Dual shifts out—along with a few jobs

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Compared to the months just past, the summer’s end was a quiet time at Gale Community Academy in East Rogers Park. The school dropped split shifts, and parents who had staged boycotts and other protests against that schedule and Principal Edis Snyder turned off the heat. Now, instead of calling for Snyder’s resignation, they want to work with her.

However, teachers and kids continued to play musical chairs. To return to a single shift, many teachers had to move to different rooms. Also, budget cuts made by the School Reform Board of Trustees sent several staff packing—some for good, some for just a couple of weeks.

Gale seems to be a favored school under Mayor Richard M. Daley’s reign. After getting an early promise of a n annex, Gale saw its local school council chair appointed to an 18-member committee that is speaking to the new board on behalf of LSCs across the city. In addition, Gale was featured in a segment of “Chicago Works”—a promotional half-hour of cable TV produced by the mayor’s press office.

“I think part of the reason is, they want to pick a school they can showcase as a school that has benefited from their reforms,” says Ald. Joe Moore. “And since it’s in my ward, I have no problem with that.” Moore adds that Gale’s special difficulties as a severely overcrowded school make it a deserving choice.

AUG. 24 Wayne Frazier, Gale’s LSC chair, goes to School Board headquarters on Pershing Road for the second meeting of the Interim LSC Advisory Board Committee, which will recommend a way to select members of a permanent committee. The advisory body was created as part of sweeping reform legislation passed last May.

Before the meeting begins, Frazier takes the opportunity to pull aside Policy Director Len Dominguez, who had visited Gale three times last month, as the new administration responded to the school’s pleas for overcrowding relief.

“Hey, you guys promised us help getting our Park District programs extended to a seven-day, year-round schedule,” Frazier reminds the policy director. “We haven’t seen anything from you yet. What’s happening?” (While promising an annex for the school, Dominguez and Operations Chief Ben Reyes had offered to extend its after-school recreational programs to weekends and summers.)

“Oh, we’ve been waiting for a letter from you guys, an official request, to set the process in motion,” Dominguez responds. Frazier promises to write the letter.

Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas visits the committee early in the meeting, and the members introduce themselves. When it’s Frazier’s turn, Vallas perks up. “Oh, how are things at Gale?” he asks. “I hear they picketed the principal’s house.”

“Yeah, and they tried to picket the alderman’s house, too,” Frazier chuckles. “But they picketed the wrong alderman. They wound up marching outside David Orr’s house.”

(Not exactly. Orr, a former alderman who is now Cook County Clerk, was not a target, says Pastor Horacio Peralta-Marinkovic, who helped organize the march. Rather, he says, the march simply went past Orr’s home, prompting Orr’s wife, Loretta, to come out to see what was going on. Orr himself adds that the marchers cheered her when she read their literature and responded in Spanish. “I don’t think they had known that Loretta speaks Spanish,” says Orr.)

Vallas assures Frazier that “after talking with the governor,” the prospects for the board’s massive capital improvement plan, which would include Gale’s annex, look good.

AUG. 27 The Sunday Chicago Tribune reports that Vallas has suspended a policy adopted by the old Board of Education to force overcrowded schools like Gale to help solve their own space problems, with dual shifts, rented space, a year-round calendar or busing out of the neighborhood. Already a year-round school, Gale added split shifts, triggering heated parent protests. Some schools, however, took no action, in effect inviting busing. But Vallas says he’s “not comfortable” with forcing kids to ride buses to schools if it can be avoided.

AUG. 28 Gale Assistant Principal David Ichishita, who is in charge of the school’s budget, returns from vacation to discouraging news: Central office has ordered a $76,000 cut in Gale’s $809,000 state Chapter 1 budget. The cut is fallout from the School Board’s budget-balancing act. Originally, all state Chapter 1 money was supposed to go to schools for supplemental programs. In May, however, the Legislature gave the new board permission to hang on to increases in state Chapter 1 appropriations, which amounted to $26 million this year. As a result, schools got $759 for every low-income student instead of $840.

On the bright side for Gale, Jim Duszak arrives to fill a physical education job that’s been vacant since January. In one sense, the school’s gain is Duszak’s loss—specifically, the loss of his old job as playground teacher, running after-school programs for Waters Elementary. In another budget-balancing move, the board is laying off all playground staff.

Duszak is as upset with the Chicago Teachers Union as he is with the new board; the union not only failed to protect his job, he says, but also denied the job was in jeopardy. Early in the summer, Duszak, a union delegate, found out that playground staff might be on the new board’s chopping block; so he applied for gym teacher jobs around the city. He had an offer in hand the day union delegates met to vote on a new four-year contract. At the meeting, he asked union president Tom Reece if the playground jobs were in trouble. “No,” he says Reece told him. “You’re in the contract. You’re gonna be fine for the next four years.” The next day, Duszak turned down the job he’d been offered.

