Q&A with Greg Washington

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Greg Washington

Jason Reblando

Greg Washington

Grassroots activists, parents and local school council members have pounced on the Chicago Public Schools’ Renaissance 2010 and Mid-South plans, accusing the School Board of sidestepping community input before deciding to shut down dozens of schools and reopen most as charter or contract schools, without LSCs. Greg Washington, who was on the planning team for Mid-South, talked with Consulting Editor Lorraine Forte about what’s wrong—and what’s right—with the board’s plans.

Are activists satisfied with CPS’ response to their concerns?

They should stop implementation of the plans until they can engage the community more meaningfully.

Arne Duncan has said there isn’t going to be a final plan for Mid-South schools.

That’s bad. I and other people put a lot of time and energy into planning, and it was our understanding that the outcome would be a specific plan. Now, it’s too bad it had to wait until the community was gentrifying. But the original Mid-South concept of linking housing, community development and education is real exciting and offers a real opportunity for schools to become much more integrated with the community. And I hope that is not lost in the Renaissance 2010 plan. I don’t see that concept as part of that at all.

What do you want the board to do to create trust with community groups?

LSCs, parents, teachers, and principals should be involved in the development of policy from the beginning. Another suggestion involves the way new schools are selected. I was on the Williams Transitional Advisory Council and I’m also on the DuSable Small Schools Advisory Council. At Williams, we went to different cities to see best-practice schools. There were surveys and focus groups. But that was all after-the-fact. The most important decision, choosing the schools, had already been made. DuSable’s small schools process has been much more inclusive. We reviewed the proposals, went on visits to other cities and interviewed the planning teams. The community came to meetings and asked questions. We don’t have decision-making authority. But in other small-schools conversions CPS followed the recommendations of the advisory council.

What else could the board do?

There should be a co-chair [of the advisory council] who is a community member so there’s some feeling of ownership. Second, let the community get its own experts and get a second opinion about the effectiveness of the theories of instruction and curriculum. And the advisory council needs to have an ongoing role after the schools are open.

The new schools the board wants to create will likely have advisory boards. What’s wrong with that?

Local school councils are mandated by state law and have certain legal authority. It’s not clear to me what the [legal] scope of authority would be for the advisory boards.

How can the district ease the transition for kids at schools that are closing?

I’ve been told that there are children who started out at Einstein, which was closed, transferred to Donoghue, which was closed and then transferred to Doolittle West, which was closed. Now they have to go somewhere else. That kind of mobility is certainly not good. And when DuSable High stopped accepting freshmen, students had to go to Phillips, creating problems with gangs and turf issues. The board needs to be much more thoughtful about the sequence of closing schools, the stability of children and community issues like gangs and transportation.

Do you agree that when schools have been failing for years, sometimes it’s best to start over from scratch?

I’ve heard that to change the culture and image of the school, you need to remarket it. That does not necessarily mean closing the school. There should be other strategies.