HITTING LEFT #20

Thursday, June 28, 2012

More on Clemente firings

Thanks to some of the many anonymous commentators on the Clemente story for the factual corrections; i.e., the number of principals at Clemente since Irene Damota's departure.  The best accounting I have been able to come up with is this, starting with Kenebrew in June 2010: Kenebrew, Gilligan, Dr. Heiu, Soli, Rodriguez, Soli, Sorensen. While open to further corrections on this, I think the point I made about instability and lack of community cohesiveness stands.

I have stopped posting any anonymous comments allegedly coming from some Clemente teachers debasing their fellow teachers. I find this a self-demeaning, unprofessional practice, which says more about the current culture and leadership of the school than it does about any of its teaching and career staff.

I have been an active supporter of Clemente High School since it was opened in 1975 and have worked with hundreds of teachers and several principals there over the years to try to help solve some of the school's many problems. I found that most of these problems were caused by forces outside the control of either the many school principals or teachers. These include the very size and physical design of the school itself, the poverty and violence in the surrounding community, and the instability caused by thoughtless bureaucratic interventions on the part of CPS leaders. To blame teachers for these problems and to engage in mass staff firings is horribly unfair but characteristic of the times.

One of the most horrific of these interventions came from Arne Duncan with his Renaissance 2010 closure of Austin High School in 2007 and the shipping of hundreds of kids from the west side over to Clemente and Wells. This led directly to an explosion of violence and disruption inside the massive 7-story complex.

Here's a quote from the AP wire story at the time.
In the largely African-American Austin neighborhood, about half of the 7,000 high school-aged students were forced to travel outside the community to other schools after Austin High School was shuttered in 2007. Some ended up at the mostly Latino Roberto Clemente Community Academy High School, where school officials weren't given "any kind of a warning," said Idida Perez, a community organizer with West Town Leadership United. The result was near daily fights between the newcomers and the neighborhood kids, she said.

"You have a trail of blood and tears ever since they launched (Renaissance 2010)," said Tio Hardiman, director of the anti-violence organization CeaseFire Illinois. "There's a history of violence associated with moving kids from one area to another." 
 Only Herculean efforts by the principal and a solid group of teachers, plus Clemente’s small-schools plan, kept the situation from deteriorating further into all-out war. Ren10 school closings also caused a spike in school violence across the city, at schools like CVS and Gage Park.

CPS has tried moving principals around (even sending in "super principals"), fired hundreds of teachers (including many with experience and high ratings). They have  pushed one magic bullet after another on schools like Clemente, only to dump them a year or two later as the guard changed. One of the silliest that comes to mind was the so-called Culture of Calm during CEO Huberman's short-lived regime. Huberman claimed he could statistically identify specific students who were most likely to be killed in gun violence and then use interventions to move those students out of the line of fire.

At the time I wrote:
Resembling a kind of obscene game of Russian Roulette research, Huberman is spending $30 million to guess which of the city's 400,000 public school students will most likely be killed this year, notify their parents and get them to "change their life styles."
And this from the Wall Street Journal.
The 200 students assessed as being in the "ultra high risk" category were deemed to have greater than a 20% chance of being shot over the next two years. An additional 1,000 students had between a 7.5% and 20% chance of being shot, and an additional 8,500 had a 1% to 7.5% chance of being shot.
So now there's a new sheriff in town with a new hired hand, new games of Russian Roulette and more magic bullets in his gun. No one dares mention the words Renaissance or Culture of Calm any more. Now it's longer school dayturnarounds and transformations. It's pretty much the same half-baked, top-down ideas hatched in board rooms of the Civic Committee. Only now it's all about privatization of public space and union busting.

I have no beef with the new wall-to-wall IB curriculum at Clemente. It's as good as any other they've had there in the past and seems to be supported by the local community. But what I abhor is the way this was consciously used as a scheme to fire up to 20 teachers, including many with excellent records of service. I hate the way it was cynically used to pit teacher against teacher and to add one more brick in the wall of the current union contract negotiations. None of this has anything to do with IB itself.

It's more about the hidden curriculum of schooling, that is, lessons which are being learned by Clemente students but not openly intended -- like when they come to school one day and find that once again their favorite teacher is gone. It's all about the culture of sorting and tracking, winners and losers in a race to the top. It's the kind of practices you will mainly find in inner-city schools with large numbers of Latino and African-American students.

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