Five days later, Duszak was stunned to read in the Chicago Sun-Times sports pages that he would be out of a job.

Within days, Duszak sent out 30 resumes, took three interviews, and landed the job at Gale. Knowing that more than 100 fellow playground teachers would be searching for jobs, he accepted the Gale offer sight unseen. “I’m very happy to be in this position,” he says, “but I would have liked to have had a chance to see the school first.”

“It’s a good lesson,” says Duszak bitterly. “You can trust no one. Your position—unless it’s mandated—is never secure, and your protections are very limited. But you’re gonna pay union dues anyway, because it’s a closed shop.”

Because Gale’s faculty is largely white and Duszak is white, Principal Edis Snyder had to get a waiver from the school system’s desegregation plan.

Within a month, CEO Paul Vallas would talk publicly about possibly getting staff integration rules lifted. Some principals in largely black neighborhoods complain they can’t get white teachers, while some principals in largely white neighborhoods complain they can’t get black teachers. “I’d like to resolve this thing before we start recruiting for next September,” says Vallas.

AUG. 30 At a faculty meeting, David Ichishita delivers the bad news on Gale’s state Chapter 1 budget. The biggest cut: all $54,000 that was budgeted for “intersession” programming, which provides daytime activities for the “track” of students who are on vacation in any given month, as part of Gale’s year-round schedule.

There are others: $1,600 in books and supplies for an environmental education class. $5,300 for new computer equipment. $1,200 for a hands-on science curriculum. “Sorry, Jan,” Ichishita tells the science teacher. “All that stuff I tried to get you—it’s gone.”

Ichishita has managed to avoid any cut that would force a full-time staffer out of the school; state Chapter 1 funds 16 full-time jobs at Gale, with titles ranging from school assistant to assistant principal.

Meanwhile, the school’s decision to return to a single shift after a turbulent, two-month experiment with dual shifts means teachers are moving once again. Seventh-grade teacher Suzanne Wilson goes to her classroom but finds that it’s empty and the door is locked; she had expected to find her “roommate,” 3rd-grade teacher Augusta Hudson, teaching a class. “She’s not here!” Wilson exclaims. “Half her stuff is gone! And I can’t get in here!” A moment later, Wilson’s husband, Assistant Principal Roy Wilson, comes by and lets her into the room.

SEPT. 1 This is the last day for split shifts at Gale. It’s also the last day for several staff members. Unexpectedly, school assistant Lynda Argyropoulous and clerk “Maria” (who asked that her name not be used) get pink slips. The paperwork tells them to go home, collect two weeks severance pay, and don’t come back. The fund that paid their salaries—set aside for overcrowded and low-achieving schools—had been scaled back from $4.5 million to $1 million to help balance the school system’s budget. Next year, the whole fund will go, the budget office says. The fund was a provision in the old Chicago Teachers Union contract. But thanks again to the May reform legislation, the new School Board doesn’t have to honor it.

Ironically, “Maria” and Argyropoulous are Gale’s most senior career service (non-teaching) staff, and they carry some of the most important duties. For instance, “Maria” oversees the school’s payroll records. If Gale’s administrators had known about the cuts earlier, they would have shifted the two clerks to different position numbers and let other workers take the hit. That’s still what David Ichishita plans to do, but doing it retroactively is more difficult—and until it’s done, the two clerks will be out.

Meanwhile, Alex Antu, Gale’s maintenance assistant (formerly called fireman) is on his way out, for good; his job title had been erased from the system’s roster. Gale teachers all say he’s worked hard, and engineer Pat Ferrara says Alex will be missed. “If I didn’t need him, we’d have gotten rid of him a long time ago,” Ferrara says. “Now, I’ll have to take over his duties.”

It’s also Ian Fingerman’s last day as Gale’s teacher-facilitator, another job title axed to balance the system’s budget. But he’ll be back in October as an 8th-grade teacher. He may spend some time doing his old job, with other teachers taking over the 8th-grade class. But Gale’s schedule will be in flux for the next few weeks, so it’s too soon to know for sure.

Snyder has kept the 8th-grade classroom job open since July so that “just in case” a job like Fingerman’s was cut, she wouldn’t have to boot a teacher from the building. However, the precaution has had a cost: The class hasn’t had a steady teacher since Gale’s academic year began July 5, and a few parents are starting to wonder what’s going on. And since September is a vacation month for Fingerman, the class will continue to have a series of substitutes for another month. Snyder says this approach still seemed less disruptive than cutting a staff member mid-year.

SEPT. 6 Most schools in the city won’t start until tomorrow, but Gale is running all week. Yesterday, a new monthly cycle started, with some kids coming back from intersession and some kids leaving. Meanwhile, about a hundred kids will register at Gale this week, even though school has been in session here since early July. Normally, “Maria,” who is home collecting severance pay, would be at the registration tables helping Spanish-speaking parents; instead, the school has closed a computer lab to free up a Spanish-speaking teacher to take on the duty.

