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Hundreds of school custodians to be laid off

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 22:09

Some 476 custodians, one-fifth of the 2,500-some employed by CPS or private companies, are in the process of being laid off, says CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey.

These layoffs are happening despite the fact that principals are furious with the way their buildings have been cleaned over the past few months since the district turned over management of custodial services to two companies with $340 million in contracts. Last week, Catalyst reported that 230 principals responded to a survey and said that cleaning of their buildings was inadequate and that they were losing staff.

Troy LaRaviere, chairman of the activist principal group AAPPLE, responded angrily to the news.  AAPPLE sent out the survey to principals.

“They don't have enough custodians as it is and now this private company wants to lay off nearly 500 more in order to decrease their payroll and increase their profit margins at the expense of our schools and our students,” LaRaviere wrote in an e-mail to principals, which he shared with Catalyst.

LaRaviere wrote that already, principals were reporting rat droppings, having to keep a plunger in an office so she can unclog toilets and paying people out of their own pockets to move furniture.

CPS is actually not laying off the staff. Starting in March, the district contracted out with Aramark for $260 million and with SodexoMAGIC for $80 million. SodexoMagic is handling all the maintenance needs of 33 schools, including custodial managing, snow removal and electricians. Aramark is managing, supervising and training the custodians in the rest of the buildings.

CPS head of Asset Management Leslie Norgren insists that the No. 1 goal of contracting with the private companies is to make the buildings cleaner. She says the second objective is to save money and the third is to make principals lives easier.

She says that before the privatization of the custodians, a third-party company examined the schools and found only 20 percent met cleanliness standards. Aramark and SodexoMAGIC have until January to bring all the buildings up to standard.

She is confident that can happen with all of  the new equipment that Aramark and SodexoMagic are bringing in. “We are going from mop and bucket to some of the schools having rides,” she says.

This was the same argument made by Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley in February when he presented the plan to CPS’ Board of Education. He said the district would save $40 million a year, on top of $50 million he’s already saved.

In addition to using state-of-the-art technology, he said that the companies will streamline the ordering process. He said CPS was using 1,000 vendors to provide cleaning supplies.

At the time, Cawley did not say there would be layoffs as a result of the contracts.

Norgren says that only $18 million of the savings will come from the Aramark and SodexoMAGIC contracts, while the other $20 million will come from other efficiencies.

The custodians being laid off work for private companies that had contracts with Aramark and are unionized by SEIU Local 1. CPS employs 825 custodians who are part of SEIU Local 73.

LaRaviere says that in conversations with Cawley, Cawley told them not to focus on the number of custodians, but on the work that needs to be done. He does not buy that argument.

“The number of custodians assigned to work in our school is directly correlated to the likelihood of the work being done adequately and on time,” LaRaviere says.  “No transparent, competent, well-intentioned administrator would ignore this basic element of human resource planning. But that's not what we're dealing with here.”

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: Newark students protest for local control of schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 18:38
  • One teacher has a suggestion for rating schools without standardized tests: classroom grades. (Washington Post)
  • More, not less, reliance on standardized tests would make college admissions more egalitarian. (New Republic)
  • Newark students are protesting against the district’s superintendent and demanding local control of their schools. (Politicker NJ)
  • A long-shot Washington, D.C. mayoral candidate is making a bid to become the “education mayor.” (Greater Greater Washington)
  • Two Philadelphia principals are trying to reinvent the high school experience. (The Notebook)
  • A teacher at a high-performing NYC charter discusses what makes his classroom work. (Huffington Post)
  • What exactly are the Common Core standards and what do they do? An explainer. (NJ Spotlight)
  • The standards have become Obama’s biggest domestic battleground since healthcare reform, with backlash from both sides. (Mother Jones)
  • A Finnish teacher says the lauded school system is failing two-thirds of its students. (Yle Uutiset)
  • Girls don’t need different tech instruction. They just need to feel that they belong. (Hechinger Report)
  • Principals aren’t using teacher effectiveness data in their decision-making. (Education Week)
  • In Israel’s school system, there are wide funding disparities and improvised fixes for low-income schools. (Times of Israel)
  • Washington, D.C.’s school district is hiring a “student advocate” to help families navigate the school system. (Washington Post)
  • That story about summer vacation coming from our farming past? It’s not true. (PBS Newshour)
  • In “Building a Better Teacher,” Elizabeth Green looks at what teachers do to make a classroom work, rather than talking points. (Jose Vilson)
Categories: Urban School News

For southwest Denver principal, three years to create and then close a school

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 17:00

When Elza Guajardo agreed to take control of Kepner Middle School, she knew part of her job would be to close the school.

What she did not know last spring when she accepted the job as principal is that she’d also have to build it.

When she arrived this year, Guajardo said, the school lacked many of the basic systems it takes to run a school, like fire-drill protocols and common lesson planning by teachers. “I had no foundation to build upon,” she said.

So now, as Guajardo and her team of administrators and teachers work toward creating a fully-functional school in the city’s impoverished southwest corner, they do so knowing that in a few years they’ll have to pack up everything and turn over the keys to two new programs.

That’s because the current program at Kepner, one of the city’s lowest-performing schools, is being phased-out. In 2017, a charter school and a new district-run program will open in its place.

The phase-in, phase-out plan — a key school improvement strategy for Denver Public Schools — has been in the works since February. Observers say the process has gone mostly according to plan, though it’s encountered a few hiccups.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Student advisor Steve Harvey, center, acts as a traffic medium as Kepner Middle School students pass between classes.

A parent committee, working with DPS officials, helped review possible models for the schools that will take the current programs’ place. But some of those parents and the community organizations that represent them felt slighted in the end when DPS officials announced another district-run program would co-locate at Kepner with a STRIVE charter school. Parents were upset they did not have a chance to help choose the district-run model as they did for the charter school applications.

Those parents and organizations last spring also called on DPS to act faster. Their children, they said, didn’t deserve to wait for a better school while their current program was in disarray.

Guajardo, who was hired last spring as the phase-out principal, is now working toward meeting the needs of those families, who claimed the school was rampant with bullying and mutual disrespect between teachers and students.

Guajardo’s first steps to create a stable school culture and operating system may be an indication of just how dysfunctional the city’s lowest-performing school had become.

DPS Assistant Superintendent Greta Martinez said she believed there were systems in place at Kepner — just not to Guajardo’s standards.

