west side story

Tonight, a rally in District 3 to support diversity, oppose rezoning

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
A few people protested outside last week's CEC meeting; more are expected tonight.

A rally this evening against a parent council resolution to relieve overcrowding in Upper West Side schools will try to move beyond a bitter fight between two schools to focus on the broader issue of diversity in the neighborhood’s schools.

The Community Education Council for District 3 voted last week after a contentious meeting to introduce a resolution that would move two schools and reduce the zones of two others. Tonight, six members of CEC 3 must vote to pass the resolution.

Before tonight’s CEC vote, a rally will give voice to parents who say the resolution, if enacted, would reduce diversity in several of the neighborhood’s school buildings. “Is this what we want in our city?” asked Jeanne Kerwin, a parent who is one of the organizers of tonight’s rally.

At stake is the fate of the entire two-month-long rezoning process. If the resolution is defeated tonight, the Department of Education, not parents, will decide how to deal with the space crunch at neighborhood schools.

Last week’s CEC 3 meeting turned into a showdown between representatives of two schools that have dominated the two-month-long rezoning process. Those schools share a building on West 70th Street that has been the epicenter of bitter fighting: Parents from the Center School, a selective middle school, say the building would become nearly all white if their school is forced to move. But parents of students zoned for PS 199 argue that having two schools in the building next year would cause hopeless overcrowding — or require some kids to be shut out of their neighborhood elementary school.

At last week’s meeting, speakers from several other schools interrupted the Center School-PS 199 fight to raise issues of diversity. “There are a lot of parents that are concerned about what is going on,” Jeanne Kerwin told me.

Among the issues: Parents at the Computer School worry about what will happen when a citywide gifted school, the Anderson School, moves into the building the Computer School shares with MS 44; until now, that building has had very few white students. Representatives of PS 75 say rezoning could threaten its Spanish dual-language program. And several parents from PS 199 told me last week that they were unhappy with their Parent Association’s anti-Center School attitude.

Kerwin said she organized tonight’s rally using e-mail addresses she collected from parents and other community members who walked out of last week’s meeting to protest what they said was the CEC’s inattention to issues of diversity through the rezoning process. The Center for Immigrant Families, a community group that has long supported programs to desegregate Upper West Side schools, issued a statement saying the CEC resolution should have addressed issues of equity.

A second contingent of parents could join the opposition tonight, but for a very different reason. The Post reported today that residents of several high-rise buildings on the verge of being rezoned for a low-performing elementary school are angry. Rumor has it that they plan to protest the resolution.

If diversity is to remain the focus of tonight’s rally, a major question is what role the Center School will play. The school’s Web site says that parents will be “mobilizing … and hopefully leading” the rally. But a message to the school’s private Yahoo group yesterday from a member of the PTA emphasizes that the Center School is not playing a leadership role:

Just to be clear, the rally … is NOT related specifically to the Center School’s move, but to the general issue of diversity. It is not sponsored by us, and we are not organizing or directing or leading it. You are welcome to back this issue, but any signs … should NOT say “Center School” or use our school’s name in any way.

A Center School parent, Alan Madison, who is also the son-in-law of Principal Elaine Schwartz, told me that community members decided not to make the school the focus of tonight’s rally. “In fact in this case we’re supporting someone else,” Madison told me. “We don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.”

About the Center School, Kerwin said, “They certainly have had their time in the press. … If I were them, I would choose to let other people speak.”

“A lot of schools have their own issues that all tell a bigger story,” she said.

Organizers expect a sizable turnout at tonight’s rally, but they aren’t expecting a last-minute change of heart from CEC members.

“Will [the rally] change the minds of CEC people? I have no idea,” Kerwin said. She said she’s hoping to prompt a larger conversation about race and class in District 3 schools.

Still, one CEC member abstained from voting last week after hearing a litany of complaints. If others abstain tonight, the resolution might not pass.

“If the resolution is defeated, that’s it,” Jennifer Freeman of CEC 3 told me. The DOE would then decide how to ease overcrowding, and it could cap school enrollments, end the district’s admissions lottery, or move schools or programs. Only rezoning is the exclusive domain of community education councils.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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