SOLIDARITY FOREVER: 'Turnaround' commotion hides the firing of another tenured teacher who was victim of the CTU's teacher bashing 'Fresh Start' program

Less than five minutes before they voted to subject five all-black Chicago public schools to the ruthless "turnaround" procedure (in which all teachers, the principal, and other staff are fired under a draconian version of the discredited 'reconstitution' program), the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education took an action that has as much of a long-term impact on teachers across the USA — and which unmasks the hypocrisy of the leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). They fired a veteran and tenured teacher — despite a favorable recommendation from a State of Illinois Hearing Officer that the teacher not be fired — under a program called "Fresh Start" which they manage jointly with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Marc Wigler, a former Chicago teacher who works for the Chicago Teachers Union in a $100,000 per year job, is in charge of the "Fresh Start" program that helped the Chicago Board of Education fire veteran (and tenured) Wells High School teacher Harriet Walczak. Above, on the same day that Chicago Board of Education voted to fire Ms. Walczak, Wigler spent part of his day trying to be militant at two protests organized by CTU President Marilyn Stewart, where he took a bullhorn and spoke about "union" matters standing in front of the Chicago Board of Education's downtown Chicago building. Wigler neglected to mention that part of his job is to help the boss destroy teacher seniority and tenure, through "Fresh Start." Wigler was not present later in the day when the Board of Education voted unanimously to fire Wells High School teacher Harriet Walczak, despite a 100 page hearing officer transcript and report proving that the "Fresh Start" attack on Walczak was wrong and a recommendation from the hearing officer that Walczak NOT be fired. Because of Fresh Start, the Chicago school board can ignore a hearing officer's recommendation and fire any tenured teacher it wants to fire at "Fresh Start" schools, with the blessings of the current CTU leadership and the assistance of Wigler on behalf of the CTU. Substance photo by Garth Liebhaber. The destruction of seniority and teacher tenure protections that had taken more than a century to create was one step closer, thanks to the work of the Chicago Board of Education and the subservience of the leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Another piece of the Chicago Plan for corporate control over public education in the USA was nailed more firmly in place, and Substance is the only news organization to report it.

By a unanimous vote, without discussion or debate, the Chicago Board of Education voted on February 24, 2010, to "dismiss" Wells High School teacher Harriet Walczak, a veteran English teacher with more than 30 years seniority and with tenure.

And — this is as important as the firing itself — the Board voted despite a report from a hearing officer that Walczak should NOT be fired.

Harriet Walczak, along with three other teachers at Wells High School, became locally famous two years ago when they refused to go along with the Chicago Teachers Union Fresh Start program and demanded their rights under Illinois law as tenured teachers. Their resistance to the collaboration of their own union with their boss in firing them cost the "Wells Four" dearly. After the end of the Board of Education meeting on February 24, 2010, all four had been fired despite a distinguished career in teaching in one of Chicago's roughest high schools — two of them fired after the school board's own hearing officer said they should not be fired.

The tenuous legal basis for the firing of Walczak was a controversial and expensive program administered jointly by the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Board of Education called "Fresh Start." Despite the fact that the program was never submitted to the union's House of Delegates for ratification, CTU President Marilyn Stewart went ahead with the program following the 2007 contract ratification (in which, as Substance reported exclusively at the time, Stewart refused to count the "No" votes in the House of Delegates).

Wells High School English teacher Harriet Walczak (above left) met with Substance reporter John Kugler (center) and Substance editor George Schmidt (right) at a north side Chicago restaurant on April 15, 2007, to discuss how to fight against the "Fresh Start" proposal to fire Walczak and three other Wells teachers. Substance photo by Dan Schmidt. The "Stewart Railroad," as it became known following the controversial House of Delegates vote on the 2007 proposed contract, began shortly after the contract was approved and "Fresh Start" implemented. Fresh Start was one of the reasons why Stewart purged two of the five officers who had helped get her elected. When CTU Vice President Ted Dallas opposed both the contract (silently at first, then loudly) and then "Fresh Start", Stewart got her handpicked "Executive Board" to fire Dallas from his elected union post and strip him of CTU membership.

