Veteran teachers out at Social Justice High School

August 27, 2012

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Students at a high school in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood were being taught English by temporary teachers Monday.

That’s because Chicago public school officials let two other teachers go for “economic reasons” last week.

The two helped open Social Justice High School seven years ago. One is Katie Hogan, a Golden Apple scholar, a National Board Certified Teacher who  coached the academic decathlon team.

“I don’t even know where the kids are going to go,” Hogan said, holding back tears. “I mean, they don’t have any English teachers besides one first-year teacher who’s never taught before in his life.”

One of the temporary teachers is a year-long sub for the freshman English teacher, who is out on maternity leave.

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said a new English teacher will start today and noted that there is currently a teacher for the AP Literature and Composition course, but did not immediately know if that course was being taught as of Monday.

The spokeswoman would not elaborate on why Hogan and her colleague were laid off, other than to say the new principal is looking for two teachers with “strategic reading” certifications.

She said the “strategic reading” certification was deemed necessary by the new principal, who has been at the school since August 6.

Ziegler said 12 percent of the students met or exceeded state standards in reading on the Prairie State Achievement Exam last year. But that number is from 2010-2011 data. The most recently released results show that 21 percent of students at Social Justice met or exceeded state standards in reading.

Since the new principal came in, students and parents have said the school is in turmoil. Students walked out of class two weeks ago protesting cuts to advanced classes and the firing of two attendance clerks.  At a raucous community forum last week, upset parents and students asked the new principal and administrative staff from central office why they were making the changes.

Some reminded administrators of the school’s origins. Social Justice opened in 2005 after 14 parents went on a hunger strike to demand the school district build a high school in their community.

It is one of four high schools in the Little Village High School Campus. The small schools were a popular system of education reform in the early 2000s. At one point CPS got a $2 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to split up large urban high schools into several small, academically focused schools.

In recent years, CPS and other districts have moved away from that model, citing in part high administrative costs and average results.

CPS dismantled the small schools inside of Orr High School in 2008 and replaced them with one large turnaround high school run by the Academy of Urban School Leadership. Students, parents and community members there have said the transition caused a lot of instability in the community.

Last year, CPS also shut down the small schools inside of South Shore High School and Bowen High School.

Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union, used to work at Social Justice. He says situations like what’s happening at Social Justice are  one reason the union is trying to get recall rights for tenured teachers, like Hogan, in their next contract.