“I think it’s not so much building all new systems, but improving on the systems already in place,” Martinez said. “That’s why we hired Elza, to ensure all systems are improved at the school.”

Improving those systems is a complicated process that starts with “baby steps,” as she likes to call them.

The work to improve the current Kepner began during the summer. Guajardo and math teacher Loyeen Vigil-McKenna retooled the school’s sixth grade academy, where incoming middle schoolers meet to learn about the school and set their schedule.

“The kids learned the academic and cultural expectations,” said Vigil-McKenna, who has taught at Kepner for 21 years. “That made sure everyone was on the same page on day one.”

Returning seventh and eighth graders are a little less familiar with those expectations, given the lack of clear standards and rules in the past, Guajardo said. But new assistant principal Chris Denmark and student advisor Steve Harvey are working on that. Harvey, with arms stretched out, supervises passing time on the third floor and acts as a traffic medium for students scampering to their next class. Denmark parks himself in the school’s main hall during classes to keep an eye on the front door to both welcome parents and detour students from ditching. At the same time, he returns emails and meets with teachers.

The teaching faculty and staff — of which a quarter are new to Kepner — has its own learning curve. Guajardo is hoping to create a school-wide culture of classroom expectations. Teachers should have their classroom’s daily learning objective and work written out in the same place everyday for students. There should be word walls in every classroom. And soon teachers will soon be meeting to plan lessons based on student data.

The school is also getting support from DPS headquarters. Kepner has 20 math fellows to support classroom learning and remediation. The district is paying for a restorative justice facilitator to help with student behavioral needs. Guajardo and her team of administrators will soon be partnered with school consultant group Blue Print that observes campuses monthly for a laundry list of strengths and weaknesses. And being a zone school to support students with limited English language skills, its regularly has access to central support.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Kelle May-Garst, Kepner’s English-language acquisition coach, and Chris Denmark, one of the school’s assistant principals, work in the main hall of the school during classes. Denmark regularly works from the hall to keep an eye on the front door for parents and students.

Morgan Ortega, who is teaching English to Spanish-speakers only for the first time this year, works with some of those supports. She has a coach who meets with her weekly to help plan classes, she’ll be attending a special professional development seminar about multicultural learning later this month, and soon she’ll be sent to observe classrooms run by proven teachers.

“[Kepner] is more positive now,” said Ortega, who has taught at Kepner for four years.

While there is early evidence of a more stable school climate, there’s still work to be done — including in Ortega’s classroom. Some of her students with limited English skills have been placed in the wrong class. Class assignments for Spanish-speaking students are supposed to be determined by proficiency, but some students with advanced skills are in classes with students who are still struggling and vice versa.

And beyond Ortega’s four walls, Guajardo and her team still need to put students in much-needed tutoring programs. According to the most recent round of state testing, only two out of every 10 students are reading at grade level. And only 16 percent of students tested proficiently in math.

Since summer, Guajardo, who speaks Spanish fluently like most of her families, has met with parents and in some instances begged them for a chance to show improvement. Of the 600 students were were expected to enroll at Kepner, only about 40 are missing.

“Students are enrolling every day,” she said. Her team is busy contacting the families of missing students to encourage them see what they’ve done with place.

One parent, Lee Thach, said she’s beginning to see a noticeable change in the school.

“There are a lot of changes. It’s more strict — which is good,” she said.

But there appears to still be some confusion among parents and the forthcoming transition. Thach, who has two more children she’d like to enroll at Kepner, incorrectly believed that when the current program ends, the entire physical campus will be shut down as well.

“They say the eighth grade class is the last one,” she said. “I don’t like that. If they have a good leader now, why don’t they keep the school open?”

For now, Guajardo isn’t concerned with the ephemeral nature of her work  at Kepner. Planning for the 2015 school year, which will be the first for the STRIVE school and new district-run program hasn’t even started yet. That planning will likely begin in January.

“I can’t worry about tomorrow. That’s not my job,” Guajardo said. “My job is to make sure these kids get to high school. They deserve it.”

Categories: Urban School News

Salazar leaving CEA; Bartels new executive director

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 16:41

Tony Salazar, executive director of the Colorado Education Association, is leaving that post later this month for a senior management position with the National Education Association’s Member Benefits Corp.

Brad Bartels, a CEA lawyer and then general counsel for more than 20 years, will be the new executive director.

Salazar is well known in education and political circles. He joined CEA as a lobbyist in 2001 and became executive director in 2008, serving during a period when the union experienced some membership declines and such policy challenges as passage and implementation of Senate Bill 10-191, the educator effectiveness law.

Tonette Salazar, Tony’s wife, also is well known for years of lobbying for school districts and other clients at the Capitol. She now works for the Education Commission of the States.

Bartels has been deeply involved in CEA’s legal activities, including the pending lawsuit that challenges the teacher placement portion of SB 10-191.

CEA’s structure also includes an elected full-time president, who generally is the public face of the group. The current president is Kerrie Dallman, a social studies teacher who’s on leave from the Jeffco schools.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pueblo searching for new reading program

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 10:15

"Learning big stuff"

In one Denver classroom STEM is the subject but teamwork is the goal for the teacher and her students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

What to read

The Pueblo City school district is reviewing four different literacy programs in a search for a new reading series that could help boost K-8 achievement. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Yet another rating

Colorado has earned an "A" in one category of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's A-F grading of states on education policy and outcomes. However, the ratings are anything from straightforward. ( EdWeek )

Take your pick

The University of Colorado Board of Regents has approved 12 degrees in Boulder's new College of Media, Communication and Information. ( Daily Camera )

Heavy metal

The San Diego school district in California has acquired a "mine resistant ambush protected" armored vehicle from the federal government for use in school rescues. ( U-T San Diego )

Ouch

A Utah elementary school teacher was injured when her handgun discharged in a faculty restroom, shattering a toilet. Utah law allows people with concealed-carry permits to carry guns at schools. ( ABE News )

Categories: Urban School News

A classroom where tech is the subject but teamwork’s the goal

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 18:42

At one of the work stations in Courtney Miller’s classroom at Slavens ECE-8 School on Thursday morning, two third graders argued over the design of a tower they were supposed to be building.

“You can’t just say the way we’re going to do it and make me do it,” Finn told his partner, Roman. Rather than work together, each boy was building his own. Finn’s design was visibly less sturdy, a fact which his partner attempted to demonstrate by pushing on it.

