Notes From The Board Meeting

Here are some early notes and observations from

Catalyst associate editor Debra Williams, who went to the press

conference preceding the Board meeting, and intern Brett Marlow, who

went to public participation portion of the meeting:

At the press conference, Schools CEO

Arne Duncan said a partnership with Jane Addams Center would preserve

daycare center and health clinic at Orr, programs that parents worried

would be shut down in the turnaround process. Duncan then defended the

board’s decision to shut down the relatively new small high school at

Orr by noting that the average student there is absent two months a


At the board meeting, Terrence Williams,

a recent graduate of one of Orr’s small schools spoke in favor of the

turnaround. As an Orr student, he said he compared the school climate

to what “you would see in riots,” noting that he had witnessed students

setting lockers on fire and breaking glass in hallways.

But another group of as many as 15 Orr

students walked out of school to attend the board meeting and speak out

against closing and reopening the high school. Most of them were not

allowed to leave the lobby, however, and Board President Rufus Williams

did not allow one of the students who did gain entry to speak because

she had not signed up in advance. “Be respectful,” he told her.

The Orr student said they had collected 1,000 signatures against the proposed turnaround.

There was praise and skepticism for the

Academy of Urban School Leaders or AUSL, the group that is slated to

take control of Orr and two of its feeder elementary schools next year.

Catonya Withers said her four children attend Harvard Elementary, which

AUSL took over this year. Before the turnaround, she says her children

did not feel safe at Harvard. Now they do, and her 4thgrader is on the honor roll, she says. Withers stood at the podium at

the press conference with Duncan and Chief Education Officer Barbara

Eason-Watkins and later testified to the full School Board.

Another parent extolled the improved

climate and academics at Sherman Elementary, where his two children are

enrolled and he chairs the LSC. Duncan says the district did a security

audit at Sherman to make sure the drop in violence was real.

But Mary McGuire, an officer of the

Chicago Teachers Union, wondered whether those who worked for the board

have ever had to reapply for their jobs, and suggested that Board

President Williams reach out to communities and include them in the

decision-making process. ““It’s time you question people outside of

[the board office] so the correct and right decision can be made.”

Also expressing disapproval of school

closings was Charlie Walker, chair of the LSC at Mose Vines, a small

high school at Orr that is slated for consolidation. “It’s a lot easier

to train little kids than teenagers,” he says, referring AUSL only

having a track record in turning around elementary schools.

Thanks to Debra and Brett for these observations. Please feel free to add your own descriptions and insights here or in the previous thread, February Board Meeting (below).

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