Corporate-style board backs the CEO

The new board was formulated in the late spring of 1995 after the Illinois legislature handed Mayor Daley the right to name a chief executive officer (CEO) for the public schools and a fresh board, called the School Reform Board of Trustees. The trustees were appointed directly, without the need for City Council approval, to fill four-year terms. Chico, then Daley’s chief of staff, turned down the job of CEO because he wanted to return to practicing law, but he agreed to become board chairman, in part for the chance to work with Vallas. “I appreciated Paul’s skills,” recalls Chico. “We had good chemistry.”

Board’s parent tutor program off to a bumpy start

With a grant from the Chicago Community Trust, the Erikson Institute for Advanced Study in Child Development remains on board to do the program’s first-year assessment. Their review will look at tutor training and family participation, and will provide guidance for the future.

Many educators, parents and child development experts applaud Vallas and the School Reform Board for addressing the multiple goals of Parents As Teachers First. But some fear that addressing all of them in a single program may prove its undoing.

“Our basic problem is we don’t think [the program] is well designed,” says Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), which has a two-year, $70,000 grant from the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation to monitor early childhood education in Chicago public schools.

Too much too soon is better than too little too late

Moriello wants to redirect $50,000 the board sent Gladstone for after-school tutoring and recreational programs; he would rather use the money to help pay for the extension of regular classes. Last spring, the board’s recreation department nixed this creative funding idea. Its objection: District computers are not geared up to pay teachers their regular hourly rate for work beyond the standard school day.

Chicago takes a different tack

Chicago’s Parents As Teachers First program taps community residents to work with families whose children are 3, 4 or 5.

Parents As Teachers, which operates in school districts in 47 states, including Illinois, employs individuals with backgrounds in social work or nursing to work with parents of children aged 0 to 3. At that age, parents have a lot more questions about feeding and childcare than education, says Mildred Winter, executive director of the program’s national center in St. Louis. Parent tutors first attend five days of training and then an additional 20 hours over the course of each year. They must be certified annually.

Comings and goings

PRINCIPALS The following interim principals have been signed to four-year contracts: Valerie Bratton (Wacker Elementary), Artie Borders (Gregory Elementary), Linda Klawitter (Lenart Regional Gifted Center), Careda Taylor (Kenwood Academy High School) and Barbara Peck (Bateman Elementary). … Bobby L. Roper, principal of Lawndale Community Academy, has retired; he was a CPS employee for more than 37 years. … Lonnie White, who was suspended for alleged financial mismanagement, has resigned as principal of Gershwin Elementary.

Keller article off-base, politics not involved

After the June public meeting to which you referred, a number of alternatives were explored that could achieve the desired goal. These included building an annex, building an addition or splitting the students between two separate sites. After a thorough study of the existing facility, architects determined that, in addition to the work necessary for bringing it into building code compliance and meeting requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, major repairs were needed. Therefore they recommended that a new facility be constructed. We concurred with that recommendation.

Elementary schools hit new high with 1996 test scores

In all grade levels tested, scores on the math, science and social studies sections of the state IGAP tests hit a new high. So, too, did the percentages of students in grades 3 through 8 who scored at or above national averages on the math and reading sections of the nationally standardized Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS), according to an analysis by the reform group Designs for Change.

Principal group’s support for law boomerangs

Led by Designs for Change, school reform organizations responded with an intensive lobbying campaign to persuade Gov. Jim Edgar to veto the measure. The school administration countered with its own campaign, which included a message to principals and local school council members that said the bill “is not a threat to the job of any current … principal nor the authority of the LSC.” The message also said the bill does not impose residency requirements on CPS principals but, rather, “simply allows the … Board to establish high standards to use in selecting principals in the future.”

Probation partners: Their programs, schools and pay

[b]DePaul University

Center for Urban Education

The program: Integrates math, reading and writing across the curriculum, then aligns curriculum at each grade level. For instance, all 3rd-grade classrooms would work on the same skills at the same time.

The schools: Einstein, Hartigan, Piccolo, Terrell elementary and Carver, Collins, Orr and South Shore high schools.

Cost: $38,150 per elementary school and $48,025 per high school.

For whom does LSC Advisory Board speak?

Few testify

The LSCAB is now composed of nine parent representatives, two community reps, two teachers and a couple of principals. The meetings, arranged through the Office of School and Community Relations, occur monthly on a Monday afternoon, with the sites varying from board headquarters on Pershing Road to locations out in the regions. Occasionally, Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas or Reform Board President Gery Chico shows up to participate.

Central office gets more money, power

The first reform act, approved in December 1988, had put the people in charge; its key feature was creation of elected, parent-dominated local school councils (LSCs), with power to approve school improvement plans and the use of new discretionary funds and, most important, to select principals. The LSCs named district-level councils, which both hired district superintendents and named the bulk of a School Board Nominating Commission, which forwarded slates of candidates to the mayor.

Corporate-style board backs the CEO

The new board was formulated in the late spring of 1995 after the Illinois legislature handed Mayor Daley the right to name a chief executive officer (CEO) for the public schools and a fresh board, called the School Reform Board of Trustees. The trustees were appointed directly, without the need for City Council approval, to fill four-year terms. Chico, then Daley’s chief of staff, turned down the job of CEO because he wanted to return to practicing law, but he agreed to become board chairman, in part for the chance to work with Vallas. “I appreciated Paul’s skills,” recalls Chico. “We had good chemistry.”

What makes Vallas run?

Since July 1995, Vallas, the former city budget director, has run an empire of 557 schools, 45,000 employees and 424,000 students in a frenetic style that leaves his associates breathless. On paper, Chief Education Officer Lynn St. James is the system’s educational leader, but by most accounts this onetime principal of Lindblom Technical High School has a secondary role.

In his first year as chief executive, the tireless Vallas performed a series of financial feats that gave ballast to the school system for the first time in memoryall with an accessibility and lack of affectation unseen in prior school bosses. “There used to be this mystique about superintendents,” reflects Cozette Buckney, a former principal who is Vallas’ chief of staff. “This was the person in charge, someone you wouldn’t necessarily bother with your problems. You know, you don’t call the president of Amoco because you have problems at the pump. But Paul is sympathetic and open, and people feel they can go to him.”

Time for Vallas to slow down, listen more

On balance, Paul Vallas’ modus operandi served the school system exceedingly well in Year 1 of his administration. He set a new tenor and got a lot of new programs going. But from now on, the challenge is much different and much harder—it’s changing the way schools teach. No matter how smart, energetic and dedicated, one man alone can’t do that. And doing too much too soon with too little debate could set the system in reverse. At a minimum, people working in and with schools have to believe that serious thought has been given to their ideas and concerns. So far, Vallas’ massive school probation program, launched with zero public debate, has only demoralized the people who have to change; it may end up being a case of making lemonade out of lemons. And a massive program to restructure high schools is in the wings. It’s time for Paul Vallas to slow down and listen more.