CPS committee to help with community input on school closings
I got to sit in on a call with some parent bloggers with the new CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, to learn about this new Commission that has been appointed to be a community liaison with the public in anticipation of upcoming school closings. CPS has asked for 3 additional months to give communities more time to respond to the proposals, so this was all announced this week. Below is a speech BBB gave to the Chicago Urban League From the Urban League’s web site: “For 95 years, the Chicago Urban League has been a leader in building strong sustainable African American communities and creating opportunities with the power to transform people’s lives!” Presumably, many of the school closings will be in largely African American communities where population has dwindled in the past decade so I image that’s why this audience is being addressed.
To summarize the news, CPS needs to close schools for financial reasons because many are underutilized. BBB/CPS realized that the way it’s been done in the past makes communities feel like CPS is shoving a decision down their throats. They want to give communities more input on how best to handle it. It will still happen, but with input, hopefully the changes can be less painful, more productive, more palatable to the communities affected.
My one main observation of BBB during the call is her ability to squarely answer questions (which yes, now I can say it, JCB couldn’t do. He’s a tangent/high level guy.) My favorite part of the call was when I asked whether CPS was actually looking for input from community groups on ideas for using building space, consolidation, etc. She said something to the effect of “Yes, we do, otherwise this would just be a fancy way of telling people “here’s what we’re going to do to you.” I like that kind of self-realization and honesty. I guess I too have had the sense that CPS is shoving things down people’s throats, so it’s hard to lose that notion, frankly.
Jacqueline Edelberg (the Nettelhorst lady, who now blogs for HuffPo) reminded BBB that there used to be a Community School initiative that used building space as a community center – and BBB agreed that ideas like this could be brought to the table, and that communities need to think out of the box on how to handle closings, building space, and consolidation.
Of course this assumes that communities can take the initiative and come up with ideas that don’t turn into civil wars within the community (which seems to be happening in Lincoln Park.)
Anyhow, I’m printing BBB’s speech below. What do you think? Genuine? Spin? Will this help ease the pain of school closings?
BBB SPEECH TO URBAN LEAGUE:
I would like to start by saying it is a privilege for me to serve as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. I have devoted my professional life to teaching and leading schools and school districts in order to ensure that all and I mean all of our children have an opportunity for access to the highest quality instruction that prepares them for the future.
For me, this work is our society’s highest calling and a lasting contribution. That calling started for me nearly 40 years ago when I stepped foot into my first classroom as a teacher in East Harlem, New York City. I was a teacher for more than ten years and a principal for eight years.
As a child growing up in the General Grant public housing projects in Harlem, I learned from my parents that the only way to have a dream, chase that dream and to capture that dream would be through education.
You see, neither of my parents received a high school diploma but they understood the value of education. Both of my parents were hard working people – loving people – who put everything they had into their children despite the fact that we often wanted to stray on the wild side, they kept us on the straight and narrow.
It is because of the values my parent instilled in me and because of our faith that I stand before you today. My values are at the core of how I approach this work and how I make decisions.
I have drawn my strength from my parents and my throughout my life in every role and every position I have held as an educator.
I have served and led some of the most troubled urban school systems in our nation – from New York City to Cleveland and Detroit. And, in each of these Districts, we made progress.
In New York, I led both the Crown Heights School District in Brooklyn and the Chancellor’s District. The Chancellor’s District was the city’s first non- geographic district composed of some the city’s historically lowest performing schools.
During my tenure, with the incredible commitment and partnership of the teachers, principals and members of the community, we were increased student achievement by providing the direction, resources and support needed for success.
For example, after the first year the third grade reading scores increased from 31% at/above grade level to 46%. As we know, a child’s performance in third grade often dictates the likelihood of that child’s future school success and it is an indicator of whether that child will be on track for graduation from high school.
