In one project, special education students watched a film of the children’s literary classic Charlotte’s Web and then recounted what they had learned. Next, they created decorative announcements celebrating the birth of Wilbur the pig, and wrote letters to the character Mr. Zuckerman, explaining why Wilbur should not be killed.
Combining care and education for disadvantaged children is the goal of a Ready to Learn bill that sailed through the General Assembly last spring. Gov. Jim Edgar subsequently made several amendatory vetoes that proponents don’t like—for instance, reducing the number of non-governmental members on the Ready to Learn Council and striking home-based day care from the bill. Even so, legislators are expected to accept the changes in the fall veto session.
To qualify for the grants, networks of schools must pair up with outside institutions as partners. Planning grants of up to $25,000 will be given to networks comprised of at least two schools and a partner. Larger grants to implement programs will be given to networks comprised of at least three schools and a partner.
A principal’s job is simply too hard without a system that supports her efforts, she said, wondering how long she’d stay.
Snyder was skeptical that the new regime would make any substantial changes. “The School Reform Law has not been enough to change the system,” she said. “And the new law, as written, well. . . .”
Two months later, Snyder is singing a different tune. The new administration “may actually make the principalship a workable job,” she says. In their first weeks, the new chiefs have given her school more help and attention than any of their predecessors.
“It appears when one looks at the legislation that its impact and its direction was to punish the Chicago Teachers Union and its members, understanding full well that that membership has a substantial number of minorities and women,” says Lawrence Poltrock, a lawyer for the CTU. About 65 percent of CTU members are from racial minority groups and 72 percent are female, according to the complaint filed June 27 in federal court.
The law directs the education dean of the University of Illinois at Chicago to administer the training and, for the first time, makes training mandatory; LSC members who do not go for training are to be removed from office. However, the law provides no money for the training and specifically exempts the Board of Education from having to pay for it.
The Big Chiefs
PAUL VALLAS, Chief Executive Officer
Was budget director and, before that, revenue director for Mayor Daley. Formerly, executive director of the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission and staff member of the Illinois Senate Education Committee. Once was a teacher. Replaces Supt. Argie Johnson and Chief Financial Officer Charley Gillispie. Salary: $150,000.
LYNN ST. JAMES, Chief Education Officer
Chief Education Officer Was co-director of the Chicago Forum for School Change, an affiliate of the national Coalition of Essential Schools. Lifelong career in Chicago public schools. Was principal of Lindblom Technical High School when she took early retirement in 1993. New position. Salary: $140,000.
Q What made you take this job?
A With the new legislation, I felt that the time is now for a substantive change to take place in the Chicago public schools. If it could be done, the time is now to do it. And who better but me? I’m one of the harshest critics.
Q What do you want to work on first?
A I first want to work on an organization which will bring all of the people involved in improving Chicago schools together. Both public and private providers along with all the city agencies that have so much to give and offer to our schools. With this unique city and Board of Education partnership, we can do that, and we hope to do it through newly formed regions.
The deal, negotiated by the old School Board, calls for selling Green to Talmud Torahs for $900,000 and for spending $15 million to build additions at the three schools that had complained most loudly about Green being off limits to them.
Ben Reyes, the school system’s new chief operating officer, maintains it’s a good deal all around. “The community gets 36 classrooms, as opposed to 13 at Green School,” he notes.
The contract singles out a number of controversial issues that the new bargaining process will address, including class size and staffing, special education, the high school day, violence in schools and tying pay to performance. Since new state law prohibits negotiations in these areas, the contract provides that these issues will be addressed “without limiting or waiving the board’s rights under the law.”
In an Aug. 14 news story, the Chicago Tribune said it was “amazing” that the new executives plugged “a hole projected to reach $1.4 billion by 1999 and balance the habitually red-inked budget for four years without new state money.”
But, in fact, the budget hole was plugged only with the help of sweeping new reform legislation adopted in May by the Republican-dominated General Assembly. Without the new law, balancing the budget would have been virtually impossible.
The new law let the new School Reform Board of Trustees essentially redo the school system’s budget, using money that had previously been earmarked for specific purposes to help eliminate the deficit and pay for new initiatives.
Today, the mayor can be forgiven a Cheshire-cat smile: The takeover team he sent to Pershing Road not only overcame a $150 million deficit for this school year, but also erased far larger deficits forecast for the future. In addition, it wove teacher raises, new schools and new programs into the budget for several years running.
By replacing almost the entire central office, the mayor has ensured that the people who run the system are on the same page, increasing the likelihood that something will get done. In a welcome change, the new administrators have political smarts, too. During his first days on the job, Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas put an end to a number of perks, including a chauffeur for himself and taxpayer-financed food at staff meetings. The savings won’t buy much for kids, but the symbolism bought a lot of good will for the system. In addition, he and other top administrators repeatedly have squeezed time out of their hectic schedules to meet with the people they’re supposed to serve; often, they’ve gone out into the field instead of holding court at Pershing Road.