Board Reverses Itself On Avondale Montessori School

Never one to miss out on an opportunity to disappoint parents and undercut positive momentum, the Board of Education is shafting a seemingly well-organized and appealing effort to start a Montessori school in Avondale.  

Word's out that the CPS Office of New Schools, now under the control of newcomer Leigh McGuinan, has reversed course on supporting a charter proposal from the Avondale Montessori folks that Megan Cottrell profiled here a few weeks ago.  See details below.
At the time, it seemed like Avondale was going to get a positive recommendation from ONS and an easy approval from the Board.  What happened?  Maybe the Avondale folks were counting their chickens before they were hatched.  Maybe they were just caught in the changeover from Duncan/Edelman to Huberman/McGuinanan.  


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  • here's the note from avondale about the turn of fortunes:

    Dear Avondale Montessori Supporters:

    As of today AMA continues to be a Proposed Charter School Candidate. Unfortunately, we received feedback from the Office of New Schools yesterday that we would not be awarded a charter this round. They would like to see us work on the remediation and assessment components of our proposal. This continues to be a challenge for Montessori Schools trying to work within the public school system. They stated that our proposal was incredibly strong and thus we have decided to continue our efforts to become the first Montessori charter in the state of Illinois. Most charter schools do not receive their charters in the first round, as it is a very competitive and rigorous accreditation process. The Office of New schools is in the process of reorganization and Josh Edelman the former head of ONS was let go a few weeks ago. The budget deficit was also mentioned as being problematic during this cycle of evaluations. We will continue to follow school reform closely, in order to resubmit an even stronger proposal in the new year.

    We have the opportunity to acquire a former Catholic School and have decided to go ahead and do everything in our power to secure the site. We will open as a tuition based school in September 2010, while we continue to pursue our mission and vision to become a free Montessori program. Many faith based schools have worked tirelessly and creatively to keep tuition low and economic diversity a priority. We have an extremely strong support base and I am sure that we will be able to continue to stay true to our original mission and vision.

    We will unfortunately be unable to open the school in Avondale despite incredible efforts on our behalf by Alderman Mell, Alderman Colon, and Alderman Schulter. CPS mentioned that the community support for the school was unprecedented in the Charter school process. We are heart broken that we will be unable to open in Alderman Mell's ward. We will continue however to recruit students from Avondale, as it has been designated as an under served community. We continue to have Aldermanic support for our cause, with both Alderman Maldonado and Alderman Flores committed to attending our fund raiser.

    We owe a deep dept of gratitude to both Phil Denney and Neil Freeman for their tireless efforts on our behalf. They have graciously agreed to continue to host our fund raiser in their building at 3333 N. Elston. This is an example of true philantrophy, one which touches us deeply. Our fund raiser takes on a new voracity as we will need to make a significant amount of money in order to secure our site. Many other schools have had a founding angel who stepped forward and helped a school in its start up stage. We hope we can find someone willing to do that for AMA. With the public school system in disarray, we know that we can make a significant difference in the lives of Chicago's children.

    As always, you can learn more about our fundraiser at www.avondalemontess html

    Our architects Farr and Associates will continue to work with us as we develop both long and short term plans for our proposed building. We will share details of our new location and our budget for our first year at the November 14 event.

    We remain a school committed to offering a free Montessori education to the under served students in Chicago. We hope that you can continue to open your hearts and help make this a reality. Please pass this along to any member of the community you feel would be interested in our mission and vision.

    With deep gratitude - The Avondale Montessori Academy.

  • here's the call to arms from an avondale supporter who wants to see if things can still be saved:

    Hello all,

    I wanted to make sure that all of you who have been tracking the Avondale Montessori Academy's progress through the CPS New School Charter process were aware that the design team was told yesterday that it would not be awarded a charter by CPS. This was fairly shocking news at the 11th hour of a 6 month process. See Rita Nolan's email below (she would have been the charter's principal). I spoke to her in detail and also was in touch with ONS - the Office of New Schools at CPS.

