Commentaries and information on the City and CPS school change plan, Renaissance 2010

A service of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Schools Committee and the HPKCC community website,
Join the Conference. Join the Schools Committee-contact chairman Homer Ashby.

See the reports from the March 14 HPCC Schools Committee Forum, dealing in large measure with 2010, in the HPKCC Schools Committee page.



CPS' new 2010/school closure criteria website and criticism of CPS public input, followed by introduction to our webpage. Note: no new arguments seem to have emerged since these articles. Sore spots continue to be disruptions and effects of closures, and replacement with charters and other schools.

The City has rolled out a new plan to reorganize schools, incorporating components of regional plans already under development for the (officially-now-abandoned) Mid-South plan. These evolving and often miss published and misreported changes are controversial, especially closures, a large expansion of the number of charter and contracted schools, also how the change will affect the powers and role of local school councils, unions, principals, teachers, public safety, and strength and turnaround/ empowerment of communities and their businesses. Perhaps most often missing from discussion is that 2010 is in large part CPS's implementation of No Child Left Behind--some say a rush to comply--and to compensate for problems with taxation and low and uneven state funding.

The HPKCC Schools Committee is very concerned with implications and implementation of 2010 even though the community is told it "won't effect Hyde Park." You can reach our chairman, Homer Ashby, with comments and suggested directions for the committee.

The admittedly incomplete plan was approved by the Board of Education after a long, loud meeting September 22, 2004. Meanwhile, a contingent of picketers including union SEIU Local 73 and CTU picketed a top CPS administrator's Kenwood home.

The latest to strike out at the plan are potential operators and funders of charter and contract schools, who say CPS's allotment per child is way to low and requirements to pay rent and use CPS support services (which they call outrageous) will make it impossible to cover costs and be autonomous. Note also that for three years and counting the legislature has failed to provided law-mandated startup funding for charters (supposed to be $525,000 a year).

Some of the issues and players are introduced in our School News page. A letter below (from before passage in late 2004) issues a strong challenge that at least some people feel deserves a full answer:

"The main point of Renaissance 2010 is the admission of Mr. Duncan and CPS that it has failed hundreds of thousands of students horribly and they now feel outside private educators can do a better job than they themselves. However, CPS continues to handle the hundreds of millions of dollars of education funding and continues to make poor decisions about how it is spent without question or accountability to citizens.

Renaissance 2010 is an expensive experiment using poor children, putting them at risk of academic holocaust. Otherwise, why does Mr. Duncan refuse to show the Renaissance 2010 plan in its entirety to the public or genuinely seek public input?"

...critics have pointed out a lack of respect by CPS for low-income and homeless students, whose education has been most affected by school closings year after year.

On the other hand, "40 to 50 percent of Chicago's public school students scored in the lowest national quarter in standardized reading and math tests this year. New ideas are necessary to improve education on the South Side."

"There has to be a major mind shift...The black community as a whole should be at the front of this and we are not. It's the implementation where the rubber meets the road.... This is a conversation that has to be had. There is a massive educational failure. It is a tsunami of its own that is being ignored." Phillip Jackson

Here, after presentation of the input website in the Herald, we begin more extensive exploration with an open letter (guest column) to the Hyde Park Herald, September 15, 2004, by Arne Duncan, Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools. In the interest of disclosure, Mr. Duncan is a life-long Hyde Parker, although not a product of Chicago's public schools. After a very strong letter of opposition, find more nuances, fine print and refinement in this evolving plan, followed by deeper background.


CPS opens website to take input on Ren. 2010: [ Or call 773 553-1000 to be mailed the comment form. If these are taken down or reject comments, check the general site,]

Hyde Park Herald, November 24, 2004. by Kiaratiana E. Freelon

Despite criticism that the Chicago Public Schools has not done enough to promote constructive criticism of its Renaissance 2010 plan to transform schools, .... it opened a web site for just that purpose. At the public can comment on the criteria for closing and reopening schools, the process for choosing schools to close and the supports that should be in place to insure the smoothest transition for students.

"We're trying to be transparent and have broad public participation to this question," said Michael Scott, president of the board of education. CPS will schedule public hearings and small-group meetings to discuss Renaissance Renaissance 2010 with the community.

"In terms of criteria, we want people to weigh on the issue of performance," said Lisa Scruggs, a senior policy advisor at CPS. "How low should performance be before we take this step? Should we look at gains and measure trends over time?... Similarly, what level of low enrollment justifies closure?"

School officials will review the input in January and announce the final criteria for school closings after the January board meeting.

Not everyone was satisfied with CPS' effort to be inclusive. "CPS has a poor track record of having pubic hearings in a way that allows groups on the ground to get the word out," said Jay Travis, director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. "The other issue is, [are] these hearings a mere formality? Will an accurate description of how school closings affect poor communities be communicated?"

Others criticized CPS for soliciting feedback through a website because many people in inner city communities lack internet access.

Peter Cunningham, Chicago Board of Education spokesman, said residents can call (773) 553-1000 and have a copy of the Web form mailed to them if they have no internet access. He also said community resident s could go to the library for internet access.