I then spent nearly eight years as CEO of the Cleveland Municipal School District. It is a district governed by the Mayor of the City of Cleveland and in 1998 it was the largest district in the state of Ohio. During my tenure there, from 1998 to 2005, fourth and sixth grade student scores improved in reading and mathematics more than twice as fast as the state averages. In Cleveland, I not only inherited an academic crisis but a fiscal one as well with more than a $150 million deficit. I eliminated the deficit in one year. We maintained a balanced budget; were lifted from the district designation of financial emergency and then received clean audits every year thereafter.
I most recently served in Detroit as Chief Academic and Accountability Auditor where I worked with Robert Bobb, the District’s Emergency Financial Manager. Like Cleveland, Detroit faced both a fiscal and academic crisis. In Detroit, I created a five-year academic reform plan that was aligned with available and projected district resources. The plan was specific, focused and aligned to national standards. By 2011, state test scores in reading at grades 4, 6, 7 and 8 increased between 2 and 7 percent each. Unfortunately, it is my understanding that the new administration in Detroit has decided not to continue implementation of the plan and the key initiatives and strategies I put into place.
In each of the urban school districts I have served, the majority of the children start out with tremendous disadvantages. They often live in communities with inadequate health care services, substandard housing, under resourced schools and minimum supports and services available to their families. They live in neighborhoods that have more than their share of violence. But does that mean these children cannot learn? No, these children may live in poverty but they are not poor. They can and they do learn. They have the strength and fortitude to triumph over so many obstacles, if the adults in their lives simply do not give up on them.
My sister and I were those children growing up so I know it is not easy, but we succeeded. I believe….no…. I know that every child in the Chicago Public Schools is born with the God-given grey matter and ability to succeed. I believe in every one of them. And the teachers who teach our children share in this commitment to our students. I know, because for years I was one of them. Our teachers need strong support from the school district, the local community and, especially, parents.
But, our children need more than just a committed teacher; they need a strong team of adults behind them. And that is what I am determined to provide for each child, each day in each classroom in the City of Chicago.
I am fortunate to have a great foundation in which to begin this journey as CEO because of Mayor Emanuel’s unwavering commitment to helping every child access a high quality education. This foundation will help every child in every school get on a better path for success through a quality, full school school day. Children now have the time they need with their teachers for critical core subject like math and reading. Students have access to more art and music. Schools have the ability to invest more time and resources for kids that require intervention and specialized programming to help address their needs. We have a new teacher evaluation system that will provide teachers with the tools and supports they need to improve student outcomes in the classroom.
We’ve got a jump start on adopting common core state standards, which will also help every child in every school by giving them a more rigorous curriculum that will better prepare them for college and success in the classroom. Principals today are more empowered than ever to make decisions in their schools that can better support student growth. All of these are investments in our kids and their learning. And every child in our system stands to benefit from them. And I thank the Mayor for making these investments a top priority for this city. And there remains much more to be done.
I am a believer but I am also a realist. I know we cannot do what is necessary for our children while facing a billion-dollar deficit. We cannot do what is necessary while school buildings are crumbling. We cannot do what is necessary without the resources for a 21st century education. I share many of the aspirations for our schools that have been proposed by the Chicago Teachers Union and others: A library in every public school; equal access to advanced technology for every child; air-conditioned schools; a nurse in every school; more counselors and updated, current instructional materials and resources and high quality after-school programs. I want our children to learn in safe, warm buildings with green playgrounds.
We must be willing to make the tough choices and critical investments that will best serve our school children. We also need to acknowledge that our District is not serving all the needs of all our children. Our resources are stretched so thin. When we consolidate our schools that are underutilized or half empty, we will be able to better invest those resources across the district. We cannot do what is necessary when we have almost 500,000 seats for a student population closer to 400,000. And today, we simply have too many buildings and too few children.
But these are not decisions that can or should be made in a vacuum. Chicago’s public schools belong to the citizens and the community. We must make sure that the community participates in the decision-making process. We must be open and transparent. We must listen. The question is not whether each of our children should have these things. The question is how do we provide them.
