Displacement: One Teacher's Story


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?

Latman email:

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. 
Then, strangely, Mayor
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,
were dismantled. 
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.
Some additional details about my trials and tribulations are in blogs and commentary I've written:

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. 


Leave a comment
  • Thank you Alexander and Mr. Latman. I am a retired teacher from a large Harper feeder school. When many of our former 8th graders annually came to visit us on high school report card pickup (a day off for them) they always bragged about having Mr. Latman and what a great teacher he was. I was glad he was there to look after our graduates. And yes, the murder at Harper is true and it was sad to see it 'turned around' in the way it was--students that were NOT wanted, especially with low scores, were kick out of the school or sent too far to Robeson where they were scared to death. Shame on Arne.

  • CPS Apartheid! After reading this about the African American male principals that Vallas-Hansen and Arne put into Harper, one can see why Arne, and Ron keeps, the white guy over Harper, the 'bring-on-the-violence' Don Frynd. If the tone of my messge makes you upset, you should wake us to the fact that these white guys purposely setup these African American males up for failure so they could prove white superiority. Another clear example of CPS Apartheid. Another reason for MS's suicide.

  • I think the person above is referring to Don Fraynd who oversees the Turnaround efforts at Harper, Fenger, and--soon--Marshall. He was not there for the all the male principals Mr. Latman referenced. He was the officer at CPS who was responsible for hiring Ms. Butler-Stansberry.

  • The reference IS to the Apartheid leader, master Don. Please read the entry, it said MALE African American principals. The current one is female and says 'Yassah' to anything master Don says so that she can stay a house negro. It really is the eternal mayor daley's way to keep the male negro in line and to layoff AA teachers. Look how many AAs eternal mayor has been able to chase out of the city through his generals, vallas-hansen, duncan and huberman. Although this reprieve by huberman is a surprise, with the devil in the details, since eternal mayor has to be botherd with an election.

  • Alexander, Thank you for posting this story. I personally appreciate it. This is what thousands of teachers go through on a daily basis. CPS is a criminal enterprise that hurts children and staff under its charge. One day all those that hurt children for their personal gain will have to pay for their sins. I plan on not being around when that day comes.

    If the government becomes a lawbreaker,
    it breeds contempt for law;
    it invites every man to become a law unto himself;
    it invites anarchy.
    Olmstead v. US, 277 US. 438,485 (1928)

  • I think the greatest tragedy of all of this is that the scorched earth policy teaches students and us as educators that everything we give our all to build is worthless and unworthy of respect.

    But it's not true--we build beautiful supports with/for our students, and yet hacks are constantly given the keys to level these supports and blame us for the poor outcomes of these acts of violence against children.

    In the end, our students' triumphs are still precious moments where all is right in the world, and those who destroy the lives of youth will have to face the consequences of their actions.

  • was at phillips community meeting AUSL could not answer community concerns. plus a shocking statement by someone..... i will type it up in the morning along with lots of good video.

    everything is worth it to see so many people fighting for their rights especially the students. that is worth anything they throw at me: teaching young people to stand up for themselves and articulate what they believe and what is right.

  • Agreed. It's what's best for them. It's what's best for us, and it's what's best for our whole society.

  • I thought the quote was, "When you jab a pencil in the community's eye, you jab a pencil in the community's eye the AUSL way"?

  • Thanks Gary for telling it like it is. Teachers like you have dedicated their lives to their students and schools. Additionally, they have made innumeralble sacrifies of both time and money, only to be devalued by those whose success they are responsible for! Once again, thank you for all you do and manning our website:

  • Dear Anonymous:Re:KENT HUNTER
    I agree with you that the problem is caused by incompetent administrators,including the Central Office employees.
    It is a norm to hire teachers without proper certification.
    I am a "reassigned" teacher with type 09,75(Director of Special Education)LBS1 etc.
    In spite of highest qualifications in the area of Special Education I do not have a permanent position.Reasons?Union activities,age,color and race.
    Not long ago I spent 20 days at Prosser and would like to make a comment.
    The schools seems as one of the best run schools in the City.Safe and organized.It is very hard to say that Ken Hunter (a principal)is not competent and"afraid of kids".
    According to my observation he is one of the "old school"administrators with knowledge and ability to run an institution.It is true that he is very sensitive to the legal mandates and it is out of his control.
    He is much more effective than new,unlicensed administrators trying to survive ignoring students and staff needs.
    So ,I would like to say that working there was a pleasure in comparison to other schools.
    I would like to have a principal as Kent Hunter.

  • Dear Anonymous:
    It looks like some teachers were born to complain, because of lack of credentials they feel unsecure and worthless.
    Some of them....

  • Raising expectations is a great thing, but it has been proven that turnarounds don't work.

    1. Drop out rate goes up
    2. Students separated from some of the few positive adult relationships they have are injured by the process.
    3. Test scores only go up when the student population is radically changed by gentrification like at Sherman.

