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Rally at Rainbow PUSH

A sea of red filled the audience at Rainbow PUSH’s Saturday Morning Forum on Chicago's South Side on February 25, 2012. Community members, church leaders, parents, students and teachers came out to support Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis as she participated in a panel discussion which included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rainbow / PUSH spokesman, Jonathan Jackson PUSH Education Director Janette Wilson and Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and LSC Chair Person of Dyett High School (which is slated to be phased out starting next school year).

The press conference announced a number of actions, including a push for the elected school board in Chicago. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Rev. Jackson led chants including, “Stop firing the teachers! Hire Teachers! Improve Schools! Don’t close schools! We the people will fight education!” to which, the audience responded with loud enthusiasm, clapping and cheers. He gave a history of American education and educational segregation, comparing current educational travesties to educational segregation in 1954. He also said “Public Schools are solutions not problems. We need teachers who are well paid and secure. We need schools with books and computers and parents with jobs.”

“We cannot close schools and fire teachers and have schools that matter.” There are 160 public schools in Chicago without libraries.

He also talked about how the Chicago Board of Education meets during the school day, downtown, and during hours when most people can't be there. A convenient time for the seven Board of Education members, he noted — but not for the parents, teachers and community members who are the stakeholders in the school system. The present meeting schedule of the Chicago Board of Education is inconvenient for children’s parents and excludes teachers, other school personnel and students from participating in board meetings.

Jonathan Jackson stated that according to 2010-2011 data there are 17,000 homeless children in Chicago who need dental and medical care, nutrition, clothing and stability. Virtually all of Chicago's homeless children attend public school when they are able. “We need band, art and counseling in our schools” he stated. Various organizations including CTU, KOKO, NAACP and other organizations are beginning to build a broad coalition. He stated “It’s time to demand action.” He talked about schools including, Chopin, 96% low income the students are meeting and exceeding over 70%...

The panel discussion (left to right) included Rev. Janette Wilson, Jonathan Jackson, Karen Lewis, Jitu Brown, and Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Jonathan Jackson went on to contrast other successful schools with AUSL, which had just received the power to take over another six CPS schools (at a bonus of $300,000 per schools). One school: 1400 students, Latino 96% low income they are "meeting and exceeding" — a contrast that to AUSL which have received 11 turnaround schools that have an incestuous relationships with the Board of Education.

"Can you imagine at the beginning of the school year if you [or your school] received $300,000.00 from the Board of Education so you wouldn’t have to buy the pens the paper, the pencils?" Jonathan Jackson continued. "Not one turnaround school exceeds or meets (state goals)”.

Jitu Brown of KOCO called it education apartheid.

He discussed how CPS is destroying strong schools, strong Local School Councils and strong teachers by intentionally destabilizing the schools by labeling it “school reform”.

CTU President Karen Lewis discussed the value of experienced teachers and criticized the Chicago Board of Education for using veteran teachers as scapegoats. She reminded the crowd that a disproportionate number of black and Latino teachers were being fired by CPS and had been since the "turnaround" version of school reform was begun by Arne Duncan ten years ago. She also discussed the requirements by CPS for teachers to go on to get masters degrees and beyond. Continuing education is part of being a good teacher — yet the board is now targeting highly qualified, veteran teachers because they are “expensive”.

Once again. she told the cheering audience, CPS is treating public education as a “business model” blatantly disrespecting the community, educators, parents and students. Discriminating against veteran teachers deprives students of top quality teachers thus sabotaging their education.

Chicago Teachers Union red was the dominant color in the huge auditorium at Chicago's Rainbow PUSH meeting on February 25, 2012. Above, one side of the crowd as seen from the front. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.The elected school board is now on Chicago's agenda. A recurring statement throughout the discussion was electing a public school board. CPS is the only district in Illinois that does not have an elected school board. Karen also stated she asked CPS to send grief counselors for students and staff to the 17 schools facing closing, phase-out and turnaround. As of Saturday, this had not happened. CTU will provide support for the teachers, but where is the support for the displaced students and parents?

PUSH's Jeanette Wilson stated “Tenured teachers cost more because they know more and they can do more”. She too called for an end to privatizing and the private board over public education.

“What we see is a routine where students are not only stigmatized and criminalized because we have not had appropriate ways to change behavior because we somebody trying to sabotage the system,” said Karen Lewis.

