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Shootings, schools, and “values”

Over 500 people have been shot in Chicago in just four months. My teenage son casually  commented that they are picking up fast these past few weeks. Last night a 14-year-old girl shot another 14-year-old girl over a boy. When the summer comes, I’m grateful that my son is at camp in Michigan where he might fall out of a tree or get bit by a snake but he won’t get shot.

Last week Rahm Emmanuel suggested that the people who live in the communities that see the most violence must “live by a moral code …. It’s whether you have values.” Now this is the same mayor who has made it clear that many communities have no value to him. He’s closed their PassiSahlbergschools, their libraries, their mental health centers. He’s starved neighborhood schools in most communities but particularly those of color while he gives millions of dollars in TIF money to private universities.

I also had the opportunity to hear Passi Sahlberg this weekend, the Finnish educator and author who  has studied education systems and reforms around the world. What struck me is the overall attitude in Finland is the philosophy that every child should have access to equal opportunities in education.

This came on the heels of Rahm’s announcement that another Selective Enrollment school will be built on the near North Side with $60 million in TIF funds. While he’s clearly playing to his demographic – white middle class North side – it’s outrageous that a school named after an African American president wouldn’t go in or near the South Side neighborhood he calls home.

Lack of values? Or perhaps it’s just that what Rahm values is all too clear.

Is Mayor Emanuel Here?

Last week as some 60 parents, students, teachers, and community activists from Manierre School on the near north side embarked on the third “Walk the Walk” protest against school closings, organizer Sherise McDaniel called out, “Is Mayor Emanuel here?”

Since the announcement of 54 school closings, parents of soon-to-be-closed schools have commenced walking the route children will have to take to their receiving schools, inviting the press and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to join them.


So far, the mayor has not shown up. He did respond to queries from reporters that he wanted to ensure that Manierre kids “have a bright and successful future.” However, they can’t do that if they’re threatened by gang violence.

Yesterday Manierre parents made their last pleas at the CPS impartial hearings.Manierre received a $200,000 library renovation from Target that included a computers, televisions, iPods, 2000 books and a parent corner as well as murals on the wall. Further, the teachers at the Child Parent Center receive training and other benefits from the prestigious Erikson Center for Early Childhood Education.

George Manierre Elementary School is located at 1420 N Hudson Ave. The receiving school, Edward Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts, is located at 1119 N Cleveland, across a busy intersection including a street that is five lanes wide.

Ten years ago, this area was teeming with children from the Cabrini Green High Rises. In 2000, before residents were relocated, Manierre had over 800 students enrolled. As of this year, they have 351 according to CPS data. Jenner also once had hundreds of Cabrini Green children. But while the enrollment has declined, gang rivalries and tensions have not.

Alderman William Burnett pointed out that the families in this community have “a generational curse. Some of these kid’s parents were killed by other kid’s parents. That’s the real stuff in that neighborhood.”

Parents say they have already seen gang threats on Facebook. CPS could decide to send Manierre kids to Franklin Fine Arts Academy, which is three blocks closer. Or LaSalle Language Academy, or Walter L. Newberry Math and Science Academy – all of which are nearby. But these are selected enrollment schools reserved for the city’s cream of the crop.

On the walk, Sherise McDaniel from the Parent Action Council pointed repeatedly across Sedgwick to how “nice” the neighborhood looked as she warned us not to be fooled. The Evergreen Terrace Apartments are largely Section 8 and the Marshall Field homes are little pockets of low income housing nestled between posh Old Town townhouses and mixed development on the busy riverfront. Parents fear this closing will spark an “all out gang war.

Throughout these stressful weeks since the announcement about school closings frustrated parents are beginning to say, “I’m just going to move” or “I’m going to find a different school.” School closings to further gentrification is nothing new; and with the list for charter schools just getting longer Rahm has more reason to demand more charter schools.

I have a feeling in the upcoming weeks we’ll see more drastic parent actions….


Divesting in Neighborhoods IS Racist

The first comment Rahm Emmanuel had about school closings was that he wasn’t going to get pulled into name-calling and “schoolyard taunts.” The intent of that was to further polarize the city by throwing it back to Chicago Teacher’s Union president Karen Lewis. Further, it allowed Barbara Byrd Bennett to get all indignant as a “woman of color.” But as Curtis Black points out, institutionalized racism is a whole other ballgame. We all know that BBB is taking the hit for Rahm, and her attempts to downplay the impact on the community by staging her a counterwalk to the “Walk the Walk” campaign shows she is far removed.

Perhaps he didn’t count on the organization of parents citywide who are arming themselves with facts. The recent protest walk conducted by Leif Ericson Elementary Scholastic Academy in Garfield Park highlighted questionable CPS planning. Pegged for closing, Ericson is at 3600 W. 5th. The receiving school, Charles Sumner Math and Science Academy, is at 4320 W. 5th Avenue, just sic blocks away, right? Wrong! Fifth Ave. is intersected by both Garfield Park and the Eisenhower Expressway. The sidewalks crossing these busy intersections have no parkways, and cars entering and leaving the expressway are mere inches from the sidewalk. The thought of primary school children prancing along or dawdling and daydreaming or running along the curb would give any parent nightmares.

Parents and students walk past one of the many abandoned buildings on the proposed CPS route to the "welcoming" school.

Parents and students walk past one of the many abandoned buildings on the proposed CPS route to the “welcoming” school.

