Chicago Public Schools in chaos: It’s nuts on Clark

Four years, five CPS CEOs through the revolving door at 125 S Clark Street, and what have we got?

Teachers are sick of the unprofessional and chaotic central office. Here’s how CPS National Board certified teacher Eric Skalinder described it in his excellent letter published in a recent Tribune edition:

“Chicago Public Schools teachers are now working for our fifth CEO since 2009. What unproven reorganization, revision and reprioritization will occur this time? Which current flash-in-the-pan policies, initiatives and mandates will be scrapped? What new magical hoops will schools, principals and teachers be forced to jump through next — at least during the relatively short time before they, too, are discarded? Teachers, parents, students and communities are tired of suffering through years of unbridled chaos on Clark Street.”

Erik concludes that teachers must have a stronger voice in school decision making, And we already have structures designed to do that – the two teacher local school council positions and state-mandated Professional Personnel Leadership Committee which was established to advise the LSC on curriculum and instruction.

Parents are sick of the churn, too. Here’s what Erica Clark recently posted on the Parents4Teachers Facebook page:

We delivered the following letter to the new CPS CEO at this morning’s board meeting. Signed by nine different parent/community organizations and over 175 individual parents.

Dear Ms. Byrd-Bennett,

As Chicago parents and community members, we are deeply concerned with the direction of our school district. You are the fourth CEO of Chicago Public Schools in the last two years. Our district has lacked leadership and a vision that supports our children and our communities for too long. There has been—and, frankly, still is—chaos on Clark St.

Given the instability at the highest levels of CPS, it is irresponsible for you to entertain any notions of closing, transforming or otherwise privatizing any neighborhood schools for a period of at least two years. Additionally, we ask that no further charter schools be opened for a period of at least two years. School actions like these have a devastating effect on children and the communities in which they live. They exacerbate unequal opportunity to learn.

Your tenure in CPS is too short. Regardless of your intentions, it is not possible for you to understand the enormous complexities in our system and the unique challenges facing our neighborhood schools. Some of these challenges are the result of larger socio-economic problems in our city, but many are the direct result of CPS policies that have sabotaged and destabilized neighborhood schools. Since 1995, racial disparities in educational outcomes have increased.

You may not have first-hand knowledge of this, but the learning conditions in many of our schools are deplorable. Children recently went to the hospital after eating lunches contaminated with rat droppings. Classrooms overheat in the summer and freeze in the winter. Roofs leak, playgrounds are unsafe, textbooks are outdated and classes are too crowded. Fixing these and other problems are the “school actions” that should consume your attention and energy every day, not mapping out plans to close schools.

For too long, CPS has ignored parent and community voices. After thousands of parents protested last year’s school actions, forces aligned with CPS paid protestors to support the district’s plans. And the district continues to give preferential treatment and additional resources to private turnaround and charter operators—further destabilizing neighborhood schools—despite their inferior academic performance.

Upon your appointment, you pledged to build coalitions and re-establish trust in the district. In that spirit of collaboration, we request a meeting with you within the next two weeks to discuss the future of our schools. CPS parents, teachers and students need strong leadership at the head of our district.

But, ultimately, we are the ones whose lives are affected by your decisions. We deserve not just to be heard. We deserve a seat at the decision-making table. We are the ones who know best what our children need.


Organizational Signatories,

Parents 4 Teachers Blocks Together
Unite Here Local 1 19th Ward Parents
Teachers for Social Justice Logan Square Neighborhood Association
Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church Southside Together Organizing for Power
Pilsen Alliance

And this guest commentary in the Southtown Star by 19th Ward Parents leader Becky Malone concludes:

“The revolving door of CEOs at Chicago Public Schools in recent years is a problem, and some may blame it for the lack of vision within CPS management. But I suggest, to the contrary, that the vision is crystal clear. The plague has been released to decimate our public schools. As parents, we plan to continue to be on the frontline, fighting this epidemic and stopping its spread. ”


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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.