Growing community coalition demands Chicago Board of Education reverse decision to 'turnaround' three elementary schools

A growing coalition of parents, teachers, students, and community leaders will be holding a press conference at Chicago Public Schools headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. in Chicago on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, to demand that the members of the school board vote to reverse their April 23 decision to subject Dvorak, McNair, and Gresham elementary schools to so-called "turnaround." The group, along with researchers from other community groups and the Chicago Teachers Unions, has proved that the so-called "turnaround" under the auspices of the "Academy for Urban School Leadership" (AUSL) had failed, even by the narrowest matrices applied by the Chicago Board of Education.

West Side community leader Valerie Leonard (above, speaking at the March 26, 2014 Board of Education meeting) has presented the Board and the public with decisive research proving that AUSL's "turnarounds" are a failure. Despite claims by David Vitale and members of the Chicago Board of Education that only the Board members are in possession of what Vitale and other Board members call the "true facts," Leonard and others have challenged every claim and refuted it during the years the Board of Education has made massive school closings and continued "turnarounds" a matter of policy. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The group is assembling one month after the Board of Education conducted its most unusual "turnaround" vote in history at its April 23 meeting. Two of the Board members, Mahalia Hines and Deborah Quazzo, were absent, leaving the Board with only five members to vote, barely a quorum. During the meeting, for the first time in history, the Board's executive staff presented its "case" for turnaround without providing the public with a Power Point or any other factual information. The lengthy presentation by "Chief of Chiefs" Denise Little was punctuated with factual errors that even some of the Board members had to challenge, albeit lightly when they asked questions about the proposals.

When the Board finally voted, one Board member (Andrea Zopp) voted "No" on two of the three proposals, and Board member Carlos Azcoitia recused himself from the vote because of a conflict of interest with AUSL. As usual, the Board members delivered carefully rehearsed lines about why they had to do what they were doing. None asked the critical question: If this action is so important, why has the "Chief Executive Officer" refused to provide the public with a Power Point detailing how the administration came to the conclusion that the only way to save the children at these three schools was to fire everyone on the staff and replace them with novices trained by an outside contractor?

Board President David Vitale, who had served on the Board of Directors of AUSL, refused to recuse himself from the vote, allowing his rationale to be given by the Board's propaganda department. Vitale has been voting for AUSL "turnarounds" since he came on the Board appointed by Rahm Emanuel in May 2011. Before that, in addition to his career as one of Chicago's most powerful bankers, Vitale also served as the first "Chief Administrative Officer" in Chicago Public Schools history (back when Arne Duncan was CEO of CPS).

Because Illinois law doesn't include a provision for "turnaround," the CPS votes to do that come in two parts. First, the Board members have to vote to subject schools to a process called "reconstitution," (which research has shown a failure for more than 20 years). Then the Board takes a second vote, hiring AUSL as a "consultant" to perform the actual turnaround.

As usual, the public presentations at the April 23 Board meeting included salvation narratives in the form of testimony by parents and others who claim that AUSL has saved their children from "failing schools." The first of these narratives was rehearsed during the administration of Arne Duncan (2001 - 2009) after CPS subjected Dodge Elementary School and Williams Elementary School on the West Side to "turnaround." The testimonials have been almost identical since 2005, when they were first rehearsed on behalf of the original "turnarounds." At the same time, the editorialists of the daily newspapers proclaim that the Board of Education and the CEO (whoever it is that year) is showing "courage" by doing the "turnaround."

Board officials are usually silent when asked how the firing of janitors and lunchroom ladies (which is part of "turnaround") improves a school, but the usual answers, when offered at all, boils down to something about how AUSL has a secret formula to change the "climate" of the school. Observers who listen carefully to the salvation speakers note that they always say roughly the same thing, making it sound like the principals and teachers of the pre-turnaround schools were hostile to the children and didn't really believe that "all children can learn." According to this version of reality, the specially trained AUSL administrators and teachers (along with, supposedly, the specially trained AUSL nutritionists and floor sweepers) have the "secret sauce" (as Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called it) to bring about miraculous transformations.

But when examined in retrospect, it turns out that all that gets turnarounded in a Chicago turnaround is a group of mostly African American educators, who are replaced by a group of mostly young and white (often female) teachers who learn their teaching while working for AUSL. AUSL also gets at least $300,000 in "startup" funding that was never available to the "failing schools" and an additional $420 per pupil for the first five years of the so-called "turnaround."

The broad coalition demanding the reversal of the latest turnaround will appear at the school board on the morning of May 27, 2014.

A press release issued on Memorial Day (May 26, 2014) stated the following:

Media Alert... Press Conference: Community Groups Call on Board of Education to Nullify Vote to Turnaround 3 Schools, Put a Moratorium on All School Actions

For Immediate Release: May 26, 2014 Valerie F. Leonard, 773-571-3886 (cell)...

Dwayne Truss. 773-879-5216

Who: Chicago Citizens United to Preserve Education, including Blocks Together, Educational Village Keepers Parent Teacher Student Association; Valerie F. Leonard, Co-Founder, the Lawndale Alliance; Dr. Pauline Lipman, Teachers for Social Justice; Dr. Grady Jordan, Retired Administrator, Chicago Public Schools; Yvette Moyo, Co-Founder, Real Men Charities, Inc. and Real Men Cook; Dr. Carmen Palmer, President, Educational Village Keepers Parent Teacher Student Association; Dwayne Truss, PACE; Julie Woestehoff, Executive Director, Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE).

What: Chicago Citizens United to Preserve Education will hold a press conference to call upon the Chicago Board of Education to nullify last month's vote to turn over 3 schools to AUSL for turn around and put a moratorium on all school actions. The group will offer alternative recommendations going forward.

When: Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 10:00 a.m. Where: In front of Chicago Public Schools Headquarters, 125 South Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60603

Why: The current Board of Education is appointed by the Mayor and operates under the cloak of darkness with impunity. Chicago Citizens United to Preserve Education believes that the Board of Education is focused on privatization of local schools to the benefit of organizations that are in aligned with the Mayor, even if it means paying a premium for services whose effectiveness has been called into question. We need a moratorium on all school actions and CPS should commit to a process of community-teacher driven school improvement. Ultimately, we need an elected representative school board that is accountable to the citizens of Chicago.

Valerie F. Leonard Expert in Community and Organizational Development

Phone: 773-521-3137 E-mail:

Website: Weblog: (Staying In the Loop)


May 26, 2014 at 9:53 PM

By: Valerie F. Leonard

Thanks Again

Thanks, George, and Substance News, for publishing our media alert for tomorrow's press conference!

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