Mayor Richard M. Daley announced in July that the Renaissance 2010 plan will close dozens of schools and open100 new schools over the next six years , some in existing buildings. Community residents lambasted school officials for the exclusion of the community in the planning process and the lack of a transparent policy for school closings. Top

Would-be contract schools present to July 2009 meeting with mixed reception

Ahead of the press article below, a few thoughts by Gary Ossewaarde

Ms. Phillip’s informative and important coverage of schools issues and dynamics (Herald, July 15) presented in the public forum on new schools proposals provides an opportunity for further exploration and reflection.

Regarding those who were skeptical or non-enthusiastic about the proposed new schools, I would like to know more about their concerns. As reported, some participants would prioritize giving sufficient resources to all schools rather than to new schools that would serve just a few (regardless of selection method). There were also concerns about diversity in the neighborhood’s schools.

From other discussions, I have heard fears that the new kinds of schools might offer communities little control, connection, or sense of ownership. In the traditional schools, the control and sense of ownership are enhanced by having elected and independent local school councils, for the most part constructive partners with school administrations.

Many are skeptical, backed by some research, that charter and contract schools necessarily perform better or have honest and sufficient oversight and accountability, or are financially sustainable. Others believe that for-profit and out-of-area schools need to show that they really understand and serve local communities. Still others think we’ve lost focus in what are public schools and why/whether we want them.

Keys to successful schools include parental involvement and dynamic but accountable principals. Conversely, parental involvement and strong program are often difficult for schools serving stressed communities or demographics, or where students come from far away, frequently change schools, or have high absences.

The diversity concern raises issues that could be further explored with a larger sample. The quoted parents expressed definite ideas of what school demographics should be, based on their ideas about what diversity should be and which they said ensure a better result for students. These expectations inform their likes and dislikes about schools and neighborhoods. Some parents cited lack of diversity in teaching staffs (seen as all white, lacking role-model professionals that “look like” their pupils), others in the student bodies (perceived to be all black).

I find disturbing the cited viewpoint ascribed to the CPS staff present at the forum that South Side parents are just satisfied with their current schools and don't want well-performing schools-- surely some of the staffers have blinkers on, or are drawing unwarranted conclusions from what parents are saying, or are simply frustrated at opposition or concerns regarding the CPS program. After all, this transformation program involves school closures, moving kids around, and new schools often sharing space in a structure in a way that makes them invisible to the community. That’s certain to upset people. Disruption is detrimental to students’ academic and social development and performance.

I would especially like to know how CPS--and any public officials present-- responded to the person who asked, "Why can't partnerships be made to improve the schools that are already here?" I also wonder why some people conclude that having new OR improved schools must be a mutually exclusive proposition? I believe that having good schools is not an option but a right and necessity.

Based on the Prologue Co/Little Black Pearl prospectus, I find this proposed school special and deserving of favorable attention. It builds on current services, addresses a much underserved demographic (ages 16-21), and offers important opportunities for peer mentoring and multiple avenues of skill-building and personal growth. It would also provide an increased, sustainable income and new synergies for Little Black Pearl, a regional cultural center with wide outreach including public art by youth. It would provide an opportunity to enhance partnering among communities through arts and arts organizations. It would provide an opportunity to further develop new kinds of shared space partnerships/communities.

Granted, shared spaces always have balances to work out, and visibility for the school must be emphatic. But this proposal looks promising enough that it should be considered favorably regardless of concerns about distortions that may be brought by the influx of “new” schools -– And it brings funding.
If this proposal received specific criticisms at the forum, or if such occur to the reader, I would encourage that they be shared through the Herald.

In short, I recommend a close read of the Herald article as a start in thinking critically about the future of schools in the area, the scope and potential for partnerships, and what parents and residents want and expect in their schools.

Gary M. Ossewaarde

Hyde Park Herald, July 15, 2009. Little Black Pearl seeking school for 47th St. site. By Daschell M. Phillips

Chicago Public School (CPS) officials held 11 pubic forums throughout the city this week to allow community members to comment on new school proposals. The ideas unveiled at the Kenwood/Grand Boulevard forums, held Thursday, received a tepid reception from the community.

The three design teams Prologue Little Black Pearl and Design High School at Joshua Johnston, LEARN Charter School Campus #5 and Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School College Preparatory Academy, presented a variety of ideas in their proposals for bringing new schools to the Kenwood and Grand Boulevard communities.

Prologue Alternative High School, which has a location on the Northside, teamed up with the Little Black Pearl Art and Design Center to propose a fine arts and design school for 200 students between the ages of 16 and 21 that would be located on the art center's campus at 1060 E. 47th St.

The five-member team, which include Little Black Pearl Executive Director Monica Haslip, spoke about how the alternative school would help empower at-risk youth in the community. The school, which would be named after the first African American slave publicly acknowledged as an artist, would be an open-enrollment program that serves youth between the ages of 16 and 21 who are at risk of dropping out of school. The school would focus on fine arts and design, academics and entrepreneur education.

"We plan to still offer the same programs to the community that we've always had," Haslip said. "We want to also help at-risk youth utilize art to effect change in their lives and others."

