If you ever want to observe a city in crisis, come to Chicago and watch the tragedy unfolding in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the third largest school district in the country. On May 22, 2013, we learned the School Board voted to close 54 schools and hundreds of teachers (850) would be laid off. Only weeks later, parents discovered their children would bear the brunt of the city’s budget woes, with some schools losing over a million dollars in funding.
The despair, frustration and helplessness CPS families feel is palpable. And the gulf between Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennet and parents has never been wider, with principals cowered into silence and teachers marginalized. We don't even have a common language to describe the issues facing our schools. Take a look at the telling statements I've collected from a CPS parent, teacher, Ms. Byrd-Bennett, and Mayor Emanuel and then tell me, do you see a resolution in the near future?
CPS Parent Devorah Heitner, Founder, Raising Digital Natives
“Feeling sickened by these numbers and by accounts of what principals are forced to cut. The school closings and budget cuts represent a massive disinvestment in Chicago as a city that can raise its own young at a time when prospects for undereducated folks have never been more dire.
This is violence against children, their families and teachers, and the whole city. It will undermine Chicago in ways that we may not be able to recover from. The schools on this list that I've visited (Gale, Sullivan, Burr) sure don't look like they can "afford" these massive cuts.”
CPS High School Teacher:
“We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett:
"As we end this school year, it is time for us as a city to begin the work of creating a deep and lasting change in our schools to ensure a better life for our children, a better Chicago workforce and a better future for our city. Everyone has a shared responsibility to ensure students have a safe and smooth transition to their new school in the fall and are on a path to a bright future. We owe them our very best."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel:
Nothing. When CPS school closings were announced, the mayor went skiing in Utah. This week, as parents, teachers, and children sob in each other's arms in gymnasiums around the city, Emanuel is in Israel.
To save the Chicago Public Schools system, we need leaders who are ready and eager to engage meaningfully with parents, not a venture-capitalist loving intimidator who leaves town when things get tough. Emanuel needs to sit down with parents. Byrd-Bennett needs to stop with the darn platitudes. Until then, my guess is that more families will flee to the suburbs, Rahm won’t get reelected and we’ll probably see our fifth CEO in half a decade (yes, FOUR CEO's since 2009). Worst of all, Chicago's children will continue to suffer in overcrowded, underfunded schools. Do you want to live in a city that has no young families?
[photo credit: stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net]
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