Not Enough Time For Casals*

Veteran reporter Paul Bowker was at tonight's hearing on what to do with Casals Elementary, one of the most controversial of the proposed turnarounds and closings on the 2012 CPS list.  It sounds like a pretty frustrating event:

More than 100 people attended the Casals hearing tonight, which consisted of 45 minutes of testimony from CPS officials before the public was allowed to speak. A number of Casals teachers spoke in opposition to the turnaround, in addition to Casals Local School Council Chairperson Bridget Tracy, Chicago Teachers Union representative Martin Ritter, and many parents, students and community members.   So many speakers lined up to speak that the two-hour hearing was over before all 40 speakers got their two minutes to talk.   Fred Bates, the attorney who is running six hearings for CPS, apologized for those who were unable to speak but ended the session at precisely 7:30 p.m., the scheduled finishing time. A two-hour hearing for Brian Piccolo Elementary School was scheduled right after. By the time the Casals hearing was finishing up, a line of those waiting for the Piccolo hearing was already snaking through the lobby at CPS headquarters on South Clark Street.  Bates said he would accept more public comment and documents until 5 p.m. CT Tuesday by fax at: 773-553-1769.

*Updated 1:30 AM:  Scroll down for the full writeup, and let us know in comments what you think. 8:30 AM: Added Catalyst and WBEZ coverage (scroll down).


After all the speeches and testimonials from teachers, parents and community leaders, after the multiple pages of documents churned out by Chicago Public Schools officials as a part of their plan to turn Casals into a turnaround school and hand over operations to the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), it was the soft voice of  a young girl dressed in pink standing underneath the microphone at a very large podium that produced the strongest reaction from a near capacity crowd of more than 120 at the CPS Board of Education chambers Monday night.

"I don’t want my teachers to go away,” said the third-grade student at Pablo Casals Elementary School whose name will appear as Student "C" in the official transcript because of her young age. Even Fred Bates, an attorney handling this and five other public hearings for CPS, seemed taken back.

If the Chicago Board of Education approves a turnaround at Casals, 3501 W. Potomac Ave., a school which has been on CPS probation for five years, that 11-year-old girl will likely lose most of the teachers she's ever had at the school. In a turnaround scenario, all of a school’s teachers and staff are fired and replaced by a completely new staff trained by AUSL. In Casal’s case, the turnaround would begin in August 2012.

“I find it morally incomprehensible that CPS would suggest such a thing,“ said Maria Guerrero, a 30-year teacher who has been at Casals for 22 years and is one year away from achieving retirement.

Student C, and Guerrero, were a few of the lucky ones Monday night. They got to speak.  Another night of double hearings at CPS headquarters in downtown Chicago resulted in long lines and an evening in which not every voice was heard. Forty speakers, many of them arriving via a bus from the West Side, signed up to talk at the Casals hearing, but the two-hour session was halted at 7:30 p.m. by Bates before the list had been worked through. At that point, a whole new group of teachers, parents and community members were filling the CPS lobby to attend a similar hearing for the proposed turnaround of Brian Piccolo Elementary Specialty School, 1040 N. Keeler Ave. Of the two hours, the first 45 minutes were taken up by CPS speakers.

The Casals hearing drew a mix of participants, ranging from long-time community members to teachers to parents who brought their kids with them. While passionate, this was not a boisterous crowd.  The room was quiet as speakers pleaded their case to Bates, who said he will issue a report within two weeks to CPS. If you didn’t get to speak Monday night, or didn’t sign up, Bates said he would accept public comments and documents via fax (773-553-1769), until 5 p.m. Tuesday. Among those in the crowd Monday was Jesse Ruiz, Board of Education Vice President. Other members of the board, including president David Vitale, will be able to view the hearing via videotape, according to CPS.

The Casals hearing is just one of 16 that will continue through Friday after beginning Jan. 25. Two-hour hearings will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday for Herzl Elementary School, followed at 8 p.m. for Stagg Elementary. Other hearings: Fuller Elementary, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday; Woodson South Elementary, 8 Wednesday; Marquette Elementary, 5:30 Thursday; Smith Elementary, 8 Thursday; Chicago Vocational, 5:30 Friday; Tilden Career Communithy Academy High School, 8 Friday. All hearings will be held at the CPS headquarter, 5th floor Board Chambers, 125 S. Clark, and all are open to the public. The hearings, required by state law, are part of a proposal by CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard to turn around 10 schools, close two schools and phase out five others. Six of the turnarounds would be awarded to AUSL, which already operates 12 CPS schools.