LEARN Charter School Campus No. 5, which has three proposals in the city - for Grand Boulevard, South Chicago and North Lawndale -- currently has three locations on the Southwest side of Chicago. The four-member team said its goal is to develop "high-performance, college-prop elementary school clusters on the South Side," said Rob Dehaas, design team leader and project manager for the LEARN Charter School Network, said. "We put a premium on the importance of a college degree right from kindergarten," said Dehaas, who said the students at their current schools have class more than seven hours a day, 200 days a year.

Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School, which currently has an elementary school on the West Side, proposed a College Preparatory Academy that would provide a community center on the campus for students and their families. "We'd offer space to social workers, health centers, dentists, nutritionists or sports organizations," said Kimberlee Sia, vice president of Lighthouse Academies Midwest region.

Diversity, a continued flow of resources and a greater number of opportunities for students living in the neighborhoods were concerns of the community members in the audience.

Jamillah davis, who recently moved from Rogers Park, said she has not transferred her daughter Jasmine, who attends a summer program at Little Black Pearl, to a school on the South side yet because of the lack of diversity. "Her neighborhood schools are all Black and I'm not interested having her there," Davis said.

Doris Campbell said that the diversity of the staff is important to her. "My granddaughter is in the 3rd grade and she has not seen a Black teacher," Campbell said. "It's important to be culturally diverse so the children can look across the room and see professionals that look like them and have something to strive for."

Camille Mitchell said she likes the ideas that are being proposed but when programs are good they are needed by many but are often restricted to just a few. "These new schools are only offering 200 children an opportunity with a 2.5 million student population," Mitchell said.

Michael Harris.... said he doesn't understand why new schools have to come into the neighborhood. "I don't understand why new schools are being proposed for this area," Harris said. "Why can't partnerships be made to improve the schools that are already here?"

Brenda Bell, transition advisory council coordinator for the CPS Office of New Schools, said that the community's resistance to high performance schools coming into the neighborhood "puzzles" her. "There are a number of neighborhood schools underperforming, and the community needs options," Bell said. "But the community seems to say, "We don't need new schools. We're OK.'"

Bell said the Office of New Schools staff is reviewing their interview notes and teh feedback from the community to decide which teams will be able to move on to the next step of submitting a full proposal. To date, 73 new schools have been opened under Renaissance 2010, and by fall of 209, 20 additional Renaissance schools will have opened, bringing the total to 93. The number of schools to open in the fall of 2010 will depend on the quality of proposals.




Experts debate CPS' Renaissance 2010 January 27, 2005

Hyde Park Herald, February 2, 2005. By Tedd Carrison

While frigid winds swirled outside, the University of Chicago's downtown Gleacher Center hosted a heated debate Jan. 27 as education experts from around the city gave their perspectives on Mayor Richard M. Daley's Renaissance 2010 school reform initiative.

Under the Renaissance plan, Chicago Public Schools will close roughly 75 underutilized schools and underperforming schools and replace them with 100 restructured ones over the next five years. Greg Richmond, a top CPS official charged with implementing the plan, said despite steady improvement in many schools across the city, administrators "have a moral obligation" to better those schools that continue to founder.

Although there was widespread disagreement on how best to make that happen, one panelist credited community involvement with lasting improvements in th Oakland, Calif. public school system during a similar large-scale overhaul in the early 90s. "Deep grassroots community support" was the decisive factor in Oakland's success according to Timothy Knowles, executive director of the U. of C. Center for Urban School Improvement. During the California reform, widespread involvement brought stability to a school system that has been buffeted by years of public elections and leadership changes. Knowles said similar community support is essential to long-term success in Chicago.

Some opponents of the Renaissance 2010 plan say that this community participation and inclusion are lacking in much of the new school planning process, especially in some highly affected African-American communities.

Richmond maintains that CPS has made an effort to include input from the community and denies any link between Renaissance 2010 and the abandoned Mid-South plan that outlined the controversial closure of 20 schools, all located in the Mid-South's gentrifying neighborhoods. These comments raised the ire of Derrick Harris, president of the North Lawndale LSC Federation, who labeled them unfounded and deceptive.

Harris also took issue with the use of money from Chicago businesses to fund early stages of the initiative, saying that these new funders are the same businesses that led to the segregation and subsequent inadequacy of certain schools in the first place. Harris called it "an affront to the African-American community that Renaissance 2010 will be rolled out on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education" and referred to Richmond's talk of "moral obligations" as "almost ludicrous."

Phillip Jackson, executive director of the Black Star Project, is also opposed to some implementation aspects of the plan but said, "This isn't just about the money". Although Jackson disagrees with much of the CPS plan, he remains optimistic about the potential for change saying, "I look at Renaissance 2010 as a chance." He said that discussion is critical to making informed decisions about the reform. "This is a conversation that has to be had. There is a massive educational failure. It is a tsunami of its own that is being ignored."


Renaissance plan targets lagging schools, Supt. Duncan says

by Arne Duncan. Op Ed in the Hyde Park Herald, Sept.? 2004

In the ten weeks since Mayor Daley announced Renaissance 2020--his bold plan to turn around Chicago schools that continue to underperform --many questions have been raised by community and business groups, educators, parents, teachers and principals.

