Parents and teachers worried about the direction of Chicago’s public schools will meet Saturday to hash out what to do next as the schools reach what organizers describe as a “now or never moment.”
“We see the system as reaching a tipping point where corporate forces have assumed a mantle of control over the district,” says Jackson Potter, a history teacher at Social Justice High School and a steering committee member of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, which is organizing the community meeting.
About 200 people are expected, and many are likely to be upset about the 20 public schools slated for closure this year, a record number. The Board of Education designated another 12 as “turnaround” schools, which means virtually all the staff will be fired.
The meeting organizers want a moratorium on school closings and turnarounds, but there’s no chance of that happening, says Mike Vaughn, spokesman for the Chicago Public Schools.
“Our plan is to do the opposite: to accelerate,” he says.
The changes are part of Renaissance 2010, Mayor Richard Daley’s plan to open 100 new schools in Chicago by next year. The schools are a mix of charter, contract and performance schools, which differ in their labor agreements, official oversight and the state laws that govern them.
The Office of New Schools, a division of the Chicago Public Schools, had opened 76 schools as of fall 2008.
Potter says the Renaissance 2010 system destabilizes neighborhood schools without guaranteeing the new schools can deliver promised services. Renaissance 2010 schools depend on donated funds to “ramp up” in their first several years. Costs average about $500,000 per school, and the money raised by the Renaissance Schools Fund, the project’s fundraising arm, comes from both foundations and corporations.
The need for these donations makes the schools vulnerable, Potter says.
“When all the investments dry up because there’s no liquidity, what happens to those schools?” he asked “What happens to those children?”
But Vaughn says funding concerns exist throughout the school system, not just for Renaissance 2010 schools.
Saturday’s meeting is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the cafeteria of Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren St. The agenda will cover how Renaissance 2010 affects neighborhood schools, its effect on local school councils and teachers, and the next steps.