PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday December 12th, 2012, 4:53pm

CTU Holds Education Summit To Push Back Against School Closings, Charters

Hundreds of Chicago Teachers Union members, public school parents and activists began a grassroots education movement Saturday in response to Chicago Public Schools plan to expand charters while closing neighborhood schools at the end of this academic year. Progress Illinois was there to learn more about the movement and their plans.

Hundreds of Chicago Teachers Union members, public school parents and activists began a grassroots education movement Saturday in response to Chicago Public Schools plan to expand charters while closing neighborhood schools at the end of this academic year.

The education summit, held at Marshall High School on Chicago's West Side, served as an opportunity to educate the public on the “dire reality of CPS plans,” CTU President Karen Lewis said in a statement.

The event began with a rally with education leaders before participants broke off to various action-related workshops including how to strengthen Local School Councils and fight for an elected representative school board, among other topics.

Here’s some of what CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey had to say to the audience before the breakout sessions:

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) attended a morning session about the myths and realities of charter schools.

He told the crowd that Chicago’s communities are in dire need of being rebuilt and improvement starts with investing in neighborhood schools.

But saving community schools from shutting down will take organizing “across the board,” he added.

“Neighborhood schools are under attack,” Fioretti said. “We need to do all we can to stand up for neighborhood schools, to stand up for our teachers for what they did in August and September, and we’ve got to continue the fight into next year.”

Unlike last year, when academic performance was the main indicator of what schools could face the chopping block, the district made school utilization one of the key focuses this time around.

Up to 140 schools could be in danger of shutting down.

By law, the district was to announce the possible school closures for the end of the academic year by December 1.

But during the veto session, the state legislature okayed a one-time extension that pushed back the announcement to March 31.

CPS said it needed the extra time to assess the impact school closings will have on surrounding communities.

In exchange for the delay, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett promised a five-year moratorium on school closings starting next year.

The moratorium will help “provide long-term stability to students, parents and school communities after CPS develops and enacts a comprehensive plan to right-size the district, which currently has space for 500,000 students but only has 400,000 enrolled,” according to a CPS statement.

In a recently released report, CTU found that nearly two decades of school closings have increased racial segregation in schools and depleted stable schools in African American neighborhoods, among other outcomes.

Jitu Brown, with the Kenwood Oakwood Community Organization, told the summit goers not to forget that public schools are community institutions.

“Whether you live in Edgewater, whether you live on 43rd street, wherever you live, we should be the ones determining what happens in our schools,” Brown said. “Not people ... who come from corporations who see our children as products, not people.”

CTU said the underutilization crisis in the district has largely been manufactured to justify the replacement of neighborhood schools by privatized charters.

Although charter schools receive taxpayer funds, they aren’t subject to some of the rules and regulations other public schools adhere to, such as disciplinary actions and procedures, in exchange for meeting certain academic results. Most often, charters are non-unionized and do not have Local School Councils.

Last week, district officials said they wanted to provide more high-quality options for students and open four new charter schools.

CTU issued a release the same day and said the plans to open the new charters “further undermines their argument that there just aren’t enough students to fill the seats in more than 100 neighborhood schools.”

In addition to the charters, district officials want to add more grade levels to three new schools, including a 7th and 8th grade at Marine Military Math Academy.

The academy is currently located near the intersection of Western Avenue and Jackson Boulevard, but Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) has his eye on converting Ames Middle School in the Logan Square community into the military school.

Progress Illinois was at a meeting in early November where Ames parents and Logan Square residents expressed outrage about the lack of public input gathered for the conversion plan, which the alderman submitted to the Chicago Board of Education.

Three parents from Ames talked during a workshop at Saturday’s summit about how they’ve taken action in opposition of the military academy.

Emma Segura, a parent mentor at Ames, said organizers circulated a petition in the community, which showed overwhelming opposition to Maldonado’s plan.

“Our alderman did everything under the table, and he said his community was behind him,” she said. “No it’s not, because our community doesn’t want a military school.”

CPS will hold one hearing on the charter and grade recommendations at 5 p.m. on Thursday at school district headquarters, 125 S. Clark St.

Comments

I want to thank the Chicago Teachers Union for hosting a wonderful summit. Since that time, I have been in contact with educators around the country whose districts have the same issues around school closings as Chicago.

Federal education policies and programs have created funding streams that reward school districts for closing traditional public schools en mass while rapidly expanding charter schools. These public dollars are leveraged by the private sector, including the Gates Foundation, which provide funding to school districts that agree to fund charter schools at the same level as traditional public schools; share lessons learned with charters; close the bottom 25% of public schools and prioritize turning over empty school buildings to charters. There are no provisions to strengthen traditional public schools. School districts that participate in the Gates District Charter Compact are closing neighborhood schools and expanding charters at a faster rate than is necessary to 1) ensure that decisions to close schools are made using accurate and complete data 2) ensure that new schools provide high quality alternatives and are able to sustain themselves over the long term. The City of Chicago could close as many as 140 schools this year. Philadelphia will close 44 schools, and Boston will close 20 schools. Most impacted schools are located in low income minority communities.

While massive school closings will impact low income minority communities disproportionately, this is an issue that impacts us all, as taxpayers, parents, teachers, and engaged community members. Schools are the life source of communities, as they provide meaningful employment opportunities for teachers and support staff; prepare our children for the workforce and help to maintain current property values. I ask that you take 2 minutes to visit https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/stop-education-policies-promot... to sign the petition. We need 150 signatures in order for the petition to appear on the President's We the People website. We need 25,000 signatures by January 31, 2013 in order to get the President to provide a public response to the petition on the website. Your participation could have a significant impact on future education policy and funding streams. I ask you to share this in your networks through e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. Thank you in advance for your role in preserving public education.

Your participation is appreciated.

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