Huberman, Chicago Public Schools board, get an earful

  • By Jay Field
  • January 28, 2009 @ 3:00 PM

Ron Huberman’s first Chicago Board of Education meeting as the city’s new public schools chief got off to a nice enough start.

Board President Rufus Williams gave Huberman a warm hello. Huberman, the new chief executive officer, thanked board members and said he looked forward to working with them.

However, a smattering of boos that greeted these pleasantries today hinted at the storm to come. Huberman came face to face with the community grief and outrage touched off by the district’s recent announcement that it would close, consolidate or turn around 22 low-performing schools.

“I’m getting a University of Chicago masters on Chicago’s dime. Then, after I get it, you’re going to tell me to get out!” says Daisy Sharp, who teaches, math, language arts and social studies at Oliver Wendell Homes.

Oliver Wendell Holmes in Englewood has struggled with low test scores and is slated to have its curriculum overhauled and teachers replaced by the Academy of Urban School Leadership. AUSL is a private group with a growing business in the city turning around failing schools.

Other teachers lambasted the new CEO and the board for targeting schools for closure and turnaround that already employ nationally board certified teachers.

Parents and family members of students at those schools say the closings would be disastrous.

Lance LaCour, who graduated from an alternative high school and is joining the U.S. Marine Corps, came to talk about his brother, a student at Las Casas, a special education high school slated for closure. The teen-ager, LaCour told the board, has been diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder.

“At Las Casas, they deal with the problems there,” says LaCour, “some of these students don’t have parents at home, don’t have no one to go home to.”

Other family members today talked of their children's lives being upended by taking them away from teachers to whom they’ve already bonded.

“Please understand, when we’re trying to make decisions, we are listening to you, we hear you,” Board president Rufus Williams told one angry parent.

Williams offered this reassurance over and over, but it didn’t seem to sway many in the packed chambers. They say this year’s round of closings, consolidations and turnarounds, despite growing grassroots opposition, are all but a done deal.

The Board of Education has already started holding public hearings for the schools on the list. Final decisions on the schools’ fates are expected at next month’s board meeting.