    Yes, the tenure system does protect a few bad teachers. However, the alternative is a system where every teacher with more than 4 or 5 years of experience is replaced by a newer younger model. I've seen suburban districts like that and it doesn't work, but it is cheaper to operate.

  • In reply to CPSJoe:

    No, you are wrong. Tenure does not protect bad teachers. Poor administrators protect bad teachers.

  • In reply to CPSJoe:

    Hey Gary, I resigned from Cps in 2009, I was a leadteacher at Harper for over 12 years ran a technology program in 2007 when the first week I left because i was assualted by two students and nothing was done. Ms. Kenyatta was principle. The first day of school there was 4 fights, nothing was done the second day there was 6 fights nothing was done and those students were allowed to enter my class. This one girl I asked her to move away from the computer she got up from her seat came towards me with hand raised I then told her to stop her friend came behind me and said " if you fuck with my sister I will kick your ass" I began to move towards the door and moved to the hall and yelled security help... no answer. Finally several teachers came out and the Mr. Johnson the asst. Principal came and took the girls to the his office. I ask for the police he did nothing the girls jumped out of their seats and said bitch we will kick your ass. I left the school and never went back. This would have never happened with Dr.Gibbs, Mr. Mason and Mr Wiley.

    Cps is not a school system where I would place my child. Mayor Harold Whasington said a politician should never run a school because they do not have the knowledge. They CPS system is now a failure and does not have the children's best interest in the for front. See Ya. I have started a new career. I also tutor students.

    Audrey Askins

  • I understand this perspective, but I'm concerned you are looking more at symptoms than at root causes.

    We are in a system that has an attrition rate of nearly 60% in an environment that students need the most stability.

    The system is so dysfunctional that it results not only in situations like you describe above, but principals and APs are not properly using the evaluation system.

    A functional system would work like this:
    1. Multiple observations and mentoring throughout first year teaching. (Internal coaches as well as external coaches, and team taught classes for better growth among new teachers.)
    2. Continued observations and peer support throughout the 3 year probationary period.
    3. Notice of intent to retain or not during year three with ample time and suggestions of how to improve and a guarantee to retain contingent on growth in those areas.
    4. Time and shared assignments to build collaborative learning communities both within and across departments.
    5. Continued self-evaluation and encouraged growth past tenure.
    6. Absolutely no in-year layoffs of teachers without cause (obviously teachers guilty of massive indiscretion would be an exception) . The CPS budget could clearly absorb this. If you are managing a 6 billion dollar budget and can't find a little wiggle room to actually put consistent teachers in classrooms, then you suck at financial management.

    You have been a victim of CPS leadership setting up a false dichotomy between working in a dysfunctional school and working in a turnaround environment. Both are broken options--turnarounds, due to their lack of community connectivity and lack of experienced teachers, do not perform better than the historical neighborhood schools, increase violence, and quite frankly, break equal opportunity laws design to prevent race-based hiring.

    The question we should be screaming is, "Why can't we get administrative support as new teachers without having to go to a place where we don't receive the wisdom and insight of experienced teachers?"

    No teacher--or human being for that matter--should have to experience what you did, nor be asked to make that choice.

    The turnover rate for staff at turnarounds is approximately 90%. That includes the most qualified, outstanding, experienced teachers in the district because turnaround is a political animal, not an educationally oriented one. For students, turnover has been significant--many are lost in the process.

    So can't we come together and commit to a plan that puts the responsibility on both the teacher and the district so that we retain more teachers and everyone--teachers and especially students--feels that they can come everyday to a functional, respectful institution?

    If nearly 60% of teachers are leaving the profession within the first 5 years, the correlation between burnout and leaving would almost guarantee high absentee rate and burnout among those who stay. Fix the system, train and retain great teachers.

    Bringing it back to your story, you are heroic to have stayed focused and continued to teach for the benefit of student despite your experiences.

    But I fail to understand why you choose to blame other teachers rather than a district leadership that chose to cut you in the middle of the year despite having ample resources knowing that it would disrupt you and hurt your students. Perhaps they experienced the same thing you did and simply weren't as strong as you.

    Or perhaps they were stronger than you, but after having experience what you did a dozen times, threw in the towel.

    As you said, the turnaround system is effective at removing teachers (regardless of how effective they are) but the data suggests that it doesn't improve students' education.

    So why wouldn't you focus the need for change on a system that makes a worst practice of laying off needed, effective teachers until they are unemployed or become ineffective?

  • Sorry I must disagree Ms.Butler closed all the small schools at Harper just as she was instructed to do attendance droped and Harper had nothing to give to students o englewood. The was no hope left. The small schools helped to controll the voilence at the school it gave the students a family connection they felt they belonged to something.They could attend a school of their interest go to college connect to their teachers.. Students email me to this day and say thanks Ms. Askins for helping me get out of that englewood community. To much change happened to fast.She was the clean up woman for CPS.She did not listen to Mr. Mason. She bated and switched on employees she needed to help her then closed their position. Duncan was a yes man for Daley. Now the schools are being closed to save money. Students are not the focus.

    I am so happy now.This is only happening in Chi-town.


Leave a comment