WBEZ | CPS http://www.wbez.org/tags/cps Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Cullerton to Chicago Teachers Union: “Of course this would avoid a strike” http://www.wbez.org/news/cullerton-chicago-teachers-union-%E2%80%9C-course-would-avoid-strike%E2%80%9D-113805 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/cullerton.JPG" alt="" /><p><div>Chicago Public Schools has laid off round after round of teachers and other employees over the past couple years. Thousands are gone. District officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel warn: If the state doesn&rsquo;t do something by February to help CPS with its $500 million budget hole, there&rsquo;ll be even more layoffs.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>John Cullerton is a Chicago Democrat and state Senate president. &nbsp;He says he has a plan, and that plan--outlined in <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?DocNum=318&amp;GAID=13&amp;DocTypeID=SB&amp;LegId=84279&amp;SessionID=88" target="_blank">Senate Bill 318</a>-- has something for everyone, including lawmakers, the governor, school districts &nbsp;and unions. &nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s what a compromise is,&rdquo; Cullerton said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s what a package is.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But there&rsquo;s a hitch. Some of the very people Cullerton wants to help - Chicago teachers - their union is not on board.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know the logic of the teachers&rsquo; union being opposed to the bill,&rdquo; Cullerton said. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s maybe because, you know, the Board of Ed is for it and, therefore they have to be against it. That&rsquo;s all I can figure, you know? The mayor&rsquo;s for it, they&rsquo;re against it because they had a fight with him in the past.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-strike-after-talks-fail-102287" target="_blank">Remember the 2012 teachers&rsquo; strike?</a> That&rsquo;s the fight Cullerton is referring to. And there&rsquo;s been talk of a second teachers strike under Emanuel over the district&rsquo;s current finances.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;Of course this would avoid a strike,&rdquo; Cullerton said. &ldquo;There wouldn&rsquo;t be any need for them to lose their pension pick-up in their contract negotiations. There wouldn&rsquo;t be any layoffs. I don&rsquo;t know what else they&rsquo;re striking about.&rdquo;&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;Three-eighteen is not about stopping a strike. Three-eighteen is about destroying our school system,&rdquo; said Stacy Davis Gates, the legislative coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Davis Gates is referring there to something Cullerton himself wants the bill to accomplish. &nbsp;Along with peppering Senate Bill 318 <a href="http://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/7/71/851622/cullerton-introduce-federal-funding-bill-property-tax-hike" target="_blank">with things like</a> a property tax freeze to get Gov. Bruce Rauner in, and teacher pension payments for Emanuel, Cullerton added a remake of the state&rsquo;s school funding formula--one of his own major goals. He says under the way state government currently gives money to schools, poor districts like Chicago don&rsquo;t get the money they should and wealthier districts are getting more than they should.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>So Cullerton&rsquo;s bill puts an expiration date on the current way Illinois funds schools. In effect, he says he wants to end a bad system to make way for a better one. But Davis Gates with the Teachers Union says the union has a big problem with that. You can&rsquo;t end school funding first coming up with a way to replace it, she argues.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;This bill, again, is irresponsible,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;You cannot say that we are providing a solution to a problem when you eliminate the entire revenue stream to the school district.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The teachers union also wants big things that aren&rsquo;t in Cullerton&rsquo;s bill, like a new income tax system and an elected Chicago school board. &nbsp;In the meantime, the clock is ticking on Chicago Public Schools. District leaders say they have only a few months before cuts will be necessary - right in the middle of the school year.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><em>Becky Vevea contributed to this story. She is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her @WBEZeducation.&nbsp;</em><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.</em></div><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Mon, 16 Nov 2015 13:34:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cullerton-chicago-teachers-union-%E2%80%9C-course-would-avoid-strike%E2%80%9D-113805 Chicago has a high school with 13 freshmen http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-has-high-school-13-freshmen-113524 <p><div><img alt="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/4853491803_a05b514aee_b.jpg" style="height: 412px; width: 620px;" title="(flickr/KT King)" /></div><div>Chicago has a high school with just 13 ninth graders. That&rsquo;s the entire freshman class: 13.</div><div><p>This isn&rsquo;t a specialty school, or a school for expelled students, or an alternative school. It&rsquo;s a regular Chicago public high school. Just 13 freshmen signed up this year to attend Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy High School on the city&rsquo;s predominantly black West Side.</p><p>And Austin Business is not alone.</p><p>Two other high schools located inside the same building have enrolled just 20 and 24 freshmen each. Three separate principals oversee the three schools.</p><p>Then there&rsquo;s Hirsch Metropolitan High School on 79th and Ingleside: It has 22 ninth graders.</p><p>Chicago International Charter School&rsquo;s Larry Hawkins campus in Altgeld Gardens registered only 37 freshman.</p><p>In all, a dozen high schools across the city have 50 or fewer students in the freshman class. And<a href="http://www.wbez.org/programs/marketplace/2015-10-16/surprising-power-ninth-grade-113374" target="_blank"> ninth grade is usually the largest in a high school</a>.</p><p>Since <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/future-uncertain-chicagos-neighborhood-high-schools-108834">WBEZ first wrote about dramatic underenrollment at high schools</a> in 2013, things have only gotten worse. Enrollment at many of the schools is so low, it raises questions of whether they can recover. &nbsp;</p><p>Official district enrollment numbers show Chicago now has 38 high schools with fewer than 400 high schoolers each. That&rsquo;s fewer students than even advocates of small schools say is needed to provide a solid education. Under the district&rsquo;s student-based budgeting, the numbers in some cases are not enough to pay for the principal and a full set of teachers.</p><p>And there&rsquo;s another fallout: running such small schools is tremendously inefficient, costing taxpayers and the district extra at a time when Chicago Public Schools is seeking help from Springfield just to get through the year without massive layoffs.