Vallas mulls reconstitution, asks panel for ‘cover’

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Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas has begun to think about reconstituting schools that don’t make progress under probation.

In a Feb. 7 appearance before the Academic Accountability Council, Vallas urged the group to provide “a second opinion” on, among other actions, reconstitution.

“If some high schools have to be reconstituted—and that has not been decided—what are we going to do?” he asked. “Reconstitution is a major, major issue.”

Under May 1995 state legislation, the superintendent, with Reform Board approval, may replace and reassign all staff at a school that fails to make “adequate progress in correcting deficiencies” while on probation.

Vallas asked the council, a nine-member body appointed by the Reform Board, for advice on particulars as well as process. “What are the five high schools, in your opinion, that should be reconstituted? … I don’t want to make that decision alone. [Accountability chief] Pat Harvey doesn’t want to make that decision alone.”

Vallas added that they’d welcome the “cover” the council could provide not only for possible reconstitution, but also for other controversial developments. He cited Clemente High School, where, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, a former local school council, in effect, used state Chapter 1 money for political purposes, including a campaign to cut short the prison sentences of convicted Puerto Rican terrorists.

Saying that Clemente had become a “political issue,” Vallas suggested the council examine the facts.

His recommendations were a sharp departure from his stance five months ago, when he placed 109 schools on probation without consulting or informing the council, which was created by the May 1995 legislation to bring some independence to evaluation of Chicago’s public schools.

Following the meeting, council chair Leon Jackson, a businessman and former chair of Leadership for Quality Education, said he thought it was appropriate to give a second opinion when asked but that he was “nervous about being cast in the role of catching hot potatoes.”

Comments from other members indicated they were inclined to oversee the board’s school evaluation process rather than pass judgment on individual schools. Mary Decker, community affairs vice president at First National Bank of Chicago, said the council should ask: “What indicators are you using?”

The council scheduled an extended meeting for March 4 to decide what its role should be. The law charges the council with developing and implementing a “comprehensive system of review, evaluation and analysis.” However, Jackson noted that with no staff of its own, the group of volunteers is limited in what it can do. At the February meeting, Harvey invited the council to submit a budget request.