Take 5: Marshall principal laid off, FOIA lawsuit, recruiting students

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In a developing story, teachers at Marshall High School are outraged that Principal Angel Johnson was told Friday that she was being reassigned. “It is really distressing that this is happening three weeks into the school year,” says Stacey Cruz-de la Pena, the chair of the math department. She says the staff is supportive of Johnson, pointing out that Marshall’s freshman on-track rate has improved from 56 percent in 2013 to 74 percent in 2014 with Johnson at the helm. Also, Johnson worked with the staff to apply and win a $3.7 million, three-year federal School Improvement Grant. Marshall also was awarded a SIG in 2011 when it became a turnaround school.

Johnson will be replaced by Lori Campbell, who served as the principal of Piccolo Elementary School, when it was made into an AUSL turnaround. 

CPS has not yet responded to questions about why Johnson, who was an interim principal, was displaced. This summer, Catalyst reported that Johnson was one of the seven interim high school principals who were asked to reapply for their jobs. On the last employee roster, some 68 principals were listed as interim.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood said this summer that  CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett wanted to get permanent people into the posts of these high schools to create stability and make sure they were on the right track. He said the district was conducting a nationwide search to fill them. Hood said decisions would be made about these positions before the start of the school year, which obviously didn’t happen.

It is unclear whether the principals of the other high schools–Julian, Tilden, Kelyvn Park, Chicago Vocational, Hirsch and Corliss–will stay in their posts. One of those principals told Catalyst this morning that since going through the application process, he has not heard anything from the administration.

2. Hallelujah… In a move that had education reporters cheering, the Better Government Association and NBC Chicago sued CPS on Friday for systemically failing to comply with the Freedom of Information Act–the law that requires government bodies to provide public information within five business working days.

According to the complaint, the BGA and NBC-5 asked for settlement agreements, severance agreements and termination agreements from Jan. 2013 til now. After some back and forth, the district never produced the information. In another request, NBC Chicago asked how many shuttered buildings the district has and how much it is costing the district to heat, light and provide water for them. About two and a half weeks later, CPS asked for more time. After asking for two extensions, CPS failed to respond any more.

Catalyst has had many epic battles with the district over information. It often takes more than a month to receive it, and it is often incomplete or otherwise inadequate. Many times the public and the press must turn to the Illinois Attorney General for help. From January 2014 through May 2014, 43 such complaints about CPS were filed with the Attorney General, making it the fourth most complained-about public institution, behind the Illinois Department of Corrections, the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois State Police.

CPS Spokesman Bill McCaffrey told the Sun Times he did not have a direct response to the BGA/NBC Chicago lawsuit, but noted that the district just launched a “FOIA center,” which is basically an online system for tracking and submitting FOIAs. The district also plans to post FOIA responses online.

3. Charter back-and-forth… Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, has an editorial in Sunday’s Sun Times refuting the analysis that charter school improvement on the NWEA test pales in comparison to growth in district-run schools. The Sun-Times wrote an article with this analysis and followed with an opinion piece by Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere.

Broy has three arguments: Charter schools should not be compared to magnet schools , though both have lottery admissions, because charters enroll more poor students; that some charters didn’t report scores and others administer the test on a different schedule; and that charters are doing better than many neighboring schools. 

Catalyst is looking into the second argument. District-run schools’ improvement scores compared spring 2013 to fall 2014. More than half of charters did not report 2013 scores. CPS officials say the district used a formula to come up with a baseline for schools that did not have spring 2013 scores, but Catalyst is still waiting for an answer to the question of whether this would impact the analysis.

As for the final argument, the charter movement has often said that charters should be compared to the school down the block (though neighborhood schools have to take students, while charters do not). Instead of using the national growth percentiles, Broy looks at the percentage of students who are at or above expected growth in reading and math. He finds that many charters do better.

The bottom line: statistics can be cut many different ways.

4. Today’s the day … DNAInfo has a story about Goethe Elementary School parents in Logan Square trying to recruit new students to the school through message boards and other methods. The reason they are so desperate to get some more students? Under per-pupil budgeting, schools receive an average $4,390 per child, plus extra money if they are low-income or English Language Learners. Goethe stands to lose upwards of $36,000 in funding if it doesn’t reach its projections and is eight students short. The school has until today to enroll eight more. The downside of the scenario: if Goethe attracts a student or two, another school will lose them.

Under student-based budgeting, the school must give back money for each student it doesn’t have. Last year, CPS officials had pity on schools and did not take money away from schools that were short students so this will be the first year that will happen.

Under the new per-pupil system, official enrollment counts were done on the 20th day. This year, they are being done on the 10th day. CPS officials say the move will result in less upheaval in schools. When the count was done on the 20th day, schools wouldn’t get the go-ahead till October to hire additional teachers if needed, or lay off teachers who weren’t needed.

5. Homework, oh, homework … Hamilton Elementary has gotten rid of homework for its kindergartners, first- and second-graders. Instead, they’re being assigned play, downtime, and to spend time with family — and reading for fun. Principal James Gray told the Sun-Times the no-homework policy is a bit of an experiment this year, but that if it’s successful, he may expand it to later grades. Gray says the research he found doesn’t indicate too many benefits in assigning homework to very young students.

Still, CPS officials say they think Hamilton is the only school in the district with a no-homework policy. But no district-wide policies prevent any other principals from following suit.

  • Gemini Brotha

    It’s sad to say. I worked with CPS as a consultant and outside vendor. I’ve done this type of work across the country and this is by far the most backward, unorganized, politically motivated and student unfriendly system. The administrators and outside vendors only care about fattening their pockets. It’s sad because this long-term corruption only hurts students. Rahm Emmanuel and Barbara Byrd-Bennett need to be completely ASHAMED of themselves.
    The system needs to be overhauled and rebuilt. Real Talk