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Coalition To Revitalize Dyett High School Takes Center Stage At 4th Ward Meeting (VIDEO)

by Ellyn Fortino, Progress Illinois  |  July 29, 2014

Supporters of keeping Bronzeville's Walter H. Dyett High School open beyond 2015 by turning it into a "global leadership and green technology" open-enrollment high schoolcame out in force to discuss the proposal at a rowdy 4th Ward community meeting Monday evening.

Local Ald. Will Burns (4th) held the meeting to gather community feedback about the future of Dyett, which the Chicago Board of Education voted to phaseout back in 2012 due to poor academic performance. Dyett is slated to close completely in 2015 after its last senior class graduates.

A community-driven blueprint to offer a global leadership and green technology curriculum at Dyett, along with other programs involving agricultural sciences and cultural awareness, dominated the discussion at the meeting, held at King College Prep High School. The academic plan, developed by community members and academics over several years, is backed by the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, a group spearheaded by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO).

continue reading at Progress Illinois

Sun-Times: New political movement has arrived.

by Natasha Korecki, Chicago Sun-Times  |  July 28, 2014

Chicago Teachers Union, progressives form new Chicago coalition

Look out Chicago, a new political movement has arrived.

United Working Families, a partnership between labor groups, including the Chicago Teachers Union, and a coalition of a dozen community groups is expected to announce its formal launch on Monday, executive director Kristen Crowell tells Early & Often.

Crowell is the same woman who headed an effort to counter policies by Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, raising $50 million along the way.

“This organization collectively will represent well over 100,000-plus members in a diverse range of communities in Chicago,” Crowell said of the Chicago group.

Crowell previously served as executive director of We Are Wisconsin, which grew out of protests in 2011 and eventually cultivated its battle into a full-blown recall election against Walker.

Walker ultimately defeated the recall. But We Are Wisconsin raised $50 million that poured into a super PAC. Crowell is credited with influencing state races and galvanizing a field campaign that had members knocking on 3.5 million doors.

“I think there is a real moment right now for change. When it comes to issues, what we’re seeing are two different Chicagos,” Crowell said. “We are really concerned about the growing inequities facing our neighborhoods.”

 

Continue reading at the Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Crusader: Protestors vow to reinstate CPS program

by J. Coyden Palmer - Chicago Crusader  |  July 25, 2014

Last week after the Crusader’s exclusive story revealed that the only remaining electricity program in the city housed at Simeon Career Academy, 8147 South Vincennes, was eliminated by Chicago Public Schools, employees, alumni, concerned citizens, and former students of the program came together for a rally and began organizing in an effort to reverse the decision. 

On July 21, Alderman Howard Brookins (21st), members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), former Simeon students and staff, in addition to the vice president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134, protested outside the school concurring they will continue to hound CPS CEO Dr. Barbara Byrd-Bennett; Dr. Elizabeth Kirby, chief of Network 11; and Simeon Principal Sheldon House, who made the decision, until the program is reinstated.

CPS spokesperson Joel Hood said the program was closed because of low enrollment. He added CPS principals have autonomy over the programs they offer at their schools. Deputy Press Secretary Lauren Huffman emailed the Crusader and stated:

“CPS undertook its efforts to revitalize career education programs and raise program standards, schools have decided to shut down programs on their own.”

But, the parameters for what determines low enrollment were not stated by CPS.

“I didn’t know anything about the program being at risk until I was telephoned on June 26 and told my position had been closed,” said former Simeon electricity program teacher Latisa Kindred, who said this past school year, there were 60 students in the program.

ILLUSTRATION: Saving Simeon CTE 

Brookins said he supports working with Local 134 in promoting the program at Simeon. He said if low enrollment was indeed an issue, it could have been solved by promoting the program more in the community and telling kids about the great financial opportunities a career as an electrician can offer or how much money they will save by being able to fix something around their house.

“This program is bigger than one teacher; it’s bigger than one school; it is about the future for our kids,” said Brookins. “Everyone here knows that one of the main problems in our community is a lack of high-paying jobs. The program represents the way out of poverty… and a true career that you can get in without going to college. I support this program and the efforts of the teachers and people here to bring this program back to Simeon since it is the last program of its kind in the city. It needs to be put back into place.” 