In order to get "Fresh Start" in place, Marilyn Stewart, CTU President, had to declare herself "Chief Executive Officer" of the Chicago Teachers Union and invoke unprecedented powers ignoring the union's traditions and history. By December 2007, four months after she railroaded through the contract and began collaborating on "Fresh Start", Stewart began the purge of Vice President Ted Dallas. Dallas had quietly opposed the 2007 contract agreement for several reasons, and had become more critical of Stewart within the union's once tight knit leadership group. In early 2008, Stewart moved to invoke hitherto unknown powers and have Dallas fired from his job and purged from the union by the union's Executive Board without submitting the question to the House of Delegates. The Executive Board is effectively appointed by Stewart, while the members of the House of Delegates are elected from all of the schools.

Stewart's expensive and lengthy purge of Dallas was ultimately successful, thanks in part to the support she continues to receive from the American Federation of Teachers in Washington, D.C. Part of that support came about because Stewart instituted the "Fresh Start" program allowing the Board of Education to fire tenured teachers with little or no protection, either under the law or the union contract. One of the major ironies noted by critics of Stewart during the time she was purging Dallas was that Dallas's organizational talents and reputation as a strong union men had helped elect Stewart both in 2004 and 2007 despite Stewart's negligible record as a union delegate and union leader. Once her second term was assured, Stewart moved against those closest to her.

CTU President Marilyn Stewart discovered a new sense of union solidarity and militancy following three years or purges and destruction of the union's democratic traditions in early 2010. With elections looming in May 2010, Stewart and her United Progressive Caucus began leading demonstrations against "turnaround" and other elements of the Chicago Plan that they helped Arne Duncan create. But even with the new found militancy of the remaining CTU leaders (Stewart purged her vice president and isolated her treasurer between 2007 and 2009 because of major disagreements over union policy), Stewart still had nothing to say against "Fresh Start," which has now allowed the Chicago Board of Education to begin firing veteran tenured teachers with the assistance of the CTU. Substance photo of Marilyn Stewart protesting at the Chicago Board of Education on February 24, 2010 by Garth Liebhaber). By the time the interim principal of Wells High School was moving to fire Harriet Walczak (and three other tenured teachers who collectively became known as the "Wells Four", the controversy over Fresh Start was widespread. By the summer of 2008, however, Stewart was working with the American Federation of Teachers to promote Fresh Start as a program to help school districts get rid of so-called "bad teachers." By 2010 when Harriet Walczak was finally fired by a vote of the seven-member Chicago Board of Education, it was clear that she was not being fired for being a "bad teacher" (after all, the hearing officer who heard the Board's case against her recommended that she be retained), but was being made an example of so that Fresh Start could continue as one of several Chicago "models" for the administration of Arne Duncan and Barack Obaam. The American Federation of Teachers promoted Fresh Start during its July 2008 national convention and continues to do so..


February 27, 2010 at 11:11 PM

By: Garth Liebhaber

A Pathetic Picket

During her press conference, Marilyn Stewart repeatedly referred to both Fresh Start and TAP as an alternative to Turnarounds. Deneen school, she decried, “had no chance to approve TAP,” apparently feeling that had they been given the chance at this bogus incentive pay program, it would have relieved her from actually confronting the invalidity of Turnaround. Stewart also mentioned to the press that “Fresh Start was not offered,” but that there is a need to “expand Fresh Start.” One way that Fresh start collaborates with the Board’s Turnaround program is that it blames the teachers as the reasons for student failure. Like Turnaround, it ignores the social problems faced by the students in these mostly black schools in the most impoverished drug and gang ridden neighborhoods. It also ignores that most of these schools have also been under resourced.

The other aspect of this informational picket was that it was pathetic. Despite having the resources to organize thousands, this picket was only twenty five participants, mostly union officers and it’s over-paid staff. To me it looked like they were putting on a show because the elections are coming up. Their chants weren’t very good, either.

February 28, 2010 at 12:50 AM

By: Jim Vail

Dallas the Union Man

"Dallas had quietly opposed the 2007 contract agreement for several reasons"

The truth - Dallas sold the contract to the members - he told the House of Delegates that the 2007 contract agreement was the greatest contract he'd ever seen.

That part of the Dallas history must be told to be taken seriously.

February 28, 2010 at 3:33 AM

By: MCasey

Dallas, Porter, stewart, all UPC

we must also remember that it was with Dallas and Porter that Stewart cleaned out the CTU accounts and put the union in debt. She didn't do it alone or by herself.

they were all responsible for the union agenda for all the years they just bashed Lynch and rewrote history instead of protecting us from CPS.

Lynch forced Duncan into a moratorium on school closings. But all those UPCers who worked under Stewart/Dallas were too busy stuffing their pockets, lying about Lynch, and partying to see that Duncan and Daley were systematically destroying the schools. kind of like the story of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

So now in an election year, Stewart is finally making some noise, a few years too late.

