CN July 19, 2012

Dave Stieber teaches at Team Englewood on Chicago’s south side. His high school used to be Englewood Academy, but CPS broke it into two schools. Now the other half of the building is Urban Prep, a charter school. Dave’s school had a 98% college-admission rate this year, and it’s been in the upper nineties for about three years. But he’s frustrated that CPS doesn’t seem to care about his school’s success, because the rate of increase in test results isn’t high enough. But the charter school, he says, gets lots of favorable press because it has a business partner that helps publicize its achievements.

Kim Walls, who recently got hired at Fulton Elementary, says that things were so bad at her former school, which just closed permanently a couple of weeks ago, that the teachers routinely bought their own toilet paper, printer cartridges and other school supplies.

Both are dedicated, engaged teachers who love their work. Neither wants a strike. Both have become active in CTU politics, and Dave is a delegate. They talk with us this week about what the CTU/CPS standoff looks like at the classroom level.

Both insist that their battle with CPS isn’t just about pay. They point to the House of Delegates’ unanimous vote to reject the arbitrator’s recommendations, which included large pay raises. For them, there are other issues that affect the quality of education, including full funding for librarians and other school professionals such as clerks, technicians, counselors and nurses. And the teachers want the power to negotiate class size. In addition, the Union is fighting for “recall” which essentially means giving teachers who’ve been laid off due to school closings, turnarounds or declining enrollment “first dibs” on new positions at other schools. The administration wants principals to be able to hire anyone they want for these positions, leading to the charge that CPS is simply trying to reduce labor costs by eliminating more experienced and costly teachers.

Asked what the union is doing to battle the public perception that teacher unions protect bad, ineffective teachers, KimWalls says it’s an issue with principals. Any new teacher can be fired for any reason in the first three years. “If you have a teacher who’s not effective, and if that teacher’s been there for four, five, ten years,” she says, ” You may need to look at your principal and ask the principal why is this teacher still here? you don’t need to bash teachers as a whole.”

We’re also joined by Linda Lenz, founder of Catalyst Chicago, which has been covering schools issues for over 20 years. Linda said in yesterday’s Sun-Times that Mayor Emanuel has “painted himself into a corner” with his inflexible insistence on a longer school day with no compromise on how to implement it. What he and his hand-picked school board might not have recognized, she says, is that “This is a different union leadership. I would say it’s a unique union leadership. Where they have come in thinking about more than bread and butter issues. They see themselves as fighters for social justice and bringing help to kids who are disadvantaged, and that’s certainly part of the rhetoric.”


About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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