Protesting School Closings in Chicago — story by Jim Vail for Substance News

[Last night concluded the hearings scheduled by the Chicago Board of Education to allow community members and teachers to comment on the 14 projected school closings for the year.  Parading politely in front of the school board does not guarantee that the Board will listen.  Last year it took massive demonstrations from schools through the Chicago area to limit the casualties.  This year, as the story below from Substance News shows, parents, students and teachers will protest the school closings even more vigorously.  Note that when a school is “turned around,” the entire staff is fired (some may be rehired). Closed schools may be replaced by charter schools where staff does not fall under bargaining unit of the Chicago Teachers Union.  Charter schools are also not under the oversight of elected Local School Councils.   The report below was filed at Substance News by Jim Vail.  For  extensive coverage on the school closings issue and much more, see the Substance News Website. —Lew Rosenbaum]

Massive protests lead up to final hearing on Chicago’s 2010 Hit List… Guggenheim school children go to the mayor’s office, Bradwell school facing ‘turnaround’ turns hearing around against Chicago policies…

Jim Vail – February 11, 2010

More than 400 teachers, parents, students and others concerned about Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s ‘Renaissance 2010’ plan to close or radically change 14 more schools this year picketed outside the Board of Education building in Chicago’s Loop on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 before many headed into the final school closing hearing. The hearing inside the building, the last of 14 this year, was on a proposal by ‘Chief Executive Officer’ Ron Huberman to subject Bradwell Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side to what is called “turnaround.”

More than 50 students from Chicago’s Guggenheim Elementary School unfurled a banner outside the fifth floor offices of Mayor Richard M. Daley during protests against this year’s round of school closings, consolidations, phase outs, and turnarounds that swirled through Chicago’s Loop on February 10, 2010. The students and their families asked to speak with the mayor, whose office was a few feet away. Instead, they were shunted to a mid-level press aide, who demanded to know what the school’s test scores and attendance had been. Substance photo by Jackson Potter.

During the protest another dramatic twist to the mounting opposition to Ciy Hall’s privatization plans arrived in the form of a bus load of Guggenheim Elementary School students. The students, from one of Chicago’s most famous communities (Englewood) were dropped off at Mayor Richard Daley’s fifth floor office at City Hall to present him with a petition why their school should not be closed. Guggenheim found itself on this year’s Hit List for “closing” (not “turnaround”) and has been protesting since the hearings began on January 28.

At City Hall, over 50 students unveiled a banner that read ‘Save Our School.’ Letters written to the Mayor were presented to one of his press secretaries who then promptly asked the two questions the school closing hearings have been focused on for the past two weeks: “What are your test scores?” and “What is your attendance?”

Guggenheim teacher Kimberly Walls told him their school had the fifth highest reading score in their Area and their attendance is above the 90th percentile. They demanded that the Mayor meet with them within a week.

My Dad is already out of work

A young child in a stroller says it all on the picket line of more than 400 teachers, students, and parents at the Chicago Board of Education headquarters on February 10, 2010. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.

Back down the street to the Board of Education hearing chambers — yet another high-powered political player rose up in defiance to the Board’s plans to make Bradwell Elementary School a turnaround school that would fire its entire staff from teachers and administrators to cafeteria workers and janitors.

“I am here to respectfully request that you do not make Bradwell a turnaround school,” Alderman Sandi Jackson told the hearing officer before a packed attendience filled with yellow-shirted Bradwell children and adults who broke into a loud applause.

Sandi Jackson is now the fifth Chicago alderman to speak out against school’s chief Ron Huberman’s plan to close 14 public schools based on his performance criteria. Jackson was one of a couple of aldermen, including Pat Dowell, to speak against school closings in their wards last year. However, not one addressed the Board of Education and its members who voted to close 16 schools last year.

Ironically enough – Sandi Jackson’s brother-in-law, Jonathan Jackson, was the only high-profile speaker at last year’s Board meeting who lambasted Daley’s school closing plan that has resulted in a spike in violence in the schools. He also spoke out at the Guggenheim school hearing and the Board of Education meeting and hosted a large Guggenheim contingent at his Rainbow PUSH forum. Sandi Jackson is the wife of Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and daughter-in-law of Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of Operation PUSH.

As the Board presented its “case” for doing turnaround to Bradwell, more and more people noted on and off the record that the absurd was on display at the Bradwell hearing. The Board made a long presentation that included a lengthy list of exceptions to a school being closed or reconstituted with a turnaround. One of the exceptions was that if the principal had a contract and served in the school for less than two years, the school could not be subjected to turnaround.

Bradwell Principal Justin Moore who has only served one year at a school in which test scores have increased, attendance has increased and fighting had decreased to zero would seem to perfectly fit that criteria. However, he is an interim principal, not on contract as the Board stipulates.

“Alderman Jackson has been in our building three times and has been a principal for the day,” Moore said. “We have a partnership with the Black United Fund and we’ve had zero fights. But I’ll be honest – until we got that letter (the turnaround termination note). We then had three fights after that letter came.”

Moore pleaded that the Board give him one more year.

“Please give me one more year,” Moore said before he wiped a tear away. “Our students have bonded with us. We have a lot of challenges in our community. A lot of our students spend more time with their teachers than their families. Over 200 parents came to our Family Math and Literacy nights. We had a 16% increase in report card pick up. We build it and they come. We will outperform AUSL’s Sherman School of Excellence. We will outperform the Harvard School of Excellence. And of course we will outperform the Dulles, Bethune and Johnson (AUSL Turnarounds voted on last year). I cannot be held accoutable for what happened in 2007.” 


One Response to “Protesting School Closings in Chicago — story by Jim Vail for Substance News”

  1. tammy Says:

    can u please let me know how you legally and with parents how you stopped a school from closing, 10 public schools have been closed and NOW our high school, poverty stricken, and low test scores, they want to close our high school, North High school.we are experiencing across the nation the same thing, sincerely parent, in do we fight back with justice, No school board has the right to infringe on our civil liberties, education.

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