A 1981 graduate of Simeon, Joe Wells is a current member of Local 134 and president of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus. He stated the caucus has supported Kindred since she came to the school seven years ago, and that she has done a tremendous job in breathing life into a program that was floundering when she took over. 

“The electrical industry is multi-faceted, and you can go into a number of occupations in this industry,” Wells said. “We need to be advocates for our children and steadfast in making sure they bring this program back. This is about the quality of life for our children, and is a vital part of our community.”

Wells claimed that CPS did little to help Kindred in the early stages, but Local 134 and several individual electrical contractors donated equipment, came to the school and did presentations, in addition to hiring many of Kindred’s former students as interns. 

Members of the Simeon Alumni Association have begun organizing a petition drive with hopes of getting 1,000 signatures to present before the CPS board at their next scheduled meeting. 

Brian Smith, the association’s president, said Simeon is known for strong sports teams, but they have graduated hundreds more of middle-class vocational workers than professional athletes. He said the original mission of the school was to provide an avenue to the middle class via trade skills.

“Our founder, Neil F. Simeon’s focus was on assisting those people who could not or would not go straight to college,” Smith said. “The alumni association believes that the principles our school was founded on are now in jeopardy with the continuous elimination of vocational programs over the past few years at Simeon. Now, CPS seems to be saying you either go to college or bust.”

Smith said alumni often market the school to potential students they come across by telling them about all of the programs the school offers. He mentioned that recently, there have been times when they were not aware of a program being cut until being notified by the students. He went on to say that Principal House told him he had to cut the program because of the budget and low enrollment. 

“Here, we are pushing kids to Simeon for the vocational part, and then they get here and say ‘they don’t have that program anymore,’ and we’re sitting there like ‘oh wow,’” Smith said. “We feel betrayed.” 

Tanya Little, co-chair of Simeon’s local school council (LSC), said the LSC was told the enrollment was low for the entire school due to Simeon being a select-enrollment school, and not just the electricity program was struggling. But, she does not buy that excuse. 

As an alumna, parent of a current student and LSC member, Little questioned what could have been done prior to the cuts to save some of the vocational classes and why was the Simeon community not told there were problems?

“To my knowledge, the school has done nothing to promote these programs to students or perspective students before they closed them,” Little said. 

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16) said she has begun inquiries into why the program was shut down. Collins said she has heard from many of her constituents, who vouch for the electricity program’s success, and she does not believe in this day and age, CPS should be cutting such an important avenue for young people. 

A statement from Collins read, “What our young people need most is hope for the future, and vocational programs that offer pathways to the trades provide that hope for many students. I intend to make inquiries to CPS regarding the rationale behind the decision, and I will continue to push for high-quality career and technical education in our schools so interested students can graduate and find good employment in the trades.”

CPS’s Attack on Vocational Training Contributes to Chicago’s Skyrocketing Youth and Black Unemployment Rates

by ctu communications  |  July 23, 2014

CHICAGO—In 2011, Simeon Career Academy on Chicago’s South Side closed its only machine shop—the last machine shop program in the city. Now in 2014, Simeon has eliminated the only electricity program in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) at a time when unemployment is more than 7 percent in the state of Illinois and an astounding 92 percent for African-American males ages 16-19 in Chicago. This continued decline in the district’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs has resulted in the shortage of skilled, CPS-trained tradesman in the city, as well as the termination of veteran teachers, including the district’s only female, African-American CTE teacher at Simeon.

This loss of labor training comes at a time when minimum wage jobs are the only future prospects for many adults in Chicago, yet city leaders are eliminating programs that produce skilled workers. At a time when violence is a key concern in the city of Chicago and economic development proves to be a strong deterrent to widespread criminality, the programs that provide alternatives are being shut down. The sad fact is that Simeon is just one example of what is happening throughout CPS.