As many of you know, state law requires us to announce by December 1st the schools that we have identified for closure and consolidation. The intent of this law is our intent. SB630 is intended to give community opportunities to respond to the district’s proposals. But I believe, we should provide every opportunity for community participation at the outset. And I do not believe that the current deadline provides parents, teachers and community members with sufficient time to share their concerns and expectations. Based on the District’s history, as well as the District’s past actions, we need to acknowledge that the community simply does not trust what we say or what we do. And if we know this, then we must be inclusive and open. We need to engage all levels of the community. The members of our community deserve to be treated as authentic partners. We need to build trust, respect and transparency. We cannot create the vision for the Next Generation – Chicago’s Children – if the community does not know and understand the vision. The community must be involved in the planning and the work that needs to be done in order to provide all of our children with a high-quality education.
Therefore, I have recommended to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and our Board President David Vitale – and they have agreed – to seek from the state legislature – an extension of the December 1st deadline. The request for an extension of the deadline to March 31st of next year gives us the time needed to rigorously and respectfully engage our communities in authentic conversations. This could be accomplished in the post-election veto session and I intend to personally pursue this and to get it done. We have reached out to our legislative leaders in Springfield and we have asked them to consider such a measure as sponsors of Senate Bill 630. This extension would enable me to appoint a Commission on School Utilization. The Commission will ensure the participation of parents, community leaders, public interest groups and faith leaders in making these tough decisions. In addition, I would recommend to the Commission that the first meeting of the Commission be held with CTU so that they are partners in the work moving forward. This Commission will hold public meetings across the city in every neighborhood to listen and to gather community input. They will also meet with subject matter experts to gather information and recommendations. The Commission’s work and they information they gather, will be present and help to inform the District before final decisions are made.
Members who have agreed to serve are:
- The Honorable Iris Y Martinez, representative for the people of Illinois’ 20th Legislative District and the first Hispanic woman elected to the state senate in Illinois history.
- Frank M. Clark, retired chairman and chief executive officer of ComEd.
- Pastor John Hannah, born and raised in Chicago and the Senior Pastor of New Life Covenant Church and radio host for Chicago’s #1 rated Gospel radio program.
- Terry Hillard, former Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.
- Alderman Howard B. Brookins, serving his second term in the 21st Ward and Chair of the Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus.
- Fausto Lopez, former principal
- Earnest Gates, one of the principle people responsible for the transformation of the newly named “West Haven” neighborhood.
- Shirley Calhoun, a CPS parent and grandparent and assistant parent coordinator at Fiske Elementary
- Debra Perkins, a retired CPS teacher
At the end of this process, our goal will be to have strong neighborhood schools in each community that provide our children with the high quality education they deserve. I want to make it perfectly clear that the Commission for School Utilization is not designed to delay our tough decisions. A March 31st deadline does not prohibit us from making the necessary decisions in time for full implementation by the next school year. But the extension will give us time to provide an open and transparent process – one that considers the views and desires of parents, teachers, principals and neighborhood residents. And it is only through such an open and transparent process that we can forge the consensus we need to do what is best for our children and our city. It will give the members of the community voice as we create neighborhood schools for the Next Generation of Chicago’s Children.
The Mayor and I share a vision for the more than 400,000 public school children in Chicago. That vision starts with school buildings that are clean and conducive for learning. Schools that are air-conditioned. Schools where children have access to advanced technologies and libraries rich with books, reference materials and other media tools. Schools with safe and attractive playgrounds. Our vision is of a school filled with creative and talented teachers, caring nurses and empathic counselors. Schools led by strong and supportive principals. Our vision is for schools where children have a joy for learning and the learning is meaningful, engaging and purposeful. It is a vision of parents and teachers working together each day for the benefit of each child, in each classroom. And finally, it is a vision where all of the adults in the city of Chicago have suspended their disbelief about our children. It is a vision where all adults are united and wrap their arms around the children.
I know if we are willing to make the tough decisions and if we are willing to work together we can get this right. I know I cannot do this alone. I need your support. I ask you to join me with open minds and open hearts as we redesign our District for the next generation of Chicago’s children. Thank you.