The Chicago Board of Education approved a sweeping turnaround and consolidation plan today that will replace complete staffs at eight schools, close four elementary schools, move two schools and consolidate or phase out four others.
The moves, approved unanimously by the board's five members, will cost hundreds of teachers their jobs at the end of the school year and affect more than 7,000 students next fall.
And it's unlikely this will be the end of reform at the Chicago Public Schools.
"I expect this will happen again over the next couple of years," says Rufus Williams, CPS President.
Today's decisions did not arrive without controversy and heated discussions, considering the large public turnout spilled over into an overflow room and parents of Edison Regional Gifted Center students created a picket line on Clark Street two hours before the day-long meeting began.
The Chicago Teachers Union requested a 90-day moratorium on the voting, but didn't get it.
"There were a lot of difficult decisions the board had to make today," says Williams, himself an alum of Orr High School, one of the targeted turnaround schools.
The three high schools at the Orr complex, 730 N. Pulaski Road,
plus its two elementary feeder schools, and Harper High School,
6520 S. Wood, and its two feeder schools, will all close at the end
of the 2007-08 school year.
They will re-open next fall with new teaching and administrative staffs as part of a turnaround initiative that CPS officials hope result in higher test scores and graduation rates. Today's action means the hiring can begin.
Per the turnaround format, all teachers and administrators will be eliminated in the eight schools, though they may reapply for their jobs.
"We can't throw our teachers out," pleaded Earl Baskin of the Lawndale Neighborhood Organization, objecting to Howe Elementary being designated as a turnaround project. "Why push our teachers out of the community? You qualified them. Now you're gonna throw these people to the curb?"
Teachers tenured within CPS would be eligible to be hired at
other CPS schools.
The four high schools in the turnaround plan had fewer than 13 percent of their students meet state standards last year. At Harper, for example, less than half of students graduate, and only five percent met state standards last year.
"We cannot afford to wait another year to change things because they (the students) can't wait another year," says Arne Duncan, CPS chief, who made the final recommendations to the board today after receiving a series of reports from hearing officers who administered 19 public hearings held over the last month.
The three high schools at Orr will be combined into one high school with more than 1,400 students.
"What I feel is you're putting students in a cycle of failure all over again," says Terrence Williams, a 2007 graduate of Orr, who was a sophomore when Orr was split into three schools by CPS.
The new Orr, and feeder schools Howe Elementary and Morton Career Academy, will be operated by the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), a nonprofit educational firm that specializes in turnaround schools and trains teachers for inner-city schools. It recently received a $10.3 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund such a project. Orr will also become a teaching academy as a part of the process.
AUSL has led turnaround efforts at Harvard and Sherman elementary schools in Chicago.
The turnaround projects at Harper High School, and feeder schools Fulton Elementary and Copernicus Elementary, will be administered by the CPS' turnaround office.
The board also approved a sweeping consolidation plan that will close Gladstone Elementary, 1231 S. Damen; Johns Middle Academy, 6936 S. Hermitage; Miles Davis, 6723 S. Wood, and Midway Academy, 5434 S. Lockwood. Andersen Elementary, 1148 N. Honore St., and De La Cruz Middle School, 2317 W. 23rd Pl., will be phased out.
Edison Regional Gifted Center, 6220 N. Olcott Ave., is one of the schools to be moved, creating large objections dating back to the January Board of Education meeting when 50 Edison parents spoke out. Edison has ranked as high as No. 1 among city schools.
"You don't have to create anything. It's already there," says Molly Porter, parent of an Edison student.
Feedback from the 19 public hearings, and from the hearing
officers, led the CPS to change some of its proposals, announced
just before the Board of Education meeting began.
Abbott Elementary, 3630 S. Wells St., which was to be closed and consolidated into Graham Elementary, escaped unscathed. But it was the only one. Among an approved request from parents, Duncan said, was the phasing out of De La Cruz Middle School instead of a consolidation.
"What we got in return (from the hearings) was a much stronger plan," Duncan says. "It was shaped in a large part by this process."
But the voices of objection still came loudly.
About 200 packed the Board of Education Chambers, plus an overflow room, mostly to argue against the CPS plan. The board heard more than three hours of testimony from more than 60 members of the public.
For some, improving CPS schools is as much a socio-economic issue as it is education.
"Tell me what they're doing to fix the poverty, how they're going to fix the racism," says Laura Ramirez, a former teacher and now a student seeking a doctorate degree at UIC.
CPS turnaround projects
Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.