Take 5: Ogden-Jenner merger, teacher disparity, possible mandate relief

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Students wait outside Jenner Elementary on the first day of school.

Photo by Max Herman

Students wait outside Jenner Elementary on the first day of school.

Two starkly different North Side schools could merge under what would be an historic, parent-led effort to integrate. The two schools are Ogden International, which has one of the most affluent student bodies in the city, and nearby Jenner Academy, which for decades has been all poor and all black.

Earlier this week the Ogden Local School Council voted unanimously to make a formal proposal to the Board of Education, DNAinfo reports.

Ogden has two buildings, one on the Gold Coast for elementary students and one that’s two miles west for high school students. The school hit 103 percent of capacity last year and is expected to keep growing as the neighborhood continues to gentrify.

In this file photo from 2001, a family traveled an hour each way so five children could still attend Jenner after they left the Cabrini neighborhood.

Photo by Marc Monaghan

In this file photo from 2001, a family traveled an hour each way so five children could still attend Jenner after they left the Cabrini neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Jenner has been starving for students since the Cabrini-Green housing project was torn down. (Catalyst and the Chicago Reporter co-authored a report back in April 2001 about families displaced by the demotion of public housing whose children had to travel long distances to attend schools in their former neighborhoods, including Jenner.)

The merger plan proposes that Ogden’s existing elementary campus would house prekindergarten through 3rd grades, and Jenner would house 4th through 8th grades and be renamed “The Ogden International School at the Jenner Campus.” Ogden’s west campus would serve high school students from across the city.

Prior to the vote, some Ogden parents expressed concern over the potential merger, citing worries about test scores and safety. “I just want to be assured that my children are still going to be able to get the best education and have the best test scores,” one mother said, according to a WBEZ story. The principals of both schools have spoken strongly in support of the plan, and Ald. Walter Burnett — who grew up in Cabrini-Green — said a merger “would be a beginning of a great idea that could spread throughout the city of Chicago to bring people together and to help our schools to get better.”

This is not a path that other schools in similar circumstances have gone down before. Race was the “elephant in the room” when it came to the 2013 decision to build an $18 million addition for Lincoln Elementary rather than redraw its boundaries and send some of its affluent students to nearby schools that serve low-income students. And just this week the New York Times had a fascinating story about two elementary schools in Brooklyn that are also divided by race and class and struggling with these “unavoidable results of the gentrification.”

2. Possible layoffs … If CPS issues as many as 5,000 pink slips by Thanksgiving — a possibility CEO Forrest Claypool told WLS-890 AM radio about last week — those cuts would be “devastating” to classrooms and could prompt a teachers strike, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said this week.

Those layoffs, Sharkey said, would mean split-grade classrooms, loss of “specials” such as art and music and likely cuts in after-school programming. At a press conference, the CTU gave reporters a chart that its officials said CPS had shared back in July that showed how the district could make $500 million in cuts if the state does not come through with financial relief.

Per-pupil funding could drop by 28 percent, which translates into rates of $3,371 for students in kindergarten through 3rd grade, $3,150 in 4th to 8th grades and $3,906 in high school. Class sizes also could push to at least 40 in every grade, with older elementary students seeing the largest classes — up to 43 students.

“If CPS goes through with these cuts, we should expect the CTU to do everything in our power to fight for our schools and fight for the people who work in them,” Sharkey said, according to the Sun-Times.

Meanwhile, contract negotiations continue between CPS and the union. Sharkey said CTU members would consider a salary freeze if the district stops opening charter schools.

3. Ending unfunded mandates … Gov. Bruce Rauner is proposing to eliminate a number of unfunded mandates for school districts — such as daily gym classes and driver’s ed, or restrictions on third-party outsourcing for some services, such as janitorial or transportation, the Associated Press reports. The mandate relief, Rauner wrote in a letter to legislators, could save school districts $200 million a year and help offset funding losses from a property tax freeze he is supporting.