    I ask you to bear with me as I recount some facts that are the basis for the call to action I'm going to make later in the email:

    Fact: CPS acknowledges that AMA had unprecedented community support. More people -- including many, many of you -- showed up for more public meetings, signed more petitions, sent more letters and provided more volunteers than for any other school in this (or any other) year. This also means that the community got to know the design team -- and we have a right to weigh in on their qualifications to teach our children.
    Fact: Students in Avondale -- and much of the NorthWest side of Chicago -- continue to be underserved by overcrowded and underperforming schools. This is why Avondale was considered a "target neighborhood" for charter schools, based on CPS' criteria.
    Fact: The AMA team are established educators, with deep experience and a watertight proposal. At each step of the way, they were given positive feedback from a wide range of experts. They were also given feedback that they had significantly improved their proposal by seeking and incorporating constructive feedback. They have been given every indication that, had city budget not become an issue, they would have received a charter. This is not a case of an unqualified school.
    Fact: When the community requested it of them, the AMA team sought an overlay for the Avondale neighborhood, a 1.5 mile radius surrounding their proposed building site. They have demonstrated they want to serve US and did everything in their power to ensure they would serve children in our community.
    Fact: The AMA design team went door-to-door in the Avondale neighborhood, conducting a grassroots outreach campaign in English and Spanish that ONS and CPS considered noteworthy: ONS asked the design team to "tell them how they got their support" so they could use it as a best practice for other schools. Rita Nolan and other leaders sought to meet with religious and social-service organization leaders in the neighborhood to ensure they reached as many people as possible.
    Fact: CPS will allow several other schools through the process, thus the entire budget and program has not been cut. They are approving some new schools but have not yet revealed which ones will move forward.

    The logical conclusion? This is a very, very bad decision and reflects priorities that are far out of line with those of my friends and neighbors in this community. If you have a school with significant momentum and community support in an area identified as underserved, why wouldn't you prioritize that one over others? Why would you question that school's likelihood for success if your own assessors had consistently given it glowing reviews? In some ways, this feels like CPS is saying: "You still have overcrowded and underperforming schools AS DEFINED AND IDENTIFIED BY CPS, but that doesn't affect our priorities. A wide range of people from a richly diverse neighborhood (more people than ANY other school in our new schools process) ca get behind a school, but that doesn't affect our priorities. You as a community can partner with a school design team and develop a mutually beneficial relationship and great rapport -- EVEN BEFORE THEY'RE A SCHOOL, but that doesn't affect our priorities. In a nutshell, you as a community can come up with a constructive and viable solution on your own to the "schools problem" in your neighborhood with a design team that has passed through every hoop we can put up, BUT we at CPS can tell you at the last possible minute that you have no say whatsoever when it comes to setting priorities and making the final decision." Your tax dollars at work, my neighbors.

    People, a great school made up of great teachers that care deeply about our community will not fall in our lap again for a long while. Based on what I understand about factors leading to school success -- low teacher-student ratios, a strong parent/school/ community partnership, well-organized school leadership with a clear sense of mission, experienced teachers who really want to make a difference -- the AMA team was well on its way to building a successful school. I urge each one of you, regardless of where you want to send your own children, to consider making some noise about this and to tell CPS that while we understand that a tight budget can mean making tough choices about what new schools to approve, their priorities need to align with those of the taxpayers, voters, and parents of Chicago. We want this decision reversed NOW.

    I encourage you to fax, call, email, do what it takes -- on MONDAY. It's more effective when people are sitting in the offices getting bombarded with messages. It's also important we get the attention of leaders early next week: the announcement about which schools are going through comes down on Wednesday, I think. Finally, this should really target the people who can actually do something: Daley, Huberman (school CEO) and members of the school board. Calling and faxing your Aldermen, State Reps, and State Senators wouldn't hurt either. I've put a few useful numbers at the bottom of the email. And if any of you have any good ideas on how we take effective, swift and respectful action on this -- I'm all ears.