“You’re not just going to take mine apart,” Finn objected. In a quiet moment, Roman said he’d heard from other students that Finn was difficult to work with, a feeling Finn seemed to share about his partner. Their bickering continued until the bell rang.

The generation of this kind of mutual frustration is all part of the learning process in Miller’s STEM classroom, which is in its second year. STEM, an acronym which refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics-focused education, is getting increasing attention from state and national leaders for the potential to prepare students for a tech-centric future. But it has also drawn attention as part of a wider initiative for student-directed learning, which is what Miller has taken as the primary focus of her classroom.

That’s at least in part a result of her own skill set.

“My principal would tell you I’m not the most tech-savvy person he’s ever met,” said Miller. Instead, she says she brings a willingness to learn new things, to struggle — and to tolerate a little chaos. “[Student-driven learning] has to be messy at some points. You have to comfortable with mess.”

Her noisy classroom is full of students working largely independent of Miller in order to solve technological dilemmas ranging from programming a robot to making a design to print out with a 3D printer. As for her instruction, it’s mostly focused on making sure the classroom is a space where students are constantly challenged.

One of the fundamentals she has created in each class is pairs of students who challenge each other. Take, for example, Finn and Roman.

“I put them together because of their own differences,” she said. Both boys are headstrong. But Finn, she has observed, is more willing to experiment but bad at communicating his ideas. Roman tends to stick with the familiar but is much better at communicating.

“It could be a really great collaboration,” Miller said.

And they’ve already made progress. For example, she pushed them to find a way to combine their towers, despite their disagreements. By the end of class, Finn had found a way to combine his with Roman’s, if reluctantly.

But it’s not just about students’ differences. In the following class, she put two students together who always make the same mistake: failing to read directions and plan ahead.

She encourages students to seek each other out first and to research before they come to her for a fix. That pair sought her out multiple times throughout the class when they became frustrated. Each time, she directed them to the directions she’d provided or encouraged to them to do a little research.

“When they’re with someone else, their partner rescues them,” she said. Now that they’re stuck with another person with the same flaw, she hopes they’ll learn to slow down and plan ahead.

Still, even she can become frustrated when students are struggling with each other.

“In my head, I say, ‘Be patient, be patient, be patient,’” said Miller. But she’s had to learn to work differently than teachers do in most other classrooms.

“The problems to solve, they will have to deal with them all the time in here,” she said. That won’t happen if she resolves things for them.

As the morning progressed, the classroom filled up with middle schoolers. The eighth graders were deep into their projects and were beginning to tackle a set of increasingly challenging dilemmas.

One pair of girls were tossing a ballon at aluminum panels taped to desk. The balloon was supposed to activate electrical circuits hooked to the panels that then somehow played piano chords online. The girls hoped to be able to play a simple song like “Jingle Bells” with the complex tool. But when they tried to actually hit a note with the balloon, the circuits wouldn’t fire and no sound came out. They tried a variety of solutions — creating more surface area for the balloons to make contact with, readjusting the circuits, trying different angles of bounce — until their test balloon popped. Unfazed, they replaced it with a tennis ball.

A student tests out her electronic piano, played using a tennis ball.

For Miller, that sort of problem-solving and resolve is the most important thing students could leave her class with. But getting them to see it that way is its own challenge.

“The stuff in here is fun, but you’re learning big stuff,” said Miller. But for students, especially middle schoolers, she has found that “they equate hard with ‘I took that multiple choice test in social studies and studied all night.’”

She pushes them to pay attention to what they learn in her class so they can use it once they leave school. But her students aren’t the only ones she’s worried about valuing the class. She’ll be evaluated for the first time since launching the STEM lab this fall and she’s not sure how her observer will take her class.

“I did email her and say, ‘This classroom doesn’t look like many others,’” said Miller. “Quite honestly, I’m a little nervous.”

One big difference from other classes: less focus on the new state standards. STEM is often invoked in conjunction with the standards and their national counterparts and Miller recognizes their importance. But she and her principal agreed they wouldn’t be a primary focus in her STEM lab.

“When I was a language arts teachers, I combed them,” said Miller. All the material the students grapple with is tied to their grade-level expectations but that’s as far as she goes with the standards.

That approach is an easy one to take at a school like high-performing, relatively affluent Slavens, Miller acknowledges. But she sees benefits for other schools, too.

“I’ve never been in a place where engagement and excitement is so normal and palpable,” said Miller. “The behaviors that may be problematic in other classrooms just melt away.”

Her main goal is creating “that place that makes students love school.” That, she says, is something all schools could benefit from.

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Husbands

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 11:01

Jennifer Husbands was recently named founding executive director of Schools that Can (STC) Chicago. STC unites leaders to expand quality urban education, and connects leaders from urban schools with leaders from outside organizations and industry to share innovative practices that advance school improvement. In her new role, Husbands will build and strengthen the Chicago network and lead specific cross-city initiatives. Previously, she was the inaugural director of the Academy for Urban School Leadership Institute (AUSL).

Be a part of Comings and Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones. vjones@catalyst-chicgao.org

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Rapid enrollment growth sparking changes in Poudre, Arvada

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 09:48

rumble in jeffco

The Jeffco teachers union's cabinet passed a vote of no confidence in the district's school board president Ken Witt. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

chain reaction

Scaling back state testing to federal minimum requirements could have ripple effects in the state's accountability system. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Culture wars

The state board heard a high-school-history-class style debate over the new AP U.S. history exams. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Student boom

Poudre School District could consider re-drawing its school zone boundaries as a way to accommodate its growing enrollment. ( Coloradoan )

Jeffco officials are now considering how to manage rapidly crowding schools in Arvada after a construction boom increased the area's population faster than expected. ( Denver Post )

passing the baton

Bob Smith was elected the new president of the St. Vrain Valley School Board, replacing John Creighton, who will be spending his new free time serving on the state's testing task force. ( Daily Camera )

greening lunch

Boulder students are required to take fruits and vegetables on their lunch plate as well as anything else they want to eat. ( Daily Camera )

making changes

A Colorado legislator is proposing that schools change Native American-themed mascots or lose state funding. ( Denver Channel )

no high in highlands ranch

Highlands Ranch High School students will be required to pass a breathalyzer test before being admitted to homecoming. ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Academic rigor, Rauner education plan, New York charter face-off

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 09:39

For a long time now, rigor has been a buzzword in education and it's one reason Common Core standards were developed and pushed. But a key finding in a new brief released Thursday is that making classes harder won’t work unless teachers get more support around student engagement and classroom control. “Without concurrent efforts around helping teachers maintain classroom order and student engagement in the more difficult work, Common Core could ultimately lead to worse outcomes for students, particularly in already low-achieving schools,” says report lead author Elaine Allensworth in a press release. The Sun Times wrote a story on the brief.