Meanwhile, David Ichishita spends his day at School Board headquarters, running paperwork back and forth between departments to get “Maria” and Linda Argyropoulous restored to their jobs. He gets halfway. The staff at the special education and desegregation departments—which control the job titles he wants to open for the two workers—are “outstanding,” he says, and even offer to walk him down to the budget department, the next stop along the line. But the staff at budget say they’re overwhelmed. Ichishita leaves his paperwork with them—”and now it’s just sitting there.”

Tonight, Gale’s annex committee meets again with the board’s consulting architect, Harry Patterson; the staff architect who had been working with Gale was sacked last month. Tomorrow, Patterson himself will get the boot.

SEPT. 11 Teacher Beth Joffe, who runs the intersession programs, is talking to a shy girl of about 9. “No, there aren’t any classes, sweetheart. We’ve cancelled all the classes,” Joffe tells the girl, who looks at the floor. “You need to go straight home now, OK?” The girl nods silently and turns slowly to go.

Joffe sighs. The school sent out a letter last week, telling parents that all intersession classes were on hold, but apparently not everyone got the message.

Joffe calls the cuts “absolutely devastating. One of the most vital components of year-round—in terms of its educational benefits—is intersession programming: providing remediation and enrichment. It’s often perceived as a way—putting it really bluntly—to provide poor kids with the kinds of opportunities that rich kids get over the summer.

“And what’s terrible is, we’d really gotten to be hotshots with our intersession programming,” she continues. “It was no longer just, ‘Let’s review multiplication tables.’ ”

Indeed. A career education unit took kids across the city to meet workers in hotels, City Hall, DePaul University’s athletics department and local shopping centers. Three teachers teamed up to give a class on the Caribbean that combined music, social studies and art. And kids could take a class on how to take standardized tests.

A few activities will stay. Federal money will pick up some of the slack, and some programs cost almost nothing to run. For example, in “Gale Classroom Helpers,” older students act as junior teacher aides in classes with younger kids. Meanwhile, Joffe is working on ways to increase no-cost programming, and thinking about hitting up local businesses for help.

SEPT. 12 In contrast to last month’s LSC meeting—a noisy, combative affair that packed the school’s old lunchroom—today’s meeting is friendly, subdued and fits handily into a small classroom. Chair Wayne Frazier opens the meeting with a word of thanks to “everyone who stuck with us through the hard times, these last two months—the LSC members who stuck to our guns and did what was right.”

Principal Snyder offers an update on the projects where Gale is getting School Board help:

The extension of after-school Park District programming. (Frazier is sending a letter today, asking board staff to follow up.)

The space the school is planning to rent from Good News Church. (It won’t be ready as soon as the school had hoped, so there will be more classroom juggling in the next month.)

The plans for Gale’s annex, which at the moment has no architect. About the architect, says Snyder, “It’s gonna be fine. Ben Reyes’s top assistant will get back to me. We’re gonna get there. We’re at the top of that list!” She then reviews the construction plans so far: one building across Marshfield Street, to the west of the school; a covered bridge over the street; and a second building, right next to the school on the Marshfield side.

Finally, the council reviews the state Chapter 1 cuts. “Please understand, the cuts will be felt,” Snyder advises the council. When it’s time for the group to vote on them, Snyder seconds the motion, “with regrets.”

The council meeting is interrupted by a voice coming over the intercom; it’s a message for assistant principal and teacher rep David Ichishita. The board’s personnel office has arranged a new job title for “Maria,” the clerk who was pink-slipped, and she’ll be back at Gale in two days. It will take a couple more days to get school assistant Linda Argyropoulous back to her job helping out in classrooms.

By then, the school also will have welcomed back nurse Gery Kucer from her summer vacation. This is noteworthy because the School Board wants to replace school nurses with a yet-to-be-defined “community-based health-care system” and, thereby, save $2.5 million a year. The board already has asked the state for a waiver of the requirement that school nurses must also be certified teachers.

“They wanted to pink-slip all of us, but they couldn’t, because we were members of the union,” Kucer says. Union spokesperson Jackie Gallagher puts the situation differently: She says the board hasn’t announced an intent to fire nurses now working in schools.

Kucer doesn’t think the waiver would be a smart move. “The extra education you receive as a teacher-certified nurse really helps you,” she says. “Most nursing programs just teach you with the idea that you’re going to be working alongside a physician. Here, you’re trying to work much more closely with the community—and here at Gale, there aren’t a lot of resources close at hand.”

Reflecting on this month’s changes, Snyder doesn’t see them as unusual. “As a school, you have to work with what is,” she says. “You also have to work with what changes. I can’t sit and wail about what may change. I can only focus on what I can do.”