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:
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).
Filed under: Events & Deadlines