Among those potential negative outcomes: students can disengage or act out when asked to do more challenging assignments, leading to lower grades and more failures.

CCSR found that high school students made the biggest gains on the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT assessments in orderly and challenging classrooms; at the same time, order becomes harder to maintain as the work gets more challenging, particularly with low-achieving students. The researchers conclude that teachers need more support to develop strategies around classroom management and engaging students --and not just  professional development in curriculum content.

2. Sleeping in… At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Ald. Margaret Laurino submitted a resolution that calls for hearings on whether city high schools and middle schools should shift their start times back, according to DNAinfo. New research from the American Association of Pediatrics shows that it is unnatural for teenagers to go to sleep early and wake up early. Teens forced to get to school early could have physical and mental health problems and also are more prone to get into auto accidents and have poor academic performance.

Early start times are likely even worse for Chicago high school students. With more two-thirds not attending their neighborhood high school, many are traveling for an hour or more to get to school. However, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the studies findings inconclusive and too preliminary.

Also, at the City Council meeting, Emanuel introduced legislation that would make students under 18 subject to the city’s curfew laws. This would mean that 17 year olds, like their younger counterparts, would have to be inside by 10 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and by 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

3. In the details… Gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner outlined his education plan on Monday, though as the Tribune article points out it does not get specific. He says he would put more money into schools, but he criticizes the way the state funds schools,calling the current method “a disaster.” However, he doesn’t say how his administration would change it. He’d figure that out once he discusses with lawmakers.

The other parts of the plan--increasing the cap on charter schools, getting rid of tenure and merit pay for teachers--are not really surprising or new. Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, is quoted as calling Rauner’s plan “a Greatest Hits of failed education experiments.”

4. Top of what… In addition to its annual ranking of high schools, Newsweek put out a second list of this year called the “Beating the Odds” list. This attempts to rank schools on how well they do with low-income students on a number of factors from attrition to AP and ACT/SAT scores. Northside College Prep is the top CPS school, coming in at No. 7, with Jones at No. 44 and Lane at No. 67.

These rankings always seem a bit disingenuous because it compares schools regardless of whether they are schools that get students of all different levels or schools that students must apply and test into, such as the ones in Chicago. As you know, it is extremely hard to get into Northside Prep and the other selective enrollments. Also, keep in mind that these schools have extraordinarily low numbers of poor students compared to the rest of the city. Northside, for example, does not reflect the population of the city schools at all. In a city whose public schools are 85 percent low-income, 40 percent black and 45 percent Latino, only 37 percent of Northside’s students get free and reduced lunch, 9 percent are black and a quarter are Latino.

5. New York’s face off… As Chicago gears up for what could be an epic battle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTU President Karen Lewis, it is interesting to think that another such confrontation could be brewing in New York. The New York Times Magazine features a profile of charter school maven Eva Moskowitz, who Bill de Blasio has taken aim at since he took over New York City. Not to ruin the ending, but Moskowitz says she is considering taking on de Blasio in the next election.

The article lays out why there is so much conflict between de Blasio, union teachers and Moskowitz. Moskowitz runs the city’s largest charter school network. According to the article, her Success Charter School Network are “performing phenomenally.” In 2014, standardized tests put her schools in the top 1 percent of all state schools. However, de Blasio sees her schools as taking resources from all city schools to only education a few. “He talks about how all children must be saved.”

Success Schools are big on discipline and uniforms, like many of the charter school networks in Chicago. But Moskowitz also wants teachers to talk less during student discussions and wants teachers to work with students read deeply and dissect literature. The criticism with the most staying power, according to the article, is the “overly heated” preparation for exams.



Categories: Urban School News

With debate, State Board lays U.S. history flap to rest

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 21:23

Members of the State Board of Education Wednesday got it from both sides in the culture wars controversy over the new Advanced Placement U.S. history course and test.

The new AP “framework” for U.S. history has become a cause celebre among some conservative critics, who claim it presents a slanted and negative view of American history.

Board chair Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, last month proposed a resolution criticizing the AP framework and urging the College Board, which runs the AP tests, to delay the new program for a year. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for background.)

At the request of other members, Lundeen pulled the resolution from August’s board agenda, instead setting up a debate and question-and-answer session that took 70 minutes of the board’s time Wednesday afternoon. Lundeen said the resolution wouldn’t come up in the future.

The debaters were critic Larry Krieger, who owns an AP and SAT test prep company in Pennsylvania, and University of Northern Colorado history professor Fritz Fischer, who supports the new course. (Krieger participated via a video hookup.)

In classic high school debate fashion, each man had 15 minutes to make his case, plus a five-minute rebuttal. (Terry Whitney, a College Board lobbyist, also squeezed in a few remarks.)

Krieger said he supports a “balanced” approach to U.S. history but was relentlessly critical of the AP framework, saying, “Throughout the framework they left out the positives” and repeatedly referring to the course’s “bias” and “disturbing omissions.”

Fischer was having none of that, saying, “The AP history framework is actually a middle-of-the-road framework” and “is not a radically revisionist document.”

“This is a baseless argument,” he said of Krieger’s claim that the framework was the product of conscious leftist bias. Fischer said critics are “the voices of a few extreme people.”

Lundeen and other Republican board members indicated their general agreement with Krieger. Marcia Neal of Grand Junction said she’d reviewed the framework and found “There is an inordinate amount of time spent on slavery and Native Americans and negative impacts.”

Democrat Elaine Gantz Berman of Denver said, “People are always going to be dissatisfied” with presentations of U.S. history. And after a bit more back and forth between Krieger and Fischer, the board moved on to the next agenda item.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco union votes no confidence in board chair Ken Witt

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 18:45

The leader of the Jefferson County teachers union said today the school district’s teachers no longer have confidence in board chairman Ken Witt.

The Jefferson County Education Association’s council, made up of representatives from every school in county, voted unanimously on the issue last night. Nearly every school was represented in the vote.

The vote of no confidence, a symbolic boiling point, was based on similar surveys taken at the school level, according to a union spokesman. The response — from union and non-union members alike — was overwhelmingly unfavorable toward Witt, he said.

