Archives for category: Closing schools

What a strange bureaucracy is Chicago Public Schools. Also, like many bureaucracies, cold and heartless.

CPS fired veteran Chicago teacher Xian Barrett by informing his mother. The principal called his mother and read a script. It’s not like Barrett is a minor. Why wouldn’t they have the nerve to call him directly?

The mass layoffs follow an unprecedented mass closing of 50 schools.

Could this be payback for last fall’s teachers’ strike? Or just Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s determination to starve public education and call it reform?

“In one of the city’s largest teacher layoffs ever, the district pink slipped 2,113 teachers and other employees.

“Of those laid off, 1,036 are teachers and 1,077 are support staff, with the laid-off teachers accounting for about 4 percent of last year’s total faculty of 23,290.

“Budget cuts are to blame for 815 support staff, 398 tenured teachers and 510 non-tenured teachers; school closings for 68 support staff employees and 194 food staff employees, and changes in school enrollments account for rest, the district said.

“Another 161 highly-rated teachers from the 48 schools that closed permanently in June also learned later Friday they will not follow their students to new schools — there aren’t enough open jobs in the receiving schools, according to CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn. Their positions have been cut, but they’re not technically laid off since they continue to collect full pay and benefits in a teacher reassignment pool for the first five months of the school year, and slightly lower pay in the cadre substitute pool for the next five months, Quinn said.”

This investigative article by Steve Horn traces the money trail that ties together the major players in the corporate reform movement in Chicago. From President Obama to Arne Duncan to Rahm Emanuel, the thread that ties them all together is the Joyce Foundation. As the privatization movement advances, its path has been well prepared by the city’s power brokers, who have decided not to support public education.

The following account of Delmont Elementary School was written by Jill Saia, who was its principal.

I have deleted the “Dream School” folder on my computer. I am hoping that enough time has passed since our school was closed that I can write about it clearly and rationally, even though what was done to us was neither clear nor rational. For the last ten years that folder on my computer has contained all our plans, hopes, and ideas for a school run by professional educators for children who need it most. We knew that if we could put the highest-quality team of teachers together that we could affect true change in the lives of children in an at-risk school.

Two years ago when I was given the opportunity to become principal of Delmont Elementary School, I cautiously accepted the position. You see, I never wanted to be a principal. My graduate work in Educational Administration and Supervision confirmed this for me: being a school principal was too stressful and too far removed from teaching and learning. So I finished my degree and became certified, although I was certain I would never use this credential.

After 28 years in public education, I was offered the chance to become the Instructional Leader of Delmont. This would give me the chance to put into practice everything I had learned about high quality instruction and ongoing professional development. The position had been very carefully designed so that I would have autonomy in decisions and would be able to focus my time on classrooms and instruction instead of administrative duties. I would never have accepted this position if those guidelines weren’t clear.

Those guidelines remained in place for about two months. I was able to hire a very skilled staff, six of whom were National Board Certified Teachers. But my request for an Assistant Principal and Dean of Students was denied, even though there was money in the budget for it. I very quickly encountered resistance at all my personnel suggestions, and it began to seem as though the district didn’t really want us to succeed. The next two years were the most rewarding of my educational career, but also the most disheartening.

A change in top-level leadership at the district caused the team that had written the plan for Delmont to be totally dismantled. The new administration did not seem to know or understand why we were designated a “turnaround school” and what that meant in terms of academic freedom. I started carrying the SIG plan around with me when I went to meetings so I could explain what we were trying to do and show what the guidelines spelled out. Yet I increasingly encountered resistance from the Director of Turnaround Schools, who was a former superintendent of the failing Recovery School District. Looking back on it now, I think that this was all by design; “leaders” in the Central Office really didn’t think we would be able to turn Delmont around, so they created obstacles to keep it from happening.

One such obstacle presented itself in our first year. After having spent the summer hiring a top-notch staff and building a collaborative team, the district swooped in on October 10 to move two teachers and one aide out of our building. My plea to stop this from happening fell on deaf ears, and I was even cited for insubordination when I tried to show them what the SIG plan said about staffing. (That we were entitled to additional staff because it was a turnaround effort). So we said goodbye to three valuable staff members, shuffled kids into new classes, and kept going.

We did not make tremendous progress on test scores in the first year. We did change the culture and climate of the school, increase enrollment, and foster a high level of parental involvement. At the end of our first year, we packed everything up and moved out, because the district had chosen to remodel our 60-year old building. It is hard work to pack up an entire school, but we hoped that the renovations would make for an even better learning environment.

