All staff to be dismissed at three low-performing CPS schools

Reform effort will keep kids enrolled, but they’ll get all new principals, teachers, lunch ladies and janitors. An outside nonprofit will manage the schools.

March 22, 2014

(WBEZ/Bill Healy)

Chicago Public Schools announced Friday it will “turn around” three low-performing schools at the end of this school year—firing all staff there, from the janitors to the principal. Students will continue at the schools.

McNair Elementary and Dvorak Technology Academy on the West Side and  Gresham Elementary on the South Side will be turned over to the private nonprofit Academy for Urban School Leadership to manage.

That group already runs 29 Chicago Public Schools, with 17,000 students.  CPS says AUSL schools have had a “profound impact” on school culture, and are improving faster than those managed by the school district.

“The data—it’s compelling,” said schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett. “When I put on my parent and educator hat, I just believe we have to make the tough decision on behalf of students, and give them the opportunity and the equitable platform that they deserve.”

Short of closing a school, the turnaround strategy is the most radical school reform the district applies to schools. It was begun in Chicago under former schools CEO Arne Duncan and became a recommended federal strategy for improving schools under President Barack Obama’s administration.

The Chicago Teachers Union immediately called the move “school closings by another name." It comes 10 months after Chicago voted to close 49 grammar schools, the largest single round of school closings in the U.S.

“They’re picking up where Rahm Emanuel left off last year, by destabilizing schools on the South and West Sides,” said vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union Jesse Sharkey. “We don’t think that the schools that are in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the city with incredibly dedicated faculty should be punished by having all those staffs fired. “

Sharkey said improvements in turnarounds are due to additional millions of dollars the schools get over their first five years, not the new staff. 

Under the turnaround model, new staff are also CTU teachers. But the union blasted turnarounds as a strategy to get rid of veteran African American teachers, whom Sharkey says kids need as role models. Nearly all students in the three schools targeted for turnaround are poor and black.

A University of Chicago study showed turnarounds and other dramatic school transformations do result in a younger, whiter teaching force.

That study also showed that test scores improve more rapidly after a school is turned around, outpacing improvement at the rest of the district’s schools.

Chicago Public School’s announcement coincided with dismissal from school Friday, when students at the affected schools took papers home announcing the shakeups. CPS says it mistakenly sent home papers with students from two other schools; Parker Community Academy in Englewood and Mason Math and Science Academy were being considered for turnaround, but Byrd-Bennett said they are showing enough progress to continue with their current staffs.

Hearings on the turnarounds will be held in April. The board of education is slated to vote on the turnaround proposals at its April 23 meeting.

See below for CPS powerpoint provided to reporters on AUSL performance.

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