Brizard: We’re all to blame

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Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said everyone is to blame for the many under-performing area schools that are slated to be overhauled due to years of low test scores and below average graduation rates.

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Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said everyone is to blame for the many under-performing area schools that are slated to be overhauled due to years of low test scores and below average graduation rates.

As a result a record 10 turnaround schools have been proposed for next year, including six with Academy for Urban School Leadership, that officials say will provide 5,800 students to a higher quality school options.

Following a round of public hearings over the next few months, a school board vote is expected in February.

“We have a collective responsibility,” Brizard told the Defender. “Our students are falling farther and farther behind every year. We can no longer accept or defend schools that have failing our students year after year.”

The plan calls for the Chicago Board of Education to close Simon Guggenheim Elementary School, 7141 S. Morgan St., and Florence B. Price Elementary School, 4351 S. Drexel Blvd.

“Guggenheim has gone to the deep end,” Brizard said about the school that has been on academic probation for the last five years, and was recently reported as the worst school in the state with 85 percent of third graders not meeting state standards in reading. “CPS has tried to close the school a number of times. We are now working to find better options for students.”

Guggenheim students will make the transition to neighboring Bond Elementary, 7050 S. May, a level two school, officials said.

Price, which has been on probation for the last four years, will close and its students will attend National Teachers Academy, a school four miles away.

“All parents were caught off guard with the news. We are working very close with KOCO (Kenwood Oakland Community Organization). We will do everything in our power to not see this building shut down,” said Kimberly Wells, parent of a 6th-grade Price student.

CPS also has similar initiatives for poorly performing Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St., and Richard T. Crane Technical High School, 2245 W. Jackson Blvd.

The two schools are targeted for phase-outs.

Brizard said those schools — which have been on probation a combined 17 consecutive years (Crane for 14 years) and range between the bottom six and eight percent in their districts — would no longer admit incoming ninth graders, and then gradually shut down operations after its current students graduate.

The incoming freshmen that would have gone to Dyett would now attend Phillips High School, AUSL turnaround school. Crane freshmen will be reassigned to Wells High School.

Staff members who are replaced during the transition will have an opportunity to reapply for their positions under new management. CPS officials say that 70 percent of teachers ended up landing jobs elsewhere shortly after their district school closed.

Although CPS have touted double-digit improvement in ISAT test scores and track record of boosting overall student achievement for schools that have been turned around, parents, teachers and community leaders are not sold on system they say will not work.

“Until this administration addresses the structural inequity in our schools and deals with poverty and other social impediments to learning, we’ll be right back at this place again next year,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. “There is no quick-fix remedy for schools in crisis.”

Others like Wanda Hopkins of Parents United for Responsible Education, said she and members of the Chicago activist organization fear public schools will eventually be eradicated in favor of charter schools and compromise the safety of the students.

“They put a bomb in the building,” Hopkins said about the possibility of violence erupting among students who come from different neighborhoods all of a sudden being forced to meld together in the same environment. “Closing schools does not make schools better. Turnarounds don’t work.”

Gerald Demar, a teacher at Tilden Career Academy High School, 4747 S. Union Ave., that could be part of the turnaround strategy, explained that such moves are “an assault on public education.”

“It is a travesty to let Mayor Emanuel and the one percent do what they want to do to our schools,” Demar said.

It’s estimated an upwards of $20 million will be invested into the plan that officials ensure will address staffing, support services and transportation and safety to provide a smooth transition for all students.

KOCO representative Shannon Bennett says the potential moves by CPS only prove leaders “don’t care about kids or the community” because not enough resources had been provided in the past to prevent schools from failing.

For the last 18 months the group had been working on an initiative called the Bronzeville Global Achievers Village that would improve schools without displacing students or replacing teachers.

Partnering with the Illinois Institute of Technology, DePaul, University of Illinois-Chicago and the Chicago Botanic Garden, the likes of Dyett and Price would be saved and students see dramatic improvements, Bennett said.

The plan was submitted to CPS, but KOCO hasn’t received a response from the Brizard.

“(CPS) already had their minds made up,” said Bennett, who believes reforming schools are motivated more by politics than education. “They want to change black and brown neighborhoods. “We have options, CPS don’t have to rush.”

Brizard, however, said the results from five years of turnarounds are compelling and support a fresh start such as Howe Elementary that saw a 25 percentage increase from 2010 to 2011.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” he said.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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