Which schools will close and be reopened? who will run the new schools? How will they be governed? What will happen to the students, teachers and principals in schools that close? Who will these new schools serve? And how will parents, educators and community leaders be involved?

Many of these questions will be answered through a community-based process, however, we should begin by asking, why is Renaissance 2010 so important at this time?

The answer is simple: Although the overwhelming majority of elementary and high schools have made academic progress since Mayor Daley took responsibility for our schools in 1995, some others have consistently lagged behind other schools in their neighborhoods.

Our commitment for day one has been to every child in every school in chicago and that starts with those students who most need our help and support in these schools. We have both an educational and a moral obligation to take dramatic action on behalf of children in chronically low-performing schools, and that's why Renaissance 2010 is so important.

Under Renaissance 2910, in the next six years we will open at least 100 new elementary and high schools by transforming low-enrollment and low-performing elementary schools and by breaking up large under-performing high schools into new small high schools. These schools will be housed primarily in existing buildings, so this is not about building schools from the ground up.

About two-thirds of these new schools will be run independently as charter or contract schools , using outside partners with cutting-edge educational approaches. The other third will be run by the Chicago Public Schools. Most of the new schools will be small schools limited in size to about 500 students, and most will be neighborhood schools, created to serve primarily children from the surrounding communities.

These new schools will be held accountable for their performance and will have five-year performance contracts that include annual reviews--which means that if they don't improve performance, we can shut them down.

Today, Chicago has 17 existing charter schools and three more opening this fall, as well as several contract schools with nationally recognized educational partners. Most charter schools are outperforming their adjacent neighborhood schools and most have waiting lists.

Given that our parents are choosing these kind of schools, we want to create more of them. We also believe that the traditional school model is not the only approach, and we are hopeful that teachers, school reform groups, businesses and even the Chicago Teachers Union will consider running some of these charter and contract schools.

We have not made any decisions on governance at contract schools, but we expect that many will be governed by an appointed rather than an elected board, just like the charter schools. Because they will be held accountable for their performance, it is only fair that we give them flexibility in the way they are governed.

While people are understandably eager for more information about Renaissance 2010, some details can only be worked out on a year-to-year basis as we create new schools. For each new school we create, we will appoint transitional advisory councils (TAC) like those created for the new small schools at Lucy Flowers and DuSable High Schools and some of the new charters to help choose outside partners and design the curriculum. We recently sen tout 110,000 letters inviting community residents to serve on 11 new TACs being created for a new round of Renaissance schools slated to open in n'05 and '06. The response has been overwhelming with hundreds volunteering to serve.

Some critics of Renaissance 2010 view the plan as a challenge to the teacher's union, a retreat from school reform, and a plan without any community input. These comments are neither true nor helpful.

When complete, Renaissance 2010 will affect those most troubled schools that need our ongoing attention--maybe 10 or 15 percent of the system. The overwhelming majority of our 600 schools will still be run by the Chicago Public Schools, bound by the union contract, and governed by elected local school councils.

In the months ahead, let us all work together, community-by-community, to decide the best approach for creating great new schools. Regardless of whether a particular community prefers schools run under a charter or a contract or schools run y CPS, the goal remains the same: providing a high-quality education for every child in every school in Chicago.


CPS holds hearings on Ren. 2010

The 13 proponents praised the plan's goals to improve neighborhood schools but this did not keep them from expressing their reservations, which focused on community input, the school closing policy, local school council and the plan's exclusion of schools in Latino neighborhoods.

"Renaissance 2010 gives those in failing schools not hope for a quality education but an expectation that quality education will be delivered."

Hyde Park Herald, September 22, 2004. by Kiratiana E. Freelon

Chicago Public Schools finally granted the wishes of Renaissance 2010 opponents when they released a copy of the school reform plan and allowed the public to express their praises and concerns at two official public hearings Sept. 14 and 15. Many, however, felt the developments were still too little, too late.

Opponents of the plan expressed their dissatisfaction with the hearings, which many thought was a last minute effort by CPS to formally hear the community's concerns before they pass the plan at the board meeting Sept. 22.

"CPS continues to ignore the voice of community members... If this process were truly fair to the children or our communities, the policy to establish renaissance schools would have been made available earlier than two days ago," said Amisha Patel, an organizer for the Service Employees International Union 73. "If this process were truly fair to the children of our communities, these public hearings would have been held months ago and not one week before the plan is to be approved."

Lisa Scruggs, senior policy advisor, said the purpose of the Renaissance 2010 plan is to create great neighborhood schools that all families will want to choose for their children. The plan may close 66 schools in order to create 100 new "renaissance schools" in already existing buildings . Within that plan is the Mid-South plan, which slates 20 0f 22 schools for closure in the area and later reopen 28 schools.

One of the schools slated to partially close, according to a Mid-south plan proposal document, is Dyett Academic Center, 555 East 51st Street. Beginning in 2005, Dyett will be partially closed to prepare for its transformation into a collection of small high schools, the plan states.

But according to principal Cheryl Washington, Dyett is not a part of the Mid-South plan. "We have been told by [Chief Executive Officer of CPS Arne] Duncan that we are not a part of the plan and that that was an error," she said. The unofficial plan further states that Dyett was included because 24 percent of the students are from the Mid-South and the building has excess capacity to create a second school.