JCEA president John Ford in a statement said teachers have grown tired of the “secrecy, waste, and disrespect.”

“We are tired of the one man rule and decisions made in secret by Ken Witt,” Ford’s statement said. “As a parent of three kids in Jeffco schools, I know this will ultimately hurt our students.”

While the vote of no confidence is mostly emblematic, the union is still exploring options — legal or otherwise — to block Witt’s actions.

“Teachers absolutely put kids first,” Ford said later in an interview with Chalkbeat. “But, it’s really difficult to do that if you have a board majority and president that continue to put their agendas before kids.”

The teachers’ vote comes after the suburban board’s majority — made up of Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams — approved a new compensation plan for teachers that ties pay increases to evaluations. Previously, Jeffco paid its teachers based primarily on how much time they’ve served in a classroom and on their individual levels of education.

During negotiations, both Witt and Newkirk said they categorically objected to the former compensation plan that left some of the district’s best teachers without raises. Ultimately, it was Witt who unilaterally proposed the new model in August.

At the same meeting, the board rejected an independent review that was supposed to settle ongoing compensation negotiations between the teachers union and the district. The same review found the teacher evaluation system, used since 2008, to be statistically unreliable.

In response to the vote, Witt said that he was disappointed that the union had chosen to back a compensation plan that would leave many teachers this year without raises and that he was committed to moving forward with his plan.

“This board has acted to ensure all of our public school students – neighborhood, option, and charter – have funding equity.  This board is now acting to ensure all, not just some, of our effective teachers are rewarded,” Witt said in a statement. “I will continue to focus on improving academic achievement of Jeffco students, with an effective teacher in every classroom and an effective principal in every school.”

PHOTO: Witt For Jeffco SchoolsKen Witt

Witt’s model has provided plenty of grist for teachers and community members who have long believed the conservatives, who were elected in November by wide margins, plan to follow in the foot steps of the Douglas County School District.

Those fears were reiterated in the statement from union today announcing the vote of no confidence.

“We’ve seen this scenario play out in Dougco over the past few years and the results have not been good,” Ford’s statement said. “Turnover rates in Dougco are high and are increasing at double the rate of the state average.”

The neighboring Dougco school district has been led by a conservative board since 2010. During the last four years, the Dougco board has, among other initiatives, ended a collective bargaining agreement with its teachers union and developed a market-based compensation plan for its teachers.

Critics of the Dougco board claim their goal is push a conservative ideological agenda that doesn’t belong in school board politics. Dougco Superintendent Liz Fagen and her board have stood by their reforms claiming their role is to reinvent public education for the 21st century.

Since being sworn in, Witt and other members of the majority has routinely deflected the claims they’re following the “Dougco model.”

“This is Jefferson County,” Witt has said time and time again. “We’re going to do what’s best for Jeffco.”

PHOTO: Reader Teachers, regardless of their union membership, at Jeffco school were asked to give union representatives their impression of chairman Ken Witt Tuesday. At one Jeffco school, teachers were asked to fill out this ballot. According to the teachers union, educators overwhelming no longer have faith in Witt’s leadership.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the following: the JCEA representative council took the vote of no confidence, not the cabinet; the council is made up of representatives from every school, not some. But most — not all — schools participated in the vote.

Categories: Urban School News

Cuts in state testing could have unintended consequences

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 17:40

Some testing critics have pushed for trimming Colorado’s K-12 tests back to only what’s required by the federal government, but making that move isn’t as simple as it sounds, the State Board of Education was told Wednesday.

While the overall impact wouldn’t be huge, reduction of testing could have ripple effects in the state’s system of rating districts and schools, causing some ratings to rise and other to drop.

For instance, the Boulder Valley schools would rise from “performance” to “distinction,” the highest level of the state accreditations system. But the Littleton schools would drop one level, to “performance.” And the Greeley district would drop one step from “improvement” to “priority improvement,” the second lowest level.

Overall, 11 districts would receive higher ratings and 28 would decline. Ninety-nine schools would get higher ratings while 97 would drop. (See the slides at the bottom of this article for the full list of theoretical district changes, plus information on how ratings for individual schools might shift.)

The conversation was prompted by the release of the 2014 TCAP results, which started a lively SBE discussion on testing at its August meeting (see story). Members asked Department of Education staff to return in September with more information on questions like what would happen if Colorado scaled back its testing system to only what is required by federal law.

Colorado imposes more tests on public school students than are required by federal law, which basically calls for language arts and math tests in 3rd through 8th grade, plus once between 10th and 12th grade. Science tests are required once each in elementary school, middle school and high school.

But Colorado requires additional tests in high school and three social studies tests during a student’s career, plus ACT tests for all high school juniors, school readiness and early literacy assessments or evaluations. (See this CDE document for a full comparison of state and federal requirements.)

Test results are fed into the complicated state calculations of student performance, academic growth, achievement gaps, dropout rates and graduation rates that are used to generate district and school ratings. So changing the test results could lead to ratings changes.

CDE staff used 2013 test results to do a simulation of how use of results from only federal requirements would affect accreditation ratings. (See these slides for CDE’s full presentation to the board.)

The exercise was a theoretical one, partly because the state testing system will change significantly next year, when the new PARCC tests in English language arts and math are given in all schools. And the workings of the accreditation system are due for review in 2016.

“It could look very different under the new CMAS system,” Alyssa Pearson, CDE executive director of accountability and data analysis. (CMAS is the acronym for the new system that is replacing the TCAPs.)

But even a simulation can be sensitive, given the importance district leaders place on their ratings. As a precaution, CDE emailed every superintendent earlier this week, informing them of the exercise and stressing that it was only a simulation.

“This was a simulation … this is not something we’ve said we’re doing,” stressed Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen.

But, he said, it was important to do the exercise because, “It took us a long time to get the system we currently have. … It needs to be a thoughtful discussion about moving pieces to make sure people don’t see unintended consequences.”

Owen also said the department has queried the U.S. Department of Education about another issue of testing concern – whether results from individual district tests could be used to meet federal requirements.

“We did not get the information” in time for Wednesday’s meeting, Owen said, promising to have details of DOE’s response for the board in October.

CDE Director of Assessment Joyce Zurkowski did have one piece of concrete testing news for the board. She said the department has determined it has sufficient funding to allow districts that choose to do so to give next year’s PARCC math tests on paper rather than online. It also will be possible for districts to give third graders both the math and language arts tests on paper if they choose.

