Substance Archive

Opinion | May 2002 Issue

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Union debunks Duncan’s lies
April 21, 2002

Dear Substance,
By now you have had a chance to read Arne Duncan’s craftily-worded letter explaining (sort of) why the Chicago Board of Education is closing three schools. From the view of a Chicago Teachers Union Field Rep (in other words translated into real English), this is what was said (although you probably figured it out already).

“ Despite $18 million in the form of Title I, capital and probationary funds, these schools have been performing at unacceptably low levels for the last six years.” That money should have been used for a variety of things that actually could have helped in those three schools. What about hiring more teachers to lower class sizes in those schools? Smaller classes, more individualized instruction, better performing students. Instead it was used to pay consultants, external partners, probation managers, and other money wasters who don’t have the remotest clue as to how to teach children in poverty-stricken areas!

“ This initiative is not about placing blame.” Like hell it isn’t! The blame is being placed on the teachers and administrators of the schools! Don’t blame the community! Don’t blame the gangs! Don’t blame the dysfunctional home situations! Don’t blame the poverty and all of the conditions that go with it. And certainly don’t blame the parents!

“ All of the teachers from these schools will be given an opportunity to reapply for jobs in the Chicago public school system.” That means they will be placed in the “reassigned teacher category.” They will be given 10 months to day-to-day sub four days per week. They must actively seek employment on the fifth day. At the end of those 10 months, they will be “honorably terminated”! If a “reassigned teacher” does get another job, he or she will be hired as an FTB with no benefits and full loss of seniority!

In the last paragraph Arne talks about taking “Chicago School Reform to the next level”. On March 27, the Board passed yet another Amended Policy on School Intervention. I am positive that the “next level” of “Chicago School Reform” is more teacher blaming and firing! And we thought Vallas was bad!

The following is a response from the CTU that is being mailed to all CTU delegates.

Jon L. Hawkins
Chicago Teachers Union

To: CTU Delegates and Members
From: Deborah Lynch, CTU President
Re. School closing update

April 19, 2002

I hope you enjoyed your much-deserved break. The CTU leadership has been on the job during this time on the issue of the school closings announced on April 10. We have held meetings in each of the three schools, done the data analysis on their situations and on the ‘$18 million myth’. We’ve participated in three rallies (April 12 at board headquarters, April 13 at a westside church and April 19 at City Hall). I wrote to the Mayor urging him to put this decision on hold and to let the teachers and their Union run these schools.

We have pointed out in every possible forum (meetings, rallies and media events) that closing schools serving poor children was not education reform; that scapegoating their teachers and staff was unconscionable given the many socioeconomic factors hindering learning that are outside of their control; and that these staffs were not even part of the decision making process about allocation of funds or selection of school improvement initiatives, though now they are taking the blame.

One of the schools, Williams School, has seen improvement for four of the last five years. This was enough to have been taken off of probation last year. Then, during standardized testing last spring, gang warfare broke out in the projects surrounding the school. Dodge School has a 51 percent transiency rate: half of the students there in September are gone by June. Only two of the students in eighth grade have been there since first grade. They also serve a significant number of homeless children. DePaul’s SAS Program has been their external partner for the last six years.

School Board President Michael Scott has reached out to CTU to try to repair the damage done by this action. We have urged him: 1) To place a moratorium on these school closings; 2) To let the union “run” these schools to show how under the right conditions (e.g. staff treated with respect, having a voice in decision-making) schools can improve; 3) to discuss any decision to close a school with the union; and 4) To give teachers and paraprofessionals in any school that must be closed (e.g. for reasons of depopulation), high priority assistance in finding another position. We expect an answer on this early in the week of April 22.

In the meantime, this issue will be addressed at the next Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, April 24 at Herzl School, 3711 West Douglas Blvd. at 4:00 p.m. Many organizations concerned about these school closings will be there to support the staff, students and families of these three schools. I urge you to join the CTU leadership and come out to the Board meeting and invite members in your school to come out too. I hope to see you on Wednesday, April 24 at Herzl School. We need to show our solidarity and support of their efforts to save their schools.

Williams teacher denounces closing
April 14, 2002

Dear Substance,
This letter was originally sent to the Chicago Tribune, which refused to publish it.