Member should not be fooled by her or Dallas or Porter or Hajiharis, or any of the bums who were ever UPC.

February 28, 2010 at 6:37 AM

By: Sharon Schmidt

It is not the union's job

Marilyn Stewart has directly destroyed the careers of these four teachers. For their sake let's say it loudly: THESE ARE NOT BAD TEACHERS. I've only met one of these four, and she was a lovely, dedicated teacher.

But suppose someone is a bad teacher. And if that teacher cannot change after help, and needs to be fired, is it the union's job to fire that teacher?

February 28, 2010 at 11:07 AM

By: Margaret Wilson

retired teacher, parent

IT IS DEFINITELY NOT THE UNION'S JOB TO FIRE THE TEACHER OR ANY STAFF MEMBER!!!!!! Some people seem to feel that the Union is preventing bad teachers from being fired and they don't have that power. They can stand up for their members which is the job of a Union and protest if the principal/Board doesn't follow the rules and again this is their job just as it is the job of the courts to protect the rights of people who come before them. I don't remember who said it but it has always stuck with me and I believe it was a Supreme Court Judge.. "It is better for 10 murderers to go free on a technicality then for 1 innocent man to go to prison." Following this logic, it is better for the Union to allow 10 questionable teachers to remain teaching by forcing the principal to follow the rule then to allow one teacher to be fired unfairly. If a teacher is bad and the principal does his/her job, that teacher can be fired and the Union can not stop it. Unfortunately too many good and excellent teachers lose their job because of politics.

February 28, 2010 at 12:56 PM

By: Joe

Excellent Analogy Margaret

"But suppose someone is a bad teacher. And if that teacher cannot change after help, and needs to be fired, is it the union's job to fire that teacher?"

It is the union's job to back any teacher who is facing discipline regardless of how open and shut the case is. They pay dues and they deserve to have their rights protected. A union that does not do this can itself be sued. In the 1940s, some railroad unions weren't too fond of protecting the rights of African-American railroad workers. Everybody deserves fair representation. Protecting the rights of everybody is important in a Democracy.

February 28, 2010 at 1:55 PM

By: Margaret Wilson

retired teacher, parent

I guess part of my question is who defines a bad teacher. In some cases, it's obvious. The person breaks the law but then it is up to a court of law to make the judgment. In most cases, I think that people do the best that they can and will accept help to improve if it is offered in the right way. Few people go into teaching for the money because you don't make that much and the time and effort that you put in is not compensated at the rate that you would make in the corporate world. Both the Jewish and the Christian teachings say that we should not make harsh judgments against another because we are not walking in their shoes. I read an example this morning of a woman who had hired a plumber. There was a problem with the faucet and he had promised to replace it the next day and didn't show up. She was very angry and told him as much over the phone because of the inconvenience to her family. For the next several days he didn't show up and she got more and more upset. Then she remembered that she had been taught to try and imagine excuses the other person might have for not being able to keep a commitment. She did and calmed down. The next time, she called him she was more open to his inability to come. Finally on the tenth day he showed up and did the repairs. Instead of being angry, she asked him if everything was alright and he told her no. His wife had left him with 6 young children and during the past 9 days, he had been arranging childcare. She finally came back after finding out the guy was abusive and they were trying to work together to repair their life. He was an excellent plumber but she had initially judged him harshly instead of being open to seeing what was blocking his performance. The job of a Union and fellow teachers is to judge our peers favorably and try to imagine what might be blocking them from doing the best job they are capable of.

Unless we have walked in that person's shoes, we do not have the right to make a judgment especially a harsh one. This makes it easier to defend them and force the Administration to prove their case.

Also, often the help given by the Board is not real help. It follows the letter of the law but the teacher is not given any real help to improve. They can follow all the suggestions and attend workshops, etc. and still be told that everything that they are doing are wrong. I have known people in this position. One person won many awards both locally and nationally based on her knowledge of the field. Her parents and students loved her but the administration was determined to get rid of her because she was vocal and viewed as a troublemaker. Eventually the lies that they told forced the person out of the teaching field and I believe that it was a loss to everyone.

Right now, we don't have a Union that will defend people and really help teachers. Hopefully, after the election, that will turned around.

December 16, 2020 at 12:32 AM

By: Kelly McFarlane

Thank you, Substance!

Reading these comments from 10 years ago is important for all CTU members. We have given up so much. Thank you, Substance, for keeping it alive.

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