Such confusion surrounding school closings and reopenings provoked opponents of the plan to write letters to Duncan, protest before board meetings and sleep overnight in front of CPS headquarters in order to dominate the testimonial section of such meetings.

Those in favor of the plan included students, developers, charter representatives and future founders of charter schools. The 13 proponents praised the plan's goals to improve neighborhood schools but this did not keep them from expressing their reservations , which focused on community input, the school closing policy, local school council and the plan's exclusion of schools in Latino neighborhoods.

David Lin of Leadership for Quality Education urge the board to keep all stakeholders in the policy informed. Kim Zalent of the Business and Professional People for the Public Interest expressed her concerns in even more detail when she urged the board to have meaningful discussions with opponents about local school councils and school closings.

Juan Rangel, chief executive officer of the United Neighborhood Organization said, "Renaissance 2010 gives those in failing schools not hope for a quality education but an expectation that quality education will be delivered."p

Letter: Ren. 2010 targets land at expense of children

[w]hat are the academic losses to the children shifted from school to school?
[p]arents deserve to have significant input into the academic fate of their children.
[Can Duncan] relate to what CPS children and parents in economically poor communities experience[?]
by Brenda Perry in Hyde Park Herald September 22, 2004

After reading the farcical column of Mr. Arne Duncan, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, contributed to the Sept. 15 Herald, I am insulted and appalled that he would refer to criticism of Renaissance 2010 as "neither true nor helpful." How dare he make such a statement without any supportive documentation. Are we to believe him without question? I don't think so.

CPS has proven over decades that it fails our youth and has not been honest with us. The supposed "lagging schools" that are targeted in Renaissance 2010 by CPS are because of where they are located, on valuable land. Renaissance 2010 is in gentrifying areas and not just where schools are lagging. I have fought for years for school improvement, nor am I against change. However, I oppose CPS, the mayor and anyone who circumvents respecting and enforcing the laws of school reform and presenting forced plans without community involvement and input. CPS staff comes to community meetings not to get parent and community input into Renaissance 2010 but to dictate what the board is doing and dictating a "[buy]-in" from the community. That is not genuine participation, it is an infomercial. That policy is what is blocking real dialogue with the community.

What are the costs of Renaissance 2010? Are dollars being saved by school closings? If so, how much? Are taxpayers paying teachers and principals of closed schools not to teach or administer? What amount do we save with closed buildings? Most importantly, what are the academic losses to the children shifted from school to school? CPS is increasing property taxes for the schools, but where is the accountability to citizens. Mr. Duncan needs to remember, parents deserve to have significant input into the academic fate of their children. Arne Duncan was not a public school student; he was educated at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I am not sure he can truly relate to what CPS children and parents in economically poor communities experience.

The main point of Renaissance 2010 is the admission of Mr. Duncan and CPS that it has failed hundreds of thousands of students horribly and they now feel outside private educators can do a better job than they themselves. However, CPS continue to handle the hundreds of millions of dollars of education funding and continue to make poor decisions about how it is spent without question or accountability to citizens.

Renaissance 2010 is an expensive experiment using poor children, putting them at risk of academic holocaust. Otherwise, why does Mr. Duncan refuse to show the Renaissance 2010 plan in its entirety to the public or genuinely seek public input?


Is Duncan-Daley plan OK for South Side schools?

Hyde Park Herald editorial, October 6, 2004

Chicago Public Schools seem eager to transform education on the South Side. The board of education approved a policy September 22 that determines what to do with the city's poorly performing schools.

The policy is called "Renaissance 2010," Mayor Daley's ambitious plan to close 60 schools around the city and reopen 100 mostly in existing school buildings. Some buildings may house two or three "small schools," as in the case of the old DuSable High School, where the new small school concepts were approved last week. According to preliminary plans leaked to the public in July, 20 of the schools slated to close over the next few years are located in the Mid-South area, including Dyett Academic Center, 555 E. 51st St. Plans suggest that 28 new schools will be reopened in the area by 2010.

In a column in the Herald's Sept. 15 issue, Hyde Parker Arne Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, gave his stamp of approval to Renaissance 2010. He cited a moral obligation on the part of CPS to all public school students "to take dramatic action on behalf of children in chronically low-performing schools." Low enrollment figures is another justification for closing schools, he said.

This transformation sounds promising, even while it comes across as a risky experiment. What makes it a hard sell is the time element; Duncan and Daley hope to accomplish this in six years. The plan was announced just this summer and several schools have already closed. Others, like DuSable are in the negotiating stage to become small schools.

Numerous local educators, including the Chicago Teachers Union, and community activists and parents have criticized CPS for moving too quickly and for not being allowed much say in the planning of Renaissance 2010. Duncan was incorrect when he said in his column that criticism of the plan is not helpful. Since July, critics have pointed out a lack of respect by CPS for low-income and homeless students, whose education has been most affected by school closings year after year.