As a teacher at one of the schools that has been slated for closing (Williams School) I found your editorial on April 12 to be nothing more than printing what the Board told you to print. You talk about a new age of accountability but yet your newspaper fails to take into question the problems that exist in these “tough neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.” Neither your editorial staff nor the vast majority of your readership have a clue as to what those neighborhoods are like.

As for Williams reopening as a “renaissance” school in a year or so, it probably will, but with a radically changed population. In case you haven’t noticed, the South Loop expansion is moving south and Williams School and its present population is smack dab in the way. One of the schools where our students would go is also in the way of this juggernaut which is backed by the city for the purpose of bringing professional types back into the city.

And isn’t it odd that the city will go out of its way to help the employees of Anderson who were layed off find other jobs? The teachers and other staff members at the three schools being closed are city employees. We have devoted our lives to teaching the children at the schools we are at. And now we have to go out and find jobs with the stigma of being from a failing school. Rather than have Duncan and Scott talk to the editorial board of the Tribune you should talk to those of us who are in the trenches day in and day out for year after year and find out what it is really like.

Philip Peffley
Williams elementary school

Retiree benefits
April 12, 2002

Dear Substance,
I appreciated and enjoyed reading the articles by Lotty Blumenthal last month and Teresa Daniels previously about retiree events. I am glad that they mentioned the benefits of belonging to the Chicago Teachers Union retiree group for only $24 per year.

While its important that retirees know that they receive full AFT and IFT benefits on legal, insurance, buying services, free meetings and discounts on our luncheons, Daniels and Blumenthal both forgot one of the most important benefits of being a CTU member: retirees are entitled to receive the small pocket calendar which can be carried in one’s purse. It is better than other pocket calendars because it lists holidays and events.

In addition, CTU retirees are entitled to be represented by the services of a field representative if there is a problem in receiving retiree benefits as well as legal council if a contracted benefit is not correctly given by the Board.

Jacquelyne J. Mooney
Retiree vice-president

Retired teachers should stay with CTU
April 16, 2002

Dear Substance,
You are to be commended for encouraging retired teachers to continue their affiliation with the Chicago Teachers Union.

It is important for these retirees to be associated with an organization so that their voices can be heard and their pressure felt. Retirees must be ever vigilant to protect their benefits and avoid raids on their pension funds as has happened in the past, i.e. Board of Education using pension funds to balance their budget.

To encourage former teachers to become a CTU Retiree, may I suggest that rather than offering such “perks” as luncheon or magazine subscription discounts, that the CTU offer something more substantial, such as the same death benefits for retirees that the current, active membership receives. After all, they are members of the same union and should not be treated as anything less.

We all supported the union while we were working and some of us (2,878) continue to support the union today, on our reduced income.

Sincerely yours,
Eugene Jerkatis
Retired teacher and union member

More on Bright School
March 22, 2002

Dear Substance:
Someone should do a major story called: “A Sad Day at Bright School.” I haven’t seen it yet in the newspapers, so here is my attempt.

On Thursday March 14, 2002, I attended the Principal Candidate Forum at Bright Elementary school. Two of the four candidates were impressive. The members of the Local School Council will have a difficult choice ahead of them. I am hopeful that they will see through the unimpressiveness of the current Acting Principal who happens to be one of the four candidates, Ms. Millicent Robersone.

I was appalled at the statements made and answers given by Ms. Robersone. Her words exhibit the lack of respect she has for our community and its members. Her answers lack the honesty and integrity necessary to be an effective and respected principal. When a question was asked about raising test scores she gave some ridiculously confusing answer that did not even answer the question that was asked. In her answer she insisted that Bright School was fortunate not to be affected by a book shortage. That statement is a blatant lie; primary grades are faced with a shortage of Social Studies Books. Intermediate Grades have a shortage of Math Books and the upper grades have a shortage of Math Books and Language Arts Books. To add insult to injury the limited amount of Math Books being used by the upper grade are falling apart.

All candidates were asked if they planned to have a freed Assistant Principal. Three of the four candidates said it was necessary to have a freed Assistant Principal. Ms. Robersone’s answer was insulting to the intelligence’s of the Bright School Community. She must have the perception that us people who live in South Deering are stupid and cannot see through her lies. Ms. Robersone insisted that elementary schools were not entitled to freed assistant principals. I cannot argue to CPS’s policy as to a freed Assistant Principal, but I do know that Bright School has had a freed Assistant Principal since 1983 and do most other elementary schools in the area. How can these schools afford one and Bright can’t? (Maybe someone should audit the schools books?)

