Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Thinking About the Teachers Again

Yesterday, I took The Boy, The Girl, and The Tot Who's Not to their first Chicago Board of Education meeting. On the train, in the rain, despite the flooding, despite the no-food-in-chambers policy that made an over-lunchtime meeting difficult for children used to eating at 11:38 a.m.

But I went because I had signed up to address the Board. And I took them with me because I thought it was important that they see how their government works. Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned lunch situation, we left chambers after my remarks, but before a group of high school students demonstrated their displeasure with the system

I wish I were that brave. 

Instead, I stayed on-point in my message to the Board of Education: asking them to reconsider their 2011 decision not to amend magnet enrollment policy 602.2 to include teachers' children. My statements elicited no response from David Vitale or Barbara Byrd-Bennett, in marked contrast to the response that another parent received when he asked that CPS hold his kid's magnet school spot while they went to Bejing on a Fulbright scholarship. (According to The Boy, BBB was stone-faced and he thought Vitale looked like he had to pee.)

Here's what I said:

My name is Caroline Bilicki and I'm the parent of three children--who are here with me today--at Disney II Magnet School, which lost $270,000 in the transition to system-wide per-pupil funding and despite an expansion to high school. But that's not why I'm here today.

I'm here today to ask the board to reconsider its 2011 decision, based on Blue Ribbon Comission rcommendations at the time, regarding admission of teachers' children. My family has benefitted from the 2011 revision to policy#602.2 and I can report first hand the peace of mind I feel in knowing each of my children have an opportunity to share experiences, teachers, and community.

So I'd like you to consider amending the current policy to include a provision for magnet teachers' children. Such an amendment could include a percentage of the class and/or a length of service requirement. I've included sample wording in my handouts, which I provided to the board earlier. I believe a policy that supports enrollment of teachers' children in the schools where they teach is in the best interests of the board for three reasons: 

First, it keeps families and school communities together, emphasizing the shared experiences of school and learning. 

Second, it keeps great teachers in the city/CPS, which provides students with a stability that is so critical in today's times. 

And finally: it is the right thing to do.

Thank you. 

There is more to this story that I did not share with the board: that one of our founding teachers, assistant principal, and indeed, a preschool parent, left system and the city because her rising K kid did not gain admission to any magnet, SE, or neighborhood open enrollment school where she, a top-notch educator, felt comfortable sending her child. That many people I've talked to about this initiative believe teachers have some kind of "in" to better schools or seats. Perhaps that was true during the principal discretion days, but I can name at least five CPS officials who I've met in various capacities whose kids played the lottery like everyone else. That the Board of Education should get its policy house in order for open enrollment/neighborhood/magnet cluster schools in the same way it did for SE and magnet schools. That the inequities in Chicago education are not only around money.


Friday, June 21, 2013

"We're listening" and other causes for skepticism

The last PTA Advisory meeting of the 2012-2013 school year was last week...right as parents, teachers, and principals were learning (or in my case, had yet to learn) about how badly their budgets had been slashed for the 2013-2014 academic year. Our primary speaker was Wendy Thomson of the Office of Family and Community Engagement (FACE).

She spoke about transition plans for closing schools. She said that iPads and other promised resources will be available at the welcoming schools. They are District resources for use by the affected students, but it's not a one to one distribution of materials to those affected.

She mentioned Jadine Chou's safe passage program, saying that the District put out an RFP that explicitly sought community-based organizations (CBOs) with ties to each community and plans to hire community members to deliver safe passage services.

For overcrowded schools, Ms Thomson said that the district will use its Education Facilities Master Plan (EFMP) to guide its work with overcrowded schools in the utilization process. The EFMP came out in May and the district plans to conduct community outreach and engagement around four areas or "buckets":

- Program placement - how and where to place STEM, IB, and other programs within existing buildings/school communities
- Capital maintenance projects - CPS calls these capital improvement projects - determining how to prioritize its list of capital projects
- Capital improvement projects - CPS calls these capital enhancement projects - determining how to prioritize improvements to buildings
- Overcrowding/ over enrollment - she said, "nothing is off the table" when I asked about re-drawing the boundaries to improve overcrowding in some areas

For the 49-55 buildings in CPS that have been closed, the District is doing pre-RFP research to determine how best to repurpose these buildings. Carl Hurdlik, CPS moderator for PTA advisory, acknowledged that the city cannot likely sell the buildings because there isn't a lot of interest in them. Plans now to develop/formalize process to redevelop these buildings. A common idea is to use them as community centers.

Brenda Bell from the CACs spoke a bit about the process of transforming these buildings, the need for a formalized process, solid operational outlook, budgeting, etc. Get aldermen, small business partners, CBOs, CACs and parents involved in the re-development process. Use CACs to drive the process of conversion and then have communities themselves take over administration and project ownership of each community center or repurposing of buildings.