    Thanks again to all of you who have supported the school. I was inspired each time I attended a meeting and saw a sea of faces that reflected the wonderful Avondale/Logan Square neighborhood I have chosen for my family and myself. This process has made me feel connected to my community and neighbors in a way I didn't think was possible. --- Mary Lass Stewart

    Office of the Mayor
    City Hall - 121 N. LaSalle, Room 507
    Chicago, IL 60602

    312-744-8045 (fax)

    CPS: Chief Executive Office (Ron Huberman)
    125 South Clark Street
    Chicago, Illinois 60603
    5th Floor
    Phone: (773) 553-1500
    Fax: (773) 553-1501

    Chicago Board of Education
    125 South Clark Street
    Chicago, Illinois 60603
    6th Floor
    Phone: (773) 553-1600
    Fax: (773) 553-1601

  • I wonder if the acute problems in the current Montessori programs in CPS might not have added to your proposal being declined. Suder and Oscar Mayer seem to be floundering and overwhelmed by their quick growth. Clissold is barely hanging on, both in terms of the Montessori program and the traditional program. A changing neighborhood and clientele are causing lots of stress, and there have been four principals over the past year, so stability is not there. Drummond seems to be doing the best of all the programs, with huge waiting lists. Location might have a lot to do with that one or the very solid parent base.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    I have a child in the montessori program at Oscar Mayer and I can tell you from a parent's perspective the school is not floundering or overwhelmed. The principal and my daughter's 3-5 yr. old classroom teachers are exceptional. I also had my child in the parent infant program at Near North Montessori for a year and at a small private Montessori on the north west side for 2 years before she got into Oscar Mayer. I find that Oscar Mayer compares favorably to both. I was hoping that the Avondale Montessori Academy would be a go because it's in our neighborhood. But mostly I am just hoping for more Montessori public school choices city wide in Chicago. I plan on calling Huberman's office and Mayor Daley's office on Monday to inquire why specifically the AMA charter was declined and how that decision can be reversed.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    I wanted to weigh in here to say that I do feel the process that ONS put us through was rigorous and fair until now. They gave tough, well-considered feedback on aspects of our proposal and we incorporated it. What they asked us to address, we took seriously and sought to address.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    Since when is Leigh McGuinan the head of ONS? I thought Jaime Guzman was the head.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    mcguinan's arrival was reported first in the cleveland papers and posted on here:

    i think guzman was acting or interim while they worked to fill the spot

    / alexander

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    I call the clowns in ONS grifters!

  • They have completely restructured ONS and Huberman did not want to take a chance on an unknown. Instead, he gave the money to Aspira, Noble, LEARN and UNO.

    ONS indicated that there may not be an RFP process next year and they would not know about the new changes until the new year.

  • here's a recent post about the new person at ONS, leigh mcguinan, who comes here by way of new york city and cleveland:

    Josh Edelman, recently let go as head of new schools for Chicago, is apparently already back in Washington working for Michelle Rhee.

    Meanwhile, hard-charging Leigh McGuinan is headed to Chicago from her post in Cleveland, where she lasted less than a year. Before that, McGuinan worked for a time as Director of Strategic Planning for Human Resources.

    It's not hard to get a sense of what McGuinan is all about. She blogged for a week this summer as part of Democrats for Education Reform, a pro-charter PAC. And as of this weekend she still had her own blog posted publicly, including background on her education vision. Her experience revamping NYC's principal recruitment and selection process will be interesting to all of you Type 75s out there. (What a good name for a blog that would be, Type 75.) Alas for all you haters out there, she has an education degree along with her JD.

