Polar vortex causes problems for schools

The polar vortex came and went — and Chicago is still standing. But the winter storm and arctic temperatures that forced Chicago Public Schools to nix classes on Wednesday and Thursday wasn’t exactly a breeze for the school district, starting Sunday and Monday when snow began blanketing the city.

On Tuesday, the Chicago Teachers Union published a list of grievances from anonymous school teachers and leaders griping about the district’s response to weather-related safety concerns. Read about the list of grievances, here. The list spanned more than a dozen schools and included complaints of slippery sidewalks and exits, unplowed or poorly plowed sidewalks and parking lots, and at least one chilly classrooms.

Some of the complaints echoed concerns raised last year about potential neglect of school facilities and grounds since the district privatized its janitorial contracts. Many schools now have part-time engineers and a reduced custodial staff and rely on private contractors and district facilities crews for salting and snow removal.

We’re Cassie Walker Burke, Adeshina Emmanuel and Yana Kunichoff, and we round up Chicago education news every week — just for you. Please send any tips or story ideas our way: And support local journalism! Sign up for our newsletter, here, and share it with a friend.

One more reminder: Chalkbeat Chicago is regularly live-tweeting events and meetings on Twitter. Follow us @ChalkbeatCHI, @cassiechicago, @public_ade, and @yanazure.

The Week in Review

High hopes in Englewood: Can a new $85 million state-of-the-art high school heal years of school closings and help revitalize Englewood, a black community on the South Side wracked by an exodus of residents and still reeling from the foreclosure crisis? Chalkbeat Chicago traveled to Englewood for a closer look at how decisions on schools can bring a community hope — and despair.

State education chief out: Thursday was state Superintendent of Education Tony Smith’s last day leading the Illinois State Board of Education. No word yet from Gov. J.B. Pritzker about a replacement. Here’s more from Chalkbeat Chicago.

Minding the gap: In Chicago, African-American and Latino students often lag behind their white and Asian peers in test scores, graduation rates, and college enrollment. We asked candidates for mayor how they would forge a more equitable school district and boost achievement of black and brown students. Read their responses at Chalkbeat Chicago.

Yes, Chicago voters really care about schools: Corruption. Race relations. Police reform. Chicagoans in a recent mayoral poll ranked school quality as a bigger issue than all those problems. Here’s a closer look at the numbers from Chalkbeat Chicago.

An artful perspective on school quality: Should student enrollment in arts courses factor into a school’s rating? The Illinois Arts Indicator Work Group thinks so. If the state board of education adopts the task force’s recommendation, Illinois would become only the second state to use a distinct arts indicator when evaluating schools. Chalkbeat Chicago reports.

The story behind the data: Chalkbeat Chicago interviewed author Emily Krone Phillips and chief equity office Maurice Swinney about a data point that reshaped Chicago high schools: “Freshmen On-Track,” which predicts whether students would ultimately graduate based on their first year in high school. Swinney, former principal at Tilden Career Community Academy, is featured in Phillips new book, “The Make-or-Break Year: Solving the Dropout Crisis One Ninth Grader at a Time.” Here’s an excerpt.

Plans for success: Two years ago, the school district began requiring high schoolers to come up with a plan for after high school via the “Learn. Plan. Succeed.” program. This week, the district debuted progress reports for the program to help sophomores and juniors set and reach their goals. Read more at WTTW.

Looking Forward

Chicago elections: In addition to our voter guide, we’re proud to be part of the Chi.Vote collective, joining the Better Government Association, Block Club Chicago, The Tribe, Chicago Reporter, the Daily Line, and others in creating a one-stop voter education site for Chicagoans. The site has a helpful FAQ, links to all those forums, a quiz to test your political know-how, and articles, including ours, to help you make your decisions. Good luck.


This week’s #HighFive goes to the Dancing Safe Passage Dude. The district’s Twitter account for High School Network 16 posted a short video of the safe passage worker busting a move in the snow on Tuesday at a time many other Chicagoans were fretting at the snow blanketing the ground and falling temperatures.“Thank you Safe Passage for keeping us moving!” the account Tweeted. The school district wasn’t able to provide us his name, only saying he works at South Shore High School.