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Teachers, but not many parents, speak out against turnaround

This week Chicago Public Schools is holding hearings on whether entire staffs - principals, teachers, even the janitors - should be fired from 10 city schools.

A parent testifies against the turnaround of Casals Elementary Monday night. (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)

At Monday evening’s hearing, the district said test scores at Pablo Casals Elementary lag behind those of nearby schools, and Casals isn’t improving quickly enough. CPS wants to “turn around” Casals, where 61 percent of students meet standards on the state ISAT test, and hand the school over to the nonprofit Academy for Urban School Leadership to run.

No one at Monday night’s hearing testified in favor of the turnaround, though the hearing officer said he would accept written testimony until 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Most people who spoke at the Casals hearing were teachers whose jobs are on the line.

“It’s is very cold and heartless to deny hard-working teachers of their living when it is not their fault working without the proper support,” said sixth grade language arts teacher Joyce Einzenga.

Einzenga said she’s worked at two other schools in CPS. “The other schools I’ve taught at were were high-performing, but they were located in more affluent neighborhoods and had more resources available to them. These things - and not the teachers - are the issues we must tackle together.”

CPS says Casals teachers have received professional development and also reading and math initiatives.

Teachers also criticized CPS for ripping teachers and students apart, a point reiterated by nine-year-old Jeanette Reyes.

“I don’t want my teacher to go away,” Reyes told the hearing officer. “And I don’t want the school to go away, too.”

Teachers described a revolving door of CPS leaders, and said that’s meant teachers have had to change classroom curriculum and teaching styles. The school’s recently retired principal said she was overseen by five different bosses in three years.

Just a handful of parents came downtown for the hearing. Parents and teachers said they polled parents at Casals on the turnaround; the vote’s organizers said of roughly 220 parents at the school, 183 participated in the vote, with 170 opposed to the drastic shake-up at the school.

In the past, turnaround has been reserved for the lowest-performing schools. That’s not the case this year. This is also the first year that schools with large Latino populations are targeted for turnaround.

CPS has praised the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) for gains at other elementary turnaround schools; it says the nonprofit is improving schools faster than the district average. This year, it has proposed turning around a total of 10 schools; 6 would be run by AUSL. Hearings on the turnarounds continue all this week.

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