The Casals proposal is certainly one of the most intriguing cases. The West Side elementary school, which feeds Orr High School (already a turnaround school) and serves about 500 students, mostly coming from low-income homes, has lagged behind district averages in all subject matter, according to CPS research. For example, in spring 2011, 61.5 percent of Casals students met the state standard on the ISAT. As a district average, 75.6 percent of Chicago students met the standard. Jacare Thomas, a CPS official, said the gap between Casals students and the district average has been widening since 2006.

Still, the 61.5 Casals number is much higher than some other Chicago schools not on the turnaround list -- a key point. “I really think that if they keep us on the (turnaround) list, there‘s going to have to be a lot of explaining to do,” Guerrero said in an interview. “So many other schools then need to be really concerned about what’s going to happen to them. And that’s what I’ve been hearing for these last two months. “Other schools (officials) are saying, ‘My school’s only in the 50s (as compared to Casals‘ 61.5). If they’re going to pick at you, what does that mean to us?’ I keep saying, ‘Exactly.’ That’s what we’re saying. We’re on the list for the wrong season.” A study put together by a Casals group of teachers and parents says that Casals has outscored 120 other elementary schools in Chicago and has outscored six of 11 turnaround schools currently operated by AUSL. The report says Casals has improved nearly 30 percent in academic scores since 2002.

“To rip us away from the school is not the answer,“ said Joyce Eizeinga, a first-year Casals teacher.

Casals has a new principal, Emily Dianne Sautter, and a new CPS administrator, Denise Little, who is overseeing the curriculum at Casals and several other schools as an instructional officer. Little has been assigned to the school since just this past August. None of the scores being cited are from the 2011-12 school year since that information is not yet available and standardized state tests have yet to be taken.

“Please give us the opportunity to succeed,“ one teacher said. “We want to work with Miss Little.“

Anita Scotese, a math and science teacher for eighth-graders, said she has tutored students on her own time. “We believe that we can achieve,“ she said.

Supporters wondered why CPS has not given Casals’ new principal more time to effect change and given Little’s programs more time to succeed. However, it must be pointed out that Little, while “recognizing current teachers are working hard and recognizing a new principal,” spoke in favor of the proposed turnaround. “There is an urgent need for the performance of Casals to improve and improve quickly,” Little said. Not a sound could be heard in the room as those words were spoken. Of the speakers Monday night that were not affiliated with CPS, not one spoke in favor of the turnaround.

“Threw us under the bus,” said one listener later about Little's remarks.

In the meantime, Blocks Together, a West Side community group, surveyed Casals parents this past Saturday at a school event: "Do you want to have a turnaround school?" Of the 183 who voted, 170 voted no to the turnaround. “We hope and demand the votes of our parents of the students of Casals be respected,” said Norma Luna, a parent.

The show of support may cause the Board some deeper thought about Casals. “There is hope,” said Tracy, who had two children graduate from Casals and now has three grandchildren who‘ll attend the school. “We have excellent teachers, excellent staff, not only to the students, but also to the parents.

"They care about their kids," said Martin Ritter, an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union. “They care about their kids so much that they have stood in the cold and did their best to make sure that the kids got to school safely.“



Teachers, but not many parents, speak out against turnaround WBEZ:  At Monday evening’s hearing, the district said test scores at Pablo Casals Elementary lag behind those of nearby schools, and Casals isn’t improving quickly enough. CPS wants to “turn around” Casals, where 61 percent of students meet standards on the state ISAT test, and hand the school over to the nonprofit AUSL.

Piccolo, Casals staff: Give current leadership a chance Catalyst: Jacare Thomas, data strategist for the Garfield-Humboldt Park Elementary Network, made presentations at both hearings on the schools’ lack of progress. She showed a growing gap between the percentage of students meeting state standards on the ISAT test at each of the schools, and in their network and CPS as a whole.


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  • here's an email from casals teacher maria guerrero about the hearing:

    I just got back from the hearing, which was tonight from 5:30 - 7:30pm. I stuck around for a few minutes to say "hello" to the Piccolo people, which followed our hearing. It looked like they had a good crowd too .

    Our hearing was very well attended, with almost every seat filled. There were parents, students and staff from Casals, as well as numerous other parties, reporters, etc. It was a very well - behaved meeting, and if there were any paid protesters in the audience , they didn't make a peep or speak. Unfortunately, CPS gets first shot at presenting, and their lawyer and her witnesses took up almost 50 minutes of the allotted 2 hours total. We were very ticked off at this, but after that , EVERY witness that came up was AGAINST the turnaround. We left charts and other relevant materials with the hearing officer, so he can look at our "real" data more closely . CPS' presentation against us was entirely "value-added" data that nobody really understands. I seriously doubt the hearing officer will understand it ! Many people did not get a chance to speak, since the hearing officer called a "stop" precisely at 7:30pm.