Lewis singled out CPS "Chief Administrative Officer" Tim Cawley, who still lives in Wilmette, while more than 200 CPS teachers and other workers were investigated by the Inspector General last year for "residency violations" and some were fired. As a non-resident, Lewis said, Cawley is not a stakeholder in Chicago students’ education — yet he is making policy, on decisions that negatively impact students.

Despite the relentless attacks on public school teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union by the city's ruling class, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and CPS officials led by "Chief Executive Officer" Jean-Claude Brizard, the determination and dignity of Chicago's teachers stood out during the entire event at PUSH on February 25, 2012. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.But the resistance is growing. “We’ve never seen a city-wide response to school closings before this year," Lewis continued, describing the organization against this year's Hit List. "Parents, community, teachers and students all came together across the city, people whose schools were not on this list.”

Lewis reminded people that this administration for the last 17 years — since Mayoral control was placed over Chicago's schools in 1995 — has been ruling the schools by fear, and that many people were afraid to speak because it was almost impossible to get your voice heard and then be taken seriously. "Fear will be moved to anger and anger will move to action," Karen Lewis said.

Rev. Jackson described the scene at Dyett after the board ruled to turnaround their school. “The children at Dyett were crying," he said. "Everything from outbursts, to being traumatized to young people sitting in a room and saying 'What are we going to do?' Dyett School is the poster child for apartheid. Those students at Dyett are ready to fight for their school. They see that their civil rights are being violated. This is no different than Mississippi in 1957. These are the same students who led a march in Washington DC. These are the same students from the school who have a big increase in of going to college. These young people need support. Around the country we stand proudly in partnership with teachers. We have more confidence in teachers than we have in school leaders.”

"What we need is an elected school board,” he thundered. He ended with “It’s time to march! It’s time to save our schools! It’s time to save our teachers!”

After the panel discussion there was a press conference in the Rainbow PUSH studio. As the press conference began, teachers and PSRPs silently filed in to stand behind Rev. Jackson, Karen Lewis and Jitu Brown.

The mass of teachers lined the room and packed the door. The stories in this room were more personal and poignant, determined and heartbreaking. You could feel the fear, anger, sadness and determination in the room. Rev. Jackson talked about a three-tiered school system.

“The elite, one tier for charters and one for the rest,” he said.

He also talked about the increasing number of schools without kitchens. “Parents without a job matter, parents who make less than $50,000 in recycled poverty matter. Parents whose homes were taken by banksters and foreclosures, children who do not have transportation matter.” The gap within school in the city and the gap between schools in the suburbs all take the same test. One scores high goes to Champaign, one scores low just goes.”

"We need a high quality public education for all children, equally,” Karen Lewis added. She talked about how “You (CPS) can stand on TV and say you care about everyone but that not what happens. Actions speak louder than words”.

“We have got to change the calculus now because for years the school system has been ruled by fear. Children are afraid that if they step out of line they get suspended so they don’t come to school. They get pushed out, moved out, stigmatized as lame. Teachers have been afraid to say this does not work because then you are called ineffective then somebody comes to you and says you have to leave or that you’re not a good fit because you are not part of this lie program. You have to want to do something that doesn’t work and the sell try to sell it to everybody else.”

“Brown vs. the Board of Education is 2012”, she said in reference to the lawsuit filed by CTU against the CPS turnarounds.

Rev. Jackson commented on “Commitment now to fight for appropriate litigation and demonstration and fight for the elected school board to make them accountable to the people.”

“People lined up at 3:00 in the morning to speak for two minutes to a deal that has been already cut," he said, referring to the CPS procedures for public speaking at the Board of Education meetings. He then went on to say these are bad deals and “we want to correct these bad deals”.

Rev. Jackson said “We are going to call on the Dept. of Justice called Civil Rights and the community of Chicago to look at the unevenness of resources and racist issues, the contrast between 160 schools without a library, 140 south of North Avenue and to see a high performing school without a gym without a kitchen, children without recreation.

