups may still be part of the solution, Hines said.

Asked how she felt to be labeled a “rubber stamp,’’ Hines said: “I’m okay with it. Whether I am elected or appointed, I’m going to vote the same way. I am not just voting on what management told me….

Also approved for closure were Guggenheim, Price, Lathrop and Reed elementary schools, plus Best Practice High. Cleared for “turnarounds,” in which all staff in a school are replaced, were Casals, Fuller, Herzl, Marquette, Piccolo, Stagg, Wendell Smith and Woodson South elementary schools, plus Chicago Vocational and Tilden high schools.


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:

1 + 5 =