Evergreen Academy latest to face charter school raiding assisted by CPS officials... Principals to face more and more 'student poaching' by charter schools as CPS pushes charter expansions at the expense of the city's real public schools

By October 1, 2013, it was official. The only way Chicago Public Schools was going to "relieve overcrowding" on the city's Northwest, Southwest, and Southeast sides was by creating new charter schools -- even if nobody in the communities wanted the things. Although the Chicago Teachers Union had challenged the RFP ("Request for Proposals") for "overcrowding relief" at the August 28, 2013 meeting of the school board, the Board pushed ahead with the "charters or nothing" approach, and by the first day of October the results were already coming in. But background is needed -- some going back ten years or more -- to show how CPS policy, and CPS staff in an obscure bureaucratic department -- has been sabotaging the city's real public schools for more than a decade.

By 2013, CPS had a "Chief Officer for Innovation and Incubation" in the $165,000-per-year person of Jack Elsey (above). Elsey was still in Detroit one year ago, but was imported to Chicago by a vote of the Board of Education in December 2012. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.By the time the Chicago Tribune reported in a news story on October 1 the fact that "relief from overcrowding" had to be done by charterization and privatization, virtually every elected official in the wards that were going to be raided by the charters had come out in public -- against the further expansion of Chicago's charter schools experiment. But the Chicago Tribune only quoted a guy named Andrew Broy from an outfit called The Illinois Network of Charter Schools as a source for its story, even after half a dozen aldermen had been making it clear, with the backing of thousands of their constituents, that they don't want charters in their wards.

But the story goes back a long time. Since Chicago Public Schools established its so-called "Office of Small Schools" more than a decade ago, CPS officials have been subverting the city's real public schools by providing charters with contact information on the "best" students from nearby public schools. Substance first exposed this bit of scamming when we reported that the (then) new "Chicago International Charter School Irving Park Campus" had somehow gotten a list of all the top scoring students from Reilly and Murphy elementary schools, the nearest real public schools in the area. Parents and others from Reilly and Murphy protested, but as everyone now knows (but most didn't then), charter schools invest huge amounts of their dollars in marketing, offering inducements to the families they want to attract (and later kicking out those whose scores might be low) and ignoring the others. As a result, because of CPS policy, most new charters open with some of the "best" (i.e., top scoring) kids from what had been the public schools nearby.

By 2013, there was no "small schools" office. CPS had an "Office of Small Schools" while the Gates Foundation was funding that version of "reform." When the Gates Foundation abandoned "small schools" seven years ago (in favor of charters and turnarounds), CPS morphed its bureaucracy, although the trickery remained the same.

The "Office of Smalls Schools" became the "Office of New Schools." For most of the Arne Duncan years, the "Office of New Schools" was headed by a former (and future) charter schools guy from D.C. named Josh Edelman (brother of Stand for Children's Jonah Edelman; son of Marian Wright Edelman, icon of liberal "children's rights" stuff).

Today, the "New Schools Office" has been changed into the "Office of Innovation and Incubation". To head the "Incubation" center, last December, CPS hired one of those many guys from out of town who are always available when CPS is hiring its "cabinet" staff -- proving that the members of the Chicago Board of Education know that there is no one in Chicago qualified for such a job. The current CPS "Chief Officer for Incubation and Innovation," Jack Elsey, who was with Barbara Byrd Bennett in Detroit until 18 months ago, didn't come to Chicago until less than a year ago. In December 2012, the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education voted to hire Elsey at "Chief Officer for Innovation and Incubation" at an annual salary of $165,000 per year. Elsey also got "relocation expenses." The Board members voted to keep secret the deliberation during "executive session" when they decided to hire Elsey (and create the "Innovation and Incubation" thing).

As CPS prepares further charter expansion, despite community protests, Elsey's office continues the same traditions as its predecessors, including helping the charter schools raid (or, in the words of one principal, "poach") the students from the city's real public schools.

The same trick is now playing out on the city's Southwest Side, where a real school principal has made it loud and clear in public that she is angry about the "poaching" of her kids by the latest CPS charter school to open.


MCKINLEY PARK Principal Marian Strok said she took one look at her schools enrollment numbers and erupted.

I wish you couldve been in my office. The teachers didnt want to even come in here. Thats how loud I was screaming, said Strok, the high-energy, no-nonsense principal at the helm of Evergreen Academy Middle School, 3537 S. Paulina St.

The schools enrollment sits at 388, 15 students short of CPS' projection of 403 students, and Strok blames a nearby charter school for poaching her students.

The middle schools seventh- and eighth-grade populations have more or less held steady, but the number of incoming sixth-graders Evergreen accepts elementary students from McKinley Parks nearby elementary schools, Greene and Everett is down about 20 students.

The culprit for the dip, Strok said, sits a little more than a mile away at Horizon Science Academy, a brand new charter school at 2245 W. Pershing Road.

About 15 or 16 of Evergreens would-be sixth-graders instead went to Horizon, Strok said, and the majority of those students scored high on standardized tests, making them sought-after recruits for the new charter.

That to me is cherry-picking, she said.

The enrollment dip is made more grating in light of CPS' new budgeting process, which allocates funds on a per-pupil basis. While the district pledged not to make any more budget cuts this year, the smaller sixth-grade class could have budget implications for Evergreen next year. CPS district officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Horizon has enrolled some 424 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, with the vast majority drawn from the surrounding neighborhood, school leaders say.

Salim Ucan, vice president of Concept Charter Schools, which operates Horizon, said the company neither selectively enrolls high-performing students nor gets a preview of applicants' standardized test scores.

We dont know that. We have no access to student records for anybody, Ucan said.

Concept operates as a nonprofit and manages more than two dozen schools across the Midwest, including two schools with top-notch Blue Ribbon designations from the federal government.

The school arrived in McKinley Park to the chagrin of community activists and public education backers who cried foul at the companys skirting of CPS approval and instead getting OKd by a newly created state charter commission.

Ucan has said Concept went by the books, that parents have a choice about where to send their kids and and said its time to stop bullying charters for all of the CPS woes, including school closings, budget cuts and enrollment declines.

Besides, he said, I dont look at is as charter schools recruiting their students. I look at it as leaving one public school to go another public school.

Still, as the school year gets underway, neighborhood school leaders say theyre facing yet more uncertainty.

CPS has targeted several areas in the city, including a Southwest Side area broadly defined as McKinley Park, as prime candidates for more charter schools. And the Board of Educations recent approval of a 10-year facilities master plan indicates the district isnt in a hurry to build more middle schools.

Thats a mistake, Strok said.

An early adopter of Common Core curriculum standards, Evergreen tailors its approach for the uniform-clad preteens who come through its classrooms. There are robust after-school offerings and Friday club days during which students participate in everything from taekwondo to glee club to gentry classes.

This is where you have to grab em. We know what to do with them. We create a culture for the middle-school child by making sure teachers are well aware of their issues and problems. Thats where our lives are, she said.

Evergreen has twice been designated a coveted School to Watch," an honor that recognizes, among other qualities, a school's academic excellence and its students' "developmental responsiveness."

Sitting behind the desk in her colorful office, Strok said she wants to petition the district to allow her school to offer a junior International Baccalaureate or Science Technology Engineering and Math program, anything to help make the school more attractive to local parents.

"We have a good neighborhood program. What else do I have to do?" she said.



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