CPS officials announced late Friday afternoon that they are proposing turnarounds for three schools: Dvorak in North Lawndale, McNair in Austin and Gresham in Auburn-Gresham.
Since 2006, CPS has been turning around schools—a process that involves laying off an entire staff. Though they can reapply for their jobs, most principals and teachers don’t stay on. Like most turnarounds in CPS, these schools will be managed by the not-for-profit teacher training program, the Academy for Urban School Leadership.
After a round of public and community hearings in early April, the proposals will likely be voted on at the April board meeting.
Angela Gordon, LSC chairwoman at Dvorak, said at first she didn’t know how to react, but as the afternoon went on, she pledged to fight the turnaround. “The mood at the school is sad and somber,” she said.
Gordon said she thinks Dvorak is a good school. She said she brought her children to Dvorak when she was homeless four years ago and the staff has stepped up and helped her family.
Low test scores are not entirely the fault of the teachers, she said. “It takes a village,” she said. “We need more parent support and more CPS support.”
Performance not stellar
AUSL currently manages 20 elementary turnaround schools and two high schools. CPS operated its own turnarounds at nine additional schools before former CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced in 2011 that the district would not undertake them any longer. Brizard said he would recruit other organizations to do so, but so far, no other groups have stepped forward.
CPS also has not turned around any high schools since the 2009-2010 school year. High school turnarounds, whether managed by CPS or AUSL, have had lackluster results.
Even elementary schools have not had stellar performance. Four of the AUSL turnarounds that are more than two years old score in the bottom 10 percent of all elementary schools. Ten of them are Level 3 schools, which is the lowest rating on the performance scale.
Interestingly, Chalmers, a new turnaround this year, moved up from Level 3 to Level 2 based on last year’s test scores and performance--when the pre-turnaround teachers were still in place.
CPS Network and Strategy Implementation Officer Adam Anderson said district officials think AUSL has had impressive results. Thirteen AUSL turnarounds improved at a faster rate than other district schools on the ISAT. AUSL students are also showing higher-than-average growth on the NWEA, the standardized test that CPS is using to determine student promotion and other decisions as it phases out the ISAT.
“These are the most challenging schools and the ones that need the most support,” Anderson said. “They are catching up to the district as a whole.”
Dvorak, McNair and Gresham are in the bottom 10 percent of elementary schools, but are not the lowest-performing.
When deciding which schools to turn around, CPS officials look at more than the ratings under the district's performance policy, Anderson said. They also look at the trajectory of achievement and whether the current staff can put the school on a better path.
Anderson said Dvorak, McNair and Gresham have low attendance compared to the district average and noted that it translates into many missed days of instruction.
Critics speak out
Soon after the announcement, the Chicago Teachers Union issued a press release criticizing the proposals. CPS’ Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley and Board President David Vitale were high-level AUSL officials, which CTU leaders see as a conflict of interest.
The CTU also is highly critical of the fact that turnarounds usually result in layoffs of veteran, mostly black teachers who are replaced with less-experienced, mostly white teachers.
Of the 70 teachers at Dvorak, Gresham and McNair, 64 percent are African American, compared to 25 percent in CPS overall, according to the 2011-2012 teacher service records maintained by the Illinois State Board of Education. Also, teachers at the three schools have an average of 15 years of experience, compared to 12.75 years in CPS.
“This is the mayor’s continued war on our schools and older black educators. This is nothing more than school closings by another name,” said CTU President Karen Lewis in a press release.
Lewis said school turnarounds are akin to school closings.
The CTU and others also criticize AUSL turnarounds because schools end up being run by private entities. And with more charter schools opening every year, CPS is responsible for managing fewer and fewer schools.
North Lawndale has been hit especially hard. If these turnarounds are approved, almost half of North Lawndale’s 18 elementary schools will be under private management: Three will be AUSL turnarounds and five are charter schools.
After watching two schools close last year in North Lawndale, Gordon said she feels as though Dvorak is predestined to either close or become a charter school. “What will happen if the scores don’t move with the turnaround?” she said. “Then what?”
Austin also is home to two other AUSL turnarounds.
Last year, as CPS was in the midst of shuttering 50 elementary schools, officials proposed turning around Barton in Auburn-Gresham, but the school was pulled off the list at the last minute by CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Harvard in Auburn Gresham has been a turnaround school since the 2007-2008 school year.
Click here for detailed information on the race and experience of teachers at the proposed turnaround schools.