“Let’s be realistic—not everyone is interested in attending (or can even afford) college,” said Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis.  “Some people have extremely successful careers in blue collar jobs as carpenters, auto mechanics, electricians and plumbers. Many can pursue lucrative careers in graphic design and commercial art. By reducing our students’ access to vocational training, CPS is reducing their chances to earn decent livings as they become adults. In a city of nearly three million people, CPS graduates fewer than 30 welders, 30 HVAC qualified workers, 30 cabinet makers and 30 electricians per year. This is unacceptable.”

Lewis said although the district is shifting to STEM learning, all students should be given career awareness programs beginning in 7th and 8th grades, with career path preparation taking place in the 9th grade. “Young people can then make informed decisions about their adult lives, and should they choose a career in those fields, they will be prepared to take advantage of apprenticeship and cooperative work programs,” she said. “That way, they can begin to accumulate experience, resources and eventually wealth.”

For more than a decade, the city’s school district has systematically eliminated and dismantled the CTE courses that prepare students for high-paying jobs in the construction trades, manufacturing and public service, in addition to automotive, architecture and drafting careers. Valuable programs that taught practical skills to use at home, in the community and as preparation for the workplace have been eliminated from schools in Chicago. The irony is that while these programs are diminished and eliminated in Chicago, this is not the case in other districts throughout Illinois. Other districts are building and developing CTE centers and reinvigorating home economics.

Michael Brunson, recording secretary for the CTU and a former manufacturing labor coordinator before becoming a teacher, added, “We are pushing a lot of our students through the system without employable skills or work experience. What happens to communities when you have an entire generation of youth people unable to find jobs and unable to open their own businesses? We are condemning an entire segment of our population to low-skill, low-wage work.

“The national mantra for education states that our public schools are to prepare students for college and career, yet all too often, there is a massive emphasis on ‘college’ instead of ‘career.’ For those students not attending college, ‘career’ refers to workplace skills needed in construction trades, information technology, manufacturing, service fields and entrepreneurship, but CPS seems to have redefined ‘career’ as only fields that require a four-year college degree. Training for apprenticeships, internships, certificates and career choices that do not require a four-year degree is on the decline.”

ILLUSTRATION: Simeon“Electricity in CPS is the fourth program to close at Simeon in four years…first it was graphic design, then machine shop, then auto shop and now electricity,” said former Simeon teacher Latisa Kindred, the district’s only female, African-American Electricity educator who was recently laid off. “They need to save CTE, because my students leave this program and find jobs, and that’s an alternative to what they face on the streets.”

Kindred and other CTE teachers report that they have a higher level of classroom engagement and fewer dropouts, as their students find value in working in trades, manufacturing and service industries, dignity in choosing careers such a carpentry, and personal satisfaction and value to the community and society through preparation for jobs as builders, manufacturers, and service workers. National research supports this valuable role for CTE classes. As violence in Chicago and other urban centers increases, it is time to consider replacing weapons with tools in the hands of youth and confronting hopelessness with the security of useful skills and guaranteed earning power.

Vocational education was a mainstay in CPS until 1995, when Mayor Richard M. Daley took control of the school district. In the last decade, vocational education was rebranded as “career and technical education” as a way to stimulate division in the labor movement between “workers” and “professionals.” Reportedly, while CTE teachers have industry experience in the trades they teach, those running the program at the Chicago Board of Education have no industry or education experience in the fields—only business backgrounds.

“Our students deserve the opportunity to try all subjects that are of interest to them,” Lewis said. “Learning through hands-on activities has proven effective for retention of students who are inclined to leave school prior to high school graduation. We don’t want our youth out on the streets, unable to access jobs and resources but able to access to guns and drugs.”

CTU: ‘Onus Falls on Mayor to Properly Fund City’s Public Schools’

by ctu communications  |  July 23, 2014

CHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) released the following statement today regarding the Board of Education's efforts to jam through a flawed budget for the coming fiscal year:

“The mayor’s handpicked school board is playing politics with the schools budget. By using 14 months’ worth of revenue in this fiscal year, it pushes the problems of funding into next year—until after the election—and into a contract year,” said Jesse Sharkey, CTU vice president. “CPS has been banking on solving their budget problems through pension theft, but the Illinois Supreme Court ruling that protected retiree benefits has negated that strategy.

