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Archive for the ‘Charter Schools’ Category

by Rev. John H Thomasjohn_thomas CTU photo

Two articles in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune provided a revealing, if unintended reminder of the injustices lying at the heart of America’s public schools.  At New Trier High School in one of the wealthier suburbs of Chicago, all students will have iPads for their course work by the Fall of 2014.  The district will pay about 40% of the costs, leaving families to come up with the remaining $350 in purchase or leasing options.  School officials justify this by touting the educational benefits and by pointing out that this will allow the school to phase out some of its 1200 laptops.  One page away is an article about the school board of the City of Chicago which voted yesterday afternoon to close 50 public elementary schools.  In thousands of districts like New Trier, students are getting iPads; in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and many other places, students are getting moving orders and teachers are losing jobs.

Later on in the same paper The Tribune revealed its editorial bias, offering Mayor Rahm Emmanuel space to justify the closings, while devoting its editorial to a cynical and shameful attack on Chicago teachers.  Praising the “heroic” teachers who saved lives in Moore, Oklahoma, The Tribune called on teachers in Chicago to abandon their protest against the massive school closings and become “heroes” by obediently implementing the policies of the Chicago Public School Board and its leader, the Mayor.  Excuse me!  Chicago Public School teachers are already heroes.  They don’t need the condescension of The Tribune.  And they don’t need to be unjustly demeaned as less worthy than teachers in Moore.  Today they need our gratitude for speaking the truth about the nature and impact of these school closings.

Unlike the teachers in Moore, Chicago teachers’ schools are not gone because of some capricious act of nature.  They are gone because of decades of very deliberate decisions by public officials, corporate interests and ordinary citizens that have eviscerated the neighborhoods of Chicago, displacing people with the demolition of public housing, gutting communities with foreclosures and the elimination of jobs.  The schools are gone because they have been replaced by charter schools, the darlings of politically well-connected school reformers making a profit on tax money while public officials eliminate the inconvenience of teachers unions.  The schools are gone because poor African Americans and Hispanics in Chicago are disenfranchised by school governance that is appointed by the mayor with limited accountability to the communities.  The schools are gone because public funding in this country remains tied to real estate taxes that benefit wealthy suburbs at the expense of the urban core.  The schools are gone because years of school reforms imposed from the latest outside savior have left front line teachers abused and demoralized and their students underachieving.  And the schools are gone because white flight that began decades ago has left the cities brown and black and poor.

Who makes decisions about public schools today?  The President who attended the prestigious Punahou private school in Hawaii and who sends his daughters to the University of Chicago Laboratory School and the Sidwell Friends School in Washington.  The Secretary of Education who attended the same Lab School in Chicago.  An appointed school board whose membership until recently included billionaire Penny Pritzker, now the appointee to be Secretary of Commerce.  She attended the Castilleja School in Palo Alto where 415 girls in grades six to twelve enjoy the attention of 70 full and part time faculty members.  In Chicago that school would be deemed “underutilized.”  And where do the Mayor’s kids go to school?  No threats from school closings for them.  They, too, are at the University of Chicago Lab School.  These powerful gurus of public school reform didn’t go to public schools and don’t send their children to public schools.  They benefited from the growing educational apartheid in this country and they participate in it today.

I don’t suggest that these policy makers sat down and said, “Let’s close the schools of poor Black and Hispanic kids in Chicago and make sure that New Trier kids have iPads.”  But here are the facts:  The schools closed today in Chicago are 88% black, 10 % Hispanic, and 94% low income.  And next year the kids in New Trier will all have new iPads.  Almost 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education our schools are more and more separate, and more and more unequal.

Please don’t tell me that this is a complex issue, that there are no good solutions, that anguished appointed school board members merely did what they had to do given the economic circumstances.  I’ve read the reports.  I’ve seen the studies.  I’ve talked to experts.  I can tell you what the real story is about charter school performance.  I think I have made a pretty good effort to understand what’s going on.  Whatever the specifics, this is about race and poverty and antipathy to unions and political influence and public indifference (how telling that for a time yesterday morning while the Board was deliberating on its closure vote, the lead online story for The Tribune was Bear’s football hero Brian Urlacher’s retirement announcement).

I have no doubt that the Chicago school teachers will do as much to protect their children this September navigating new routes to schools across dangerous gang lines as the teachers in Moore did for their students when the tornado came earlier this week. They don’t need editorial writers to tell them to do that.  But when their students ask them why their school is gone, just as students in Moore are no doubt asking right now, Chicago teachers won’t have a changing and dangerous climate or the proverbial “act of God” to point to.  Their answers will be equally sad, but far more sinister.

John Thomas is a Board member of Arise Chicago

Originally posted on the John Thomas blog on the Chicago Theological Seminary website.

Re-posted with permission.

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The Chicago Teachers Union has been attempting to negotiate a fair contract since last November.  Teachers have been working without a contract since June 30.  Should there be a strike, it is not simply about compensation, although the Board of Education has proposed combining wage and health care proposals, resulting in a net loss in salary.  Although legally the union can only strike over compensation issues, this strike is very much a fight to defend a quality public education for every Chicago student.  It is, as CTU President Karen Lewis has declared, a struggle “for the soul of public education.”

In ten months of negotiation, the Board has refused to negotiate over core union issues that would create, as the union’s hallmark study declared “The Schools that Chicago’s Students Deserve.”   The Board refuses to negotiate over classroom size; over having a nurse and social worker in every school; over having a library in every school; and over funding neighborhood schools instead of its drive to privatize public education through creating scores of non-union charter schools where teachers and parents have no voice. This is a strike that teachers and advocates of workers’ rights and supporters of public education across the nation are closely watching.