  • note: the board itself hasn't acted on this issue yet, one way or the other, as the headline suggests. senior staff make recommendations to the board. but it's very hard if not impossible to get a board approval (or even on the agenda) without a staff recommendation. i'm not even sure how that would work if the senior staff and huberman didn't want it to happen. /ar

  • If the board really made its decision based on the performance of other CPS Montessori schools, it sadly is looking at the set of track wrong records. Rita Nolan's experience at Near North Montessori was nothing less than stellar. Her guidance helped hundreds of Montessori kids --including my own--into the coveted high schools of the very CPS system which now is pushing her and her leadership away. It's a sad day for the families--particularly the children--of Chicago.

  • I am glad these parents are finding out about favored status--like UNO and that Huberman only listens to himself. CPS does not listen to parents, white or black, rish or poor. As for the charters opening where the parents do NOT want them, parents need to protest with their feet and NOT sign their children up for these schools. That is the only way to send a loud and clear message to CPS. Just think ALL theat $$$ sopent on all those employees in the Office of New Schools--isn't that special!

  • Money and approvals generally go to those who are connected. UNO, the HDO of education, got 120,000,000 million of your Illinois tax payer dollars for a drill and kill curriculum. Charters are the non-answer for CPS BOARD AND TOP ADMINISTRATORS NOT DOING ITS JOB with the regular schools that exist. McGuinan is a newest grifter on the Huberman train! If he had a softball team, The Grifters should be its name.

    Keep these grifters honest by checking the actions of Huberman and team with the benchmarks provided which are based on truly successful school districts who do support the development of professional learning communities in all schools.

    United States Is Substantially Behind Other Nations in Providing Teacher Professional Development That Improves Student Learning; Report Identifies Practices that Work

    Read and share!!!

  • In reply to viniciusdm:

    I loved the article and it is important to note that the education professors at the graduate level are working tenaciously to pass along this information to the future leaders of public schools.

  • In reply to viniciusdm:

    another possibility is that the avondale proposal was blackballed by someone in the community who didn't want another school coming in.

    this could include leaders from existing schools (linne, bell) and community leaders (Pastor Zook, Alderman Schulter).

    does anyone know who's been agitating against avondale montessori, if anyone?

  • In reply to viniciusdm:

    I am the parent of 3 graduates of Near North Montessori. I am so disappointed that the Office of New Schools doesn't seem to recognize the unique value of this approach to education. Although the Montessori methods of assessment and remediation differ from those used in traditional classrooms, they are every bit as effective. I cannot say enough good things about our family's experience with Montessori education. My eldest, who is 27 and recently married, already plans to send her as yet unborn children to a Montessori school.

  • In reply to viniciusdm:

    Hi Alexander,
    That article says that Leigh McGuigan is the special assistant to Huberman, rather than the head of ONS, but I guess it

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    good catch -- i just heard from CPS that leigh is doing high schools not ONS. guzman is heading ONS for now. thanks.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    still digging up more tidbits --including the possibility that avondale simply counted its chickens before they were hatched.

    they seemed sure about their prospects for approval and describe the recent news as an 11-th hour surprise, but hadn't gotten through the CEO recommendation process or board approval.

    i'm told that a few schools go through the RFP process every year but don't get a school despite all their work. so it might be just that -- not huberman, or politics. that seems right to me, though i haven't looked it up.

    PS -- i hear that recommendations for new schools are coming out later this week.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    All 4 of my children are Montessori educated K-8. Two in College. 1 at Whitney. 1 still there. Over the years, I marveled at the process, seeing wonderful results. I always wondered why this method was not used in the public schools, like it was originally in Italy. Then, along comes a committed group of educators with a proven track record in forming great kids... and CPS failed to see the jewel sitting right in front of them. My kids still benefit. But it just makes me really really sad for all the kids that don't get the same chance.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    My daughter is at Suder Montessori. We have had 2 very good years. Now she is entering the next level of Montessori in 1st grade.
    We would not be there if the school was floundering.
    Suder has a great feeling about it. They really care about your child. My daughter feels a real connection with her teachers and the principal. Suder's ISAT scores this year are up there with Drummond and so is the waiting list.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    As a long-time Montessori educator, I am very disappointed that Avondale Montessori School might not receive a charter, especially given all of the positive signs that were received throughout the process. It has always bothered me that Montessori, which has a long and very documented history of success as a method of educating the whole child, has such a very difficult inroad into the public system. As the traditional educational system continues to struggle with many issues that a Montessori approach has solved, I would like to think that less people would be threatened by the approach, as opposed to seeing it as an amazing opportunity for positive change. I was thrilled at the prospect of a new, public Montessori school in Chicago as, over almost two decades, I have repeatedly witnessed the excellence and love of learning that results from a good Montessori education.