</p><p><strong>Long-time neighborhood schools</strong></p><p>The city&rsquo;s withering high schools include institutions that have educated generations of Chicagoans and have been seen as community pillars: Bowen, Collins, Corliss, Fenger, Harper, Hirsch, Manley, Richards, Robeson, Tilden--all are teetering. But it isn&rsquo;t just neighborhood schools. Some charter schools and high schools that draw from the entire city find themselves in a similar bind, struggling to recruit students in an environment in which CPS has continued to rapidly open additional high schools in an effort to improve school quality--even though enrollment is not growing.</p><p>Nearly all schools with dramatically declining enrollment have one thing in common: they serve predominantly African American students on the city&rsquo;s South and West sides. Their students are some of the poorest, most vulnerable in the city.</p><p>The racial disparity raises questions about how school choice plays out in a segregated city, and whether neighborhood schools--particularly in low-income African American neighborhoods--are viable in Chicago&rsquo;s current school choice environment.</p><p>&ldquo;The fact that we have schools where they are only enrolling 13 freshmen is really part of this ideology of configuring public education in a kind of market model,&rdquo; said <a href="http://www.sociology.northwestern.edu/people/faculty/core/mary-pattillo.html">Mary Pattillo</a>, a sociologist at Northwestern University who authored a study on how families are participating in Chicago&rsquo;s system of school choice.</p><p>Pattillo says schools that don&rsquo;t capture parents, don&rsquo;t market themselves, or don&rsquo;t attract students-- &ldquo;they&rsquo;ll just die. But while those schools are dying, there are students in those schools dying with those schools,&rdquo; Pattillo said. &ldquo;And the inability of those schools to provide a high-quality education despite their high desire to do so is not acceptable.&rdquo;</p><p>Peter Cunningham sees benefits in a more market-driven system. Cunningham is the executive director of the national education reform group Education Post and was spokesman under Arne Duncan, who launched the city&rsquo;s Renaissance 2010 initiative--which opened more than 100 new schools --and closed others--in an effort to improve education in Chicago. &ldquo;There is a consequence to choice,&rdquo; says Cunningham. &ldquo;You&rsquo;re going to have schools that are losing enrollment either because kids don&rsquo;t want to go there or they&rsquo;re not providing the kind of education kids want.&rdquo;</p><p>Cunningham says that without Chicago&rsquo;s plethora of high school options, there might be better enrollment in the neighborhood high schools, but &ldquo;it&rsquo;s also possible that we would have lost a whole lot of families who would have chosen private schools or moved out of the city.&rdquo; Still, he admits, &ldquo;We can&rsquo;t afford to have more schools than we have students.&rdquo;</p><p>CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner declined to answer questions about high school under-enrollment and would not say whether the city should brace for massive school closures at the high school level. She also would not authorize principals from under-enrolled schools to speak.</p><p><strong>High schools dying a slow death &nbsp;</strong></p><p>A massive expansion in the number of high schools in the city--opened in an effort to create high quality schools and expand options for students--has contributed to the under-enrollment crisis being faced &nbsp;today by many schools.</p><p>In 2004, Chicago had 88 high schools and 99,275 high schoolers. Today the city has 140 high schools (a 59 percent increase) for 100,670 students in grades 9-12 (a 1.5 percent increase). That&rsquo;s not counting alternative students or schools, which have also expanded exponentially.</p><p>With each new high school that opens, other schools in the system face enrollment declines. A dozen recently opened high schools added grades and students this year and are slated to continue expanding. In September, CPS agreed to re-open Dyett High School following a hunger strike protesting the its closure. And on Wednesday, the school board <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-gives-two-new-charters-green-light-puts-10-warning-113502">will vote on whether to green light another new charter high</a>, set to open in the fall.</p><p>At the same time, fully one-third of the city&rsquo;s high schools are withering.</p><p data-pym-src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-dailygraphics/dailygraphics/graphics/13freshmen/child.html">&nbsp;</p><script src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-dailygraphics/dailygraphics/graphics/13freshmen/js/lib/pym.js" type="text/javascript"></script><p>Under Chicago&rsquo;s school choice system&mdash;students can go to high school anywhere they&rsquo;re accepted, including other neighborhood schools. This year, 14 percent of Chicago&rsquo;s 100,670 high schoolers go to a selective enrollment school they test into, including&nbsp;<a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/schools/the-big-sort.html">nearly all the city&rsquo;s highest performing students</a>. Another 24 percent go to charter schools. Numbers from prior years suggest about 30 percent of students go to their attendance-area neighborhood school, and the rest go to&nbsp;magnet, military or other neighborhood schools&mdash;which might offer arts, IB, career-education or STEM programs. For low performers, neighborhood schools offer something that&rsquo;s increasingly difficult to find: a high school kids can enroll in without having to apply months in advance or meet a minimum threshold for grades or test scores.</p></div><p><strong>Varied reasons for declining enrollment</strong></p><p>CPS officials have frequently cited declining enrollment in the black community as a reason for the low enrollment numbers, but that is not always the case.</p><p>In Hirsch High School&rsquo;s attendance boundary, for instance, the number of CPS high school students living within the boundary has remained constant for the past eight years. But in Chicago&rsquo;s choice environment, 95 percent of Hirsch-area students go to selective, charter or other neighborhood schools; just 5 percent choose Hirsch.</p><p>At Tilden Career Academy at 48th and Union, the number of high school students living in the attendance area has actually increased, but enrollment at the school has tanked, despite new leadership that has brought in a digital media program and other partnerships. Tilden is even being featured as a <a href="https://ncs.uchicago.edu/sites/ncs.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/9.24%20Demonstration%20Schools%201-pager.pdf">demonstration school</a> by the University of Chicago&rsquo;s Network for College Success &nbsp;Still, every day, just 311 students arrive at a school built for 2,000. The percentage of in-area students who choose to attend Tilden has dropped to just 8 percent, from 28 percent a decade ago.</p><p>In other cases, the dying schools have no neighborhood attendance boundary at all and could draw students from anywhere in the city, but many are located in tough neighborhoods and have never attracted enough students to thrive. That&rsquo;s the case with Austin Business, the high school with 13 freshmen.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/austin%20high%20school%20building%20google_0.JPG" style="height: 225px; width: 400px; float: right; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy in Chicago. (Google Maps)" /></p><p>Now, the three schools located in what used to be Austin Community High School-- created just a decade ago and sold as improvements over the low-performing school they replaced--are considering a plan to merge into one again and re-establish their neighborhood boundary.