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'You Haven’t Seen Disrespect Until You’ve Seen CPS Disrespect...' Lies, More Lies and No Grease at McAuliffe Elementary School Meeting

On Wednesday night, December 11, 2013, the CPS Office of Family and Community Engagement held a “community meeting” to discuss “Boundary Changes and Grade Expansion” from 6-8 pm at McAuliffe Elementary School (1841 N. Springfield—3900 West) on the Northwest Side of the City. Approximately 150 community members — many with children in Ames Middle School or McAuliffe — and a number of young children attended a meeting that had only been “advertised” in the last few days. It was a night when temperatures plunged from 14 degrees at 6 pm to seven degrees by 8 pm. Many left in disgust before the meeting was over.

Two people spoke for CPS: Patrick Payne, whose title I did not get, and Todd Connor, the head of network for Service Leadership Academies, i.e., military schools in Chicago.

Ostensibly, this meeting was to be a “conversation,” a discussion with community members about proposed CPS changes, so as to get community input — and ideally, support — for changes that CPS was considering.

However, this meeting, and one following tomorrow night (12/12) at Kelvyn Park High School, are initial meetings and yet the Chicago Board of Education will be making final decisions regarding these proposed changes at its next meeting on Wednesday morning, December 18.

What the two CPS representatives told the community is that the Board is considering turning Ames Middle School into a city-wide, selective enrollment, Marine Military Academy, and the associate plans were meant to “address” the shifts in enrollment and related problems by making changes at “feeder” schools such as McAuliffe and “receiving” schools such as Kelvyn Park.

Quickly, the plan is to turn Ames into a military academy and change it from a 7-8th grade school to a 7th-12th grade school. In turn, McAuliffe Elementary would change from pre-K to 6th to pre-K to 8th. Kelvyn Park would change from a 9-12 grade high school to a 7th-12th grade school.

The impact on students would differ by school. There would be no direct changes for Falconer, Barry or Nixon elementaries, although their students would no longer go to 7th grade at Ames, “but would be reassigned from Ames to a new and distinct 7th and 8th grade academic program to be located at the Kelvyn Park building” (CPS meeting handout). However, 7th and 8th graders at McAuliffe “would be reassigned from Ames to McAuliffe” (same source), which would be “expanded” to include 7th and 8th grades.

The key decision in all of this is to turn Ames into a Selected Leadership Academy (SLA) model school; despite the fancy title, it means a military school. According to Connor, this type of school is based on a different student leadership model. He says that there is a “huge demand” for this type of training from Logan Square and Humboldt Park areas on the northwest side,” and CPS wants to meet the need. However, he did admit that everyone would have to wear a military uniform.

Ostensibly, these military academies are not intended to recruit for the US military. Connor compared them to Catholic schools, “where not everyone goes into the priesthood.” He claims that “only” 9.6% of military school students go into the military, compared to 7% of CPS students overall.

Yet Ames would get $7 million to upgrade the school. Connor later stated that while everyone at Ames would be required to wear a uniform, that would be provided for the students by CPS. Connor never stated who was providing the $7 million for Ames. Or why uniforms are so essential to learning.

He said his hope was that all of Ames’ current students would remain at Ames, although they would have to accept the new military model if they wanted to stay. He said current Ames students would have selective enrollment requirements waived so they could stay there until they graduated. He said CPS does not expect teacher lay-offs, yet later, they said several times that school funding is now student-based; i.e., if students don’t stay at Ames, there are likely lay-offs needed. He said all of this is “contingent on funding.”

What about McAuliffe? Well … “some adjustment” would have to be made for the expansion to include 7th and 8th grades. They said that there were some grades with more than three classrooms, and they would probably be have to be reduced to no more than three per grade. Neither made the point that this would mean increased class sizes. They claim that long-term (undefined) demographic changes in the neighborhood would mean this expansion would work for McAuliffe.

After the two men gave their information, they opened the meeting for “public comments.” They specifically stated that they had no answers to give to the community, but that they would take careful notes and make their report based on community input to Barbara Byrd Bennett.

The public comments were overwhelmingly negative: people felt very disrespected, did not want Ames to be changed into a military school, wanted more resources for all of the schools, especially for special education programs. (Names are written phonetically, as announced.)