Surveys done for the department earlier this year found some concerns about third graders taking online tests, and about online math tests because students in many schools do math work with pencils and paper. (Learn more about those survey results here.)

State board members are split on testing issues, and where they go from here is somewhat unclear. Members Wednesday mentioned possibly including recommendations in the board’s 2015 legislative priorities (which members will begin discussing next month) and making recommendations to the State Standards and Assessments Task Force, an appointed group that is studying the issue and which is supposed to make recommendations to the legislature in January.

DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1292682-fedminslidesexpanded91014.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1292682-fedminslidesexpanded91014' });
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Schools steel themselves for rare virus outbreak

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 08:50

over and out

Jeffco's chief financial officer is leaving the district. It's the second high-profile administrative departure since tensions with the board drove former superintendent Cindy Stevenson out. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Uh-oh

A security guard at Denver's South High School has been arrested for sexting students. ( 9News, The Denver Channel, KDVR )

Superbug in schools

A a rare respiratory virus hits Colorado kids, schools are on the lookout and getting ready to deal with sick students ( The Denver Channel )

Tenure talks

A new report has recommendations on how to fix teacher tenure. Do they apply to Colorado? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Benefactor for babies

Montrose's school district is one step closer to a new early childhood center, thanks to a large donation. ( Montrose Press )

If he says so...

Colorado just named a new poet laureate. His first order of business? Work on getting more poetry in schools. ( CPR )

The trouble with transparency

An initiative that would make negotiations between unions and school boards open to the public goes before voters this fall and observers say it's likely to pass. But there may be unintended consequences. ( Colorado Springs Independent )

Chalkbeat awesomeness

Join us tonight at 5 p.m. for a live-chat with our co-founder Elizabeth Green about what makes good teaching. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco schools’ CFO resigns amid “a lot” of change

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 18:41

Jeffco Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Lorie Gillis is leaving her post to join the city management team in Arvada, Jeffco officials announced today.

Gillis is Jeffco’s second high-profile administrator to leave since last year’s reconfiguration of the district’s school board and the subsequent departure of Superintendent Cindy Stevenson. Jeffco’s chief academic officer, Heather Beck, left at the end of the school year to become a superintendent in Oregon.

Gillis’ exit comes at a precarious time for the school district. Last week, the Jefferson County Board of Education approved a drastically new compensation system for teachers that will likely take months to sort through. Her office, as well as the human resources department, will play a crucial role in the rollout of the new system that links bonuses to teacher evaluation ratings.

Gillis, like many, was caught off guard when she learned the specifics of the plan outlined by board chairman Ken Witt. At the board meeting, last month, in which he proposed the new system, she characterized it as “a lot” of change.

Gillis declined to say whether the new conservative board majority had any influence on her decision to leave the school district.

“It was just something I didn’t want to pass up,” she said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “[Arvada] is incredibly well run and fiscally sound. It’s just an exciting opportunity.”

A transition plan has not been discussed yet, Gillis said. But her departure is unlikely to prolong teachers’ wait for their bonuses.

Gillis is also leaving as the district gets to work on its 2015-16 budget, which her office is responsible for overseeing.

Last school year, the budget process dragged out through June. In the end, Gillis and her team were left crunching numbers at the last minute as board members debated their priorities through the evening.

“We have a rock solid financial team at the district,” she said. “That helped with the decision making [to leave]. We have strong folks to step up.”

Gillis has worked for Jeffco since 2002. Since then, she has overseen the district’s financial services, as well as human resources and information technology.

“Lorie has worked tirelessly on behalf of Jeffco students and staff keeping the district financially sound.  She has always been a great steward of taxpayer dollars and has taken that role very seriously over the years,” said Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee. “While I’m saddened by Lorie’s departure from Jeffco, I know that she leaves an enduring legacy of financial excellence and transparency.  This is a great opportunity for her and I join many others who wish her only the very best as she begins a new chapter in her professional life.”

Gillis’ last day has not been finalized but is likely at the end of the month, she said. She begins her new job in Arvada, where she lives, Oct. 13.

Categories: Urban School News

A new report recommends eight ways to improve teacher tenure

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 17:42

Anticipating a nationwide showdown on teacher tenure laws, a teacher-focused nonprofit released a report today it says has eight ways to fix the system.

The solutions floated by TNTP, formerly known as The New Teacher Project, include lengthening a teacher’s probation period to five years and shortening the process by which teachers can appeal tenure decisions.

The report comes almost three months to the day after a judge struck down California’s teacher tenure law. Since then, two similar lawsuits have been filed in New York.

The TNTP report claims the argument about tenure has been reduced to “either, or.” In most states, tenure is granted to teachers based mostly on their number of years in a classroom. Critics of tenure claim the system protects lazy teachers and needs to be eliminated.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way, said Tim Daly, TNTP’s president.

“We think the solution is going to be somewhere in the middle,” he said. “It’s about the modernization of tenure.”

Several of the recommendations from the accountability-minded organization have already been adopted by Colorado’s similarly-oriented legislature. But there are some points, such as how to make tenure hearings more efficient, that are uncommon here.

The state’s educator effectiveness law, Senate Bill 11-191, effectively rewrote the rules of tenure in Colorado. Under the law, which has been subject to its own lawsuit, teachers are granted non-probationary status after three years. Teachers may lose that status after two years of less-than-effective evaluations.

Half of a Colorado teacher’s evaluation is based a formal observation by an administrator. The other half is made up of student growth data that tracks how much a student has learned year-to-year.

Colorado’s law went into full effect last year, but a poor evaluation did not affect a teacher’s tenure track in the program’s first year. This year, while local districts have more flexibility in what data it uses to rate teachers, a less-than-effective rating will count against a teacher.

Other recommendations include: districts should focus appeal hearings on students interests, not procedure; hire independent arbitrators to make decisions on appeals; enact a zero-tolerance policy for abuse and sexual misconduct; and lower the professional stakes for struggling teachers.

“Rebalancing teacher tenure” report DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1291099-tntp-rebalancingtenure-2014.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1291099-tntp-rebalancingtenure-2014' });
Categories: Urban School News

Grassroots and union activists urge universal preschool in Chicago

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 16:47

As New York City rolls out an ambitious plan to offer free full-day prekindergarten for tens of thousands of 4-year-olds this fall, community activists and union members in Chicago say it’s time for universal early childhood education and child care in the Windy City.