Further, the remaining blocks are lined with abandoned buildings, and according to parents, as many as four gangs intersect in this area. On the map it may look short as the bird flies, but it’s well over a mile. I’m a hardy walker – I can easily do a mile in 15 minutes. I walked briskly for 20 minutes and found myself two blocks shy of Sumner when I realized I had to turn around to get back to my car or I’d miss a meeting.

CPS bounces back from their position: first it’s about lack of funds, then underutilization and poorly performing schools. So why close Ericson? Ericson’s reading scores have been on the rise since 2007 – from 41 percent reading at or above state levels to 77 percent. In Math they’ve gone from 58 percent to 79 percent. Ericson is at 65 percent capacity (according to CPS, whose utilization calculations would have autistic kids in a closet and no art rooms, libraries, or computer labs), and while the receiving school appears to have a low enrollment (28 percent utilization) and higher test scores (94 percent in reading and 83 percent in Math) the mobility rate is twice that of CPS average at nearly 34 percent. This means that test scores are unreliable since they don’t necessarily reflect the same students. Ericson’s mobility rate is 16.5 percent and below the CPS average. This reflects a stable school.

The decisions made by CPS do not make sense when looking at these schools on the ground. We have food deserts in these neighborhoods, and now we are creating education deserts. Strong schools make for strong neighborhoods, and if we continue to remove them people will eventually stop sending their kids to overcrowded schools and start clamoring for “choice,” thus allowing Rahm to open more charter schools. Or they pick up and move to Aurora or Kenosha, but Rahm doesn’t care about that because it’s clear from the 250 people marching in Garfield Park amid a cacophony of horn-blowing support – firefighters, CTA bus drivers, lone drivers in cars – his approval rating of 19 percent will only go down. I go back to my point … is this racist or whose interests does he have at heart?

Rahm and Bennett have posited that they will not “short change” CPS students by leaving them with the status quo. However, no one has pointed out that investing in education – a logical principal in a democratic society – is an option as well. Let’s make sure that his education policies become synonymous with the blizzard of ’79 that bounced Bilandic out of office.

DOE Faces Pressure Nationwide on School Closings

On Monday, the U.S.. Department of Education confirmed it will investigate complaints that school closings are discriminating against black and hispanic students and students with disabilities, the New York Times reports. While the Philadelphia city council just voted to enact a moratorium on school closings, community activists from 18 cities will meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan this week to protest widespread school closings. This comes at a time when the Chicago Board of Education will hold hearings around the city on its school utilization plans. Mike Klonsky reports on a particularly rowdy meeting at Truman College in Uptown and Substance News details the failure of the Duncan’s “Chicago Plan” to replace public schools with selective Charter schools.

For more about Chicago’s plan to shutter over 100 neighborhood schools read Ben Joravsky’s Reader article here.

I’ve posted this video before but it’s a moving clip from the student’s perspective:


Do They Really Want to Hear the Voice of Parents?

 “I wish we had more demand. I wish we had a lot more parents … demanding a world-class education—not just on the policy side, but on the advocacy side.”       Arne Duncan, Education Week

I have to wonder sometimes if I’m on the same planet as my elected officials. How many parents did I see out on the picket lines with Chicago Public Schools teachers last September demanding quality conditions for quality schools? Who was at those rallies at city hall when Rahm shoved through the longer school day with no supports or programs for the additional time? And the candlelight vigils around closed schools?private publiv

Meanwhile, WBEZ reported that while CPS plans to close upwards of 100 schools they have applications to open 14 new contract and charter schools. Further, in a grant to the Gates Foundation, they say they plan on opening 60 charter schools in the next five years.

The article gives us a nice bit of math:

Right now, 14 percent of CPS’s 681 schools are privately run charter and contract schools.If the district closes 100 schools, and then opens 60 new charters in the next five years, the percentage of privately run schools could jump up to 27 percent. In a grant application to the Gates Foundation, CPS leaders said they planned to open 100 new schools in the next five years, 60 of them charters.

At the same time I am in conversations with a parent who moved into a district where the rumors are flying that the school will close.  She’s concerned that the school next to her is a Level 2 school and if her child begins in the district she’s in and it closes she’ll be shuttled to a new school next year.

And Arne Duncan has the nerve to suggest parents don’t care?

We Want Harold (again)

These past few weeks as I’ve watched government operate at the local level, I can’t help but think that Harold Washington would be rolling in his grave. As we’ve been  commemorating Harold’s all-too-short realm of openness and fairness, so-called “open hearings” these days appear to be open to officials and legislators while the voices of the community go unheard.

On November 20, the City Council Committee on Education and Child Development held hearings on potential school closings. As reported by Substance, while several alderman asked probing questions (such as what happens if a school is closed and parents have missed the selective enrollment deadline), the dozens of parents and community groups  in attendance were not allowed to speak. Similarly, at a raucous Springfield hearing that granted CPS an extension on the Dec. 1 deadline to announce school closings, the hundreds who showed up were also not given a chance to testify.

In the meantime, Raise Your Hand released their survey of recently compiled data from ISBE 2011 report cards shows that 76% of CPS schools had a grade that exceeded CPS’ recommended class size limits in 2011.  CPS claims the district has 500,000 classroom seats for only 400,000 students.

New CEO Chief Barbara Byrd Bennett promised a five-year moratorium on school closings if the General Assembly extended their school utilization deadline, a move Parents United For Responsible Education (PURE) likened to saying, “I promise to stop beating you after I get in this last round of punches.” Both the SunTimes’ and the Tribune’s editorials questioned the Boards ability to keep that promise.

The Commission on School Utilization’s first community meeting will be Monday, December 3 from 7-9 PM at Salem Baptist Church – 752 E. 114th Street.