On Friday afternoon, parents of students from the Brian Piccolo Specialty School on Chicago’s West Side tried to meet with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. After they were rebuffed at City Hall, they went to the school and nearly 30 of them staged a sit-in demanding a meeting with the mayor and Chicago Public Schools’ Board of Education.
Their school is one of ten the board will vote to “turn around” on Wednesday. The controversial program fires the entire staff of a so-called failing school and replaces it with new teachers, and often management is handed over to a charter school system. These particular schools will be managed by Academy for Urban School Leadership. The prior chair and finance manager of AUSL now serve as Chairperson and COO of CPS’s board.
Piccolo, under probation for the last five years, recently hired a new principal and the community believes has not been given a proper chance to succeed.
“You cannot go around and affect the lives of thousands of children based on a lack of information,” said Cecile Carroll, a community member and parent of two Chicago Public Schools students, during a press conference announcing the end of the occupation. “If you would have engaged with us in the first place, we would never have had to do this.”
At a December school board meeting, a teacher at the Pablo Casals School, another school on the turn around list, blasted the board for not looking at the facts.
“With limited resources [Pablo] Casals already outperforms citywide schools as well as six of 11 AUSL schools,” said Sharon Herod-Purham, a teacher at the elementary school slated to be turned around. Herod-Purham spoke of data showing her school’s improvement running higher than some of the AUSL schools and claimed turnaround would not help the children. “In fact AUSL schools need a lifeline themselves. Yet, AUSL will receive millions of dollars from CPS to turn Casals around. But Casals has 300 applications for after school programs, yet receives just 47 seats. That’s only 16 percent of the applicants. I wonder what Casals could do at its present capacity with a quarter of the money allocated for that AUSL program.”
Occupy Chicago notes, “Piccolo has failed because CPS has refused to invest in public education.” Occupy Chicago claims CPS is in violation of both the Illinois School Code and the Illinois Civil Rights Act because they did not lay out an action plan with the local school councils or properly fund the achievement gap programs required.
Now ten schools face the possibility of a couple overhaul. One must ask how a place is supposed to succeed when never given the opportunity. The vote also comes after revelations of a pay to protest scandal involving a minister and his organization that received funding from CPS. Another charter school system in the city, Noble Street Charter School Network, found some bad publicity after the Chicago News Cooperative revealed they fined students for various infractions like bringing chips to school or not looking the teacher in the eye.
For now the parents can rejoice at having the chance to meet face-to-face with the board. The fate of their children’s schools rests in the board’s hands on Wednesday.
Photo by Joe Macare