Education Questionnaire: Miguel del Valle


Miguel del Valle's education platform

Do you want control of the Chicago Public Schools? If so, how should Board of Education members be selected? Should some of them be elected?

There are pros and cons regarding mayoral control, but on balance I believe the next mayor should maintain control over the Chicago Public Schools and Board of Education because it creates a direct line of accountability for all the different constituencies that have an interest in creating a quality public school system.

I know it will only be possible to foster positive results if students, parents, teachers, principals, teachers, unions, and the school board work together as partners. We all need to do more, and not everyone will always agree or like what needs to be done. But, as mayor I will make sure all voices are heard and will keep a focus on what is best for students and their families.

Do you believe the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools should be an educator? Why or why not? What are the main qualities you would look for?

The Chicago Public Schools system faces numerous challenges that will require strong leadership to implement the necessary changes to improve our schools. As mayor, I will appoint an educator as superintendent with strong executive and managerial skills to head the Chicago Public Schools.

The new superintendent must be held accountable for establishing and meeting high educational standards and for transforming low performing neighborhood schools into high performing schools. The ideal candidate must have a solid track record of producing results in collaboration with school administrators, teachers, parents, and community members.

The new superintendent must be a practitioner of educational best practices and capable of fostering innovative problem-solving throughout the educational system. The ability to handle fiscal matters is a high priority in these difficult economic times when resources are scarce.

Finding someone who can successfully handle the job of Chicago Public Schools superintendent is a tall order but one that must be achieved. Working together with parents, students, teachers, principals and our entire community, we will make the Chicago Public Schools system the best in the country.

Should the School Board conduct a national search for a new schools chief?

A national search may be appropriate, but I would not spend significant funding or resources on a national search. We have excellent local leadership from which to identify qualified candidates.  A national search simply complements seeking out local candidates.

Chicago has the shortest school day among large, urban districts. What would you do about that?

Identifying the public and private resources needed to lengthen the school day and school year will be one of my highest priorities as mayor.  However, I realize the length of the school day is a negotiated issue with the Chicago Teachers Union.  I will engage in a collaborative effort with the union and others about how to lengthen the school day.  However, in the end, as mayor my main responsibility will be to do what is best for students and their families.

Another strategy that complements lengthening the school day is building on the existing community learning center model. On December 2, I publicly stated that as mayor I will increase focus on and investment in Community Learning Centers like the one at Monroe Elementary School in the Logan Square neighborhood. Monroe partners with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) to provide programs for families after school and in the evening, including adult education classes for parents, homework help for students, as well as sports, music, and art programs for children.

I propose a partnership with the private sector to fund the creation of more Community Learning Centers like this one, increasing their number by 50% during my first term as mayor. Just as we have a responsibility to be engaged in our children’s learning, Chicago’s business community must continue to support community learning as well. This is a natural partnership. I believe in these partnerships because they work.

CPS is looking at another enormous deficit for the 2011-2012 school year – under the teachers union contract, salaries are scheduled to rise another 4 percent, and federal stimulus money will be gone. How do you get out of that mess?

There must be a search for additional public and private funding. We must become more competitive for federal funding for our schools and school-based programs, and we must recapture TIF district funds that are currently diverted from the CPS. Administrative reductions must be made across all areas, except school personnel that work with students directly.

We must also work toward comprehensive reform of state school funding. I have a long track record of supporting comprehensive school funding reform to reduce the reliance on property taxes to fund public schools and reduce the spending disparity between rich and poor districts.

Would you support the closing of low-performing and under-enrolled schools? Why or why not?

We must review and monitor schools that continue to perform at unacceptable levels. We must also review reconstitution plans very carefully to include the schools’ learning communities in this planning. Everyone must be heard during the process of evaluation. The teachers, the parents, the students, and the community at large must work collaboratively before any decisions are made to close a school. It is crucial that neighborhood issues are also taken into consideration. The school board needs to adopt procedures that are clear and fair for determining reconstitution.

As mayor, I would only use school closings as an absolute last resort after all options to work with the community to improve a school have been exhausted.

Would you support the continued expansion of charter schools in Chicago? Why or why not?

As a parent, I understand the need for academic options for one’s children. However, I believe our priority needs to be ensuring that neighborhood public schools at all levels are quality schools, while allowing for choice through selective enrollment schools and charter schools. We must not set up two parallel school systems. We need to invest public resources in a way that ensures that every neighborhood school is a quality school.

Do you think it is it too hard to fire bad teachers who have tenure? If so, what do you think should be done about that?

Teacher evaluation is a negotiated item with the Chicago Teachers Union. In collaboration with the union, there needs to be a review and necessary changes to make sure that there is a process that will allow termination of those teachers that fail to do their job effectively.

The State of Illinois is requiring all districts to change their teacher evaluation process to make it more transparent and helpful to teachers. The Chicago Public Schools recently received a $34 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant from the federal government to improve teacher evaluation practices.

The foundation of a good teacher evaluation system is to thoroughly evaluate teachers early in their career, before tenure is awarded, and then support teachers’ efforts to continue to improve across their entire careers.

Should seniority govern teacher layoffs? If not, how would you recommend that future layoffs be handled?

Procedures for determining which teachers are laid off is a negotiated item with the Chicago Teachers Union. Teachers with less seniority should generally be laid off before those with more seniority, but other factors such as educational certifications and teacher evaluations should be considered.

In New York and Los Angeles, controversy has erupted over whether teacher evaluations should be made public or shared with parents. Is that a good idea? Would you push to share evaluations with parents in Chicago?

Teacher evaluations should be between the teacher, the principal of each school, and the human resources personnel office. Teacher evaluations should be fair and consistent with student achievement. The public should have full access to information about education outcomes in individual schools. However, there may be a way to define a system to provide a very limited amount of evaluative information available to parents about individual teachers.

Do schools have a role in stopping youth violence?  If so, what should schools do, and how would you support their efforts?

I believe in preventing crime and violence by supporting the effort to provide youth with opportunities to engage in positive activities and contribute to community life through after school programming, summer and after school jobs, and other investments.

It is also vital that the issue of youth violence be embedded in every school’s improvement plan. The students spend the majority of their day in schools. The role of the staff of the schools is to constantly provide inspiration, role modeling, and guidance to prevent youth violence. Each school community should decide how they will do that.

Despite good intentions, though, the reality remains that many youth will get caught up in the challenges of their environment and may get in trouble in their early years. As such, it is imperative to promote and help bring to scale programs that intervene and bring corrective action to get youth back on a productive path rather than simply emphasizing punitive measures that lead down a path to nowhere. I endorse programs like the Community Renewal Society High HOPES campaign, which focuses training and action of CPS officials around restorative justice practices.

What would success with your education agenda look like at the end of your first term?

In the short-term, within my first time, I would seek to ensure that all CPS schools have active, well-trained, functioning Local School Councils.  As a state senator, I was the co-sponsor of the 1988 School Reform law that created Local School Councils.  When I spoke at the 20th Anniversary Celebration of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), I said, “Show me a school that’s progressing, I will show you a school with a Local School Council that is strong, that is involved, that is connected, that is fully engaged.

Also, I would consider it a success to partner with the private sector to fund the creation of more Community Learning Centers as articulated above, increasing their number by 50% during my first term as mayor.

In the longer-term, all students will succeed by having the same effective and efficient educational opportunities in every single neighborhood. Each school will be the community learning center of its neighborhood.