Calling their campaign “Bright Future Chicago,” the groups say the city needs to find creative ways to finance the expansion of existing preschool and daycare programs – and extending the hours – so that parents can work full-time while their children under 5 years old are in a safe learning environment.

“The city needs to do something for us working parents,” said Hellen Juarez, a single mom and paralegal who is a parent leader with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. “I pay $700 a month for my 2-year-old to be in day care. That’s a rent payment. How is that affordable?”

At a press conference this morning in City Hall, a handful of progressive aldermen who support the new campaign said they’ll present a resolution on Wednesday requesting a public hearing to discuss what it will take to offer full-day preschool and childcare in the city. Supporters have suggested financing the expansion with a new tax on financial transactions at Chicago’s stock exchanges.

“We want to have a hearing and talk about why it’s important to offer full-day pre-kindergarten and how we can pay for it,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer of the 6th Ward. “I’m not saying the LaSalle Street tax or interest rate swaps are the end-all, be-all of what we’re going to do, but it’s worth a conversation.”

The organizations involved in the campaign include the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Pilsen Alliance, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Action Now, Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Healthcare Illinois.

Their campaign comes barely a month after Emanuel announced a plan to provide an additional 1,500 preschool slots for low-income 4-year-olds by next year, a goal he has described as “universal pre-K for every child at poverty.”

“Mayor Emanuel agrees that every child should have access to high-quality pre-school, which is why he has already committed to ensuring every 4-year-old from a low-income family will be offered free pre-school within a year,” a spokesman for the mayor said in a statement on Tuesday. “Throughout his time in office, Mayor Emanuel has prioritized ensuring every child in every neighborhood has a quality education that allows them to succeed, through early learning programs, a full day of kindergarten, a full school day and a full school year.”

The Mayor’s Office and CPS reached the 1,500 figure by subtracting the total number of 4-year-olds served in one of the city’s school- or center-based programs from the total number of children of that age who are considered at poverty level according to U.S. Census estimates.

Preschool spending on decline in Illinois

The challenges of providing early education opportunities to children aren’t unique to Chicago. As a state, Illinois has cut back spending on preschool programs by more than 25 percent, according to a recent report by Voices for Illinois Children.

To offset some of the loss, Emanuel pledged $36 million in additional funding over three years, starting in 2012 for his Ready to Learn initiative.

As part of Ready to Learn, the city also centralized its application process for early childhood programs, which are administered by the Department of Family Support and Services and CPS. The goal was to prioritize the high-poverty areas of the city with the most need. But parents struggled to navigate the new process and complained that it was harder to access preschools in their neighborhoods, which ultimately led to an enrollment drop of about 1,000 4-year-olds.

Parents and organizers say that while they’re glad the mayor is trying to expand the number of available seats, that it’s still not enough. True universal preschool, they say, would apply to all children, not just the poorest. Juarez, for example, says she doesn’t qualify for state childcare subsidies. In addition, recent studies including one by the Latino Policy Forum have found that there simply aren’t enough available slots at existing preschool programs in some densely populated Latino neighborhoods, such as Brighton Park or Belmont-Cragin.

And a recent report by Voices for Illinois Children showed that just 53 percent of Chicago’s 3- and 4-year-olds attended some sort of preschool, with the lowest participation rates in the heavily Latino Northwest and Southwest sides.

Categories: Urban School News

Join us Wednesday at 5 p.m. to chat with Elizabeth Green about her new book

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 16:01

After wrapping up the Chalkbeat Book Club discussion of  our CEO Elizabeth Green’s new book “Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (And How to Teach It to Everyone)”, we’re excited to bring the conversation to a larger audience.

We’ll be hosting a live chat (embed coming soon) right here on Wednesday from 5-5:30 p.m. MT.  Until then, catch up with this Q&A, read over what we’ve discussed in the book club, and submit your questions in the comments section below.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teachers trained to fight, not flee active shooter

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 09:17

The Big Ask

Districts around the state are putting local tax increases on the ballot to ask for more money for schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

That list includes six districts in the Pikes Peak region. ( Gazette )

School safety

Teachers at a Denver-area charter school were trained how to fight back against an active shooter, rather than hunker down. ( The Denver Channel )

Follow the money

Which Colorado organizations have gotten Gates dollars? Check it out. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

I'm more than a sixth grader

One Colorado district's move away from grade levels is part of a national trend to focus on what individual students need. ( KUNC )

Testing to teach

Early testing may help students learn, according to research. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Not enough helping hands

A Pueblo student mentoring program is coming up short for mentors. ( Chieftain )

All kids and no money

Steamboat Springs' school district is looking for someone to figure out if they need a new elementary school and design it. But where to find the money? ( Steamboat Today )

Categories: Urban School News

Walking a financial tightrope through college

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 01:00

In 2006, the Consortium for Chicago School Research issued a report that sent shock waves through the Chicago Public Schools system. The discovery that somewhere between only 6.5 and 8% of CPS students graduated from four-year colleges (and only 2% of African-American boys) was a call to action. 

Subsequent follow-up reports pinpointed some of the “potholes” on the road to college, despite the almost universal aspiration, across all racial and ethnic groups, to attend college. There was enough blame to go around, targeting schools, parents and communities, as well as the colleges themselves. And there was enough room for a variety of constructive approaches to improving the track record on each of these fronts, from the creation of freshman on-track indicators that would help raise high school graduation rates, to the establishment of mentoring programs to provide the personal support many students need to keep their eyes on the valuable prize of college graduation.

It is these mentoring programs that I want to focus on because they offer some strong prospects of success for students as they face obstacles that can only be overcome with support beyond their own capacities. The task for these programs is two-fold: getting students accepted into colleges that match their level of potential and from which the odds of graduating are in their favor; and keeping them in school despite the potholes that threaten to derail them. 

In recent years, these programs include:

The Network for College Success—working inside CPS schools to support leadership teams in each school that create a college readiness environment for students.

Umoja—a veteran in the work of leadership development among students, aimed at improving their chances of success as college students.

Bottom Line—a new arrival in town, with an impressive track record in New York and Boston on both college admission and college completion.

Schools like Noble Street and North Lawndale Charter Prep, which have developed strong databases for tracking their alums and brainstorming solutions to overcoming obstacles to graduation.