</p><p>Declining enrollment can put schools in a downward spiral. Enrollment drops mean lower budgets and &nbsp;cuts. As programs disappear, fewer students want to enroll.</p><p>According to CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson, CPS has had to prop up some schools with fewer than 270 students this year, giving them extra money so they can offer a complete set of courses. The district could not say how much it has spent on such support.</p><p>Paul Hill, a University of Washington professor who devised the portfolio school choice model Chicago is following, has said that if schools have so few students they need extra money to keep going, &quot;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/future-uncertain-chicagos-neighborhood-high-schools-108834">you&rsquo;ve got too many schools</a>.&quot;</p><p>Tilden principal Maurice Swinney says the small size absolutely affects what clubs and activities a school can offer. Tilden had no varsity football team this year. It disbanded mid-season last year after losing every game; the few boys on the roster played both offense and defense.</p><p>&ldquo;None of us at Tilden want to give kids any less of an experience than they would get&rdquo; at a bigger school with better funding, Swinney says. But, &ldquo;you have to have uniforms, you have to have equipment, you have to have Gatorade&mdash;you have to have all those things if you&rsquo;re going to have a program. I know if I were a kid I wouldn&rsquo;t want the old uniforms at some point.&rdquo;</p><p>But Swinney says the problem is not only that high schools are under-enrolled--it&rsquo;s that Chicago&rsquo;s small schools enroll kids who tend to be the most vulnerable in the system: &nbsp;&ldquo;students who&rsquo;ve dealt with lots of trauma, you have lots of struggles.&rdquo; At Tilden, 39.5 percent of kids are classified as special education students.</p><p>&ldquo;If we create selective enrollments and charter schools and other places that I feel like don&rsquo;t accept the most vulnerable children, I think the moral responsibility for any city is to support those that do--in a way that helps those schools flourish in terms of their academic, social, and behavioral outcomes,&rdquo; says Swinney. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s this level of neglect for the most vulnerable children, and it&rsquo;s offensive and it&rsquo;s insulting.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Small schools see gains</strong></p><p>Lisa Barrow, a senior economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago who has <a href="http://www.ipr.northwestern.edu/publications/docs/workingpapers/2013/IPR-WP-13-20.pdf">studied </a>the effect of school size, said high schools that are intentionally designed to be small improve academic outcomes for students. Recent studies have deemed New York City&rsquo;s small high schools a success. Many were created around the same time Chicago&rsquo;s were, as an effort to expand options for students and increase quality.</p><p>But Barrow says large high schools that see withering enrollment are not likely to have the same benefits as intentionally designed small schools that spend time carefully planning their curriculum, hiring, and programming for their particular size, usually 400-600 students.</p><p>John Horan, founder and executive director of North Lawndale College Prep, does not consider the two campuses he oversees as &ldquo;withering&rdquo;--even though both have enrollments that hover around 400 and the district would allow him to enroll at least 200 more students.</p><p>He says population loss in the black community on the West Side is making enrollment more difficult. But he feels his schools are about the right size.</p><p>&ldquo;Our budget office would like a higher number,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Our teachers would like a lower number.&rdquo;</p><p>Barrow says part of school size does come down to money.</p><p>&ldquo;If you have to hire five teachers to teach 25 kids five subjects, you can&rsquo;t afford to do that.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p><br /><em>Linda Lutton and Becky Vevea are WBEZ education reporters. Follow them <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation" target="_blank">@WBEZeducation</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 27 Oct 2015 16:05:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-has-high-school-13-freshmen-113524 How one Chicago high school built a college culture http://www.wbez.org/programs/marketplace/2015-10-19/how-one-chicago-high-school-built-college-culture-113412 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Principal Kevin Gallick and his team have worked to make college the mission at George Washington High School in Chicago..jpg" alt="" /><p><div><div id="file-293902"><img alt="" id="1" src="http://www.marketplace.org/sites/default/files/styles/primary-image-766x447/public/Kevin%20Gallick_0.JPG?itok=KfHjQGvB" style="height: 362px; width: 620px;" title="Principal Kevin Gallick and his team have worked to make college the mission at George Washington High School in Chicago. (Amy Scott/Marketplace)" typeof="foaf:Image" /><div><div>When it&rsquo;s time to change classes at George Washington High School on Chicago&rsquo;s southeast side, students don&rsquo;t just hear a bell. Bands like U2, Florence and the Machine, and Maná blare over the intercom.</div></div></div></div><div><div id="story-content"><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s really fun to have music in the background,&rdquo; said senior Ariana Aguilera. &ldquo;It just kind of pumps us up throughout the day.&rdquo;</p><p>That&rsquo;s the kind of energy principal Kevin Gallick and his team were looking to create when they arrived at the high school three years ago. Washington is a predominantly Hispanic school in a working-class neighborhood. When Gallick started, just 65 percent of students graduated on time, and only 35 percent of those students went to college.</p><p>&ldquo;We knew that this 35 percent&nbsp;alone made us even abnormal in Chicago,&rdquo; Gallick said. &ldquo;It was something we wanted to focus on right away.&rdquo;</p><p>But creating a college-going culture at Washington would take some doing. Many of the students came from families with no college tradition.&nbsp;Less than 10 percent of people over age 25 in the area have a four-year degree.&nbsp;</p><p>History explains some of that.</p><p>For decades this part of the city had been a manufacturing hub. Students could walk across the street after graduation and get a good job at a steel mill. By the 1990s, most of those jobs were gone, but the school hadn&rsquo;t adapted, Gallick said.</p><p>&ldquo;We were talking about redefining what a high school is supposed to be about, and the bottom line is Washington was a little bit behind the times,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>To catch up, Gallick started making college part of the conversation at Washington. The school staged a phonathon, reaching out to parents to answer their questions about applications and financial aid. On ACT testing day, the &ldquo;Rocky&rdquo; theme accompanied students down the hall. Assistant principal Anthony Malcolm even passed out T-shirts like the one John Belushi wore in the movie<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/film/movie/132134/animal-house" target="_blank">&ldquo;Animal House,&rdquo;</a>&nbsp;with the word &ldquo;college&rdquo; printed on the front.</p><p>&ldquo;I&#39;m telling you, we would come out of here on Fridays and be driving home, and you&#39;d see a kid wearing their college T-shirt, and we were like, &lsquo;Yes!&rsquo;&rdquo; Malcolm said.