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Action Now leads vigil against 3 school turnarounds

Fri, Jun 13, 2014

The Chicago Board of Education voted April 23 that three Chicago Public Schools – Dvorak Math Science Technology Academy in North Lawndale, Ronald E. McNair Elementary School in Austin and and Walter Q. Gresham Elementary School in Auburn-Gresham– should undergo a turnaround by the Academy for Urban School Learning (AUSL).

The board announced its recommendation in March for the turnaround, in which the schools will have all new staff for next year. On April 8, members of the advocacy group Action Now, parents and community members hosted a vigil outside the Kenwood home of Board of Education President David Vitale. Action Now Communications Director Aileen Kelleher said that nearly 100 people – including Dr. Diedrus U. Brown, principal of Gresham Elementary – attended the vigil in a plea for the schools to be saved from the turnaround.

“It’s pretty uncommon for a principal to get involved but, really, it shouldn’t be that uncommon because principals lose their jobs too with AUSL turnarounds and school closings. You’d think it would be more common but I think CPS has this very strong hold over their administration. Fortunately, she {Dr. Brown] prevailed and spoke what she felt was the truth,” Kelleher said.

According to Kelleher, Dr. Brown stated her belief that the AUSL model is neither sustainable nor effective since many turnarounds and charters don’t even perform better than neighborhood schools. While there is a good deal of disagreement and polarization about the effectiveness of privatized schools, an article published on the Chicago Sun-Times website on April 7 reported that of AUSL’s 29 schools, 16 also are on probation and have a Level 3 rating.

Many who attended the vigil also voiced their concerns regarding where their children would end up.

“Theoretically, CPS says that kids in areas where there is an AUSL turnaround can stay in the school but we’ve seen in the past that AUSL implements disciplinary measures that kind of push out special ed students and students with other issues that most schools won’t take… Dvorak, for example, serves the whole population and when schools are privatized through AUSL turnarounds, there are whole populations of kids pushed out, which is just one other reason why this turnaround is very harmful,” Kelleher said.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless also noted April 1 that 1 in 4 Dvorak students (140) were identified as homeless. Dvorak Local School Council President Angela Gordon said she brought her four children there when she was homeless four years ago and the staff stepped up and helped the family.

Shannon Barnet
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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