Karen Lewis talked more about helping the students at the turnaround schools. “We asked them (CPS) to supply grief counselors for our children. They were kind of stunned by that. That would be a first step so children and staff are prepared for what’s coming next. We are going to help our members with the interview process and resume writing, the mechanical piece but we also want to affect their spiritual side. We are going to have people who were displaced before work with these people. We are going to have as much therapy as we can for our members. Once you mourn what do you do? We need to start working on the things we can actually focus on. We are in the middle of a big contract fight. We want our members focused on that. A lot of what is in our contract is about the “Schools that children deserve”, a piece we (CTU) put out. We are absolutely adamant in improving education. We are looking at this from a variety of ways in addition to a legislative, political, activist, organizing way.”

Rev. Jackson talked more about the students at Dyett. “Children at Dyett are traumatized. They left Wednesday and faced Thursday morning with their principal being taken away. They left crying. If some schools must be closed it must be done in an orderly way.

Why can’t kids go to Kenwood instead as opposed to Phillips for example?

"One is closer than another," Rev. Jackson said. "A lot of times that has its own issues. We met with the police chief sometime ago. He showed us his book. They know every gang in town, every gang symbol, they know every violent zone."

Citing the murder of Fenger High School student Derrion Albert after that school's "turnaround", he continued: "We don’t want the children to go from Altgard Gardens to Fenger to the grave yard. We know that we are fighting in certain zones. We know the city that well. Maybe the board members don’t understand this because they don’t harbor on this side of town but we know the drills out here. We want to go to more graduations and less funerals. And whatever transition must take place with the board, teachers and the parents. That’s where I feel where there is room for correction not confrontation. Teachers are not irrational. Schools without a gym without a kitchen, it’s not like you can motivate those students to score high”.

He also stated “The schools over 50% African American and the black teachers are the first to go. These cultural gaps are astonishing that’s why we want the Dept. of Justice to intervene as well as seek legislation.”

When asked about the legislative piece Karen responded, “Getting legislation passed is always about having people in Springfield to speak for you but it’s also about having our members and their families and everybody that cares to make calls to legislatures so that the legislatures know that we care about these issues. When legislatures don’t hear from constituents they say “We didn’t know this was really that important to you, so what we are trying to do is change that calculus also”.

Following the press conference, I had the opportunity to talk to displaced teachers, Dyett students,

The destruction of the teachers at the targeted schools began as soon as the Board of Education voted on February 22. Joaniann Jones-Cheney, soon to be displaced teacher from Chicago Vocational Career Academy, said “Our school is up for turn around, we were told three times our schools are going to be turned around. I reapplied for my job. Before we went to the board hearing our jobs were posted on Career Builder.com and I went into the website of USI a parent company of AUSL and I reapplied for my job. I went through the interview process then I was interviewed all of five minutes. I was sent an email two days later and told that I was not qualified for the position which was my position that I’ve held at the school.”

Joaniann teaches biology, earth science, chemistry, was also the area 23 / 24 area science fair coordinator. She coordinated 18 schools for the science fair and took students to city and they won. She has also been a department chair. Her response to CPS’ motivation for turnarounds was “I feel this is based on money. It’s cheaper to bring in somebody else that’s younger inexperienced and low pay at base pay. Veteran teachers they want to get of us but as Karen said 'I’ve been in school all my life.' I have a masters, a post masters in nursing so they don’t think we are supposed to get paid for that. They feel we get paid too much money for that.”

When asked about her students she said “At this point I’m focused on my students and I’m very candid when they asked me questions. I’m very concerned. They’re asking me “What type of teachers are going to come in and what’s going to happen to them?”

"We’re telling them one thing, the administration is telling them something else," she continued. "I feel like they are leading them down a blind path. They are not really telling them the truth. We have some children with difficult issues there and we understand that. I have been at CVS high school for 11 years and I have taught the children there and I taught their parents and their parents graduated from there. I’ve watched the children grow up. I’ve also seen them come back and talk to me about how well they’ve done or they need my help. I’m still helping children that are coming back. They will always be my children.”

When asked about the future she said being a veteran teacher they may not rehire her so she may start a second career in nursing.

She tearfully told us “My nephew, who graduated from here, came to see me and was arrested for trespassing. I was so appalled when the arresting officer brought me his cell phone and told me he was arrested for trespassing... It’s harassment because I’m outspoken and I’m not going to stop speaking up for the teachers. I know some of them are fearful. I had after school programs and he took all of that away from me.”

This repeated theme of retaliation against and discipline of outspoken teachers is an ongoing conversation with teachers from around the city. There was much discussion among the teachers present about the importance of getting the aldermen involved.

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