</p><p>Gallick also ramped up the academics, bringing in more literacy and AP classes. The school used data to keep a closer watch on students&rsquo; grades and attendance, and enlisted virtually every adult in the building &mdash; from security guards, to coaches, to teachers &mdash; to mentor students individually.</p><p>At first, Gallick said, the changes were hard for some teachers to swallow. They were busy enough just trying to keep the students in their classes from falling behind.</p><p>&ldquo;Teachers weren&#39;t saying, &lsquo;Yes, I think this is my job, to support kids to go to college,&rsquo;&rdquo; Gallick said. &ldquo;It wasn&#39;t really the role at the time.&rdquo;</p><p>Gradually, he said, they got on board. History teacher George Fotopoulos said he starts talking with his students about college at the very beginning of ninth grade.</p><p>&ldquo;I let the kids know we&#39;re here in school to support them,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We all want so see them to graduate in four years, we all want them to succeed and move on, and do something in higher education.&rdquo;</p><p>The extra help &mdash; and some new college coaches &mdash; have taken some of the pressure off Washington&rsquo;s counselors. One of them is Gabriel Fuentes, a Washington graduate who returned to work at the school.</p><p>&ldquo;Now we felt that we had a lot more ammunition,&rdquo; said Fuentes. College was no longer talked about only in counseling sessions. &ldquo;It was being talked about in a classroom, or with a coach,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Everyone was speaking the same language here.&rdquo;</p><div><img alt="Gabriel Fuentes meets with senior Ariana Aguilera about her college plans. " src="http://www.marketplace.org/sites/default/files/Gabriel%20Fuentes_Adjusted.jpg" style="height: 233px; width: 310px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="Gabriel Fuentes meets with senior Ariana Aguilera about her college plans. (Amy Scott/Marketplace)" typeof="foaf:Image" /><div><div><div><p>Counselors can now work more closely with students. They received additional training on how to help students choose the right college and keep track of whether they&rsquo;ve completed their financial aid forms. They meet monthly at the University of Chicago to learn about the latest research on adolescent development and collaborate with counselors from other schools.</p></div></div></div></div><p>At a recent meeting with senior Ariana Aguilera, Fuentes asked her about college visits she&rsquo;d made over the summer and how a scholarship interview had gone. Even straight-A students like Ariana need a lot of guidance. Her parents didn&rsquo;t go to college, and she&rsquo;s going to need financial aid.</p><p>&ldquo;The school has a lot of support,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;You don&rsquo;t feel like you&rsquo;re left all alone.&rdquo;</p><p>Remember, three years ago, only 35 percent of Washington graduates went to college. The numbers for last year&rsquo;s seniors aren&rsquo;t in yet, but principal Gallick estimated close to 70 percent of those students are now in college.</p><p>Similar strategies have paid off across the district, despite severe budget cuts in recent years. In 2013, about 61 percent of Chicago Public Schools graduates enrolled in college, up from 49 percent about a decade ago, according to&nbsp;Eliza Moeller, an analyst with the&nbsp;<a href="https://ccsr.uchicago.edu/" target="_blank">University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;I think this is pretty remarkable change,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;We&#39;ve essentially caught up to the U.S. average for students enrolling in college, and we&#39;re far poorer than the U.S. on average.&rdquo;</p><p>Now the big challenge, Moeller said, is to make sure more of those students actually finish college. The consortium&nbsp;<a href="https://ccsr.uchicago.edu/publications/educational-attainment-chicago-public-schools-students-focus-four-year-college-degrees" target="_blank">estimates</a>&nbsp;that just 14 percent of ninth graders in Chicago Public Schools will earn a four-year degree by the time they&rsquo;re 25.</p></div></div><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.marketplace.org/topics/education/how-one-chicago-high-school-built-college-culture" target="_blank"><em> via Marketplace</em></a></p></p> Fri, 16 Oct 2015 16:55:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/marketplace/2015-10-19/how-one-chicago-high-school-built-college-culture-113412 The surprising power of the ninth grade http://www.wbez.org/programs/marketplace/2015-10-16/surprising-power-ninth-grade-113374 <p><div><img alt="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Fernando%20Rodriguez%2C%2017%2C%20is%20a%20senior%20at%20George%20Washington%20High%20School%20in%20Chicago..jpg" title="Fernando Rodriguez, 17, is a senior at George Washington High School in Chicago. (Amy Scott/Marketplace)" /></div><div><p>The school year is just a few weeks old, and ninth graders at George Washington High on Chicago&rsquo;s southeast side are still trying to get the hang of things. They&rsquo;re at a much bigger school, with hundreds more kids, and a more complicated class schedule. To help ease the transition, the school has grouped most of the freshman classes along one hallway.</p><p>&ldquo;It keeps things easier, so freshmen aren&#39;t going all over the place,&rdquo; said history teacher George Fotopoulos. &ldquo;High school can be pretty overwhelming as it is.&rdquo;</p><p>And ninth grade isn&rsquo;t just any grade.</p><p>&ldquo;Freshman year&rsquo;s where you start,&rdquo; said Fernando Rodriguez, who&rsquo;s a senior now. &ldquo;If you start strong, chances are you&rsquo;re going to end strong.&rdquo;</p><p>He&rsquo;s got that right.</p><p>Years ago, researchers at the University of Chicago discovered that how students perform during their freshman year is&nbsp;the&nbsp;<a href="https://ccsr.uchicago.edu/publications/track-indicator-predictor-high-school-graduation" target="_blank">best predictor</a>&nbsp;of whether they&rsquo;ll graduate &mdash; better than their previous grades or attendance or their family&rsquo;s income.</p><p>The first year sets the tone for the rest of high school, said Sarah Duncan, who co-directs the university&rsquo;s&nbsp;<a href="https://ncs.uchicago.edu/" target="_blank">Network for College Success</a>. She cited the example of a student who gets off to a rough start, and fails a class or two in ninth grade.</p><p>&ldquo;We&#39;ve experienced many teachers who thought that giving a freshman who&rsquo;s 14 years old an F would make them work harder,&rdquo; said Duncan. But, she said, &ldquo;Most kids interpret an F as &lsquo;I don&#39;t belong here, I am not going to succeed here.&rsquo; They come to school less, they do less and less work, and then they&#39;re in this downward spiral of falling further and further behind.&rdquo;</p><p>To prevent that, Chicago Public Schools started arming teachers with a steady stream of data on grades, course credits and attendance. If the data reveal a student is struggling in a certain area, a faculty member can step in right away.</p><p>At Washington High, students at risk are also assigned mentors.</p><p>When Kathleen Valente became an assistant principal at the school three years ago, &ldquo;we had security guards being mentors, coaches being mentors,&rdquo; she said, adding that it paid off.&nbsp; &ldquo;We saw increases for those students, just that little touch.&quot;</p><p>Back then, just 65 percent of students graduated in four years.