What schools will actually be closed and reopened also seems to be constantly changing. While Dyett was found on a list of schools closures in July, Principal Cheryl Washington told the Herald last week that that the listing was an error, even though her building has the capacity to create a second school under Renaissance 2010, CPS officials report.

Some critics went too far by recently protesting outside the Kenwood home of David Vitale, the chief administrative officer at CPS who is considered the architect of Renaissance 2010. The debate over Renaissance 2010 should stay in the boardrooms of CPS and local school councils, which are always open to the community. Going to Vitale's home was a shot below the belt.

While the preliminary stage in planning Renaissance 2010 could have benefited from more time and more talk, the Herald is hopeful that the transformation can work. after all, 40 to 50 percent of Chicago's public school students scored in the lowest national quarter in standardized reading and math tests this year. New ideas are necessary to improve education on the South Side.


Guest commentary in the October 13 Herald: Bitten by Renaissance rhetoric

[Hayes ties the plan to implications of No Child Left Behind and state/tax funding and says every school will be affected. She also faults the approach of CPS to very serious needs.]

by Hannah Hayes

In my third year of high school I transferred from a school of over 2,000 to a school with barely 600 students. The second day in my new school, the vice principal approached me in the cafeteria and shook my hand, pleased to see a new face. Coming from a school where most teachers didn't even know my name, this had quite an impact.

Few would argue that the idea of creating small schools is a good thing, and the debate over Renaissance 2010 shouldn't be about whether charter schools or small schools are god or bad. What's troublesome is the method, and what's worrisome in the truth behind the sound bites we're hearing from the mayor and the city's school chief.

If I had a dime for every time I heard the words "bold" and "dramatic" and "cutting-edge" in reference to Renaissance 2010, I could probably open a few charter schools myself. Maybe it's just the months of presidential campaigning, but these days of sound bites raise a red flag for me because they tend to simplify complex problems. Furthermore, there's often a frightening lack the truth and logic behind them.

Perhaps the boldness was in the way the plan was announced and how it managed to alienate just about everyone. Renaissance 2010 was unveiled auspiciously when the leadership of the Chicago Teacher's Union was in disarray and unable to respond. Parents of schools about to be closed were not notified, and only after days of protesting were their children assured a place in the newly-reopened schools, almost as an afterthought. Finally, many targeted schools are in changing neighborhoods, and an undercurrent of fear exists that this may be part of an underlying gentrification plan.

Our schools in Hyde Park have involved parents and active local school councils. The 100 new schools in the Renaissance plan are not required to have LSCs. It's hard to imagine our schools without them. But we now know that the way the No Child Left Behind Act is structured it will soon be impossible for even the best of schools to report Annual Yearly Progress. We should not think we're immune to the impact of Renaissance 2010.

In fact, NCLB calls for districts to create charter and contract schools five years down the line if the district does not have enough "choice" schools. It makes me extremely uncomfortable to se the Chicago Public School system marching so dutifully to the tune of No Child Left Behind.

The sound bites tell us it's a bold move to rescue failing schools. But looking beyond the rhetoric, what is so bold about offering our public schools to private companies to manage? According to a Tribune article, one of these highly touted charter schools has as many as three staff members working on private fundraising, in addition to the governing board that replaces the local school council.

The dramatic action of closing "failing" schools does not solve a problem. It punishes the students and teachers and staff in a system that is drastically underfunded and under-sourced. Furthermore, a handful of "choice" schools does not address the needs of the many struggling schools in the Chicago Public Schools system, including those in Hyde Park.

Illinois ranks 48th out of the 50 states in terms of the money spent on education, and it is dead last in the per-pupil spending gap between the lowest and highest poverty area. This is because of the continued reliance on property taxes t support our schools. Illinois pays for only 36 percent of the entire school budget. We also have one of the lowest income tax rates in the nation.

The real problem is not bad teachers or failing schools. It's a lack of funding and a skewed tax system. The mayor himself recently complained that property taxes were too high. But to change this would require legislators to restructure our extremely low income tax rate in order to obtain property tax relief. But they won't do this because in the world of sound bites, they risk being labeled as the candidate who increased taxes.

On the other hand, in 1983 Harold Washington campaigned for mayor on a platform that called for a one percent state income tax increase. He did not use sound bites and he proved that people are not stupid. They voted for him to lobby the state for a fair share of revenues because the city needed it badly.

Now that, in my opinion, is bold leadership.


CPS OKs Ren 2010

From Hyde Park Herald, September 29, 2004. by Kiratiana E. Freelon

Despite Chicago Teacher's Union opposition to Renaissance 2010 at the Sept. 22 Chicago School Board meeting, members of the board unanimously approved a policy that established guidelines for opening new schools under the plan. Lisa Scruggs, CPS senior policy advisor, said th[e] purpose of the policy was to create a framework for the charter, performance and contract schools that will be created and to explain the process that a proposed school must undergo to become a renaissance school.

But Chicago Teachers' Union President Marilyn Stewart urged the board to table the plan until further research was completed. "We are asking that the board table this [policy] on behalf of the 36,000 member teacher union an the 20,000 students and their parents," Stewart said. She added. "If you want us to jump on board, you have to slow this down."

