For some Chicago teachers, besides the strike they are also worried about the threat of school closure

For some Chicago teachers, besides the strike they are also worried about the threat of school closure
Teachers strike outside John Marshall High School on Sept. 10. More than 26,000 teachers are on strike outside their perspective school throughout the city of Chicago leaving hundreds of thousands of students with no class. Photo by Lucio Villa.

Samantha Miller is an English teacher at Farragut High School and she feels fortunate even to have a copy machine.

"We're lucky to have textbooks, lucky to have novels, lucky to have a book room," Miller said from the picket lines. She’s among the 26,000 educators at Chicago’s public schools who are on strike.

The city’s public school teachers are entering their third day of the strike and negotiations about teacher contracts are ongoing. The negotiations reportedly are so contentious that the sides can’t even agree on what they’re arguing about.

Meanwhile Miller is hoping the dispute ends and ends soon.

"They are offering us the money that we want right now, but we are not taking it because it's not just about the money,” she said. “Other things need to happen in order to have right be done."

Among those things are "a new and fair evaluation system that does not gauge my performance by the test scores my kids produce, social workers and insurance benefits," she said.

Farragut has been on academic probation at least since 1996, a status it shares with 67 percent of Chicago's other public neighborhood high schools. Schools are slated for closure or turnaround based on a variety of indicators, including ACT scores, drop-out rates and reading level.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced his intention to close or turnaround 100 of the lowest-performing public schools in the next five years, a move that will put teachers at chosen schools out of work. The Chicago Teachers Union has included greater protections for teachers displaced by closings as one of the larger education issues it hopes to tackle before a contract agreement is reached.

CPS has already closed more than 100 schools since 2001, with all but two of them in low-income African-American and Latino communities, said Pauline Lipman, a professor at the University of Chicago Illinois and a member of Teachers for Social Justice.

The district argues that by closing these schools, and in many cases opening up charters in their place, it shuts down schools that are too far gone to save.

But critics like Lipman said the closures have been "devastating for teachers and for students and for families and for the communities as a whole."

"Every time a school is closed the students are transferred to another school often across boundaries that are dangerous for students to cross," said Lipman. "This creates, in addition, a destabilizing effect on the receiving school. It does not improve education opportunities."

Miller, who is also chair of the English department, is dedicated to the students at Farragut. Despite the threat of closure, she’s said that she hopes to keep teaching there.

"I don’t think that just because kids are born to poor parents they should be denied a quality education," she said.

However, if the worst does come to fruition and Farragut is ever closed, Williams has a plan. Part of the reason she got her Masters in literature was "to give me a way to find another job if it comes to that."

But she hopes it never does come to that.

For schools like Farragut that face the threat of closure, "the constant pressure that they will be on the hit list puts even more pressure on teachers to teach to the test, further narrowing the curriculum and further demoralizing teachers and students and parents," Lipman said.

This is a labor issue, said Lipman, that centers on the displacement of African-American teachers.  "There is a racial component to this. Due to school closings many teachers with a deep knowledge of the community have lost their jobs. Principals are under pressure to hire the cheapest possible teachers, and so what we are going to see is an influx of white, inexpensive, Teach for America teachers."

"The new leadership of the CTU has fought very hard with parents against school closings, and one of their demands is for the rehiring of laid off teachers," she said.

Another Farragut employee, math teacher William Nelson, said that when the school was placed on probation he was "worried about it all the time."

"We were always questioning, what if they [students] came in to us reading below level, how were we supposed to get them up to a level that kept us from being one of those schools that was closed down?," said Nelson, who has been coaching and teaching at Farragut for 30 years, and graduated from the school in 1978. "How are we being held accountable for what goes on before they get here even?"


--Photo by Lucio Villa

Photo by Lucio Villa.

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