-- Maria Garcia asked the two representatives, “Isn’t a community school a model of school?” She was counterposing what currently exists at Ames—see my preceding report, “No Military Coup at Ames!' A Conversation with Women at Ames Middle School” from December 11—with the military school model. She further went on, and asked insistently, “Why didn’t you talk with us?” The representatives had no answer.

-- Two parents wanted specific answers regarding McAuliffe. Mitsy Rebels wanted to know how are they going to handle 7th and 8th graders at McAuliffe, which is already overcrowded. Patricia Cristobal also wanted to know “How are you going to make room for 7th and 8th graders?”

Payne said they were looking at the space, “and exploring all options.” One space that he suggested might be converted is the book room.

-- Anna Espinosa came back to a recurring theme: “Mr. Connor, this is a disrespect to McAuliffe and Ames parents.” “I did not vote for this.” She assertively continued, saying that the Logan Square/Humbolt Park communities had not been informed of these possible changes. She demanded proof that the decision to transform Ames was made by the community. She got no answer. She went on, “Why is there money for Ames, but not for the kids; why are there funds for a military school, but not for our kids?”

-- Sherry Taylor, a special education teacher at McAuliffe, noted that grades with more than three classes would be cut down, “making class sizes larger.”

-- Gail Lindsterm, a parent mentor at Ames, was vehemently opposed to Ames being transformed. She flat-out called the representatives “Liars.” She said, “We were told that Ames was being left alone. Now this.” She pointed out she had long-lived in the neighborhood, but “You are outsiders.”

Megan Petrucci, another special education teacher at McAuliffe, was worried that she might loose her classroom in the expansion: “This would affect my kids.”

A woman whose name was Ann, said she had worked for the Board of Education for 13 years. She complained that the schools “are not informed, have not been included.” She demanded a specific date for a meeting at McAuliffe for students and parents, with proper notice. And she demanded this be done before any decision be made about the schools. She also wanted to know why is Ames going to get $7 million—how much for McAuliffe? She also spoke of the “lack of respect” by CPS. And where is the Alderman? Alderman Roberto Maldonado did not attend the meeting.

Another special ed teacher at McAuliffe, Hillary (didn’t catch last name), also worried about her students. She needs a large classroom, and is worried about losing her space. She asked if more teachers would be hired, but received no answer.

About this time, Todd Connor spoke again. He said, “There’s no doubt that there is much need for more conversation.” However, this is ‘part of the process’ that CPS must go through when making changes.

An audience member (unidentified) spoke up: “We need answers before Wednesday” (referring to the Board of Education’s next meeting). “How are parents going to have information, to get answers to questions?”

A parent from McAuliffe (there was a confusion about speaking order, so I didn’t get names clearly) stated that Board President David Vitale had previously said that he would listen to the community: “Why hasn’t he come to Ames?” She also asked about what happened to all of the signatures from the community, opposing changes to Ames?

Lynette, another teacher from McAuliffe, discussed the $7 million for Ames. “That’s a lot of money. How come none for McAuliffe? How come none is going to Kelvyn Park?” She returned to the CPS “process”: “How come this is the first time the community is receiving any information, and yet the decision is to be made next Wednesday?” Delia Bonilla, who has one child at Ames and one at Nixon, finally burst through the games and obfuscation (caca del toro). “What kind of political game are you playing here? Who’s going to win: you or the community? I want an answer.” She continued, “This is a slap in the face. Why hasn’t the community been informed? This is disrespectful for parents, kids and community.” And then she said, accurately, “You don’t have any answers—why did you have people come here?”

Although I had been trying to pay close attention to each speaker, about this time, I noticed that a sizeable chunk of the audience had walked out. Ms. Bonilla was not the only one to recognize that the “meeting” was nothing more than an elaborate charade.

Joanna Brown of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) said she wanted to say something to CPS and the Board: “This ‘process’ is not about the proper number of kids. It’s about Alderman Maldonado: he thinks just because he’s the alderman that he owns the school.” She pointed out that 84% of the residents around Ames, and 94% of the parents—over 800 people in all—signed petitions opposing Ames being turned into a military school “This school provides a service to this community, and people want it to continue.” Ms. Brown talked about Maldonado keeps claiming he has support for turning Ames into a military school. She said that he did this by making “robocalls” to people, although not telling who or where they lived. She said the robocalls said something like “Ames is a gang-infested school. Punch 1 if you think this needs to be cleaned up.”