</p><p>Last year about 83 percent graduated on time, according to principal Kevin Gallick. And about 88 percent of last year&#39;s freshmen were considered on-track to graduate, he said, meaning they&#39;d earned at least five full-year course credits and failed no more than one core class.&nbsp;</p><p>Based on that trend, &ldquo;it&rsquo;s pretty reasonable to have a 90 percent graduation rate, if we can get things right with today&rsquo;s freshman class,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Big gains in graduation rates, like the ones at Washington High, have&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/07/chicago-graduation-rates/397736/" target="_blank">raised some eyebrows</a>&nbsp;in Chicago, which is one of the largest urban school systems in the country, with a majority of students living in poverty. Chicago&rsquo;s accountability system rates schools on the number of freshmen considered on-track to graduate, and skeptics&nbsp;worry that some schools are goosing their numbers by passing students who aren&rsquo;t prepared.</p><p>But Gallick says his students&rsquo; ACT scores have gone up four years in a row. Scores are also up across the district, said the University of Chicago&rsquo;s Sarah Duncan.</p><p>&nbsp;&ldquo;If we were just passing kids through and not really teaching them,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;then ACT scores should have gone down.&rdquo;</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.marketplace.org/topics/education/surprising-power-ninth-grade" target="_blank"><em>via Marketplace</em></a></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 16 Oct 2015 11:12:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/marketplace/2015-10-16/surprising-power-ninth-grade-113374 Authorities probing ex-Chicago schools CEO's Detroit tenure http://www.wbez.org/news/authorities-probing-ex-chicago-schools-ceos-detroit-tenure-113354 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Newly appointed Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, takes questions with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a news conference, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, in Chicago. AP M. Spencer.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Detroit Public Schools says authorities are investigating contracts awarded by a former official <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-chicago-schools-chief-pleads-guilty-federal-corruption-scandal-113318" target="_blank">who has pleaded guilty to her role in a kickback scheme </a>while she was CEO of&nbsp;Chicago&#39;s&nbsp;school system.</p><div><p>Barbara Byrd-Bennett was chief academic and accountability auditor for Detroit schools before going to work in&nbsp;Chicago.</p><p>She pleaded guilty this week to helping steer $23 million in no-bid contracts to education firms for $2.3 million in kickbacks and bribes while at&nbsp;Chicago&nbsp;Public Schools.</p><p>The&nbsp;<a href="http://bit.ly/1LmDg2v" target="_blank">Chicago&nbsp;Sun-Times reports</a> that during Byrd-Bennett&#39;s tenure in Detroit the district awarded contracts worth about $3.4 million to Synesi Associates, one of the companies named in the&nbsp;Chicago&nbsp;indictment along with its co-owners.</p><p>DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski says the district is cooperating with law enforcement and conducting its own internal investigation.</p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 15 Oct 2015 12:37:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/authorities-probing-ex-chicago-schools-ceos-detroit-tenure-113354 Teachers unions say McDonald’s exploits teachers with fundraiser http://www.wbez.org/news/teachers-unions-say-mcdonald%E2%80%99s-exploits-teachers-fundraiser-113346 <p><div>About a year ago, Mark Noltner&rsquo;s daughter came home from kindergarten carrying a flyer with a picture of Ronald McDonald on it.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;She told me that some of the teachers were wearing &lsquo;McTeacher&rsquo;s&rsquo; shirts to school,&rdquo; he recalled, &ldquo;And trying to entice the students to go to McDonald&rsquo;s that evening where the teachers would be working behind the counter and serving unhealthy food to them.&rdquo;&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Noltner, a northwest suburban parent and teacher was appalled. And the experience led him to join a <a href="http://commercialfreechildhood.org/3-million-teachers-mcdonalds-were-not-lovin-it#.Vh5FVvtwO7U.twitter" target="_blank">campaign </a>this week involving more than 50 teachers unions that are urging McDonald&rsquo;s, CEO Steve Easterbrook, to end the fundraisers.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><object data="http://commercialfreechildhood.org/sites/default/files/openlettertomcdonalds.pdf#toolbar=0&amp;messages=0" height="400" type="application/pdf" width="620"><p>It appears your Web browser is not configured to display PDF files. No worries, just <a href="http://commercialfreechildhood.org/sites/default/files/openlettertomcdonalds.pdf">click here to download the PDF file.</a></p></object></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>When McDonald&rsquo;s corporate representatives were presented with similar criticism at a shareholder&rsquo;s meeting earlier this year, the company responded, with this statement to WBEZ: &ldquo;McTeacher&rsquo;s Nights are fundraisers initiated by schools to raise money for their schools. It&#39;s a local community initiative, not something managed at the national nor global level.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But Kara Kaufman of activist group Corporate Accountability International, which is organizing the anti-McTeacher&rsquo;s night campaign, said she doesn&rsquo;t believe it. &nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;We know that this a tactic that is driven by McDonald&rsquo;s corporate,&rdquo; Kaufman said Wednesday. &ldquo;Just from public listings, we&rsquo;ve been able to document 360 McTeacher&rsquo;s events in 30 states. So it&rsquo;s simply not possible that this is driven by only a handful of franchisees.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><p>Indeed, late on Wednesday (five months after McDonald&#39;s said it doesn&#39;t centrally manage the fundraisers) the company issued a statement suggesting that it does manage the fundraisers at its company owned restaurants and they&#39;ve generated more than $2.5 million in McTeachers donations in less than two years.</p><p>&ldquo;McTeacher&rsquo;s Nights are all about community, fun and fundraising. As parents and members of their communities, McDonald&rsquo;s franchisees and our corporate restaurants have long supported what matters most to them. McTeacher&rsquo;s Nights are one example....some of our company-owned restaurants conduct McTeacher Night fundraisers and since they are owned by the company, we know how much has been given to schools and organizations through these events. From January 2013 through September 2015, the company-owned restaurants have paid over $2,525,000 to organizations for donations from McTeacher Nights.&quot;</p></div><div>Fundraising potential aside, critics of the program believe they place a stamp of approval on a food category that hurts children.&nbsp; A 2004 <a href="http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/113/1/112.abstract" target="_blank">study in the journal <em>Pediatrics</em>&nbsp;</a>linked fast food consumption among young people with diminished dietary quality that could &ldquo;plausibly lead to obesity.