CPS names a record 10 schools for turnaround

School closings will be announced in the coming days

November 29, 2011

Download Story

Linda Lutton goes in depth on the latest school news on Eight Forty-Eight with host Alison Cuddy

Chicago Public Schools is giving a top-to-bottom overhaul to 10 low-performing schools, with all staff at the schools to be replaced at the end of this academic year.

The eight elementary schools and two high schools, most on the city’s South and West Sides, will be “turned around,” a strategy first tried in Chicago in 2006 and now being pushed nationwide. This is the first of what are expected to be multiple announcements about school closings this week in Chicago.

The district will pinkslip everyone at the 10 schools—from the principal to the lunch ladies. The students will stay as their schools are transformed by what the district says will be “an entirely new culture of success.”

Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard says it is part of the district’s strategy to ensure quality school options exist in every neighborhood.

“When you look at these schools... some schools 10 years on the failing list in the city, something has to be done to provide better options for students in those communities,” Brizard said.

The district has never tried to tackle so many turnarounds at once. Six of the schools will be turned over to the nonprofit Academy for Urban School Leadership to run. The district’s Office of School Improvement will re-staff and manage the other four schools.

For the first time, schools with large percentages of Latino students will be turned around. Until now, all turnarounds—and most school closings—have affected predominantly African American schools.

The turnaround plan includes one of the largest elementary schools in the city: Marquette, with nearly 1,400 students. In all, 5,800 students attend schools that will be turned around.

Principals and teachers learned of their imminent displacement Monday. One principal said the announcement came “out of left field” and said the school would “do whatever we can” to convince school officials to reconsider.

“We love these kids, we love this school,” said the principal, who didn’t want to be named for fear of jeopardizing chances at future employment.

The district could not say how many staff would be affected. And Brizard said the district’s main concern was for students, not the adults who work with them.

Parents at Marquette had not yet heard of their school’s future at dismissal yesterday—there was no note home to parents. But some supported the action when told about it.

“The school has gone from bad to worse,” said Cristina Medrano, who has two children at Marquette. She says staff turnover has been a problem and new teachers are not as experienced as she would like. She says a new school progress report shows Marquette failing academically and in its climate. “If the restructuring is going to be better for the school, then it will be good,” said Medrano.

Parents at another school, Wendell Smith, had led a campaign to get their school turned into a charter, and Brizard said that’s one reason it was considered for turnaround. He applauded parents there for demanding more from their school.

The turnaround schools will get a combined $20 million in extra resources that can be used for everything from professional development and curriculum planning to after school programming or tutoring. The schools will also get additional supports, including full-time social workers and expanded fine arts and athletics.

In the past, CPS reserved turnaround for the very lowest performing schools in the district.  But at least one school on the district’s turnaround list, Casals, has 60 percent of students meeting state standards. Another, Tilden High School, was not given the district’s lowest ranking recently; more than 140 other schools were.

Brizard said the district considered both test score data and school visits to determine where a turnaround was needed. CPS also went neighborhood by neighborhood to root out lower-than-average performing schools. But that approach identified schools that are far from the lowest performers.

CPS Portfolio Officer Oliver Sicat said the district chose turnaround in some cases because closing the school wasn’t an option, since CPS found no better performing school nearby where students could be transferred.

If approved by the board, the additional turnarounds will bring the number of CPS schools managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership to 25, 18 of them turnarounds.

AUSL is paid a per-pupil fee to run schools. CPS continues to pay teacher salaries; teachers are hired by AUSL but are CPS employees and members of the Chicago Teachers Union. But CTU president Karen Lewis immediately blasted the turnaround plan as destabilizing schools and communities. She said it was part of a larger agenda.

“I think it’s honestly to destroy public education as we know it,” said Lewis, “to privatize it, to give it over to other management companies because the Board truly does not know what to do.”

Chicago opened its first turnaround school, the Sherman School of Excellence, in 2006, when Arne Duncan was head of the school system. The strategy is now being pushed by the federal government.

Chicago Public Schools says its turnarounds are improving faster than district schools, though the numbers they use to determine that have been called “misleading” by top academics.

CPS Proposed Turnaround Schools:

•         Pablo Casals Elementary School, 3501 W. Potomac Avenue
•         Melville W. Fuller Elementary School, 4214 S. Saint Lawrence Avenue
•         Theodore Herzl Elementary School, 3711 W. Douglas Blvd.
•         Marquette Elementary School, 6550 S. Richmond St.
•         Brian Piccolo Elementary Specialty School, 1040 N. Keeler Ave.
•         Amos Alonzo Stagg Elementary School, 7424 S. Morgan St.
•         Chicago Vocational Career Academy (CVCA) High School, 2100 E. 87th St.
•         Edward Tilden Career Community Academy High School, 4747 S. Union Ave.
•         Wendell Smith Elementary School, 744 E. 103rd St.
•         Carter G. Woodson South Elementary School, 4414 S. Evans

LaCreshia Birts contributed reporting.