    I had the pleasure of working both next to and under Rita Nolan for many years and I know the excellence and dedication that she would bring to the children of Avondale and CPS. I have been highly impressed by the length to which Avondale Montessori has gone to do everything asked of them, and more, to ensure a charter for the 2010 school year. Not giving this charter will be a disservice to the community of Avondale.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    The Board is making a terrible decision if they decline to offer Avondale Montessori a charter. The Avondale team is a strong and dedicated group of educators who have the experience and drive to start a public school that would benefit all students who attend, as well as the community at large.

    As a long-time Montessori teacher, I have witnessed first-hand the benefits of a Montessori education. These benefits are not limited to just strong academics; they include a love of learning, an emphasis on community and a sense of social justice. These are educational results that would benefit any student.

    I hope that the Board comes to its senses and offers Avondale Montessori a charter to open an amazing school in the fall of 2010.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    Grifters are are running the show!!! Funny how charter school conservative supporters like the Illinois Policy Institute, which are organizations, "think tanks" and others, are supposedly about keeping government honest and transparent and yet don't call on the New School Office office to be transparent in their operation. Illinois Policy Institute with their silence look bad and hypocritical by not following up on their mission to keep government entities honest!

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    I was extremely disappointed to learn of CPS

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    Interesting, CPS Social Worker. My impression was that students with impaired executive function did not do well with Montessori. In particular, is there a way to tweak it to fit students with severe ADD/ADHD?

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    Actually, there is more structure within a Montessori classroom than most perceive. It is a freedom within structure that allows flexibility to address impaired executive functioning issues as well as other learning differences including severe ADD/ADHD. It is a model that meets individual needs of children and where they are at as opposed to imposing a system that may not best suit their learning profile.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    I am definitely disappointed that AMA was not approved. I live in Avondale proper and was hoping to remain in the neighborhood for my son's school, but I guess that won't happen now. From what I've witnessed, the schools in our community are sub-par. There is a new building opening on Milwaukee to relieve overcrowding at Reilly - I'm hoping there is some type of plan to actually take a positive step with the kids that will go there.

    New school aside, I feel CPS needs to take the chance and go for more alternative approaches to education - isn't that what charters are all about??? Although Montessori has been around for ages, it is definitely not common practice in CPS.

    I have a more eclectic view on education, but I feel strongly that Montessori would be the perfect fit for my son. I guess it just boils down to me and several other families sending our children to other schools, further dropping enrollment at failing CPS schools, meaning less positions to fund, and more schools to close down, causing overcrowding at other schools, resulting in lower test scores for CPS in the year to come!

    BTW, surprised? No (though I have a very cynical side) Disappointed? Most definitely.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    I sincerely apologize for the perception that people feel that we did not represent ourselves as a "proposed school". At no time did we intend to mislead or misrepresent the charter school process.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    Be hones, the Huberman grifters running the circus don't have a clue!

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    Actually, there is more structure within a Montessori classroom than most perceive. It is a freedom within structure that allows flexibility to address impaired executive functioning issues as well as other learning differences including severe ADD/ADHD.

    Isn't this possible because there are 2+ teachers in the classroom? I have looked at the staff list of NNM and kariavalli in evanston its STACKEDD with teachers and assistants. Does CPS view this model as unsustainable? Well i guess it's too late. You can't allow some and not others. I'm sure that this one would have done well. On a separate note the CTA is TF. On a positive note Tech XCEL did promptly fix my crashed computer today!

