CPS road show makes stop at DePaul

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On Feb. 10, Mary Loise, a teacher at Bridge Elementary, stood beaming before a group of DePaul University education majors, most in their early 20s. She showed them photos of the life-size igloo and tepee her 2nd-graders had made. She talked about the need to make children from distressed homes feel secure. And she warned: “You’re not going to be a babysitter; you have to be a taskmaster.”

By teaching in Chicago, Loise said enthusiastically, “You will have made the difference between a statistic that you read about in the paper, and a college graduate.”

Loise, a 1962 DePaul graduate, is one of 20 teacher and principal “ambassadors” the Reform Board has sent on the road to help recruit the best and the brightest new teachers to teach in the city’s public schools. Loise’s DePaul performance was the 15th of the school year for CPS; at the time, another 20 visits to universities and job fairs were scheduled. Eighteen of the 35 destinations are outside the Chicago metropolitan area, with 8 of those outside Illinois.

Chicago recruiters have been visiting DePaul each quarter for years, reports Lynn Bryan, the school’s director of education career services. She adds that in her five years with the university, only one other school district, a small one in Wisconsin, has made a presentation to students.

However, CPS’s February visit was the first time a teacher came along. In addition, the recruiting team distributed slick packets of materials written and designed by public relations and graphic design firms. They included mission statements; fact sheets on system demographics, salary and benefits, and local school councils; a summary of the Reform Board’s major initiatives; a region map that lists schools by region; application how-to’s; and a list of the teaching specialties in greatest demand.

The packets also included information on staff development resources, and two financial programs—federal student loan cancellation and mortgage incentives to help teachers buy homes in the city. There were even suggestions on how to use public transportation, find good restaurants and locate an apartment—plus glowing descriptions of 14 residential neighborhoods, most north of Cermak Road.

However, the bravura performance appeared to have had little impact on this particular group of students. Fewer than half the 80 students invited to the presentation showed up. Most questions were about graduation and certification. And few students stayed to ask questions individually.

Loise went first. Then Rosa Vazquez, a central office recruiter, and Maurice Bullett, a former CPS personnel official who is now DePaul’s student teaching director, explained the application process. In response to questions, Vazquez and Bullett took turns explaining which transcripts to send where, when to get a physical and TB test, and how to become a substitute. Several students moaned and rolled their eyes.

“The main thing you have to remember is transcripts,” Vazquez assured them. Bullett reminded them he is stationed at the board two days a week to offer on-site help.

She also encouraged students to be willing to work in any of the district’s six regions. “The more flexible you are, the more you’re almost guaranteed a position,” she said.

Vazquez then passed out the promotional material.

Students leafed through the packets quickly before leaving. Several stopped to ask Vazquez and Bullett more questions about certification; a few thanked Loise for her presentation and inspected the photos up close.

“I’ve never been opposed to public schools,” Becky Grothendieck told Catalyst. “But it just so happens that I’m student teaching in a Catholic school.”

Kevin Krakovsky, who is student teaching at Roosevelt High, said he has known for a while that he wants to teach in the city schools. “It’s challenging to be a white male science teacher [in a largely minority school],” he said, “but at the end of the day, when I’m going to sleep, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Tery McNamee was skeptical coming into the presentation—and going out. “It was misleading to a certain extent,” he said. “They made it seem like it was just a matter of paperwork. It’s much more difficult than they make it appear. This didn’t convince me.”

McNamee said he has heard from friends that getting a job in the Chicago system can take a long time.

Like Krakovsky, he sees his race and gender as a potential challenge in some Chicago schools. “A minus would be being a white male and dealing with being the one that controls the accessibility of education and power,” he said.

Asked about the pluses and drawbacks to working in the city’s public schools, students gave widely varying answers. On the positive side, said Keith Kohler, “There’s money, there’s racial diversity, and most of the teachers in the Chicago public schools are dedicated.” Grothendieck said she thought Vallas’s experimental nature gives teachers “great flexibility in trying new things.” McNamee said simply, “Good experience and adequate compensation.” And Krakovsky was practical: “Public schools are what I’m used to.”

Chicago’s beginning salary is $30,600 for a 40-week work year.

On the negative side, Kohler listed “gangs, discipline—and there’s always the metal detectors that sit in the hall.” Grothendieck added, “Large classes, and, depending on where you are, unavailability of resources.” Krakovsky said with a smirk, “A universe-sized bureaucracy—and knowing that I’ll be an employee of Mayor Daley.”

Bryan estimates that Chicago public schools already attract a third of DePaul graduates; the rest are evenly split between parochial schools and the north and west suburbs. In her view, while Chicago teacher salaries are competitive with those of other districts, “that residency requirement is a problem.” Many DePaul education majors live in the suburbs, she notes.