Unanswered questions for Barbara Byrd-Bennett

I like to write letters.

Lots of times, folks don't answer them. Sometimes, you get an answer but it's the wrong one. And very, very occasionally, years later, you may get a better answer to the same question.

Like when I wrote a certain cereal maker, after they started adding sugar to their formerly sugarless-but-somehow-nevertheless-delicious cereal. I said I liked it better the original way, and would they please change it back? They sent me a thoughtful form letter telling me that their market research had confirmed that adding sugar was what the people wanted, so sorry, but no.

Fast forward three years. I get a letter in the mail from the cereal company. "We were wrong, and you were right," they said, except not exactly in those words. "The people want no sugar added. Please find enclosed a coupon for several boxes of our cereal just how it used to be. Thank you for your input."

Well I was gobsmacked. What company does that? Admitted a mistake, bothered to tell me so years later, and made it up to me by giving me free cereal? I was delighted. And I became once again a reliable consumer of that particular brand of cereal, restored to its former glory.

But like I said, almost no one does that.

I'm positive CPS won't.

They've certainly never apologized for anything, ever, and I'm sure they never will. It would be awkward anyway, what with the revolving door downtown; no CPS CEO seems to stay for more than a year, and how can one apologize for the errors of another?

Right now CPS is on the cusp of a pretty colossal mistake.

Closing 54 schools and rearranging others for a total of 61 affected schools--it's just a bit extreme. So I wrote Barbara Byrd-Bennett and I told her so. This is what I said:

I am opposed to the mass school closings, your forfeiture of responsibility to the children of CPS, and your continually changing rhetoric regarding the reasons for the closures.

And guess what.

Just guess.

She wrote me back! For real!

I know, right?

So anyway, this is what she said to me:

I thank you for reaching out to me.

My only hope is that you  consider all of the facts and not be mislead. 

There is no way any one of us should  want to have our children in an underutilized and under resources school. If you take the time to examine all that was said from the over 34 meetings attended by over 20,000 people, you will see what was said was heard and in fact, this is how we moved from 330 underutilized schools...fact....to 129 underutilized schools and how we reached the current number.

I understand the pain and the attachment to a school but i would hope you and others would want the best for the children and not what is convenient.

Well even though I wasn't satisfied with her response, I'm still totally all cut-off-my-legs-and-call-me-Shorty she wrote me back! And so I figure I'll write her back, just because I wanted her to know how much I appreciated her letter. And I wanted her to know that I don't think I'm being misled. I went on a little too long, I'm afraid. I asked questions. Here's what I said:

I can't believe you actually wrote me back, and I thank you. I believe that I am paying attention to data and not being misled.

However, CPS' data and justifications for the closures continue to shift and change, moving from a budget shortfall of a billion dollars, to an "underutilization crisis" (my family attends a so-called underutilized school and all I can say is, the metrics for determining underutilization are suspect at best), to promises that students from shuttered schools will go to "better" schools although this was supposedly not about school performance, to acknowledging the high cost of "doing this right," to Mayor Emanuel's admission on Friday that this whole thing is not about finances at all.

Is it any wonder that the parents of CPS are unhappy about this process? We feel we've been continually misled by CPS. Can you clarify why the justifications for this process have changed so much?

Why was special education classroom size not factored in to the underutilization formula? Why do "underutilized" schools have class sizes of 35 to 40 kids?

And why, oh why on earth, are you calling a school library an "amenity" and holding that out as a wonderful promise for the children who apparently have never had one? It is shocking to me, the idea that a school library is a given only for some children.

Why is it not a conflict of interest that you serve as an an Executive Coach in the Broad Foundation's Superintendent’s Academy? It is an organization well-known to desire the closing of public schools.

I understand, from hearing your public comments, that you believe you heard peoples' concerns in the community forums, and that they "really got" that schools needed to close. I can assure you that at the two Burnham Park Network forums I attended, no one expressed any notion of the sort. Instead I heard many people making impassioned and well-reasoned arguments as to why their schools should stay open, including assurances from prior CPS administrators that their schools would never be closed.

I understand, Ms. Byrd-Bennett, that you have been given one of the worst jobs in the nation, and in fact that the screwed-up mess you have is not of your own making. We CPS parents have been here for many years watching CEOs come, rewrite all the rules, fire everyone and hire all new folks, do re-org after re-org, and then go after a year or less. Small schools are better! No, large schools are better! Separate out junior highs! No, put them back with the lower grades! Only to have a new one come in and start the process over again. We can be forgiven for not trusting anyone in CPS leadership.

Thank you, Ms. Byrd-Bennett, for reading this far, and for trying your darnedest to do the right thing. It is my hope that you are able to consider all of the facts objectively and are not yourself misled.


She never got back to me.

Maybe in three years? Coupons would really be meaningless, though.

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