Take 5: Looking back at LSCs, elected school board tussle, bullying lawsuit, Sharkey takes over CTU

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Education Week marks the 25th anniversary of the first LSC election with an article that looks at where they are today. One big question the article asks is why the local school council concept hasn’t spread to other cities, if they are so successful (as proponents argue). It also questions whether the experiment was uniquely “Chicago,” while also pointing out that mayoral control diluted some of the power and enthusiasm around LSCs and that their most important power–choosing principals–has been limited by the district in recent years. Few people run or vote in council elections, the article notes, quoting a Catalyst article that found 86 LSCs had no candidates and that the filing deadline had to be extended.

Currently, 40 percent of CPS schools are on probation and therefore the LSCs only serve in advisory roles.  In addition, more than 100 schools are charters or contract schools and are not required to have any parent or community  boards.  

Chester E. Finn, Jr., the president emeritus of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, says LSCs are too locally focused to implement big reforms that really improve schools. However, the now-defunct Designs for Change found that schools with vigorous LSCs were more likely to improve while the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that a key component of a school improvement is strong community and parent involvement.

2. Another vote … Meeting at a school in Austin and then fanning out throughout the neighborhood, a coalition of parents and teachers on Monday are officially launching the push to get a referendum on an elected school board to voters on the ballot across the city. The coalition will meet at McNair Elementary School to start gathering petitions.

Though some precincts have had the question on the ballot in the past, the effort this year is to get it on in all 50 wards. Activists say part of their strategy is also to make the elected school board question a “litmus test” for incumbent aldermen and their challengers.

Collecting signatures is one of three ways to get a referendum to voters. The City Council could also place it on the ballot, but last week, an effort by a progressive group of aldermen was thwarted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his allies.

Ald. Bob Fioretti, who is running for mayor, says the Rules Committee last week violated state law by hastily approving two other proposed referenda that were never posted on the public agenda in order to avoid considering the school board item, according to DNAinfo . Fioretti says he’s filed a complaint with the state’s Attorney General to nullify the committee action.

3. Bully lawsuit…. The mother of a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide is suing CPS, according to DNAInfo. Last month, a CPS investigation found no “credible evidence” that McKenzie Philpots, a student at Pierce Elementary School, was bullied.  This finding stands in contrast to what her mother says and reportedly told the school before McKenzie killed herself. In addition, McKenzie talked about being bullied on social media.

This incredibly sad situation shines a light on the broader issue of how well CPS does in making sure staff know how to address bullying, especially in a big school system with few social workers or counselors who can focus on the social and emotional needs of students.

4. CTU without Karen… In a terse press conference on Thursday afternoon,  CTU’s Vice President Jesse Sharkey announced that he will be taking over the reins of the union while President Karen Lewis deals with a  “serious health problem. ” Such a role for Sharkey will not be new as he had been running the day-to-day operations as Lewis considered a run for mayor.  Sharkey said he had no news about whether Lewis is still contemplating a run for mayor.  

Even the Chicago Tribune editorial writers say they have been wondering if she will still run “though it is the wrong question for this moment. ” While it seems hard to imagine that Lewis could muster a run in these circumstances,  the same Tribune editorial notes that Lewis promised her union would deliver a vigorous campaign against Mayor Rahm Emanuel: On a scale of 1 to 10, she said, a 15. The question however is who would the union get behind if not Lewis. Perhaps Fioretti?

5. Preparing teachers for the job … As the U.S. Department of Education focuses on improving the quality of teacher training programs, it has set aside millions of dollars in grants to districts with teacher residency programs that pair new teachers with experienced ones. The New York Times featured one such program, run by the Aspire charter system in California and Memphis, that helps its residents master the “seemingly unexciting — but actually quite complex — task of managing a classroom full of children.” The article describes the model’s lengthy and intense mentorship as “one of a number of such programs emerging across the country…a radical departure from traditional teacher training, which tends to favor theory over practice.”

A strong teacher training program isn’t always enough to keep new teachers from leaving the field. Earlier this year, Catalyst Chicago looked into the high rates of turnover at turnaround schools, most of which are managed by the non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership, which includes a highly regarded teacher residency component. Not all teachers at turnarounds were trained by AUSL, but many of them were. Catalyst found that more than half of teachers hired in the first year of a turnaround left by the third year, at 16 of the 17 schools that underwent a turnaround between 2007 and 2011.