We were allowed to move back in two days before school started. We began the move and the readjustment to new classrooms, then had to stop for a half-day district “convocation” called by our new Superintendent. After district officials, community leaders and politicians had all given us their “rah-rah!” speeches about what a terrific year it was going to be, we boarded our yellow school bus back to Delmont and got back to work getting set up for the first day of school. Office staff and I stayed until after 10:00 p.m. that night to make sure we had everything ready for kids and parents the next day.

What a joy when the kids returned on the first day of school! They were so excited to see all of us again, to know that we were still here, and now in brand new buildings and classrooms. Hugs and high fives everywhere, and all the hard work of the summer instantly paid off when we saw their smiles. These children had suffered through tremendous staff turnover in the past, and it took a toll on their academic achievement and emotional well-being.

There were still the usual battles with the central office, but we were finally granted our extended day program that was in the plan the first year, but that the district chose not to fund. In the second year we convinced them that it wasn’t really their choice not to do it – it was written in the federal grant. So after Labor Day (and after Hurricane Isaac, which caused us to lose a week of school), we began doing extended day four days a week, with half a day on Wednesdays for team meetings and professional development. This gave us extra time to do targeted interventions, and also time to meet with each other and plan collaboratively.

We began to turn the corner – more children were reading, asking questions, and flourishing. Less behavior problems, more time on task. Children were communicating with each other, with teachers, with staff. They understood what the parameters were for being a student at Delmont, and they rose to our challenges. We planted our vegetable garden, had choir concerts, and participated in the Kennedy Center for the Arts program to integrate arts into the curriculum. We partnered with the local hospital’s health program to host the “Big Blue Bus” every week, which provided medical and mental health care to children and families. We were awarded a sizable grant from a local foundation to adopt a parenting program, and worked with a local university to design a new playground.

Then in November things started changing. Our new Superintendent announced his “Family of Schools” plan, which restructured many of the schools in the district. He called me into his office for a meeting on the afternoon of the first community forum held to discuss the changes. He told me that he was going to close Delmont. I remember being so stunned that I couldn’t even react at first. We did not see this coming; we were on our way up. But Dr. Taylor didn’t want to hear that, didn’t want to be reminded of how much he loved our school when he visited earlier in the year, or how endearing the kids had been to him. This was a business decision, and he preferred to keep emotions out of it.

Much of our staff was in disbelief when I told them, and when they heard it later that evening at the forum. Many had been at Delmont for ten years or more, and had not planned on leaving. They loved the fact that Delmont was a true neighborhood school with a family atmosphere, and just couldn’t understand why or how that family could be disintegrated. And I had trouble explaining it, because honestly I still don’t know why this decision was made.

At the next set of community forums, the family of schools plan was tweaked, and Delmont was now going to remain open as a K-2 school. This of course would remove us from state scrutiny of test scores by getting rid of the high-stakes test grades. Then in the next proposal, Delmont was going to be a Pre-K center. This is the proposal that the school board voted for, which somehow changed before the next day to it being a PreK – K center.

The March School Board meeting had a packed agenda, and at around 9:00 p.m. they finally got to the item about Delmont. Several school board members spoke out about how much they supported our efforts, and knew that we were doing great work. But when the vote came, they all voted for the motion to turn Delmont into a PreK-K center. The Superintendent had successfully convinced them that we were going to be taken over by the state if they didn’t make this move. No mention was made of our 3-year SIG plan and the fact that we were only in year two…

The school board member representing the region Delmont is in declined to speak, and abstained from the vote.

On the Wednesday of state testing week, the district sent the deputy superintendent to Delmont to meet with parents and staff to tell them of the decision to close the school. Yes, in the MIDDLE of STATE TESTING WEEK! The insensitivity was astonishing. Parents who walk their children to school were the most upset, because the school that their children were now assigned to is three miles away. (It is also an “F” school), Teachers and staff members were assured that the district would do everything they could to find new positions for them, and that many of them would follow their students to the assigned school. No surprise here – not a single Delmont teacher or staff member has been hired at that school. They all found their own jobs, without help from the central office; many have moved out of state or at least out of the district.