School districts currently are allowed to apply for waivers from some requirements, but they are not plentiful — and they require public hearings, paperwork and state approval. Over the last two decades, districts have applied for nearly 7,000 waivers, more than half of which were approved by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Organizations that represent school districts and administrators have been asking for this, saying that locally elected boards should decide what mandates are appropriate for their districts. “If we don’t have to have those mandates, that’s saving us money to put into education for our children,” Andy Richmond, superintendent of the Carbon Cliff-Barstow District, told WQAD 8.

Still some school superintendents are skeptical. Mandate relief “publicized as an offset to a property tax freeze seems to be a spoonful of sugar … to help the bitter medicine of a tax freeze seem more palatable,” said Danielle Owens, superintendent of the Pekin Community High School District 303, according to the Pekin Times.

4. Financial aid still in limbo … Students and elected officials rallied this week to drum up support for a House bill that would restore funding to the state’s Monetary Award Program, or MAP, which provides college grants to some 130,000 Illinois students who demonstrate financial need. The program hasn’t received funding due to the state budget impasse.

Aid for 2015-16 had already been awarded before the state started its new fiscal year without a budget, and college students had enrolled in colleges and universities thinking they’d receive the funds, the Sun-Times reports.

State Treasurer Michael Frerich, who oversees Illinois’ college savings plans, said some colleges and universities have let MAP grant recipients attend class while lawmakers negotiate a budget, but he says many “are not in a financial position to go without these payments.”

The Senate recently passed a bill that would restore $373 million to MAP, but Rauner has said the state can’t afford it without other spending reductions. (Rauner’s budget had included level funding for MAP, his office said.)

5. Leaving the profession … The racial mismatch between students and their teachers has long been noted in Chicago and elsewhere. But a new national teacher diversity report from the Albert Shanker Institute says that the hiring of teachers of color is outpacing the hiring of other teachers but teachers of color are leaving the profession more quickly,  due to working conditions in their schools.

Between 1988-89 and 2012-13, the percentage of annual turnover of minority public school teachers increased from 13 percent to nearly 19 percent.

“The strongest complaints of minority teachers relate to a lack of collective voice in educational decisions and a lack of professional autonomy in the classroom,” according to the report. African-American and Hispanic male educators are typically the most underrepresented, and the disparity is more apparent in charter schools versus district schools.

The study focused on nine cities — Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington — and found that minority elementary and secondary students made up 44 percent of enrollment in the 2011-2012 school year while minority teachers made up just 17 percent.

The percentage of minority teachers increased 5 percent from 1987 to 2012, while the percentage of minority students increased by nearly 17 percent in that same time period.

At CPS, students of color made up 90 percent of the population last year, but about half of public school teachers were white. The number of African-American teachers in CPS declined sharply — about two in five teachers — mirroring a similar national trend, according to the report.

However, the gap between African-American students and teachers is three times larger in charter schools. The same is true for Hispanic students and teachers. (See our recent Almanac post about the changing face of CPS teachers.)

A few more notes … Some important dates are coming up: CPS will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Friday at Central Office to collect input on the neighborhood boundaries for Dyett High School when it reopens next year.

Another public hearing is set for Wednesday, beginning at 4 p.m., at Central Office to gather public comment on charter school proposals submitted by: Perseid Academy, STARS Project Engineering, KIPP Chicago, New Life Academy, Noble Network of Charter Schools, Connected Futures Academy and Youth Connection Charter Schools. You can see their proposals here.

Also on tap are draft guidelines for taking any “school actions,” such as co-locations, consolidations, phase-outs or closings. State law requires  the district is to publish this draft by Oct. 1. No school closings should be on the list, as CPS officials have promised a moratorium through 2018. (Here’s last year’s timeline.)

And for your weekend, we suggest two longer reads: Politico’s profile of Arne Duncan and The New Yorker’s look at how a history of segregation and housing discrimination in Chicago has served as a backdrop for the fight to reopen Dyett.

  • Concerned Parent

    McLoyd was principal at Michele Clark School. Inspector General found enough for CPS to give her a warning resolution, a step before being fired. She will now oversee massive amounts of money and funds for purchases. This is who they choose?