Ms. Robersone has been at Bright School since 1997. She began as an Assistant Principal that was freed and now by some freak accident has become Acting Principal. Her time at Bright School can only be described as pathetic. She has not accomplished anything during her time at Bright. Freed Assistant Principals usually create and set the tone for discipline in a school. Bright School has major discipline problems that have not been made better by Ms. Robersone, they have only become worse. These Assistant Principals also develop and maintain corporate sponsors, since Ms. Robersone became Assistant Principal these corporate relationships that existed prior to her coming to Bright have not been maintained and have disappeared. While Ms. Robersone was Assistant Principal she never questioned whether Bright School was entitled to a freed Assistant Principal position. Why all of a sudden does this question come up? How could such an undistinguished career proceed further? I would venture to that she is more than likely a product of LAUNCH, a CPS sponsored program for “Aspiring Principals”. The program seems to draw not aspiring principals, but problematic and politically connected principals.

I am outraged at our school system which uses the slogan “Children First”. Members of our community have called Region Six and Chicago Public schools Central Office voicing concerns about these problems at the school. These problems are ongoing and seem to only get worse as time goes on. I guess it goes to show that if you are politically connected you can do all the damage you want and never be held accountable. It also shows us that unless you are politically connected you will not be heard. It is a sad day at Bright School and for any other school that has a principal so inept and dishonest. What is even sadder is that the educational leaders at 125 S. Clark St. allow such a problem to continue.

Pauline Moraco

Shoop, Bright face same tyrants
April 4, 2002

Dear Substance,

It seems like the pattern of teacher bashing for Lee Brown has carried over from her principalship at Shoop to her new position as Region Six Education Officer. At a recent visit to Bright certain teachers were “targeted” by acting principal Roberson for Brown to visit. The list was not a coincidence, but one of a hidden agenda invocating “E-1’s”, write-ups and as a show of force and intimidation.

Was it a coincidence that this was the morning after a Local School Council meeting that Roberson nominated her two candidates to fill vacancies in a procedurally questionable maneuver to get votes for her principals contract? Is it a coincidence that certain teachers classooms were avoided because they weren’t on the “hit” list? Chicago public school administrators have every right to supervise teachers, but with professionalism and objectivity. Several were told if they were unhappy they should “leave the school and Region 6”.

Is it a coincidence Lee Brown lost a lawsuit with the EEOC because of her same type of discriminatory and harassing behavior against a teacher of Shoop? Is it a coincidence that federal agencies must be contacted to protect the rights of teachers to be treated with respect and equity?

Victor Scarpolli

Arizona watches Chicago’s school closings in horror
April 12, 2002

Dear Substance,
I sent the following letter to the Chicago Board of Education and the Chicago Tribune. We’ve got to stick together as this issue of high stakes testing goes far beyond just our state. We are a national resistance.

Chicago Board of Education
Chicago, IL 60604

Dear Sir or Madam:

I’m grieved to hear of the announcements of school closings in Chicago public schools (“Chicago moves to close three ‘low-performing’ schools” published in the Chicago Tribune, April 10, 2002). While many see it as a local issue, it goes far beyond Chicago. Recently passing ballot initiative in Arizona also has put in place a ‘school closing’ clause in exchange for school funding by local taxpayers.

It is abhorrent just how much power we let test scores have without even stepping into the classrooms to support teachers and students with their real needs and see their strengths that can’t be seen from test scores.

Arizona watches with horror the moves the Chicago Board is making as they only offers negative consequences. Either Arizona will change their policies based on the ill-effects on Chicago teachers, students and their families — the unfortunate guinea pigs — or we will also be seeing school closures ourselves soon, and be following a policy that is incredibly flawed. At best, this policy will discourage innovation, ignore the reasons why schools are or aren’t performing well, change students’ reasons for learning and how they feel about learning as well as change how teachers feel about teaching and the reasons for teaching in the first place. This is a lose-lose policy at every angle.

Gabie Gedlaman
Gilbert, AZ

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