As for me, well, because I stood up for my school and tried to keep it open, I was given another letter of insubordination. I was also rated “ineffective” at midyear because of my refusal to change my ratings of teachers to match their pre-identified quota in the value-added system. Their assumption was that if test scores were low, then the teachers must be ineffective. Therefore, I must not know how to evaluate teachers. I was placed on an Intensive Assistance plan. Two months later, I turned in four binders full of data, observations, meeting notes, mentor reviews, etc. My mentor was a local award-winning principal who was part of the original “Dream School” team. Needless to say, she loved Delmont and what we were doing there. She even brought her assistant principal with her on one visit so she could have another perspective. After looking at all of my documentation, the director said that it “looked complete”, but then a week later told me that I was still ineffective and would have to wait for his final evaluation.

I chose not to wait for that final evaluation. I began the job search, had several very promising interviews, but it soon became clear that no public school district in this area would hire me because of my track record in a “failed” school. I really wanted to stay in public schools, because it is where I have spent my entire career, and because I truly believe in them. But in this case the system let me down. After 29 ½ years in the state retirement system, I was looking at having to retire with less than full benefits – a sizable financial difference. And up until this last year, I have had a stellar record in public education. No blemishes, no letters, no confrontations.

I can’t begin to describe what this last year has done to both my physical and mental health. I have been bullied and blackballed, all because I stood up for the children and families that needed us most. I knew I could no longer work for a system that is so dysfunctional, whose superintendent has already threatened to quit a few times when he didn’t get his way. (He, by the way, does NOT have a stellar track record.) Our dream school turned into a nightmare.

I have now resigned from the district and accepted a position as Dean of Instruction at a public charter school about ½ mile from Delmont. Many of the parents have heard that I am here now, and have enrolled their children. This is a brand new facility with a young faculty and plenty of opportunities for me to build instructional leadership. Their test scores rose dramatically last year, and they have begun to stabilize after a few rocky starting years. I am looking forward to the challenges of this new school, but also can’t help but look back.

The two years at Delmont profoundly changed my life, and I would like to think that it changed the lives of some of the children. I cannot begin to describe the last week or day of school. It was a blur of tears, hugs, graduations, celebrations, and uncertainty. I moved through it on auto-pilot; no one ever trained me how to say goodbye to 400 students and families, not to mention a beloved staff. We are now all scattered – students to at least three different schools, and teachers and staff to many more. We vowed to keep up with each other, but I know that we will eventually move on.
By the way, test scores in year two were outstanding. While we don’t yet have a final SPS from the state, preliminary data from our chief of accountability show that we made AYP and would no longer be a “failing” school. Our fourth-graders had a 20% jump in the number of students rated proficient; the district average growth was 6%.

So, this is what “reform” has done; it has transformed our dream school into a nightmare. I hope that we all wake up from it soon in a better place, but I know that for a few years, there was no better place than Delmont.

Responding to another reader, Robert Shepherd challenges the claim that reformers want a free market in schooling:

“We are NOT seeing the emergence of free market alternatives to public schools. We are seeing is crony capitalist alternatives dependent upon federal and state regulation and the public dole that could not possibly survive in truly free markets. It doesn’t matter whether it originates on the right or the left or what rhetoric it uses, tyranny is tyranny. It’s a NewSpeak version of the language of classical liberalism that is being used to defend what is actually happening. It’s incredibly naive to buy into the rhetoric in the face of the realities. Let’s see: Pass a federal law that ensures that almost all public schools will fail. Require states to provide alternatives. Have the Secretary of Education, now a private citizen, found an online virtual school to provide those alternatives, one that depends upon the same taxpayer dollars but siphons off a lot of those into private profits. There are eight million stories in the Naked City, and this has been one of them. The others have much the same general form.

“If that’s what you think of as the creation of free market alternatives, then you have started mainlining the Soma.”

Katie Osgood spoke at a rally on July 4 outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home.

This is part of what she said:

“My name is Katie Osgood and I am a teacher. I teach at a psychiatric hospital here in the city, working with students from all over the Chicagoland area and of all ages including hundreds of CPS students. And in my hospital, I have seen directly the impact of Rahm Emanuel’s terrible school policies. We are seeing higher rates of depression, suicide attempts, school refusal, family conflict, anxiety, and aggressive behaviors all directly related to current school policies in this city.