Maurice Coverson, a member of the Grand Boulevard Federation Education Committee, also expected the board not to pass the Renaissance 2010 plan. She said that if the board had taken more time to develop the plan, then perhaps more people would have felt more comfortable about it. "The challenge now is how do we work within the process to make sure [the plan] is effective for our children," coverson said.

The board's vote on Renaissance 2010 provoked members of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization to protest outside the Kenwood home of David Vitale, chief administrative officer at CPS, Sept. 22. According to Karen Colbert, an employment specialist for the organization, Vitale, a former business executive, gets paid $1 yearly from the board and is the chief architect of the Renaissance 2010 plan. Colbert demanded to meet with Vitale at the board meeting.

Approximately 150 people marched from Nichols[?] Park to Kenwood Avenue, where Vitale lives. The protesters left him a letter inviting him to a Oct. 2 community meeting at Kennicott Park. "When they don't respond to the public, sometimes we have to take it to them personally," said Brenda Perry KOCO member and community representative of the Fuller Elementary School, 214 s. st Lawrence Ave., local school council.

The policy approved last week does not address school closings or lay out a plan for the schools to be closed and reopened under Renaissance 2010, as indicated in published reports. The plan to close 20 of 22 schools in the Mid-South area, has since been denounced by top officials but continued to dominate public testimony at the board meeting.

At Mollison Elementary School, 4415 s. King Dr., the local school council chair Joy Kingly told the board that she was surprise that her school would even be considered for closure under the Renaissance 2010 plan. "We've never been on probation. We are not [under capacity]... We want you to reconsider your vote as far as closing Mollison and some of the other schools in the area," Kingly said.

Barbara Eason-Watkins, chief education officer at CPS, told Kingly that the information in published reports (which said Mollison would close in 2005) was erroneous and that she had told Mollison's principal that her school would not be closing in 2005. After Kingly showed Mollison's scores to Scott, he proclaimed that Mollison will not be closed in 2005. "After having seen your test scores, I understand your concern," Scott said. "I am saying that this school year, there will not be any policy that will present a school making that kind of progress like yours for closing."

"We intend to do a lot more talking with the communities before we come up with a policy," Scott said before the board meeting.


Deeper background: reaction to the Mid South component summer 2004

Late 2003 into 2004: Before announcement of 2010 and Mid South:

A new magnet cluster should strengthen schools of North Kenwood and Oakland. The schools are Ariel Charter, North Kenwood-Oakland Charter, Doolittle East Middle, Doolittle West Elementary, Fuller, Price Fine Arts Elementary, and Jackie Robinson. This will bring new resources and opportunities. Hope is to encourage the new and incoming middle income residents to pick these schools. This, and the closing and future reopening of Donoghue has sparked some resentment among earlier, lower income residents. Alderman Preckwinkle, who requested the cluster and picked the schools, coaxed former principal Beverly LaCoste out of retirement to serve as executive coordinator. The University of Chicago will pay her salary for the remainder of this school year. She will work with Area 15 Instructional Officer Virginia Vaske (17 year Murray principal); all but one of the schools are in Area 15. Vaske is working to bring Dyett and King high schools into or into association with the cluster- the schools would then feed into these schools: Dyett is a neighborhood school, King a magnet that self-selects. Bringing in King might also help solve tensions and needed connections between neighboring Price and King. Also, it it likely that both King and Kenwood need to be strong and only partially competing for education to be a real asset in HP-K-Oakland

At the August 26 2004 South Side city budget hearing, parents, including from Reavis, complained about impacts of the 2010/South Side plans.

The latter will involve closure of many schools and their reopening as charter or private schools after a period of reorganization--Reavis School in Kenwood is already headed in that direction if it doesn't make substantial progress in 2004-5. Parents from Reavis criticized CPS lack of communication and non-transparency on the program and process, including how to move students to new schools. They said low-income students are not welcomed back to closed schools and LSCs are weakened or dissolved in the process. They asked that the process be halted and a new plan be worked out with parents.

Neighborhood Capital Budget Group analyzed the citywide and sub regional plans and said most were previously announced and are a mishmash having closures and consolidations as their heart. CPS has not adopted the plans and backed off from press releases. A large delegation of South Side organizations met with Arne Duncan August 4 and may have won some breathing space to rethink the plan. These groups sought to have the Board postpone decision at its August 25 meeting.


South Side faces school shakeup. Residents skeptical of city's plan. Chicago Tribune, July 12, 2004. By Tracey Dell'Angelo [area: 31st-47th, Ryan-the Lake]

Residents will get their first glimpse Monday of a detailed proposal that will ultimately close 20 of 22 public schools in a 3-squasre-mile area of the South Side, part of an ambitious reform that hopes to shock troubled schools into dramatic improvement.

A draft of the plan obtained by the Tribune shows the transformation of schools in the Mid-South community rolling out in three waves, with the first schools opening in 2005. Rather than their children being assigned to the nearest school, parents will eventually be able to choose from three to five nearby schools offering expanded programs, in buildings renovated with state-of-the-art equipment.

The plan for the State Street corridor--the area that once held some of the city's most notorious public housing high-rises--has brought together an unprecedented collection of planners from public agencies, universities and high-powered business groups. By joining forces, these groups hope to use quality schools to transform one of the city's most blighted areas into an integrated, mixed-income neighborhood.