&rdquo; &nbsp;&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Among the unions protesting the practice is the Chicago Teachers Union, whose vice president Jesse Sharkey issued this statement:&nbsp;</div><blockquote><div><em>&ldquo;It is wholly inappropriate for McDonald&rsquo;s to exploit cash-strapped schools to market its junk food brand, while </em><em>miring</em><em> its workers in poverty, effectively hollowing out the tax base for our schools. In Chicago we face potentially devastating cuts to our schools, yet one of the world&rsquo;s richest corporations operating in our backyard is exploiting this situation by eroding the school food environment and our students&#39; health in the long-run.&rdquo;</em></div></blockquote><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/McDonalds%20corporate.jpg" style="height: 169px; width: 300px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: left;" title="More than 50 teachers unions called on McDonald’s Wednesday to stop its McTeacher’s Nights. McDonald’s corporate office in Oak Brook said it does not manage the controversial McTeacher’s Nights fundraisers, but activists believe there is national coordination. (WBEZ/Monica Eng)" /></p><div>CAI and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said they conducted an economic survey of McTeacher&rsquo;s Night events&nbsp;and concluded that the fundraisers end up earning about $1 to $2 per child, and rarely more than $1,000 for the entire night.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Noltner doesn&rsquo;t see this as a great trade off for anyone.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;Teachers work really hard to build a sense of trust between them and their students,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And hearing that McDonald&rsquo;s is kind of exploiting this relationship to sell a product really frustrated me...I guess I have to ask: Is that $1 or $2 per student really worth the health of a child later in life?&rdquo;&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ food and health reporter. Follow her at <a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng" target="_blank">@monicaeng</a> or write to her at <a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org?subject=McTeachers">meng@wbez.org</a></em></div><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Wed, 14 Oct 2015 15:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/teachers-unions-say-mcdonald%E2%80%99s-exploits-teachers-fundraiser-113346 Ex-Chicago schools chief pleads guilty in federal corruption scandal http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-chicago-schools-chief-pleads-guilty-federal-corruption-scandal-113318 <p><div><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Barbara%20Byrd-Bennett%20002%20By%20Bill%20Healy%20_0.JPG" style="height: 450px; width: 299px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: left;" title="Barbara Byrd-Bennett. (WBEZ/Bill Healy)" />Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s last hand-picked schools chief plead guilty to wire fraud in federal court Tuesday before <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-head-chicago-schools-pleads-guilty-kickbacks-scheme-113306">apologizing</a> to the children, teachers and families of Chicago.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;I am terribly sorry,&rdquo; Barbara Byrd-Bennett said after her arraignment at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. &ldquo;They <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=30&amp;v=c_Jm7r9EdL8">deserved much more</a>. Much more than I gave to them.&rdquo;&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Byrd-Bennett, 66, admitted to steering $23 million in Chicago Public Schools no-bid contracts to her former employer, a company called SUPES Academy. In return, she expected to get 10 percent of those contracts in the form of a signing bonus when she retired from the district&rsquo;s top job.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>After entering a guilty plea, Byrd-Bennett kissed and hugged her husband and daughter and left the courtroom.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>A sentencing hearing is scheduled for the end of January, but a plea agreement signed by Byrd- Bennett outlines how much prison time she could get under federal sentencing guidelines.&nbsp;</div><p>&nbsp;</p><p><a href="https://www.scribd.com/doc/284828017/Byrd-Bennett-Plea-Agreement?secret_password=eC4Z46Uy0fZsdzH7036k" style="font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px;" title="View Byrd-Bennett Plea Agreement on Scribd">Byrd-Bennett Plea Agreement</a></p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe class="scribd_iframe_embed" data-aspect-ratio="undefined" data-auto-height="false" frameborder="0" height="600" id="doc_39252" scrolling="no" src="https://www.scribd.com/embeds/284828017/content?start_page=1&amp;view_mode=scroll&amp;show_recommendations=true" width="540"></iframe></p><p>If Byrd-Bennett cooperates with the investigation, prosecutors agreed to seek a sentence of about seven to nine years, which is below those sentencing guidelines. Byrd-Bennett&rsquo;s attorneys would be free to ask for an even shorter sentence -- but the decision is ultimately up to U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang. Judge Chang will not be restricted by the plea agreement Byrd-Bennett reached Tuesday with prosecutors.</p><p>The two owners of SUPES Academy, Gary Solomon, 47, and Thomas Vranas, 34, and one of its subsidiaries, Synesi Associates, have also been charged with mail and wire fraud, as well as bribery and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.</p><p>Solomon and Vranas are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday at 2:00 p.m.</p><p><strong>The indictment</strong></p><p>The <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-chicago-public-schools-leader-charged-corruption-113246">indictment, released last Thursday</a>, outlines how Byrd-Bennett, Solomon and Vranas brazenly communicated over email about how she would steer contracts to their companies. In return, the men would put aside 10 percent of the contracts&rsquo; value into a pair of trusts under the names of two of her relatives, likely her twin grandsons.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Newly%20appointed%20Chicago%20Public%20Schools%20CEO%20Barbara%20Byrd-Bennett%2C%20takes%20questions%20with%20Chicago%20Mayor%20Rahm%20Emanuel%20at%20a%20news%20conference%2C%20Friday%2C%20Oct.%2012%2C%202012%2C%20in%20Chicago.%20AP%20M.%20Spencer.jpg" style="height: 388px; width: 250px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="In this Oct. 12, 2012 file photo, former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett looks over Mayor Rahm Emanuel's shoulder at a news conference in Chicago. The former CEO has been indicted on corruption charges following a federal investigation into a $20 million no-bid contract. Bennett was indicted Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, nearly four months after she resigned amid an investigation into the contract between the district and SUPES Academy, a training academy where she once worked as a consultant. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)" />One email from Byrd-Bennett to Solomon states: &ldquo;I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit. (:&rdquo;</p><p>Another email from Solomon to Byrd-Bennett explained how the money would be paid out as a &ldquo;signing bonus&rdquo; when she retired from CPS. He wrote, &ldquo;If you only join (SUPES Academy) for the day, you will be the highest paid person on the planet for that day.&rdquo;</p><p>The largest of three contracts SUPES Academy held with CPS was approved unanimously, on a no-bid basis, just one month after the mayoral-appointed Board of Education voted to shut down 50 public schools in the city.