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Kate Rooney/MEDILL

An elementary school teacher stood in solidarity with fellow Dvorak faculty members in the lobby of the Chicago Board of Education building on South Clark Street.


West Side elementary school fights back against CPS 'turnaround' proposal

by DeJonique Garrison and Kate Rooney
April 10, 2014


Kate Rooney/MEDILL

Proponents of the "turnaround" proposal listen to testimonies from members of the community Wednesday night at the Chicago Board of Education.

DeJonique Garrison, MEDILL

A public hearing was held Wednesday evening at the Chicago Board of Education regarding the proposed 'turnaround' of three Chicago elementary schools. Supporters of Dvorak Elementary School, one of the sites in danger of being taken over by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, voiced their opposition to the overhaul.

Officials from the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Public Schools agree that Dvorak Technology Academy has been underperforming, but the two sides are split on whether current teachers can get the job done.

During a public hearing at the Chicago Board of Education on Wednesday night, teachers, students, parents and community advocates weighed in on the proposed “turnaround” model that would effectively replace the entire teaching staff and hand the reins to an outside management agency, the Academy for Urban School Leadership.

“Despite the support provided by the district in recent years, student academic growth at the school has not kept pace with district averages,” said Wanda Washington, chief of schools for Network 5 on the West Side.

According to Washington, Dvorak was given ample opportunity to recover, with a number of interventions including monthly development sessions with principals and efforts to improve the school’s culture and climate.

These efforts, according ISAT standards, were not reflected in last year’s test scores.

“This performance is consistently low across subject areas and the school is not making progress in catching up to the district,” said Ryan Crosby, director of performance data and policy at CPS.

He added that Dvorak has been on academic probation for the past seven years, and remains 30 percentage points below the district average on ISAT standards.

But opponents say the turnaround model is flawed, and CPS may have failed to consider extenuating circumstances.

“Sometimes test scores just don’t tell the whole story,” said Susan Goldman, Ph.D., professor of psychology and education at University of Illinois at Chicago and fellow of the American Educational Research Association. “It’s one indicator, and only one indicator."

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, also called for a more holistic approach, and said the data in favor of Academy for Urban School Leadership, or AUSL, is misleading.

“When AUSL takes over a school, the resources come with them,” said Lewis, who has publicly challenged CPS on the turnaround approach. “If those same resources were given to Dvorak you would find very similar outcomes.”

Ald. Michael Chandler (24th) recognized performance challenges, but he asked that the Board of Education amend its request, and Dvorak be considered for increased funding by the state.

“To change academic leadership and to terminate all existing staff at this time would be very disruptive and have a destabilizing impact on the learning environment,” said Chandler, who was informed of the decision over the phone. “I am gravely disappointed at CPS and the Chicago Board of Education regarding this process, and the lack of community input.”

Carrene Beverly-Bass, a 23-year veteran teacher at Dvorak, gave an eyewitness account of issues that eclipse student test scores.

“We’ve got a lot of social-emotional, special-ed, homeless, not an excuse: a fact,” Beverly-Bass said. “They need to look at how we’ve been kicked around and thrown around from network to network.

“We vote that this is not about test scores. It’s been very dehumanizing. Our students deserve the best education possible, and I feel that Dvorak can do that.”

By Kate Rooney