Protests rev up to stop school closings, turnarounds

Parents say they want investment in schools, not all new staff.

December 10, 2011

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(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
Students from Piccolo and Casals schools, both on the West Side, protest proposed re-staffings at their schools.

With a megaphone to amplify their chants, dozens of students, parents and teachers marched around Piccolo Elementary Specialty School after the dismissal bell rang Friday, protesting the district’s plans to re-staff the school and turn it over to an outside nonprofit to run.

“Some of us have been at this school since we’re little,” said Yshanda Hudson, 13. “We want our teachers to stay. We don’t want new teachers. We don’t want new lunchroom people. We want the same people.”

Parents, teachers and students said the current Piccolo principal, the second in a row to be appointed by CPS, has only been in place since the summer. They said they’re seeing improvements in attendance, student discipline and parent involvement.

But schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has said sometimes school employees just don’t gel.

And Mayor Rahm Emanuel has declared himself a “zealot” for the Academy for Urban School Leadership, the nonprofit slated to manage Piccolo and nine others by next fall. The homegrown group has won national attention for taking over some of Chicago’s worst performing schools.

A recent WBEZ analysis shows that of the 12 schools AUSL has taken over, six are considered Level 3 performers, the lowest ranking. Four are performing at Level 2, and two AUSL turnarounds are scoring at Level 1. All the schools were at one time among the lowest performing in the district.

That’s not the case for the new schools slated for turnaround; dozens of schools scored lower than Casals Elementary, for instance, where 62 percent of students meet standards on the ISAT. That brought parents from Casals Elementary to the Picollo protest Friday.

Parent Griselle Rosario Roman said parents will unite across neighborhoods to oppose all the school shakeups, announced last week.

“This is gonna be a big fight,” said Rosario Roman.  “We’re not gonna calm down, we’re not gonna step down.”

Rosario Roman was among a roomful of parents who walked out of a CPS parent meeting earlier Friday. The parent of two Casals students said CPS officials had come to explain the turnaround process, but parents demanded to speak with schools CEO Brizard. They walked out when they determined he wasn’t coming.

The protests of school closings may last months longer than normal. A new state law requires more time for public input before the schools are officially closed or turned around.