</p><p>Questions about Byrd-Bennett&rsquo;s ties to the company awarded a no-bid contract to train school principals were <a href="http://catalyst-chicago.org/2013/07/20-million-no-bid-contract-raises-questions-about-supes-academy/">first raised by Catalyst Chicago&rsquo;s Sarah Karp</a>. Catalyst&rsquo;s story pointed out that many other non-profit organizations and local universities did similar work in the past; Karp also reported on complaints from principals who felt the SUPES trainings were a waste of time.</p><p>Mayor Emanuel and his hand-picked school board did nothing when those stories broke in 2013 -- and now he&rsquo;s taking a lot of heat for failing to look into concerns, or take action. On Monday, Emanuel admitted that his office was aware of the $20.5 million no-bid contract with SUPES, and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-byrd-bennett-let-down-parents-teachers-and-students-113305">did ask &ldquo;hard questions.&rdquo;</a></p><p>Outside the courthouse, before Byrd-Bennett&rsquo;s arraignment Tuesday, a group of protesters and local lawmakers reiterated a call for Chicago to have an elected school board, not one appointed by the mayor.</p><p>&ldquo;I was appalled,&rdquo; said State Rep. Robert Martwick (D-19). &ldquo;I have never seen such blatant, overt, shameless corruption, ever.&rdquo;</p><p>Martwick is sponsoring a bill in Springfield that would change the governance structure of the Chicago Board of Education, giving citizens the ability to elect people to its members. But he said the scandal is not the reason the city should have an elected school board.</p><p>&ldquo;Corruption can occur whether it&rsquo;s elected or appointed,&rdquo; Martwick said. &ldquo;It serves to shine a light on the fact that it&rsquo;s the culture that we&rsquo;ve had there, where they&rsquo;re unaccountable, that led to this.&rdquo;</p><p>Pamela Johnson, a nurse who came out to support the idea of an elected school board, said she thinks the &ldquo;20-year experiment&rdquo; of having the mayor control the schools has been a &ldquo;flat-out failure.&rdquo; She also said she&rsquo;s not convinced the mayor didn&rsquo;t know what was going on.</p><p>&ldquo;You appoint your cronies, and you know, nobody looks,&rdquo; Johnson said. &ldquo;Nobody looks under the carpet to find all the dead roaches. You just kinda vacuum the carpet.&rdquo;</p><p>Emanuel did not have any public appearances scheduled Tuesday. Mayoral spokeswoman Kelley Quinn released a statement saying the corruption scandal &ldquo;continues to be a matter for the courts.&rdquo; And CPS officials said the district has put steps in place to make sure another Byrd-Bennett type scandal never happens again.</p><p><strong>Avoiding another Byrd-Bennett scandal&nbsp;</strong></p><p>In a letter addressed to Ald. Will Burns (4th), schools chief Forrest Claypool and Board President Frank Clark said their objective is &ldquo;to ensure that every possible dollar reaches our classrooms, and to assure taxpayers that their resources are being used wisely.&rdquo;</p><p>According to the letter, which CPS sent to City Hall reporters, the district brought in the private consulting firm Accenture last June to conduct a &ldquo;third-party review&rdquo; of the sole-source contracting process.</p><p><a href="https://www.scribd.com/doc/284828018/10-13-15-Will-Burns-Letter?secret_password=2mhllULjDjlzmEKNHIPv" style="font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px;" title="View 10.13.15 Will Burns Letter on Scribd">Letter to Alderman Will Burns, 10-13-15</a></p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe class="scribd_iframe_embed" data-aspect-ratio="undefined" data-auto-height="false" frameborder="0" height="600" id="doc_85055" scrolling="no" src="https://www.scribd.com/embeds/284828018/content?start_page=1&amp;view_mode=scroll&amp;show_recommendations=true" width="540"></iframe></p><p>CPS officials said they have already adopted several of the firm&rsquo;s recommendations, including publishing sole and single-source contracts online &ldquo;to create transparency&rdquo; and to alert other possible vendors.</p><p>The letter states that over the last few months, CPS has undertaken a &ldquo;top to bottom audit that may also result in further policy changes if deemed necessary for transparency and to ensure that all the right checks and balances are in place.&rdquo;</p><p>District officials indicated more changes could be on the way, like adding a requirement that requestors of single or sole source contracts share any past or present business or personal relationships with the vendor.</p><p>The letter states that the City&rsquo;s Inspector General Joe Ferguson and the Commissioner of the Department of Procurement Services will share their reform ideas with the district, as well.</p><p>Burns, who chairs the City Council committee on education, said he requested this information, and will continue to ask for updates. He said these details are an important part of aldermen&rsquo;s interest in &ldquo;making sure CPS does what it&rsquo;s supposed to do with our dollars and we begin the process of restoring the public&rsquo;s faith in CPS.&rdquo;</p><p>He noted that restoring that faith is especially important as CPS looks to Springfield to fill a $500-million budget hole.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><em><a href="https://twitter.com/robertwildeboer?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor" target="_blank">Rob Wildeboer</a> contributed to this story.</em><br /><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. </em><em>Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor"><em>@wbezeducation</em></a><em>.&nbsp;</em><em>Lauren Chooljian covers Chicago politics for WBEZ. &nbsp;Follow her </em><a href="http://twitter.com/laurenchooljian"><em>@laurenchooljian</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Tue, 13 Oct 2015 14:17:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-chicago-schools-chief-pleads-guilty-federal-corruption-scandal-113318 Ex-head of Chicago schools pleads guilty, apologizes http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-head-chicago-schools-pleads-guilty-apologizes-113306 <p><p><img alt="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Barbara%20Byrd-Bennett%20002%20By%20Bill%20Healy%20.JPG" style="height: 451px; width: 300px; float: left; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="Barbara Byrd-Bennett (WBEZ/Bill Healy)" /></p><p>An hour after pleading guilty to her role in a scheme to steer $23 million in no-bid contracts to education firms for $2.3 million in bribes and kickbacks, the former head of&nbsp;Chicago&nbsp;Public Schools apologized Tuesday to students, parents and employees, saying they deserved &quot;much more than I gave to them.&quot;</p><p>As part of a plea deal, prosecutors recommended that Barbara Byrd-Bennett serve 7&frac12; years behind bars for one count of fraud.</p><p>In exchange for pleading guilty to that one count, prosecutors said they will drop the 19 other fraud counts, each of which carried a maximum 20-year term.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Addressing reporters after the arraignment, the 66-year-old&#39;s voice quivered as she gave her brief message for the city&#39;s 400,000 schoolchildren, their parents and her former co-workers.</p><p>&quot;I am terribly sorry and I apologize to them,&quot; Byrd said solemnly. &quot;They deserved much more &mdash; much more than I gave to them.&quot;</p><p>Neither she nor her attorney took any questions Tuesday. Byrd-Bennett stepped down from the third-largest school district in the U.S. in June after word spread about a federal investigation into a contract between the district and SUPES Academy, a training academy where she once worked.