Take 5: Vaughn cuts, Dyett hunger strike, full-day preschool

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A dozen activists in support of reopening Dyett High School as a district-run school have been on a hunger strike since Monday.

Photo courtesy Ervin Lopez

A dozen activists in support of reopening Dyett High School as a district-run school have been on a hunger strike since Monday.

After a staffing review by the principal and staff, CPS has restored one teacher and 11 aides to the budget of Vaughn Occupational High School. Situated in Portage Park, Vaughn is one of four district-run high schools for students with special needs.

At Tuesday’s budget hearings, parents of students who attend Vaughn were among the most critical of the district’s plan to cut more than $42 million in spending on special education, including 625 positions, many of which are classroom aides. Vaughn had been slated to lose the most staff — five teachers and 23 teacher aides — until the principal and staff got together and reviewed all 200 students’ individualized education programs to “link those to a boot on the ground,” says Cindy Ok, a Vaughn parent and chair of its Local School Council.

After that, a CPS official met with school staff and LSC members and agreed to some of the positions. The official denied that the district was trying to phase out the school, Ok says.

Markay Winston, who heads the CPS Office of Diverse Learners, told Vaughn parents at the hearing held at Malcolm X College that she was aware of their situation and that making corrections had been “very much a priority for us.” But parents are still concerned that the school will be under-staffed and that the loss of aides will have a ripple effect by putting more burden on teachers. Some advocates have questioned how CPS will comply with special education laws without the aides it plans to cut.

After questions at the hearing, Winston reiterated that special education staffing reductions are being made across CPS due to declining student enrollment and to come into line with state staffing ratio guidelines. CPS wants to do this without “watering down and compromising” the quality of supports and services, she said. The district is “not changing any programs” for special education students, Winston said, adding that CPS plans to increase programs for preschool students with special needs.

In contrast to the turnout for Vaughn, no one at either the hearing at Malcolm X or Schurz High School spoke up regarding the Montefiore specialty school, which CPS has effectively shuttered even though officials contend it is not a closure. (A third hearing about the proposed budget took place at Olive-Harvey College on the South Side.)

Meanwhile, Catalyst obtained the findings this week from an Illinois State Board of Education investigation into Montefiore staff after VICE Media was allowed to film an eight-part series about the school last year. The state found that staff violated students’ confidentiality rights by allowing the filming to take place but dismissed other complaints about violations of IEP procedures, inappropriate behavioral interventions and lack of district oversight. The corrective actions recommended by ISBE are about training existing staff — not shutting the program down.

CPS Board members plan to vote on the district budget at next Wednesday’s meeting.

2. Making preschool full day … A committee appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a report Monday recommending that, as part of his second term, he make full-day preschool available to all low-income 4-year-olds — something that would cost the cash-strapped district as much as $174 million annually.

Research shows children attending full-day preschool exhibit greater growth on a range of kindergarten readiness assessments than those in half-day settings. Children who attend for a full day also have better attendance, are less likely to be chronically absent and demonstrate more gains in social-emotional development and physical health.

Less than half of Chicago’s 39,000 government-subsidized preschool slots are currently full-day. This fall CPS is planning 80 new full-day classrooms, 55 of which will be funded through federal preschool expansion grant dollars, according to the proposed budget. Officials have not said how the district will fund the remaining 25 classrooms or where the new classrooms will be housed.

The mayor’s second-term transition committee also recommended streamlining preschool central administration, currently overseen by two departments; creating a single pre-K enrollment process; targeting high-need communities; and increasing marketing.

3. Dyett hunger strike … A dozen activists in support of reopening Dyett High School as a district-run school have been on a hunger strike since Monday. The Rev. Jesse Jackson also joined the strike on Tuesday. The activists are protesting what they consider “a long series of delays to make a final decision on the future of Dyett since announcing in 2009 the school would be phased out by 2015,” DNAinfo reports.

Earlier this month the district pushed back hearings that were supposed to take place this week on three proposals to open a new high school in the Dyett building. The proposals now will be heard on Sept. 15. The activists on hunger strike, who are part of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, want to see a district-run school with a focus on green technology. The other two proposals are for a contract school focused on arts and a district school that focuses on sports and business. The Board is scheduled to make a decision in September.

4. Ending merit pay … Chicago’s unionized charter school teachers have been moving away from merit pay during contract negotiations in recent years. And just last week, teachers and management at three Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS) campuses — the first charter campuses to unionize in Chicago, back in 2009 — reached a new contract that eliminates merit pay, according to a story in The American Prospect.

Brian Harris, the president of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS), and a teacher at the CICS Northtown campus, said teachers first tried reforming the existing merit pay structure when the three campuses unionized six years ago by “negotiating more objective metrics in the evaluation system.”

But eventually union leadership took a more oppositional stance to merit pay and encouraged other charter teachers to stay away from that during contract negotiations. When the UNO Charter School Network reached its first contract last year, for example, merit pay was not part of the agreement.

With that gone from the new contract at three CICS campuses, merit pay exists at just one of the 32 unionized charter schools in Chicago.

5. Discriminatory turnarounds? … A federal appeals court granted class-action status to a lawsuit filed by teachers who alleged the CPS school turnaround policy, which requires teachers to reapply for their jobs,  discriminates against African-American educators, Progress Illinois reports.

The new certification, granted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, allows the three Chicago public school teachers who brought the case to sue on behalf of 213 educators who lost their jobs in the 2012 school turnaround process.

The case, which the Chicago Teachers Union helped develop, seeks relief for the educators and an end to the turnaround process. It argues that schools with higher proportions of black educators were disproportionately targeted. Of the teachers fired in 2012, 52 percent were African-American, whereas 44 percent of teachers at turnaround schools were African-American, the CTU reports.

The CTU appeared in federal court Tuesday to submit the appeals court order certifying the class action status. In addition, the union also requested CPS school turnaround data from 2002 to the present.

One last thing… Check out this inspiring story in The Atlantic about what happened when residents from a single Michigan town pooled money to give every high school graduate a college scholarship.