AIM HIGH—the program I am most closely involved with, built on a unique model of pairing students with teams of mentors from the corporate world who stay with them from their freshman year of high school all the way to college graduation.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but rather a sampling of the variety of work being done in this area. I am sure there is other valuable work under way of which I’m unaware, and the problem is so monumental that there is room for many more willing participants. 

Bottom line is economic inequity

Whatever the particular design strategy, all of these programs are wrestling with problems that reflect the fundamental inequities of our economic system. The low-income students who represent the vast majority of those in CPS are operating without the safety net that is invisible to most middle-class families—so invisible that they recognize it as little as fish recognize the medium of water that sustains them. 

Much of my work with AIM HIGH involves the almost inevitable financial shortfalls that our students encounter. These shortfalls block their ability to register for classes at the beginning of the term or, most unjust, prevent them from receiving their transcripts when they decide to transfer schools. These debts, often as small as three-figure sums, would be resolved in middle-class families with a call home providing access to a fatigued credit card—the kind that most low-income families don’t even possess. Any new strain on the finances of a student or a family already struggling to provide for basic needs—an unexpected medical bill, a costly car repair, an increase in dormitory costs, an unanticipated medical bill—is sufficient to lead students to drop out or take a leave from school, from which they are unlikely to return.

Colleges themselves must provide help

All mentoring programs have to face the question of how these inevitable shortfalls are going to be addressed. Part of the answer lies with the colleges themselves, many of which have demonstrated admirable social consciousness by seeking out low-income students of color in an effort to diversify their student bodies, but have not provided the resources to keep those students heading toward graduation. 

They have an obligation to set aside the modest sums that will help students who have made good-faith efforts to meet their debts, but have encountered insurmountable obstacles. The failure to do so places these students in jeopardy of leaving school with no degree and a burden of debt that puts them in a worse position than if they had never entered college at all.

In one recent situation faced by a student, the university sent this debt to a collection agency, with which she is now forced to deal, unprepared though she may be to deal with the often predatory practices of these agencies. Heartlessness should not be the trademark of an institution which pretends to play a high-minded role in our society.

These low-income students are a precious resource. They have the potential to bring new skills and commitments to their home communities and to the entire society. The existing mentoring programs can go a long way in accompanying them to their goal, but they need help with the deep-seated financial obstacles that stand in their way.

Marv Hoffman, now retired, was the associate director of the Urban Teacher Education Program at the University of Chicago. Prior to that he was the Founding Director of the University of Chicago Charter School—North Kenwood Oakland Campus.

Categories: Urban School News

Dirty schools the norm since privatizing custodians: principals

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 23:09

The $340 million privatization of the district’s custodial services has led to filthier buildings and fewer custodians, while forcing principals to take time away from instruction to make sure that their school is clean.

That is the finding from a survey done by AAPPLE, the new activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

The contract is the first issue the group is taking a hard stance on, hoping that their input will force the district to make some changes. About 230 principals responded to the survey, with most of them saying the number of custodial staff has been reduced and is now inadequate and the cleanliness of their buildings has been negatively affected.

A principal of a South Side school that is comprised of three buildings and more than 1,500 students says she now has just one day custodian, down from three. “The day custodian is running around here like a crazy lady,” says the principal, who did not want to be identified. “And it is filthy.”

In February, the Board of Education approved two three-year contracts—one for $260 million for Aramark and the other for $80 million to Sodexmagic. Aramark was to take over the training, supervision and management of custodians for all but 33 schools. Sodexmagic would handle the job for the other 33 schools.

When Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley presented the proposal to the board, he said the deal would save the district $40 million, lead to cleaner buildings and incorporate state-of-the-art cleaning technology, such as cleaning Zambonis.

Cawley did not say the contract would result in layoffs.

Email acknowledges problems

Though CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey says most schools had a smooth transition to the private vendor, on Monday that vendor, Aramark, sent out an e-mail to principals acknowledging significant problems and asking to meet with them and their staff.  

In the e-mail, shared by a principal, the Aramark official wrote that company officials hear “loud and clear” that “we have not delivered on the promise of making life easier for principals.”

In a white paper, AAPPLE is proposing that the contracts be voided if the buildings are not brought up to Level 2 industry standards for cleanliness, as promised when the contracts were approved. The group also wants CPS to consult them on any contract of more than $500,000 that will impact schools.

McCaffrey says CPS officials are working with contractors to address complaints. “CPS recently contracted with two proven facility management companies to improve cleanliness in all schools while saving millions of dollars that can be redirected to classrooms,” he said in a statement.

Principals say the cleanliness of their buildings is integral to student learning, and note that they are naturally held accountable for it. However, under the new contract, principals do not supervise the custodians at all. Some principals say the custodial managers turn over on a regular basis.

“The person who supervises them comes once a week,” says one principal, who did not want to be identified. “That is just not going to work.”

Bad timing, no new tech

That principal of a Northwest Side school said that at the end of the school year, the custodians assigned to her school left urine in the toilets for weeks. Then, they moved furniture out of a classroom, but broke things when they brought it back in. Her building is more than 100 years old and she says that it is difficult to clean when it gets dirty.

A big complaint of the principals is that staff has been laid off or reassigned at bad times, leaving someone new to take over at crucial moments. One principal said his custodians told him they had been notified that they will be laid off two weeks after school started.

Another had all his custodians sent to new buildings for no apparent reason. “The [ones who were reassigned] were custodians who knew the building, knew the children, knew the community,” he says. “They did not want to leave.”

Two of them were reassigned the Friday before school started. “That is really bad timing,” says the principal, who, like the others, didn’t want to be identified. He says the new custodians are okay, but that he is still waiting on Aramark to let him know their schedules.

The principal also is bothered by the fact that he has seen none of the new technology that was supposed to make the cleaning more efficient.   

One principal from a South Side school that took in children displaced from last year’s closings says she had to get parents, teachers and students to volunteer, in the days leading up to the opening of school, to get her building ready. She says they spent much of the time throwing out an enormous amount of trash, sweeping and mopping.

During the summer, she sent e-mails on a daily basis to her network chief complaining of the problem, but never heard back. One of her biggest complaints concerned the bathrooms, which she says have a bad smell. The custodians tell her it is a drainage problem, but there are no plans to fix it. “Can we just get some air freshener?” she said. “I have kindergarteners going into these bathrooms and they are scary.”

“I feel like this community is already disenfranchised,” she said. “You go up north and you can eat off the floors of the schools. I feel like my community should have that kind of building.”

Categories: Urban School News

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