She also said he claims to have had a community meeting, where there was support for transforming Ames. She claimed it was at a senior center at the far end of the ward. Maldonado has apparently never met with the parents at Ames.

She also pointed out that the press conference to announce the move of the Marine Military Academy to Ames was not held at Ames: it was held at the Marine Military Academy. Further, no one at Ames was notified. Somehow, word got to parents at Ames, and a few tried to attend the press conference: “None of them were allowed in the press conference.”

Ms. Brown only found out about this meeting by coming across a flier. She said, “I e-mailed Philip Hampton [Executive Director of Family and Community Engagement Program of CPS] for an agenda. All I got back was this same flier.”

She said this transformation of Ames was “a deliberate attempt” by CPS to undermine democracy. She said the politicians—specifically naming Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett, and Alderman Roberto Maldonado, should be here, “should face the pubic.”

Maria (didn’t get last name) spoke next: she has a student at Ames and three in Nixon. “This is my community. You guys don’t know us and our community.” And, “you have no answers; you don’t know your job.” And touching something that I found later permeating the crowd: “Why don’t you take this plan to a white part of town, like Lincoln Park?”

She was followed by Adrian Martinez, an Ames student. She looked right at the representatives: “How come we were never informed about what you are telling us tonight?” She said CPS was supposed to be for students. “Why are you not asking us?”

Virginia Morales wanted to know about next year. “We need more teachers and more funds.” Another woman, whose name I didn’t get, was critical of the representatives: “you aren’t part of this community.” But she wasn’t only critical of them: “Maldonado says he’s from the community, but we never see him.” She continued, “We have excellent teachers, excellent students, and we want a great education for our kids.”

Tammy Lane got up, and let them have it. She pointed out she had lived in the community a long time: she helped found Ames, and also McAuliffe. She says, “These are community schools, not just CPS toys.” She wanted to know: “what are you doing here?” When they didn’t immediately respond, she said, “I’m waiting.” She complained about the lack of information being given to the community: “You don’t have answers? When will you give them—before Wednesday?” She pointed out that, during their initial presentation, “You didn’t say ‘if’ and you didn’t say ‘maybe,’ you said ‘when’.”

Ms. Lane continued: “You are not listening to us. You know this is a done deal. It’s a show. It’s cold out, middle of the night: you wasted our time.”

Maria Patino reiterated, “You said you are listening, but you aren’t. The kids don’t want change. Kids are afraid. They know how things are now, but they are afraid of going into another school.”

“I’m upset, mad, feel you guys let me down. You cannot answer our questions. But you have no answers for us. You can pretend very well.”

Gail Lindsterm spoke up from the audience: “Lies after lies. You guys can’t give us answers. This is very disrespectful, very wrong. Postpone the vote” on December 18. Further, “No one school needs $7 million: no, no!”

Another woman, whose name I did not get, ended the meeting: “We love our kids. We love our schools. We need our community. Please do not tear apart our community.”

-----

As a reporter, it had been hard listening to the presentations by the CPS representatives. They proclaimed that they were genuinely present to hear what the community had to say. Much of the audience did not buy it: why the disrespect, why no information, why haven’t people talked to us, why do people ignore our overwhelming rejection of transforming Ames? All they could say is “we have no answers.” The community had understood that this wasn’t genuine, it was a “dog and pony” show, designed to say that CPS had gotten community input, when the deal had already been done.

As I walked out of the auditorium, I talked with a CPS official, who shall remain nameless, but had not spoken publicly that evening. I asked, “Why should anyone believe anything a CPS bureaucrat says? You know this is a done deal. I’ll make you a bet: 7-0 on Wednesday, to transform Ames.” He smiled, and refused the bet. I ended our brief conversation: “I appreciate your honesty on this one.”

--- Kim Scipes is the Chair of the Chicago Chapter of the National Writers Union, UAW #1981.

Keywords: Ames, Ames Middle School, community, CPS, Maldonado, McAuliffe, military academy, parents, school closings

Posted in Parent Engagement, News, Education