More than 100 Chicago’s Teachers Union members, concerned residents and West Side elected officials discussed the state of education across the city and in the Austin community July 11 at the Sankofa Cultural and Business Center.
CTU President Karen Lewis made an appearance to update members and Austin residents on the status of the CTU and Chicago Public Schools contract, which expired at the end of June.
In addition to the contract negotiations, other topics discussed included the longer school day, CPS’ budget shortfall, the power of Local School Councils and the expansion of charter schools, specifically Kipp Charter school, which will open on the Nash Elementary campus this school year.
“People aren’t getting the total picture,” said community activist and speaker at the education forum Dwayne Truss.
Truss said Austin schools are improving and test scores are on the rise.
“Usually Austin’s always been know as being top of the bad things and bottom of the good things, and through leadership of our principals, professionalism of our teachers and hard work, look at what we did in two years – 21 percent [test score] increase.”
CTU’s Lewis said despite some misconceptions, CTU was in labor negotiations all along with CPS and “at some point, there will be a contract.”
“As you listen to the commercials running on television and on radio, you would think that we are not at the table,” Lewis said to the packed room. “Nothing is further from the truth.”
The schools Chicago’s children deserve can be achieved if people work together, Lewis said.
But, she added, the education landscape in the U.S. has changed, and people with “absolutely no background in education policy” make decisions for schools, because they are “extraordinarily wealthy.”
“Because we’ve all gone to school, we think we’re all experts in school,” Lewis said.
Lewis also said those who “write the big checks” send their children to schools with smaller classes with about eight to 15 students, she said.
“Those children get individual attention,” Lewis said. “That’s not what we see in the majority of Chicago schools.”
Audience member Rickey Brown, president of the West Side Historical Society and CPS parent, addressed the crowd and said there’s a rich history on the West Side.
“But do you know what the shame is on the West Side?” he said. “We are not fighting for our children. Our children are becoming extinct.”
Austin children are not getting the education they deserve, he said.
“If we do not begin to educate our children, and do what is needed for our children…our children will implode on us again,” Brown said.
Education panelist Kim Hemphill, the LSC chairwoman at Theodore Herzl Elementary, located at 3711 W. Douglas Blvd., said she saw Herzl- which was turned around this year and currently managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership – through some “really good times” and some “really bad times.” When public schools are turned around all staff members are replaced.
She told the audience how the school’s LSC, community members, parents and staff fought for years to see capital and other improvements at the school.
“We weren’t fighting in the retrospect, we were fighting for the past 15 years or so to get Herzl the things it needed like books and running water that isn’t brown…paint that isn’t lead based at the school, a play lot,” Hemphill said.
She said she thought CPS would take notice of how hard the teachers and parents were working to improve the school.
“Then we get hit with, ‘Sorry guys, your school will be turned around.’”
She said soon after the announcement, improvements started happening.
“You’re letting kids know you weren’t worthy of books and water that isn’t brown and toilets that actually flush, but now since your going to be a turnaround school, we’re going to pump in $9 million to fix your school,” she said. “That is completely an utter mess.”
Over the past several years, the district has provided Herzl with the significant funding and supports in an effort to improve student achievement, said CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus in an emailed statement.
She said despite these efforts, Herzl has been on probation for five consecutive years, one out of two students at Herzl are not meeting state standards and Herzl is 15 percent below the network average on state standards, she wrote.
“Putting the academic needs of Herzle’s students first, the board made the decision to turnaround the school so it could it receive additional academic supports,” Sainvilus wrote.