The continuing saga of filthy schools, brought to you by Aramark

You may have read some disturbing news last week that made you shake your head and say, oh those terrible inner city schools.

It was a little story of a failed health inspection. Only our neighborhood paper reported it. Here is the bulk of the story from the March 31, 2017 Hyde Park Herald.

Last week, Public Health officials observed mice droppings in the school cafeteria, on the floor in the corner of the vending machine storage in the lunchroom, on the floor in the electrical closet in the lunchroom, teachers lounge, and a few other spots in the school near restrooms, the gym, and classrooms.

Public health officials requested that the school call an exterminator for service and to clean and sanitize all area. Other observations noted in the inspection are the absence of hot/tempered water for some of the student and faculty restrooms in the building. Officials requested that the school provide hot/tempered water at the washbowls for proper hand washing.

The school was given until today, to correct previous violations, according to the report from today the school did not fix the issues, which resulted in another, failed inspection.

The school has until June to address other code violations in the report that includes properly cleaning the interior of the ice machine in the kitchen, cleaning the floor under equipment electric closets and storage areas, replacing missing ceiling tiles, repairing the ceiling, and more.

Well isn't that yucky, and doesn't it play right into the worst stereotypes of "failing urban public schools"?

Well. You know the funny thing about stereotypes. They're a little short of actual information. So I wanted to give you the whole story. It goes back a few years.

CPS handed over school janitorial services to Aramark in 2014. This was the brainchild of one Tim Cawley, formerly of school board beneficiary AUSL, then CPS chief administrative officer, and now chief of parish and school operations for the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was the CAO when he set up Aramark and SodexoMAGIC in their sweet deal. And though complaints about Aramark-managed school cleanliness went off the charts almost as soon as the ink was dry on the contract, CPS granted Aramark and SodexoMAGIC a bigger contract soon after, and has now piloted a program for Aramark to handle all facilities operations for CPS.

I could go on at length about the complaints raining down on the heads of everyone who needs to hear but clearly doesn't care. I could tell you about the janitors now serving under Aramark's management who have contacted me to tell me that not only is their workload quite preposterous, but they don't even actually get paid. In some cases, on time. In some cases, ever. If you want to read those sorts of things, I have already written them down in a post called "The dirt on privatization."

Today I want to tell you what the principal of Kenwood Academy had to say about this inspection. Reprinted in full with permission is the letter that Dr. Gregory Jones sent to parents after the Herald article appeared. I confess I added the bold faced print here and there, to make extra certain positive some of these words would stick in your brain.

Dear Parent,

I am sharing a link to an article published by the Hyde Park Herald (see below).  The article depicts the problems the school is having with building maintenance, more specifically, the cafeteria space.  As you know, several years ago, Aramark assumed responsibility of the building maintenance and management of most Chicago public schools.

In the case of Kenwood HS, the school is assigned two full-time custodial members to clean a building with 1500 students and 100 staff members (school hours).  Also included are the campus grounds.  During the school day, they are required to clean 15 restrooms, 3 cafeteria spaces, off-campus area, 2 locker rooms, natatorium locker room, classrooms, water fountains, snow removal, hall floors, dock area, and two elevators.

In addition, one person is assigned to clean the Canter building (300 students), which has 19 classrooms, cafeteria, elevator and restrooms on each floor. Please note that there is no one assigned to supervise either building (no accountability or oversight).

In the past three years, I have sent over 100 complaint emails, with pictures, regarding staffing, the lack of cleanliness, professionalism, and commitment to our school. Moreover, I cannot count the number of Aramark supervisors that were assigned to oversee the custodial staff.  It has been a revolving door. Yet, nothing has changed.

At the school level, a significant amount of my daily time, along with the support of Assistant Principal Calloway, has been committed to checking bathrooms, locker rooms, auditorium spaces, and school grounds. Moreover, Ms. Calloway has purchased several vacuum cleaners to provide to the evening cleaning staff.  Please note that this is the responsibility of Aramark.

As a matter of fact, my weekend is often spent walking the building and school grounds, just to make sure the school is “somewhat” ready to receive students. Dean Gill and Security Officer Mayfield also volunteer their Saturdays to assist. The routine includes a morning walkthrough with a clipboard and smartphone (taking pictures).  It normally takes one hour or so.  The information is shared with our Aramark contact.

This is a problem.  You hired us to educate and protect your children. Although we don’t mind lending a helping hand, the bulk of our time should not be consumed with custodial checking and support. Again, this problem has lingered for several years, with limited progress. The failed health inspection is the final straw.

Our students and teachers deserve a clean school and work environment. I should be emailing you about the upcoming SAT or Report Card Pickup, not building maintenance.  It is clear that my complaints have not rendered positive results.  However, I am sending them a final email with the below demands.

Here are the baseline requirements: (1) at least 5 full-time custodial members assigned during school hours; (2) site supervisor assigned during school hours and nighttime; (3) sufficient cleaning equipment (should not be the same as a school with less than 200 students); and (4) two additional cafeteria porters.

Regards,

Principal Jones

Folks, Kenwood Academy is an outstanding school that--just so you know--has the highest number of Gates Millennium Scholars of any school in the nation. Last year Kenwood saw its 350 seniors receive more than $19M in college scholarship awards. Their jazz band recently played at the Kennedy Center--an original composition written just for them by MacArthur fellow, jazz pianist Jason Moran. Their Latin program recently sent more than 50 students to the Illinois Junior Classical League conference. (Yes, that is an unusually high number of Latin students.) Their 4-year high school graduation rate is ten percentage points higher than the CPS average. And Kenwood is one of CPS's many beleaguered, underfunded, poorly resourced, perpetually unappreciated by Rahm and his board, neighborhood high schools. And now it is dirty, with a very low chance of ever getting clean while Aramark is at the helm.

Why don't you contact the mayor's office today and tell him to fix this. Because I can promise you something: Kenwood is not the only CPS school in this situation.

There are so many ways to reach out. Try calling at (312) 744-3334. How about at tweet to @ChicagosMayor. Or on facebook, you can reach out via the Chicago Mayor's Office page or Chicago Public Schools page. Thanks so much. If hundreds of us say it, maybe Rahm will hear it.

If you want a better Chicago Public Schools system please like my Facebook page and join me there for more discussion. You can also follow me on twitter @foolforcps.

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