CPS officials unveil new school action process

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As early as next month, CPS officials will start holding meetings in communities across Chicago to inform residents how their schools are performing on standardized measures and to engage them in a discussion about how to improve those that are failing.

As early as next month, CPS officials will start holding meetings in communities across Chicago to inform residents how their schools are performing on standardized measures and to engage them in a discussion about how to improve those that are failing. 

Similar conversations also are going on with school staff, some of whom, according to district officials, don’t even know that their students are not performing. 

These meetings will be precursors to eventual decisions about which schools need dramatic overhauls or to be shut down all together, says Chief Administrative Officer Robert Runcie.

This new process for school closings, turnarounds and other actions was outlined by Runcie at an Illinois Facilities Taskforce meeting Tuesday and presented by CEO Ron Huberman to the City Council Education Task Force on Thursday.

The new process is an attempt by Huberman’s administration to quell some of the outcry that accompanies the yearly school closing, consolidation and turnaround announcement. In the past, an announcement about targeted schools was made in January and then a public hearing was held on the potential decision. 

The last round of school actions were more contentious than in the past with several aldermen objecting to schools being closed and Huberman pulling schools off the list at the last minute. Also, mounting research has questioned the effectiveness of such strategies, especially school closings that sent many students to equally poor-performing receiving schools.

Runcie says that meetings on the status of schools will be held in every community across the district in an attempt to generally inform people about the status of their schools. 

“I don’t know of one community that doesn’t have a school that needs improvement,” he says. The Chief Area Officers will lead these meetings. 

But it remains to be seen if changing the process will dampen the opposition to school closings, consolidations and turnarounds.  

“It’s good for process, but it doesn’t address the policies,” says Valencia Rias-Winstead, a member of the Illinois Facilities Taskforce and the senior leadership development associate for Designs for Change. 

In addition to school closings, she would like CPS officials to work with the community when it is proposed that new and existing schools share buildings. She says it creates a difficult situation where students and teachers from existing schools are treated differently and sometimes not as well as those from new schools. 

Despite Runcie’s process, other issues remain around transparency and accountability, says Andrea Lee, education organizer for the Grand Boulevard Federation and a taskforce member.  Over the past few years, Lee has worked with several schools to fight closure or turnaround. 

She and other school activists are suspicious of the intentions of school officials. They question why one school is chosen over another and worry about the unsettling impact these actions have on students.

Rias also says that district officials need to do a better job of marrying criteria and language because parents get confused by the variety of labels used to describe what is happening to their schools and why.  

Runcie’s presentation and the federal government, however, will serve to add to the confusion.

Within the presentation by Runcie more definitions of actions were introduced. In the past, schools were closed, consolidated or turned around. In the presentation, it says they are now eligible for closure, turnaround, restart or transformation.

Runcie says these new names are just different descriptions of what is already being done. The labels were introduced in order to make CPS’ efforts eligible for federal “school improvement” money. In February, Illinois and five other states were awarded $75 million to undertake dramatic overhauls of schools

Under that grant, Fenger, Harper, Marshall and Phillips High Schools–the four high schools that are being turned around or are in the process–are eligible for $2 million in extra cash.