“The current crisis has also been exacerbated by the unchecked proliferation of charter schools, which have seen their portion of the schools budget grow 30 percent faster than overall school spending—and is directly linked to the decision to close 50 schools last year due to budgetary reasons,” Sharkey said.

“Now the onus falls on the mayor to properly fund the public schools.”

Crain's: Watchdog group shreds Chicago public schools' 'gimmick-based' budget

by greg hinz - crain's chicago  |  July 23, 2014

An already "unsustainable" financial hole at Chicago Public Schools continues to only get worse, setting the stage for "dramatic and painful" cuts next year, according to a review of its proposed 2015 budget by the Civic Federation.

The watchdog group hasn't had much nice to say about CPS in recent years — I called its 2014 review "absolutely scathing" — but the review being released today is even more negative, depicting a system that seemingly has lost the will to do anything but spend increasing amounts of money it doesn't have.

CPS is "fiscally overcommitting itself" and technically balancing its books only via a $600 million "accounting gimmick," the federation says in an 85-page report on a system in charge of educating roughly 350,000 youngsters. "(The budget) represents a short-term, short-sighted plan in the midst of a grave and ongoing fiscal crisis."

With normal revenue and enrollment down, CPS should at a minimum be holding spending even in its $6.8 billion budget for fiscal 2015, which started July 1, the federation says. But as Mayor Rahm Emanuel prepares to run for re-election, the amount going out the door is up as much as $441 million, or 8.4 percent from the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Even worse, the financial pros at the Civic Federation say CPS' budget accounting and reporting is so opaque that the citizens' group can't get a clear grasp of what's actually occurring inside CPS' budget office.

'LACK OF TRANSPARENCY'

"Scarcity of appropriations and deficit details continue an ongoing lack of transparency that threatens public trust in the district's ability to be an efficient steward of taxpayer funds," the group says.

I'll get some reaction from CPS later today, but the core of the Civic Federation's dismay is over a decision by CPS officials to include 14 months of revenue in a 12-month period.

As I reported a few weeks ago, CPS will shift revenue to fiscal 2015 from 2016 by extending the district's "revenue recognition period" until Aug 29, 2015, 60 days after the end of the district's fiscal year. Not much property-tax revenue shows up in July, and the district for a long time has included it in the previous year's revenue figure. But adding August is new and will add $600 million in revenue to the fiscal 2015 budget — a one-time fix that will expand CPS' existing structural budget hole, in the federation's view.

The federation complained in 2013 and 2014 of similar accounting missteps, as the district completely drained its reserve accounts.

'SHORT-SIGHTED CHOICES'

District officials have blamed the Illinois General Assembly for failing to increase state school aid and failing to pass worker pension reform. But the federation noted that it was CPS that failed to make required pension contributions for a decade, and that the district now is increasing spending and building new schools, such as the proposed Barack Obama College Prep High School just south of Lincoln Park.

"CPS has played a very real and active role in the decline of its own fiscal health," the federation report says. "CPS has made fiscally short-sighted choices."

I find absolutely amazing the federation's statement that the CPS finances are too cloudy to decipher.

For instance, compared to the budget for fiscal 2014, proposed spending is up just $164 million, or 2.9 percent, in fiscal 2015, the federation notes. But compared to the estimated spending for fiscal 2014, the hike is 8.4 percent, or $444 million.

Why the difference? "We don't know," Civic Federation Vice President Sarah Wetmore said. "We weren't able to get an answer."

Nor was the federation able to determine the reasons for categories of the higher spending beyond $86 million for salaries and $34 million for pensions. The federation was also unable to get "consistent financial reporting" for funds given to privately run but publicly financed charter schools.

The Chicago Board of Education, of course, is appointed by Mr. Emanuel, and top officials would not serve without his approval. If today's analysis is at all correct, it sounds like he has some questions to answer.

Public Hearing for Dyett High School

by ctu communications  |  July 22, 2014

ILLUSTRATION: Public Hearing for Dyett High School

Access Living releases analysis of CPS FY 2015 Budget

by access living  |  July 22, 2014

CHICAGO—Access Living announces the release of the FY 2015 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Budget Review. In conjunction with the start of each school year, Access Living publishes a review of the CPS Budget, specifically as it relates to special education funding and students with disabilities. The report is authored by Access Living Education Policy Analyst Rodney Estvan. On Wednesday, July 23, Estvan is scheduled to speak about the Budget Review at the Chicago School Board Meeting. 

