Thursday, October 7, 2010

Restructure Chicago's school district leadership

Whittier school occupation shines a light on the problem

Pilsen neighborhood parents are heading into the 22nd day of their occupation of the field house at Whittier Elementary School. The occupation has the mayor and his hand-picked CEO Ron Huberman in a bind. The parents are clearly on just ground in their demand for a library. Whittier is one of 160 CPS elementary schools without a library. Can you imagine public schools in the wealthy, white suburbs without a library?

The demand has resonated in the community and support is building around the occupation. Huberman has tried calling in the police to clear out the protesters. But community members broke through police barricades and rallied behind the parents forcing the police to back off. Then Huberman had the heat and hot water turned off in the field house just as night time temperatures were dropping into the 40s. More anger in the community.

Hello, Huberman! This is an election year.

State Rep. Cynthia Soto and her facilities task force have now come out on the side of the parents and have asked Huberman to turn the gas back on. But Huberman and the mayor are also under pressure from their business backers at the Civic Committee who are demanding that they hold firm and don't show weakness in the pace of the protest.

All this harkens back to the 19-day hunger strike by parents in the predominantly Mexican community of Little Village in 2001, which ultimately led to the creation of the four small schools within a new Little Village High School. A few years later, I was in a meeting with  Daley's appointed schools financial chief, David Vitale who called the hunger strikers' victory, "one of the greatest disasters in CPS history." Vitale, representing the mayor and the business sector, saw the hunger strike tactic as "blackmail" rather than community and parent engagement. That strike also led up to a mayor's race, as I recall, and was certainly a factor in the resignation (firing?) of CEO Paul Vallas and his replacement with Arne Duncan. Who needs that kind of press in an election year? No wonder Huberman can't wait to get out and get back to the "private sector."

As Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell put it: "If the Whittier issue isn't settled soon, the field house will become as popular as a CTA L station as a campaign stop." 


With Daley and Huberman now heading for the exit doors, lickity split, now is the perfect time to rethink the CPS district leadership structure. That's the argument CTU prez Karen Lewis is making and it's a good one.
Lewis says the district needs a superintendent with a background in education instead of a CEO.
LEWIS: I think it's much more important to make educational policy based on research and science as opposed to what's faddish right now. (City Room--Listen)

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