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Posts Tagged ‘District 299 blog’

by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Students, parents and teachers gather outside of Elizabeth Peabody Elementary, 1444 West Augusta Blvd., on Feb. 19 for a neighborhood march to protest shutting down their school. The school was taken off the list of closings four days later. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Students, parents and teachers gather outside of Elizabeth Peabody Elementary, 1444 West Augusta Blvd., on Feb. 19 for a neighborhood march to protest shutting down their school. The school was taken off the list of closings four days later. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Chicago – When Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman announced six schools would be taken off the list of school closings, he said it was because public hearing testimony and other evidence warranted the changes. But teachers, community activists and parents said Huberman’s decision had a lot more to do with politics.

Dr. Annie Camacho, assistant principal at one of the fortunate six, Elizabeth Peabody Elementary, said while it’s encouraging to hear that public hearing testimony was a factor in the decision, that does not take away from the reality that the school selection process needs to be re-evaluated.

“As part of the process these public hearings you have “independent” hearing officers that are in fact paid by the board to listen to testimony of schools,” Camacho said, “but with absolutely no board member present, the very people who made the decision to close you. You don’t know that any of the testimony that’s given in writing to them is seen by anybody else at all from the board. So the process itself is flawed. The hearings are flawed.”

Assistant director for parent advocacy group Parents United for Responsible Education, Wanda Hopkins, said the main factor in getting schools taken off the list was the same main factor that put them on the list in the first place – the will of Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Mayor Daley’s controversial Renaissance 2010  school creation plan calls for 100 new schools by next year, many of them without union representation. Though the plan does not include a requirement for schools to close, the new school quota is inherently tied to shutting down existing schools.

“The politics of the city of Chicago is just unbelievable,” Watkins said. “I’m still saying it’s just based on gentrification and busting unions. It has nothing to do with educating children.”

Camacho said Peabody was spared, in part, due to political pressure ignited by legislation that would put a one-year moratorium on actions taken by the school board to close, consolidate, turnaround or phase-out schools.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Soto (4th), also calls for a House committee and Senate committee to review and approve processes for identifying schools for status changes. The bill is currently making its way through readings in the House.

“It is nice to at least read that Huberman supposedly took the time to look at public testimony as part of the decision making, but I really do believe that it was the pressure from the politicians, in particular Soto, that really made them reconsider and rethink what they were doing,” Camacho said.

Not everyone thinks the bill persuaded Huberman. Alexander Russo, an education reporter who has blogged about Chicago education for more than four years, said the legislation proposed by Soto was not likely to be a significant cause for the six schools to be taken off the list.

“I don’t think anyone was really worried about that piece of legislation,” Russo said. “Pieces of legislation like that have been introduced several times before, and they at times have passed out of a committee, but they’ve never gotten very far.”

The “District 299” blogger doesn’t think the hearings were the impulse either.

“The hearings have been going on for a number of years now, and people have rallied their evidence and done very similar things to what Peabody did,” Russo said. “And they still had their school closed. I think that this has to do with a change in leadership at the board.”

Huberman’s recent appointment to the CPS CEO spot vacated by Arne Duncan was a significant factor in the action to save the six schools, according to Russo.

“My sense is that at a certain level all the decisions about closures and turnaround have a certain amount of subjectivity to them,” Russo said. “They’re not purely objective. I think that, quite understandably, the new CEO wanted to proceed with caution on a set of decisions and recommendations that had been made before he arrived.”

“If Duncan were still CEO of Chicago Public Schools, I can imagine one or two schools getting off the list, but I don’t think six would have,” Russo said.

While the action to save the fortunate six came from the cautiousness of a new CPS administration, they are still going to close 16 schools this year, more than anyone else in the country, according to Russo.

“They still can say every year we weed out or close down more than a dozen schools,” Russo said. “So they don’t lose momentum; they don’t even really lose face. They get to keep moving forward with their idea of what reform is.”

By making this change CPS also gives the people who oppose the reform a feeling of success, according to Russo. This could be more than enough to mute the opposition.

The list of school changes was released earlier this year than in years past because of the transition from Duncan to Huberman. Politically that put Huberman in a better position because instead of producing the list as his first act, he could take schools off the list.

Lillie Gonzales, a local school council member and grandmother of a student at Peabody, leads the protest after school on Feb. 19. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Lillie Gonzales, a local school council member and grandmother of a student at Peabody, leads the protest after school on Feb. 19. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Copyright 2009

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