The review does not support the FY 2015 CPS Budget. Though resources devoted to special education are higher than in FY 2014, Estvan writes that “this budget does not even attempt to formulate a plan to address the structural deficit the district is faced with.” Traditionally, costs are higher to educate students with disabilities compared to students without disabilities. Because of this, in the budget review, Estvan critiques the overall finances of CPS, “including issues relating to taxation, and pensions.” Four of the sections in the report focus on finances. These sections include: The Dynamics of CPS Pension Problems, Student Based Budgeting, Funding for Special Education Services, and Capital Budget Issues. An additional section of the report focuses on Charter Schools. Regarding Charter Schools, Estvan explains that although Charters are being reimbursed for nearly the full amount of special education costs, the schools are not educating some of the most severely disabled students. 

The report ends with a series of recommendations on budget and finance issues, charter schools, and staffing. The recommendations include taking a more comprehensive approach to fiscal stabilization. Estvan writes, “Up to now the Board has placed all bets on pension reform savings coming out of the Illinois General Assembly.” 

Established in 1980, Access Living is a non-profit, Chicago-based disability rights and service organization that provides individualized, peer-based services for people with disabilities. With a strong influence in public policy and social reform, Access Living is committed to challenging stereotypes, protecting civil rights and breaking institutional and community barriers. For more information, contact Gary Arnold at 312-640-2199.
 

CPS Pulls Plug on Electrical Program

by By J. Coyden Palmer | Story Posted:07/17/2014  |  July 18, 2014

FORMER SIMEON ELECTRICITY shop teacher Latisa Kindred poses with 12 of her current and former students during a rally Tuesday night on the South Side. Chicago Public Schools cut the program at Simeon earlier this month, the last of its kind within the school district. Kindred and her supporters say by eliminating Career Technical Education programs, city kids are being denied opportunities afforded to those who know trades like plumbing, carpentry, welding and other vocational trades. (Photo By J. Coyden Palmer)

When Dr. Barbara Byrd-Bennett took over the helm of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in October of 2012, she told the Crusader during a meeting in her office that she was committed to maintaining vocational trade curriculum within the system.

Last week, CPS quietly cut the final electrical program offered in city schools when the program at Simeon Vocational Career Academy was given the axe without warning.

Members of the local electricians union, former Simeon electricity shop students and the instructor who taught them, came together Tuesday night just blocks from the school to begin organizing an effort to save the program. The elimination of the electricity program—a year after the last machine shop course was cut in the city—will have a devastating effect on African-American students looking to get into the trades, said a representative of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).

Michael E. Brunson, recording secretary for CTU, said while CPS is eliminating Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, suburban school districts are either maintaining or increasing them.

“These are opportunities that our young African-American and Latino students are missing out on. We are coming out of a recession, so the demand for electricians, machinists, plumbers, carpenters, and all of the other trades are on the rise again,” Brunson said. “So, why are we hurting our kids and their teachers?”

The Crusader reached out to both Mayor Emanuel’s office and CPS for comment on this story.

According to officials at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 134, an apprentice electrician is currently making $18 an hour. After four or five years in an apprentice program, a journeyman electrician can make $44 an hour. Within the next five years, that is expected to increase to $50 an hour.

Last week, Latisa Kindred, who has been at Simeon since 2007, said she was notified by Principal Dr. Sheldon House she would not be returning. This past school year, Kindred said she had 60 students in the electricity program in the beginning of the year and by year’s end, 56 students.

Read more at The Crusader

Education Week: Chicago Mishandled School Closures, Says State Panel

by Denisa R. Superville - Education Week  |  July 15, 2014

An Illinois state task force has released a stinging report on the wave of school closures last year in Chicago, assailing the district for what it sees as a lack of long-range planning, adequate community engagement, a formal system to track and evaluate the student-level impact of the closures, and evidence that the closings benefited students.