</p><p>Prosecutors allege the scheme started in 2012 &mdash; the year Mayor Rahm Emanuel hired the Solon, Ohio, woman to become the district&#39;s CEO. The indictment alleged that the owners of the two education service and training firms offered her a job and a hefty one-time payment &mdash; disguised as a lucrative signing bonus &mdash; once she left CPS.</p><p>The city is looking for &quot;further safeguards to help prevent this type of abuse from happening again,&quot; Emanuel spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said in a statement later Tuesday. Though Emanuel initially said his office wasn&#39;t involved in the contracts at issue, he said Monday that some of his staffers had asked &quot;hard questions&quot; before the school board approved the contracts. He added that he was never directly involved.</p><p>&quot;When a mayor gets involved in contracts, you have a problem,&quot; he said. &quot;I clearly don&#39;t do that, because I think that&#39;s the wrong thing to do.&quot;</p><p>The indictment alleges Byrd-Bennett expected to receive kickbacks worth 10 percent of the value of the contracts, or about $2.3 million. It&#39;s unclear how much money was ever set aside, though the indictment says trust accounts tied to two relatives were set up to hide the money.</p><p>In an email to one of the executives sent Sept. 10, 2012, Byrd-Bennett wrote about her apparent eagerness to make money: &quot;I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit.&quot;</p><p>CPS is facing a steep budget shortfall and a severely underfunded pension system, as well as lingering criticism after dozens of schools were closed in 2013 in what Emanuel and education officials argued would help focus resources and improve the school system.</p><p>In the crowded courtroom early Tuesday, a tense Byrd-Bennett stood unmoving before Judge Edmond Chang. She answered &quot;yes, your honor,&quot; to all of his questions. If she doesn&#39;t fully cooperate with investigators, as pledged in the deal, prosecutors can revoke the sentencing recommendation for a stiffer term.</p><p>SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates LLC owners Gary Soloman and Thomas Vranas are accused of offering her money along with sporting-event tickets and other kickbacks in exchange for the contracts. Both suburban&nbsp;Chicago&nbsp;men face multiple charges, including bribery and conspiracy to defraud.</p><p>Soloman&#39;s attorney said in a statement last week that Soloman has cooperated in the investigation and stands behind his companies. Vranas and his attorney didn&#39;t comment after the indictment.</p><p>CPS suspended its contract with SUPES Academy shortly after Byrd-Bennett took a paid leave of absence in April; she resigned two months later.</p><p>As a condition of her release, the judge said Byrd-Bennett would have to provide a DNA sample. No sentencing date will be set until Soloman&#39;s and Vranas&#39; cases run their course.</p></p> Tue, 13 Oct 2015 12:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-head-chicago-schools-pleads-guilty-apologizes-113306 Emanuel: Byrd-Bennett 'let down parents, teachers and students' http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-byrd-bennett-let-down-parents-teachers-and-students-113305 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AP_902919343426_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s last hand-picked Chicago Public Schools CEO is set to appear in court Tuesday over federal corruption charges.</p><p dir="ltr">Barbara Byrd-Bennett <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-chicago-public-schools-leader-charged-corruption-113246">was indicted</a> Thursday&mdash;and her lawyers said she will plead guilty. At the center of the corruption charges is a $20-million no-bid contract between CPS and Byrd-Bennett&rsquo;s former employer, SUPES Academy. The 23-count criminal indictment outlines how she steered a total of $23 million in CPS contracts to SUPES in exchange for kickbacks &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters Monday, at an unrelated press conference, that Byrd-Bennett had &ldquo;let down parents, teachers and students.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;She clearly took her time here to enrich herself and that is wrong, full stop,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p dir="ltr">Emanuel also defended himself, and his staff, saying that while he had a hand in her initial hiring, he was not involved with the SUPES contract. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t get involved in contracts. When a mayor gets involved in contracts, you have a problem,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p dir="ltr">As for his staff, Emanuel said they &ldquo;did the right thing by asking hard questions&rdquo; about the contract. &nbsp;<a href="http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/7/71/1020811/emails-show-ex-cps-ceo-outraged-city-hall-questioned-bid-deal">Emails obtained by the <em>Chicago Sun-Times</em></a> over the weekend show the mayor&rsquo;s office did direct a former CPS spokesperson, named Dave Miranda, to ask questions about the contract. The questions, which the <em>Sun-Times</em> , also published in <a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/284219062/Emails-regarding-SUPES-contract">full</a>, include: &ldquo;How much money is spent on principal development in total?&rdquo; and, &ldquo;Do we have any principals or third-party validators who could speak favorably about the program?&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Such questions are routinely exchanged between a city press spokesperson and their supervisors ahead of a public meeting or announcement, in order to be prepared to respond to reporter inquiries.</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian covers Chicago politics for WBEZ. &nbsp;Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a>. WBEZ Education Reporter Becky Vevea contributed to this report. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor">@wbezeducation</a>. </em></p></p> Mon, 12 Oct 2015 17:39:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-byrd-bennett-let-down-parents-teachers-and-students-113305 Corruption arraignment Tuesday for ex-Chicago schools CEO http://www.wbez.org/news/corruption-arraignment-tuesday-ex-chicago-schools-ceo-113265 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AP_323436447909.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The former CEO of&nbsp;Chicago&nbsp;Public Schools will be arraigned Tuesday in federal court on corruption charges.</p><p>The&nbsp;<a href="http://trib.in/1NuXFIq" target="_blank">Chicago&nbsp;Tribune reports</a>&nbsp;that court records show Barbara Byrd-Bennett will make her first court appearance before U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang.</p><p>She was indicted Thursday and her lawyer says she plans to plead guilty. Charges allege Byrd-Bennett helped steer more than $23 million worth of no-bid contracts to education companies in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.</p><p>Byrd-Bennett resigned earlier this year as leader of the nation&#39;s third-largest school district. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-chicago-public-schools-leader-charged-corruption-113246" target="_blank">The 66-year-old is charged with several counts of mail and wire fraud</a>; each count carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.</p></p> Fri, 09 Oct 2015 11:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/corruption-arraignment-tuesday-ex-chicago-schools-ceo-113265