    Some of the key points that were made were :
    1. Casals' parents voted on Jan. 24 at 93% against the turnaround. There were 183 votes, of which 171 were "NO turnaround", 10 were "YES" and 2 were inconclusive. Casals has 500 students, but not every student lives with 2 parents, and many parents have multiple children. So this vote represents a substantial number of our parents.
    2. The former principal testified that she never received any probation plan in the 5 years that she was principal, and that Casals had 4 Area officers in 3 years, each of which brought in their own plans and agenda. This was the former Area 4 , which was eventually disbanded by Brizard and its schools split up among various new Networks.
    3. Casals has a new principal ( only since Oct. 2011) and we are working with a new Network ( Garfield -Humboldt Park Network ) that has a proven track of success ( as the old Area 7). Neither has been given enough time to show progress.
    4. Casals is not the lowest scoring school in Humboldt Park, or the Garfield-Humboldt Park Network, or the city . Charts were given showing how we stand compared to these various groups, as well as to AUSL.
    5. Casals has seen a severe reduction in its resources over the past few years, mostly in lost staff positions that have made us not have a Computer teacher or Science Lab teacher , even though the school has BOTH a computer lab and science lab.
    6. Of the 350 kids that applied for After School programs, CPS only approved 47 in Oct. 2011. That 's about 14% of the applicants only being accepted.
    7. Several students , ranging from 3rd grade to a former graduate who is now a high school senior, testified FOR the school.
    8. The LSC President and 2 other members of the LSC testified on behalf of the school.

    One interesting thing that happened was that the hearing officer and the Board member present ( Jesse Ruiz) wondered where our present principal was. She was not there. Apparently , they don't know that the principals of the schools on the list have been clearly told to stay out of the process and most definitely NOT show any support against CPS. They have been told that they are the "face of CPS" and they have to support them, even while their jobs are of course on the line. We have heard this from more than one principal . So I don't know why they even expected the principals to show up !

    Sorry to be so long-winded .... I'm a bit hyper from the hearing and it's fresh on my mind !
    Feel free to say any of this that you like - if you have any questions, let me know !

    THanks !
    Maria Guerrero
    Casals School

  • There is no controversy! Casals should remain open! as should all the others on the list...

    after 15 years, Chicagoans should be getting hip to this turnaround real-estate scam!

    From Working Economics, the Economic Policy Institute, by Richard Rothstein,
    'Reformers' playbook on failing schools fails a fact check

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    You should make her her own post. Great articulation of the how the receiving end of this feels. Whether this turnaround is good or not CPS definitely isn't taking into account the experience teachers like Ms. Guerrero have had. That should be something they're thinking about all the time in terms of policy and particularly communications. Would love to link to her bit.

  • In reply to Seth Lavin:

    Mr. Lavin,

    CPS *never* takes into account the experience of teachers like Ms. Guerrero. Policy in CPS does not include teacher input or what is best for teachers (and therefore students).

  • The lynching of public schools is in effect!. Casals proves that CPS is sick and deformed. What gives? Ren 2010 was about starving neighborhood schools of staff and support. On the reals, the fix was in. The Casals case shows the blatant incompetence of CPS top administrators. This is a gross injustice that all good people should spread the word on the the incompetent Brizard and staff. A pox on CPS Central Office administrators!

  • In reply to viniciusdm:

    If you only knew how incompetent they are.

  • Calling Brizard incompetent you give him way too much credit! - he knows excatly what he is doing - taking chicagoans for complete fools!

    and if CPS gets away with this multi-million dollar heist one more time, they really are complete fools!

  • save our school -- or save our job? or both?

    "Most people who spoke at the Casals hearing were teachers whose jobs are on the line" via @lindalutton

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    There were parents in the audience who did not want to speak . Also, maybe Ms. Lutton should have asked the parents that were there how hard it was to come downtown on a school night . Many parents do not have the luxury of a babysitter or other adult at home to take care of the kids. The representation of parents would have been much different if the meeting had been at a more convenient location, and maybe on a Saturday afternoon.
    Also, parents who did not attend or speak had the opportunity to fax letters and documents until 5 pm on Tuesday to the Hearing Officer. He mentioned this several times and gave out the fax number. So the total participation by parents could be much higher than just what was seen at the hearing.

