CORE members and supporters set course; plot opposition to turnarounds

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About 300 opponents of Renaissance 2010 crowded into a second-floor room at Malcolm X College last weekend to build momentum for the fight against an expected wave of school turnarounds and closings to be announced this month.

About 300 opponents of Renaissance 2010 crowded into a second-floor
room at Malcolm X College last weekend to build momentum for the fight
against an expected wave of school turnarounds and closings to be
announced this month.

But a longer-term vision was also emerging for the Caucus of Rank and
File Educators, a faction of the Chicago Teachers Union. Local school
councils and grassroots groups have for years decried mayoral control;
by working LSCs and the grassroots, CORE wants to limit mayoral control
in other cities, while also seeking to wrest control of leadership
spots in their teachers union.

The gathering followed a similar summit in 2009. Speakers
credited the earlier event with laying the groundwork for the district
to withdraw six turnaround and closing proposals last year.

At Chicago Vocational Career Academy, which is one of roughly 25
potential turnaround high schools, there is a plan for a union meeting
to get teachers organized should the school be chosen, said Carol
Caref, a math teacher at Chicago Vocational Career Academy High School.

Attendees from CORE, which claims 250 dues-paying members and about
3,000 supporters, also discussed new directions for their group,
including its first-ever slate of candidates for the Chicago Teachers
Union election in May.

“Initially we did not have an electoral strategy. We just wanted to
push the union,” says CORE Communications Secretary Kenzo Shibata.
“What we experienced over time was that the union was not receptive.”

Other factions within the union are also fielding slates, including
Pro-Active Chicago Teachers (PACT), the Coalition for a Strong and
Democratic Union, and the School Employee Alliance. The various
factions could potentially divide the opposition to President Marilyn
Stewart’s United Progressive Caucus.

CORE began having discussions with other groups about running a unified
slate a year ago, but decided to run a slate of its own by last spring.

“In the course of the election, we’re going to organize more members
and remain a force of change,” Shibata says. “We were not just founded
on the goal of winning union leadership.”

The issues the group will tackle during the election are: making
teacher evaluations “more holistic”; locking in pension and health
benefits; and, contrary to nationwide legislative trends, making it
more difficult for principals to fire tenured teachers.

A major long-term goal is to repeal provisions of the 1995 reform law
that created an appointed school board, prohibits unions from
bargaining over class sizes and prevents charter school teachers from
joining the Chicago Teachers Union.

“We have to take back those issues that unite us with our students,”
like class size, says Nathan Goldbaum, a second-grade teacher at
Whittier Elementary.

Organizers from Philadelphia, Mississippi, and elsewhere have contacted
members of the Grassroots Education Movement for help with their local
school-reform controversies, said Pauline Lipman, director of the
University of Illinois – Chicago’s Collaborative for Equity and Justice
in Education.

In early December, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators sent a
delegation of nine members to energize anti-mayoral-takeover activists
in Milwaukee. About 50 people, including two school board members,
showed up to hear them speak.

“We need to flip the script”

At the event’s keynote panel, Peabody Elementary parent Lily Gonzalez
shared her experience of organizing against the school’s proposed
closing for underutilization in 2009.

Her group of parents used Peabody’s positive test score and attendance
data as a tool. But at several of the five break-out workshops, summit
attendees sought to create a new strategy of engagement.

“One of our primary objectives is to start making proposals for school
reform,” said Jackson Potter, CORE’s candidate for CTU vice president.
“We will have our own data to back up our suggestions and proposals. No
longer will it be acceptable for the teachers union to sit on the
sidelines while these decisions are being made.”

One workshop featured presentations from organizers who successfully
opposed Senn High School’s division in to small schools and worked to
align curriculum between Dyett High School and its feeders. It also
highlighted the proposal – presented at the most recent Board of
Education meeting – for the restoration of a neighborhood high school
in Altgeld Gardens, the Hazel Johnson School for Environmental Justice.

At another, about 50 teachers shared stories of both mistreatment and
successful innovation. They floated suggestions such as advocating for
more social workers and other resources in schools and drafting an
alternative report card to show school progress on measures of
social-emotional learning.

“We have been told for the last 30 years that the schools in this
country are failing,” Lewis told the group. “As teachers, we are
thinking of ourselves as failures. We need to flip the script.”