The report, issued last month by the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, is laden with criticisms of the 400,500-student district's planning, execution, and other actions related to its closings in 2013 of 49 schools, which directly affected 11,728 students. African-American, poor, homeless, and other students deemed at risk were disproportionately affected by the closures, the report says. More than half the students who moved attended new schools that were on academic probation, it says.

But the district is aggressively pushing back against the report, which Chicago school officials said is riddled with inaccuracies. It is rebutting some of the major findings point by point and accusing task force members of excluding key facts and data that the district provided in response to its questions.

The state task force's report—which looked both at the mass closures in 2013 and consolidations and closures in 2012—is the third in recent months offering harsh indictments of the closures and their effects on Chicago students, parents, and communities. One point that the district contests in the new report is the view that the school system does not individually track students affected by the closures, a charge that John Barker, the school system's chief accountability officer, labeled "factually incorrect."

Tracking Students

The district twice presented information about students to the task force, Mr. Barker said, and a midyear report from the district in March was possible precisely because the school system was tracking students. The district's year-end report on the closures is planned for release this summer, he said, and a study in conjunction with the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research incorporating parents' perspectives on the closings is underway.

"It's still too early to know the complete picture of the impact," Mr. Barker said, but students who moved from closed schools to other schools had "higher attendance rates, fewer misconducts, and higher grade point averages for the first semester."

Facing a $1 billion deficit, the school system closed dozens of schools in 2013, embarking on the biggest downsizing in its history. It cited underutilization as a major reason for the closures.

But the facilities task force blames the district for contributing to its own problems. The report says that while the school system has lamented enrollment losses, it has opened 33 charter schools with 23,368 slots since 2011.

So far, the 2013 closures have cost taxpayers more than $263 million, including for expenses related to closing and emptying the buildings, and new programs, upgrades, and repairs in the receiving schools, according to the report. The task force was unable to calculate the final cost and savings from the closures.

In May, the Chicago Teachers Union released a report concluding that the district had not kept the promises it made when it embarked on the closures. It found that many of the receiving schools did not have enough resources; classes were overcrowded in others; and staff vacancies were higher in receiving schools than the district's average. The union report also criticized the district for a lack of transparency about the costs and savings associated with the closures, and said the money should have been reinvested in existing schools.

"This is typical of the CPS," said Carol Caref, the union's research director. "They have a 'portfolio' approach to schools, as if schools were [a] business. And part of that approach involves closing those schools and, of course, opening more charter schools and building selective-enrollment schools." The district disputes the union's findings.

ILLUSTRATION: West Pullman closing 

Other Views

The Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education, a research-and-advocacy group at the University of Illinois at Chicago, released findings on the impact of the closures from parents' perspective. That report, issued last month and based on in-depth interviews with 23 parents, revealed that parents thought their children were negatively affected by the closures, and that their children's new schools were no better than those that had been closed. The process left the parents traumatized and deeply distrustful of the school system, according to Pauline Lipman, the study's lead researcher. Those perspectives differ sharply from the viewpoint of the Chicago district. In its midyear update—which the outside groups dismissed as largely superficial—district officials praised their handling of the closures and the transition and listed $41 million in savings. The report touts the success of Safe Passage (a district program developed in the wake of the closures to help students safely get to and from school) and the millions of dollars it used to prepare the receiving schools for new students. (The Safe Passage program and transition funds also got plaudits in the facilities report.)

But the schools' data show that while students' grade point averages increased districtwide, those of students in schools not affected by closures rose higher than the GPAs of students who moved to new schools and their peers in the receiving schools. The teachers' union questioned the numbers used in the district's midyear report, which it said showed only minor improvements in selective categories.

Both the facilities task force and the University of Illinois reports call for a moratorium on school closings and turnarounds. Mr. Barker said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the district's chief executive officer, had already committed to a moratorium on school closures; however, turnarounds were in response to federal education policies.

The facilities task force also calls on the Illinois legislature to dissolve the state charter agency; mandate the preservation of existing public schools when possible; and require the Chicago district to provide detailed plans on the possible future uses of school buildings and the costs involved before approving closures. The panel also wants the district to provide five years of academic and financial support to students affected by the closures.

Chicago Teachers Union