But after seven months, community activists and some of the planners say that Chicago Public Schools is pushing forward without listening to residents. That top-down approach, they say, threatens to alienate the very people needed to make the grand vision a reality. "I don't think they would have done it this way in Lincoln Park," said John Ayers, executive director of Leadership for Quality Education, a Chicago school reform organization that will play a big role in the citywide school reform. "It's just a mistake not to engage the community...instead of handing it to them and saying, "Hey, we've figured this out downtown, now give us your blessing.'"

Two community groups, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and the Grand Boulevard Federation, are hosting a town hall meeting about the plan at 6 p.m. Monday in the Kennicott Park center.

"It's all fine they want to come in with this grand plan, but it's clear this is not for us,": said Shannon Bennett, assistant director of t he Kenwood Oakland group and a member of the local school council at Price Elementary, one of the six grade schools slated to be closed in 2005. "We know change could have happened a long time ago, so why is it happening now? Because of gentrification. We're just bodies holding seats until the people they desire come here."

Schools chief Arne Duncan said the plan remains a work in progress that they will change depending on the needs of both current and future residents. "This is la historic opportunity to rebuild the community from the ground up," Duncan said. "There is always going to be fear. But we really have the luxury of time here. we can be thoughtful and deliberate, learn from our mistakes and make mid-course adjustments."

The reinvention of under-performing schools in the State Street corridor takes on takes on added importance as the showpiece of Mayor Richard M. Daley's citywide reform proposal, Renaissance 2010, which will lean heavily on the private sector to create 100 new and small schools.

Some of the city's worst schools are clustered in the Mid-South, where 95 percent of the schools are on probation and only 0ne-third of elementary students perform at grade level. A recent draft of the district's 38 -page plan for Mid -South shows that only three of the schools in the area will remain open, including one charter school. Fourteen of the elementary buildings will be reopened with new principals and teachers, sometimes configured as several small schools grouped by grade level in one building.

Two high schools will close over the course of several years, reopening as small schools with specialized curriculums after current students have graduated. Three buildings will be sold and one will be turned into a teacher-training center.

The schools are expected to be open to the community every day for 12 hours, and all will have full-day preschool programs. Enrollment will top out at 350 students in primary schools, and 500 for intermediate grades and high schools. The number of special education students at each school will be capped at 12.5 percent of enrollment. A new district administrator will oversee the new Mid-South schools, and principals will be given autonomy over budgeting and hiring. About 20 of the projected 31 schools are likely to be run as charters or contracts, which means they will not be bound by district rules or union contracts.

The fate of this plan is tied to the Chicago Housing Authority's $1.6 billion transformation of public housing, most of it on the South Side. In this targeted area, which stretches from 31st Street on the north and 47th Street on the south and from Lake Michigan to the Dan Ryan Expressway, the CHA plans to create five mixed-income communities with 8,000 new homes--one-third of them reserved for public housing.

Hammering out the details of Mid-South and involving the community in a meaningful way could prove a difficult balancing act. These schools will be designed to serve two very different communities--the middle-class home buyers who have yet to move in, and the low-income families that remain after the demolition of more than 8,300 units in three massive public housing projects.

Terry Peterson, executive director of the CHA, disputed the notion that residents have been left out of Mid-South planning--or that they will be displaced when these schools are reborn. "This isn't a plan that was just rolled out. You had elected officials, stakeholders, residents of the community, all part of the process," Peterson said. And, he added, creating strong neighborhood schools is not just about getting the middle class to buy the $300,000 townhouses in these new developments. "It's just as important to the public housing residents...because education becomes the foundation for their kids to be able to move forward in life," he said.

About 91 percent of the 8,400 children attending schools in the area are from low-income families. In 10 years, according to population projections, the district expects to have more than 11,000 students in Mid-South schools, about half of them from low-income families [ed-a reduction by 1/3 from current low income numbers].

These changes have already pushed Wanda Taylor out of her neighborhood because she could no longer afford rents that had climbed above $1,000 a month. But she wanted to keep her daughter and son at Price Elementary, the neighborhood school they've attended since kindergarten and a place where Taylor fears her children--and some 160 other Price students who commute there from other neighborhoods--won't benefit from the reforms.

"They don't have a safety net for the kids who are here now," Taylor said. When they get wind of this plan, it's really going to demoralize parents."

Tim Knowles, the executive director of University of Chicago's Center for Urban School Improvement and a former deputy superintendent for Boston Public Schools, said fears about the looming gentrification of the Mid-South region inevitably will muddy the debate over Mid-South school reforms. And, he added, this plan is different from the larger reforms promised under Renaissance 2010 because Mid-South is aimed, in part, at families who haven't yet moved into the area. "But at the end of the day the question has to be: Are we creating much, much better schools for kids?" Knowles said?

Bennett, of the Kenwood-Oakland group, conceded that the schools may indeed improve under these reforms, but he has little faith that poor and working-class families will be seriously consulted. "We don't know how this is going to work because it is not our plan," he said.


A service of Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference (email).
Help support our work: Join the Conference!