“To put it bluntly, CPS’s policies are hurting children. When you viciously close schools, slash budgets-including taking money for social workers, smaller classes, arts, music, and gym, when you fire trusted teachers and staff, all these things hurt kids. And in the middle of all this, our mayor has the gall to cut mental health services and close mental health facilities. But you see, the chaos of our system is intentional. The people in charge call it “creative disruption,” a business term…..

“This is madness. Children need stability, they need connection, they need strong ties to their neighborhoods and communities. They need schools that are funded to work and be successful. They need fully certified, experienced teachers! ”

Read it all.

Marc Epstein taught at Jamaica High School in NYC for many years. He has a Ph.D. In Japanese history.

Since his school started closing, he has taught in many of the city’s schools.

He writes:

What Ever Happened To In Loco Parentis?

Well, another June another student field trip drowning. But this time around the schools chancellor has assured us that there were a sufficient number of chaperones and signed consent slips from the parents. Case closed.

That the chaperones failed to carry out their duties, that field trips of this sort during the last days of school especially when children are so much harder to supervise and control should not be permitted, seemed not to cross Chancellor Walcott’s mind.

When Nicole Suriel drowned during her class outing in June of 2010, there was only one teacher on that ill-fated excursion. The students lacked parental consent, and the required number of adults to supervise the trip was never checked. But in the era of mayoral school control supposedly based on business model accountability introduced by our entrepreneurial mayor, not a single supervisory official lost their job. The hapless first year probationary teacher took the fall instead.

When I attended New York’s public schools a similar incident never would have occurred because these kinds of trips were forbidden in June. At least that was way it used to be when the putatively dysfunctional pre-Bloomberg Board of Education ran the show.

So I queried my friends, and they had no memories of such an occurrence during our public school years. Neither do we recall the teacher-student sexual abuse scandals that explode on the front pages of the tabloids with regularity.

But times change, people change. There was a time when the responsibility of the school to act in place of the parent, “In loco parentis,” was taken with the utmost seriousness. But that no longer seems to be the case.

This breakdown in decorum, competence, morality, common sense, and accountability is no accident. And it’s not the fault of an amoral hidebound teacher’s union defending the indefensible either.

If you look at the articles that detail these incidents you’ll discover that most of the accused employees were hired during Mayor Bloomberg’s watch!

Don’t go looking for editorials demanding that the mayor enforce a more rigorous hiring standard for teachers and their supervisors. You won’t find any.

Don’t go looking for any investigative reporting on who hired the people who’ve been charged with sexual misconduct. You won’t find anything about that either.

Instead of real reporting you get manufactured stories coordinated with the publisher of the Daily News, Mort Zuckerman, and former CNN and NBC reporter Campbell Brown.

Zuckerman was raised and educated in Canada, and Brown was raised and educated in elite schools in Louisiana. I can assure you that they have greater familiarity with the menu at Per Se than they do with hiring and management practices of the New York City school system.

That hasn’t deterred Brown, who now flacks for Students First, a front organization funded by the mayor himself, from joining the fray as a well compensated “concerned parent.”

The result is Big Lie journalism, a form of journalism that was heretofore associated with totalitarian regimes that believed that the truth was what they said it was.

Another characteristic of our Orwellian city is the mayor’s claim that we now have a government that demands and gets accountability.

In fact, gentle reader, it’s really quite the opposite. It’s all counter-intuitive you see. If you work within the school system you find that there is no accountability above the level of the classroom teacher.

And it’s not exclusively about the non-existent hiring standards that have allowed these awful sexual predators a perch in the classroom.

Just spend some time in the schoolhouse and you notice the molded ergonomic chairs that are cracked and missing arms before they’ve seen their fifth birthday.

I’ve been to about 30 schools over the past two years and can attest that I’ve yet to see a school where these chairs are still in l one piece. When I first started working in the schools almost two decades ago our furniture dated back to the 1920s but it was still in tact.

This past term I taught in a state of the art, drop-dead gorgeous building that opened four years ago. It provided all a teacher could ask for, but when you looked at the pneumatic door closers on the classroom doors you noticed that they were all leaking. Those plastic chairs were broken too.

I like to talk to the workers in the school cafeteria and custodial staff. You get to know a great deal more about the schools’ operation that way. They complained about the lids for re-heating the food that were supposed to be aluminum but were really aluminum colored plastic. The result was they melted all over the food. That never happened in the bad old days.

Another food service worker told me about the commercial rolls of foil that ran out too quickly because they were three pounds lighter than they were supposed to be. That never happened in the bad old days either.