  • "Jobs on the line" or "those on the front line of this war"? POV.

  • Almost everyone would agree that the city does not perform all services well, e.g. building a bridge. Someone else, a private contractor, is brought in to do the work, because they could do it more efficiently, provided the process is not corrupt.

    Many are angry and dismayed at CPS for being derelict for all these years. If CPS can't get the job done right, maybe CPS and the city should get out of the business of running a school system, and instead hand off educating our children to someone else who could do it more efficiently.

    Maybe we should be embracing charters or their equivalent instead of villifying them. At least we could fire them if we don't like what they're doing. We can't fire Central Office. Maybe we should offer no resistance to CPS shutting down itself as it turns more schools into charters. Do we really want CPS running our schools?

  • For me the most telling point is the fact that over half of the current AUSL schools are below Casals, and this is after years of Turnaround efforts in some cases. Shouldn't AUSL be required by the public and our leaders to show greater success before being handed even more schools? Maybe they should focus more attention on those six schools, get them up to speed before taking on any more.

    Plus the AUSL model will run into serious problems relatively quickly. It's predicated on the ability to put an outstanding teacher in every single classroom rather than helping existing teachers upgrade their skills. If there is such a dearth of outstanding teachers, where will AUSL find all the ones it needs to fill these classrooms? Aren't they going to run out soon? Won't their quality suffer? Maybe it already is.

    Finally, does anyone know what AUSL is teaching Chicago's children? What is their educational philosophy? What strategies do they deem effective? Are they doing anything innovative? Are they teaching to the ISATs tests? Are AUSL schooled children experiencing anything beyond math and reading? Just exactly what sets them apart? Enquiring minds want to know.

  • Fred Bates is a hired gun for CPS. Can anyone say, "kangaroo court".

  • VERY disappointed to read today in various sources about the long history that Fred Bates has with CPS , as a hearing officer for several years. We were told that the hearing officers this year were going to be independent retired judges, but CPS pulled this on Casals. He will also be presiding over other turnaround hearings, as he himself stated he had many more hearings in the next few days.
    How can he say he is not an employee of CPS when they pay his hourly wage to be at these hearings ?

  • I think Fred Bates is a consummate professional.

    It sounds as if people here are confused as to his role. He must allow both sides a chance to be heard, and that includes CPS bureaucracy. He is not a judge, nor does he make the final decision on the fate of a school. The seven board members have that power. And if he's paid for with taxpayer dollars, then he works for the taxpayers of the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois.

  • In reply to Danaidh:

    I hope you are right.

  • Why do these hearing officer always find for CPS? Do you think CPS would pay them if they did not agree with CPS. How much do they make an hour wiht outr tax money? Sone they always find for CPS--where is the OIG on this--isn't that fraud and then waste?

  • OIG where are you? Stop saying you need more $$ and get to work!
    Fred Bates
    The Casals community had NO idea that Mr. Bates has a long history with CPS , and that he does indeed get paid by them. We believed him when he said he was not an employee of CPS ( he said it 2xs) and thought we were addressing an impartial officer. It is SO disappointing to be played like this , to have all those speakers stand before him , all the faxes that were sent to him, and then to know this is what was really going on. In my 2 minute speech, I spoke about the immoral behavior of CPS , and even I didn't know how RIGHT I was or how far it went !

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Fred Bates is the worst of the worst. Fred Bates will agree with the school action for Casal.

  • Perhaps AUSL could be persuaded to back down from Casals. Is anyone picketing them or shining the spotlight there?

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    It's not up to AUSL to get Piccolo and Casals , it's up to CPS to give them to AUSL. At both schools' hearings, the principal from Howe School ( AUSL) presented on how wonderful AUSL is and the great progress they made. BUT she didn't talk about how Howe went from 688 students one year BEFORE turnaround (2007) to only 595 in 2008 ( turnaround year). That's an incredibly large number of kids "leaving" in 1 year. That same decrease in the 1st year was true at Sherman, Nat. Teacher's Academy, Morton and Harvard, all AUSL schools. IF what they offer is so fantastic , why did all these schools lose substantial amounts of students after the turnarounds ?

  • There were sevral more hearings this week but no one seems to be reporting on them. Specifically I know that Stagg had their hearing as well as Herzyl. Does anyone have any information on how those went?

  • In reply to Educator:

    good question -- here's the livetweet coverage of some other hearings, which is to my knowledge all that's out there: Piccolo Herzl Stagg

    Josh Kalov via @sethlavin

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