Chicago teacher Gary Latman taught at Harper High School from 1989-2008, when it was
turned around and the entire staff was dismissed. He wrote in to tell me about that experience and I wanted to pass it along.
You'll find some interesting details whether you're for or against turnarounds. The school made progress, but the Board kept raising the bar higher, and principals came and went. Reverend Jackson came and went. Small schools came and went. Other schools dumped more and more special needs kids. Veteran teachers weren't rehired. (Latman participates in DART.)
It's a familiar story -- and teachers aren't the only people losing their jobs these days -- but vivid first-hand experiences like this are still remarkably hard to come by on the Internet. What was the moment when you realized that your school was going to be turned around? What was the moment you realized that you might not be getting interviews because of your age or past service?
I just stumbled upon your District 299 Blog. It's a shame I didn't
see it while I taught at Harper High School from 1989-2008, when it was
turned around and the entire staff was dismissed.
I worked at that
school as an English teacher (newspaper advisor, department chair) and
eventually after 12 years in the classroom took the job of TechCo. I
was hired by Dr. Barbara Pulliam in December 1989, several months after
the murder that occurred in the classroom. She was follow 4 years later
by Richard Parker (picked by the LSC). During his principalship Harper
was one of four high schools put on Probation by Paul Vallas but after
3 years he was replaced by Nate Mason, when the school was
Reconstituted (Vallas used bigger words than Duncan, who 12 years later
would call the same radical procedure Turnaround). Mason was principal
for 4 years and was instrumental in building a team of teachers and
partnerships that raised our test scores in reading from 3.9 to 14.1 in
his third year. He was not rewarded with a contract, because we were
still 6 points below the target of 20% of our students reading/test at
level. What the Board did do was raise the bar to 25%.
the time I was English Department Chair and had really bought into the
team effort to get us off of Probation, but with the Board raising the
bar instead of recognizing our efforts, I could no longer be an active
participant in the dishonesty. Our scores dropped a little the next
year, and Nate Mason took a job as principal of LIncoln Park High
School. He had been an AP there before being assigned to Harper as part
of its Reconstitution.
Daley replaced Vallas with the very under-qualified but personable Arne
Duncan. Vallas had emphasized accountability, if you remember, not
allowing students to graduate from elementary school if they couldn't
read at a 7th grade level. I believe this was unpopular with the
communities affected and Daley couldn't have that. Harper was assigned
Kent Nolan, a personal friend of Duncan as principal. After a rocky
first year (his business manager was stealing from the school), he
bought Harper 125 IBM Net Vista computers and asked me if I'd leave my
job as English Department Chair to become the school's Technology
Coordinator, and my first job was to distribute and have the computers
set up in all the classrooms, and then begin training teachers on how
to integrate technology into their lessons. Kent Nolan was
simultaneously working on his doctorate, so he wasn't available very
often, and apparently we had spent much more money than we had and went
into the red.
Duncan dumped Nolan and gave us Dr. Ronn Gibbs, who on his first day
told the entire staff, "I'm nobody's friend, here!" He spent 4 years
proving it, although he had his glory days when Rev. Jesse Jackson
interceded on our behalf. We had a swimming pool that had started
leaking water about 6 years earlier and Central Office never felt it
was important to provide emergency funding for the necessary repairs.
Rev. Jackson brought in contractor-friends who said they would fix it
for free, and proceeded to embarrass Duncan and Central Office for its
historic neglect of Harper. Sidebar: During the boom years of real
estate development that saw neighborhood development in East Englewood,
Woodlawn, and Lawndale, West Englewood had next to zilch. There was a
new police station built on 63rd Street.
sat in on meetings with Rev. Jackson, the contractors, some Operation
Push people, and eventually Pittman and a couple other people from
Central Office. They wanted to upgrade our technology and Dr. Gibbs was
nearly tech illiterate, so he relied on me to explain what we had and
what we needed. Then end product of Jesse Jackson's intervention was
that we received the wi-fi wiring and access points immediately, three
mobile carts with laptops for our science department (2) and library
(1), a new weight room for our athletes, new carpeting for our library,
and the swimming pool was repaired. Upon its completion Arne Duncan
and Jessee Jackson and two students posed in the filled swimming pool
in their trunks, hands clasped and arms raised in the joint victory
photo-op. I almost puked.
year passed, and Gibbs who still didn't understand what computers were
used for other than looking stuff up and sending email, reluctantly
allowed me to in-service the staff once each semester for half day
workshops. Beyond that I got our Network at 92% CPS Network Compliance,
but there was little or no professional development or plan on how to
use the computer other than running test prep software. Even then, Dr.
Gibbs never was interested in the data or what could be done with it.
As a day to day manager, given what limited resources he was provided
by Central Office, Dr. Gibbs did a fine job of management, but he had
no vision and was strictly a top down manager, who trusted no one, and
therefore could not build teams with his professionals. We saw our
student enrollment swell beyond capacity to over 1350, with a special
needs population at over 30%, twice the system wide average. We were a
dumping ground on an uneven playing field, held to the same test
results as other schools. So we continued to "fail".
Gibbs was replaced by another of Arne Duncan's wunderkind principals
during the summer of 2007, Kenyatta Butler Stansberry. She managed to
dismantle the computer network, putting me back in the English
classroom. She gave me 5 freshmen classes and a 9th grade division,
surely a recipe for my failure. I had our network set up so everyone
could log into any computer using their domain name and password, and
see a folder with their name on it for storage and retrieval of files.
This was for teachers and students and other staff as well.
Butler-Stansberry brought in a vendor who disconnected us from the
Instructional domain and set up a sub-domain, and when his funds were
used up, computers began to be left unrepaired. All of our small
schools that had been developed, some successfully and some less so,
at the end of the first semester, Duncan announced that Harper would be
turned around, and all of the staff displaced. He recommended that
Butler-Stansberry not rehire any of the staff. She hired a handful of
those who reapplied. I did not. I spent last school year looking for a
teaching, tech, or teacher training job I was more than qualified for.
I received no offers, and began to hear through the grapevine that
older higher paid teachers were not being hired, so I took my
retirement June 2009.
sidebar: There is at least one law suit I know about regarding the
Board's contractual violation (hiring less qualified teachers, instead
of tenured more qualified teachers), and a number of other teachers and
I filed age discrimination complaints with the Illinois Department of
Human Rights. I have a hearing on Monday, February 22.
(scroll down to the third comment)
There's a web site for displaced and reassigned teachers in solidarity (DARTS),
that provides assistance in the process for aggrieving the Chicago
Board of Education's contract violation and unfair labor practices,
specifically for those teachers who were displaced from turnaround
schools, and then found themselves passed over for teaching positions
that younger, cheaper, and less qualified newbies filled . It was
started by Antoinette (Toni) Barnes, who presently has filed a law suit
against the Board. Ann Cata is a contributor.
Filed under: Teachers & Teaching