I asked someone in the food vending business to estimate the costs, and he told me that it comes to about $4.50 per roll of missing foil. That doesn’t mean a heck of a lot, to borrow a phrase from The Pajama Game, but 3,000 rolls a week used citywide over thirty-five weeks a year? You do the math.

Last week I made a point of attending my old school’s penultimate graduation ceremony. Jamaica High School, which survived for 121 years, won’t survive the mayor’s ordered closing of the school next year, unless a new mayor grants a reprieve. In the name of accountability this school must die.

You wouldn’t know it from listening to the speeches of our students, many of whom are new arrivals to this country. They were proud to be Jamaica High School graduates, and none of the phony numbers about a failed school could convince them otherwise.

Nancy Giles of the CBS Sunday Morning was the keynote speaker. She wanted to know what the four small schools that are taking Jamaica’s place in the building are accomplishing that couldn’t be accomplished by Jamaica High School? Giles graduated in 77’.

The answer is nothing. If anything, student life, schools sports, the arts and music have suffered with the atomization of the comprehensive high schools.

As I walked into the building through the rear parking lot I noticed that the heavy fire doors that were installed less than two years ago were painted gold metallic. When I spied the bottom of the doors I noticed that the metal had already rusted out and the paint job was an attempt to camouflage the rot.

The brand new rusted doors are the metaphor for mayoral control. I’d like to see Mort Zuckerman deploy his very competent education reporters to investigate these items; just who got the contracts and pocketed the profits, but don’t hold your breath.

That’s because the movers and shakers know that what used to be a “public” that had to be answered to in New York City no longer exists.

This is a city of immigrants – a new peasant class that can be easily ignored. When a school child of Dominican immigrants drowns in Long Beach, or a child of Haitians drowns in Bear Mountain Park, the establishment has little to fear from middle class articulate parents demanding answers and true accountability.

All you need do is gin-up the attacks on the teaching profession and claim that you can turn education around by giving their kids school choice and ridding the city of public schools, and never lose a night’s sleep.

Keith Gamache, an art teacher at South Side High School in Rockville Center, Long Island, New York, ran for school board and lost. He plans to run again.

He wrote the following, drawing on the inspiration of anti-Nazi theologian Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the large, inner city public schools, and

I did not speak out

Because I did not live in the city

Then they came for the poor and rural public schools, and

I did not speak out

Because I was not poor and did not live in a rural community

Then they came for the suburban public schools,

the principals, the teachers and their unions, and

I did not speak out

Because I as a teacher felt insecure and defeated

Today, [I am running for the East Rockaway School Board, and]

I am speaking out

Because our public education must be preserved.

In my original post, I miscredited the author of this piece. It is Carina Hilbert. I attributed the piece to someone who retweeted it. My apologies to Carina Hilbert.

Here is the link to her blog.

Teacher Carina Hilbert is heart-broken. She was proud to work at Albion High School. She loved the kids. The kids were the best. So was the staff.

But they closed the school.

It hurts her to think about it, to talk about it, to write it.

“I may be gone from AHS, but a piece of my heart will always be there, hidden away in room 121, where magic happened, students learned and grew, and lives were changed. We are all Wildcats.”

Who are “they”? Who are these cold, callous people who blithely shut down a beloved school and disrupt communities? How dare they? And they piously claim they are doing it “for the children.” Did they ask the children? Did they ask their parents?

Of course not.

Veronica Vasquez found a letter that her 12-year-old daughter Paula wrote.

Paula is a student in a Chicago public school that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is closing.

““I have one question to ask,” it begins, in Paula’s girlish printing.

“Do you have any idea what your doing to us … our school … even to me? We all have tried and tried everything to keep our school open. How can people like you have no mercy on us?”

“Paula wrote that she is heartbroken. She called CPS decision-makers “cold hearted,” and their decision “barbaric.” And she closed the letter by writing, “I just don’t get it, I don’t get it at all.”

A new groups called GPS (Great Public Schools) Pittsburgh plans a major rally at the state Capitol in Harrisburg to demand adequate funding for public education across the Keystone State. The state funds low-performing cyber charters and expands the number of privately managed schools that perform no better than public schools. Meanwhile the lights are going out in public schools across the state, especially in urban districts. Will Pennsylvanians unite to save public education?

Come to Harrisburg on June 25 for the beginning of the movement to stop privatization of public education in the Keystone State.


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