Parents, teachers angry over CPS turnaround vote

February 23, 2012 9:43:54 AM PST
Parents, students and activists protested but could not stop the Chicago Public Schools board from approving a controversial plan to close some schools and turn around others.

The board views the decision as an opportunity to help 7,500 students in 17 low-performing schools. But its actions sparked a lawsuit and an emotional outburst after the vote.

Brian Piccolo Elementary School in West Humboldt Park was one of the battlegrounds in this heated debate. Parents and others staged a sit-in at Piccolo last weekend to protest the turnaround planned for the school.

Now that the board has made its decision, including a turnaround plan for Piccolo. "Shame on you. Boooooo," said one man as he extended his middle finger.

Boos filled the CPS board headquarters Wednesday night. Some gave board members obscene gestures while others left the day-long meeting in tears.

Emotions ran high after the board unanimously approved a plan to close or turnaround more than a dozen schools.

Latrice Watkins was emotionally drained and heartbroken after losing the fight to keep her daughter's elementary school from being turned around.

"The teachers that they're bringing in here don't know anything about the community, they don't know anything about these kids lives, what they're going through," Watkins said. "The teacher that we have now are emotionally attached to these kids."

"We went out there to voice our opinions and it doesn't seem like our voice really counted," said parent Nedra Martin. "So I'm sad that it's going to be a turnaround."

CPS board member Dr. Mahalia Hines tried to explain the board's decision. Board members said the closings and turnarounds are necessary because the schools did not show enough improvement and they wanted to help the students.

"We have created a climate when mediocracy is okay for our kids," Hines said. "It's not okay with me. I don't care if I was appointed or elected. As I've said before, my constituents are the kids."

The teacher's union disagrees and has filed a lawsuit to stop the board's actions.

"It is not the teachers, parents and community that have failed our students, it is this district," said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Besides the teachers union lawsuit, there's also an Illinois House bill making its way through the legislature that would put a moratorium on school closings and turnarounds.

However, some parents believe it's time for a change at schools like Piccolo.

"I'm assuming that with the turnaround, maybe it will be a better school," said parent Sharon Sielocha. "I want my son to go to the best school he can, especially if it's a public school."