On the first day of the strike, thousands of teachers picketed outside their schools in the morning. 

In the afternoon, over 10,000 teachers and allies marched in downtown Chicago, rallying at CPS, and then surrounding City Hall.

Arise Chicago staff and members have been supporting the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign at strike headquarters, making banners, marching with teachers, and more.  See how to get involved below.

What You Can Do to Support Teachers:

  • Each day of the strike, you can join teachers on the picket lines at every school from 6:30 to 10:30am.  Click here for list sorted by school or by zip code.
  • Volunteer at the Chicago Teachers Union Strike Solidarity Center at Teamsters Auditorium at 300 S. Ashland to make signs and banners, organize donations, help with sign distribution, sign-up to leaflet materials, help with banner drops, etc. Call Luke for details: 616-745-5134 or just show up.
  • Join teachers and supporters to rally and march every day. Check out CTU’s Strike Central for daily action updates.
  • Offer public prayers for and blessings of teachers in your house of worship and invite a teacher to speak.
  • Pick up your CTU support signs at Teamsters Auditorium at 300 S. Ashland to put in your window or yard and distribute signs to coffee shops, work places, etc.  For those driving by, pick-up on Van Buren, just west of Ashland, is possible without getting out of your car.
  • Call Gus or Daisy at Primo’s Pizza at (312) 243-1052, a locally owned and teacher-friendly restaurant to make a donation by credit card so teachers and supporters at the Solidarity Center can have pizza, pasta, and salads delivered to them.  Consider pooling donations with others and making just one phone call.  Please try not call during peak hours of 11:45 to 1:15.  Donations have already been called in from around the country!
  • Call Mayor Emanuel at 312-744-330 or CPS CEO Brizard at 773-553-1500 to tell them that CPS students deserve smaller class sizes, more libraries and computers, and that the teachers deserve a fair contract.
  • Wear red every day, even if you are not able to join the marches.
  • Sign up to get the latest news:
  • Facebook:  www.facebook.com/ChicagoTeachersSolidarity
  • Twitter: @CTSCampaign or @AriseChicago
  • Website: ctscampaign.weebly.com
  • CTU Strike Central
  • Questions?  Email:  ChicagoTeachersSolidarity@gmail. com
  • Text message updates: text @ctsc2012 to 23559 to receive strike and picket updates

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By Aziza Nassar

May 31- A week after the teachers and staff at the Youth Connection Leadership Academy (YCLA) received a letter notifying them that the school be closed or restructured, they held a press conference with parents, students, and supporters before the school’s Board meeting to urge the Board to reject this decision.

Just two days before receiving the letter, the staff at the alternative high school in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood informed their employer of their decision to form a union. Teachers and staff made this decision in order to have a voice in their school. YCLA is a charter school, and one of the twenty-two campuses that Youth Connection Charter School (YCCS) manages.  As a charter, the teachers are not part of the Chicago Teachers Union, and previous to their vote, had no union representation.

A complaint was filed on May 25th by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers (or Chicago ACTS), who strongly turned out other charter school teachers with signs and messages of support Thursday night despite the rain and chilly weather.  Arise Chicago’s Board member, John Thomas, spoke at the press conference, expressing Arise Chicago’s solidarity and the moral support of the religious community.

Inside the board meeting, teachers, students, and family members showed their concern about closing down the school.  Fifteen year old Jameel Marshall, a student at YCLA said,  “By shutting down our school, they’re taking away our education—leaving no where for us to go but out in the street and forcing us to do bad things.”

For many students, YCLA is their home away from home.  The students and their education are the main priority for the dedicated YLCA teachers. Nicole Durham, a YLCA graduate and current teacher said, “We felt the need to unionize because we want to have a stable body of qualified teachers.”

A grandmother of a current YLCA student addressed the board pleading with them not to close the school.  She said the school and its staff had been extremely supportive of her grandchild, and recognized that his success was due to dedicated teachers., “I’ve seen these teachers here until 7:30, 8:30 at night! They care about these kids.”

At the end of the meeting the Board elected not to take action to close the school or take any other action at the time.  Chicago ACTS ,the union whom the YCLA staff elected to join, found this as a positive action, in conjunction with the positive statements from the Board expressing no desire to close the school.  According to a press advisory from the union:

”YCCS was correct in stepping away from a hasty decision to close or restructure the campus, an action that YCLA staff believe would have harmed YCLA students and staff and would have been motivated by the staff’s recent decision to unionize.”

Therefore, Chicago ACTS decided to ask the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board “to hold in abeyance the unfair labor practice charge which ACTS had filed on May 25.”  That charge had been made after YCCS told YLCA teachers and staff (via overnight mail) that they were recommending closing or restructuring the school.

While some left the Board meeting feeling uncertain about the school’s future, by the next day, YLCA teachers, staff and Chicago ACTS felt confident they could move forward to keep the school open and work toward achieving stability and respect in the school for all students and staff.

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-Aziza is the Zakat Intern at Arise Chicago

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By Angelica Cardoso

Today a protest comprised of teachers, community activists and unionists was held outside the office of Sulejman F. Dizdarevic – Board member at Chicago Mathematics and Science Academy.  He, along with fellow Board members, is refusing to recognize the union voted for by teachers at the north side charter school. Teachers state they voted for a union in order to have a voice on the job and create a better learning environment for their students.

Community leaders entered the building to deliver a letter to Mr. Dizdarevic at his downtown law office asking him to follow the law by recognizing the union.  After entering the building the group was denied access to Mr. Dizdarevic’s office.  The teachers and others involved in the cause will continue to ask the board members to change their decision.  Read more about the teacher’s story here.

- Angelica is an organizing intern at Arise Chicago

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