CPS leaders quarrel over schools

By Gregory Cappis

Hundreds of people crowded into an auditorium to watch what they thought would be a boxing match between the leaders on opposite sides of the education playing field. However, the spectators found the boxing match to be more of a pillow fight with both sides tending to agree with each other.

Bruce Dold, Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Page Editor, hosted a discussion between John-Claude Brizard, Chicago Public Schools’ CEO, and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. The event was held at the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road, in front of approximately 700 people on Sept. 13. It was part of the Chicago Tribune’s “Chicago Forward,” a series of public discussions that attempt to bring transparency to Chicago politics. It was clear that Brizard and Lewis shared common beliefs from their opening remarks.

After Dold said, “Let’s get ready to rumble,” the civil discussion commenced.

Brizard and Lewis agreed on multiple issues, two being the involvement of families in education and that every school should be excellent.

“My vision is that every single neighborhood has an amazing quality education for every child,” Lewis said.

Brizard agreed, saying, “Every child leaving CPS college and career-ready is my ultimate vision.”

Lewis said since the discussion of longer school days has been brought up, she would like schools to remain open until 8 or 9 p.m. She wants to make the school available for families of students. After hours family members could access computer labs or partake in English language classes, she added.

“If we make this commitment, then all of a sudden we will see a difference in how schools will actually look because they’ll look more like families than factories,” Lewis said.

The hall’s audience was much more supportive of Lewis than Brizard even before the discussion began. The walls vibrated with cheers as nearly everyone clapped and hollered when Lewis’ name was first announced as she made her way on stage. Brizard was met with silence during

his introduction.

He did receive intermittent support as he discussed the problems with the current state of the public school system. He said the job of teachers and principals has gotten much more difficult during the past few decades.

“The system hasn’t changed in the past 50 to 100 years, and the world has changed quite a bit,” he said.

Schools are now asked to do more, but they are not receiving the resources required, Brizard said. He referenced neighborhoods where schools mean everything to a child, including keeping them safe from the violence surrounding them.

Parents’ involvement in children’s education is critical to their success, according to Barbara Radner, director of the Center for Urban Education at DePaul University and former primary school teacher. Radner said there is not enough time in the school day for students to memorize their times tables, so parents need to help them at home.

“I do parent workshops, and I am consistently impressed that the parents want to do the right thing, but they don’t know what that is educationally,” she said in a phone interview.

Radner would like to get parents involved by having similiar workshops at all elementary schools. She believes these workshops should be a weekly event. Parents should also be rewarded for attending these workshops, possibly in the form of credits toward books, she said.

A local public school teacher who asked to remain anonymous said he would like to see principals support family involvement. He said the principal at his school refuses to return phone calls and emails of parents, which pushes people away.

Brizard and Lewis agreed there are many problems facing CPS that will take years to fix.

Lewis refused to agree with Brizard, who said a longer school day is necessary. She said a day filled with higher quality education is one of the steps needed to improve the struggling school district.

“There is no panacea, but a longer school day will get the tools we need to get the stuff done,” Brizard said. “It provides an avenue for better work.”