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    Reilly is a great school. No ned to move to the suburbs.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    save AMA letter-writing campaign here -- ONS announcement tomorrow re approved/recommended schools for 2010 and 2011.

    We are a team of Montessori teachers who have been trying to open the first Public Montessori Charter school in Chicago, Avondale Montessori Academy. Some of you may have been following our progress. We have successfully gone through a rigorous application process by CPS and the Office of New Schools and had received positive feedback and encouragement. However, while trying to present the most authentic Montessori model to CPS, we have been criticized on our assessment and remediation pieces.

    The CPS press conference is being held tomorrow at 1:00 P.M. Could you PLEASE fax a letter (ASAP) this afternoon or this evening to the addresses below focusing on your experience and familiarity with the Montessori method and relationship with the design team. Those of you who know us, should have no doubt about our commitment and ability to be successful in our mission.

    CPS is logging all calls and letters today from our supporters. THIS HAS TO HAPPEN TODAY IN ORDER TO SAVE THE SCHOOL. Will you please aid us in our fight for a Public Montessori?


    Thank you,

    Office of New Schools
    ATTENTION: Lynn Klikuszewski
    fax: 773-553-1559

    Ron Huberman
    CEO, Chicago Public Schools
    Chicago Public Schools
    125 South Clark Street, 5th floor
    Chicago, IL 60603
    Fax: (773) 553-1501

    Leigh Mcguigan
    Special Assistant to Ron Huberman
    Chicago Public Schools
    125 South Clark Street, 5th floor
    Chicago, IL 60603
    Fax: (773) 553-1501

    The Honorable Richard M. Daley, Mayor
    Office of the Mayor-City Hall
    121 N. LaSalle, Room 507
    Chicago, IL 60602
    Fax: 312-744-8045

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    we sent call not in support of this school. Where is the reporting of the 'other side' of this issue?

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    What is the other side of the issue?

  • In reply to JeffP:

    the other side of the issue is that the elston avenue location is a horrible location for the folks who live on the blocks surrounding it...the firestation at the corner of Roscoe and elston already has problems because there is a public school a block away and 2 charter schools within walking distance...the school would eventually have 600 students, and the traffic is already a problem ..residents of roscoe would have to deal with the drop off and pick-up of one is against the school, they are against the LOCATION...also the building is a former factory...the cost to make it environmentally safe, and ama's plan to have the site built in phases, is not realistic...the cost to renovate that site would be astronomical...there are other great sites within a mile...don't long time residents deserve anything?

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    cps does not support montessori programs--historically. they cost more to run, Cps stops them after only a few years. more cost per student in this program. no follow thorugh by CPS, they keep cutting the program we had in our school until it is meaningless.
    CPS has other fish to feed and bills to pay esp. for Ron's pats.
    you should be looking to be in a public school and share the little resources there are. and there are no resources anymore.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    I agree about the resources. We have committed to sharing whatever resources we have with the local public school.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    I was very disappointed to hear that Avondale Montessori was refused at the last minute. Ms. Nolan who has exceptional experience as a director and educator, has worked round the clock with her team to start a school that would be beneficial to the children of Chicago. She has worked as a director in Near North Montessori School, one of the best schools in the country and has gained invaluable experience. Ms. Nolan is passionate about the Montessori method and has successfully educated her three children through the montessori system. I firmly believe that Montessori should be offered and I strongly urge CPS to reconsider this decision as Montessori is such a wonderful choice to offer students in the public school system.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    iam surprise all of you above are surprised this was pulled. New head at ONS, more money for her and Ron's crew--they have to pay for it somehow and somewhere--on the backs of the kids. Where have you all been?

  • In reply to viniciusdm:

    maybe trying to pull some kind of scam shell game. the huberman usual.

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