CPS five-year plan lacks specifics

District officials put out first formal blueprint for schools under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but it gives few details.

June 10, 2013

(WBEZ/Becky Vevea)
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett unveiled her five-year vision Monday at an event at Westinghouse College Prep.

Chicago Public Schools officials put out a five-year plan Monday called “The Next Generation: Chicago’s Children,” but didn’t go into much depth about how it will be implemented.

The 28-page, glossy booklet is broken into five parts—or pillars—that CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said will improve the public schools.

“In our classrooms right now is a Nobel prize winner, a world-renowned auther, an Olympic gold medalist, the next Miles Davis, the next Barack Obama,” Byrd-Bennett said. “And equally important are our future teachers, our future doctors, our future businessmen, our future attorneys. They’re right there. We need to incorporate all the assets of this incredible city into our children’s education.”

The plan comes less than a month after the Board of Education voted to shut down 50 public schools, mostly on the South and West sides of the city.

The five pillars—high academic standards, principal leadership, parent and community engagement, effective teachers and accountability—have been talked about frequently since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, but this is the first time his administration has put out a formal blueprint for the schools.

Still, the plan is light on details—especially how the cash-strapped district will pay for some of the initiatives they hope to implement, like attendance teams and parent universities.

But board member Mahalia Hines said just having a plan down on paper gets everyone on the same page.

“I think that my favorite part is that we actually have a plan that I can get my hands around,” Hines said at an event unveiling the document Monday at Westinghouse College Prep, one of the city’s selective enrollment high schools. “I see the people at the board coming together with a common goal and some common language.”

It’s the first formal education plan put out since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office two years ago. But just before Emanuel was sworn in, interim CPS CEO Terry Mazany put out his vision for the schools. The two plans have some overlap, but the new one focuses more on accountability. 

The new plan outlines a district scorecard that will measure outcomes across the district, when it comes to student on-track rates, attendance, teacher retention and college enrollment rates. 

Byrd-Bennett’s vision also involves a couple of mandates, including one that was met with applause from those who attended the Westinghouse event.

“Every adult employed by our district will be responsible for mentoring one child, one hour, every week,” Byrd-Bennett said. She also called on all Chicagoans to help out, saying “We need an army of believers.”

Other mandates might be more difficult to accomplish without additional resources or support. For instance, schools are required to implement full-day kindergarten and also must to put together an attendance team that will track chronically truant students. The district is implementing “Parent Universities” to help parents get involved at their schools and they’ve already opened three “Re-engagement Centers” in Garfield Park, Roseland and Little Village to re-enroll dropouts.

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis immediately blasted the five-year plan.

“Our schools communities do not lack inspiration, they lack revenue,” Lewis said in an e-mailed statement. “It doesn’t matter what new initiatives CPS concocts from year to year if it has no way to appropriately fund them.”

CPS has said it is facing a $1 billion deficit. When asked for an updated deficit figure, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the numbers are shifting and district officials hope to put out a budget by the end of the month. The district is fundamentaly changing how individual schools are funded next year, as well. 

Board member Hines, a former principal, said the new way of funding schools helps principals think creatively about what their individual schools need at a time when budgets are increasingly tight.

“Money’s not always the key,” Hines said. “I’m not saying we don’t want any, but it’s not always the key. I think the key is going to be having committed, intelligent, informed leaders in the schools.” 

Chicago principals recently received their individual school budgets, which are based on a new formula. It’s not clear how many schools will see cuts, but overall, the per student rates appear to be less than what pilot schools had this past year.