Mayor's Initiative in Peril? (Chicago IL)

For nearly 10 years, school improvement has been one of Mayor Daley's aces in the hole, but that may no longer be the case under the latest reform initiative, dubbed Renaissance 2010, which is facing yet another round of departures, confusions, and conflict.

In today's Chicago Tribune, editorial page writer Cornelia Grumman chronicles some of the latest flubs and mis-steps, which include the departure of two key CPS officials (Karen Daniels and Lisa Schneider) who had been given responsibility for implementing Ren10 after Greg Richmond left last month, heavy-handed and secretive workings of the New Schools for Chicago organization headed by Phyllis Martin, and restrictive requirements being place by CPS on the 18 new schools that were approved by the board for next fall. Apparently, the new Ren10 director is going to be Frances Odden, principal at the Williams Multiplex.

See: Loving schools to death (Chicago Tribune).

See also:
Unfunded Ren10 Schools (This Week In Education)
Renaissance 2010 loses its muscle (Chicago Journal)
First Ren10 leaders chosen as charter leaders depart (Catalyst)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

From an insider’s point of view, I find it amusing that Russo’s story and the Tribune’s editorial suggest that Ren10 is “in peril” due to turnover, meeting requests, budgetary concerns, and a new “Campus Manger” requirement. Let’s take a look at each one of these developments.

Greg Richmond leaving CPS is a fairly big deal. His track record is strong and he has (or had) what it takes to fulfill the commitments of 100 new schools. Karen Daniels and Lisa Schneider, on the other hand, have a combined tenure with CPS of less than one-third of Richmond’s tenure. Also, unlike Greg, whose position was well-understood from the beginning, Karen and Lisa have been “floaters”, moving from one undefined assignment to another. Both are extremely talented (though they have each had less than one year within CPS to show their stuff) but to refer to them, as the Tribune does, as the “remaining heads” of Ren10 is misleading, since there is no shortage of able managers ready to steer the ship until a new “head” is assigned.

This business about “requiring” new school sponsors to attend 14 meetings is laughable. No one can require anyone to do anything within CPS. The truth is, as Mr. Duncan suggests, new school sponsors have many, many questions about every facet of new school business. In light of this, to organize weekly meetings is the responsible thing to do. And for every one charter/contract/performance school that already knows how to navigate the waters (Chicago International comes to mind), there are several school operators that not only don’t know what they are doing, but they are currently wasting their time, and many different CPS managers’ time, by regularly asking the same questions to individual department heads. The reason to organize the meetings was to allow new school reps to present their many questions to one group who would then provide answers in a unified, coherent manner.

Regarding budgetary questions, it’s a fact of life that Illinois’ education funding mechanisms are structurally flawed, and CPS is coming up on an even larger budget deficit than last year (which was the biggest projected deficit in recent memory). So there’re a lot of unanswered questions regarding the budgetary implications for new schools. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, or news, to anyone.

Lastly, this Campus Manger business is just so much hot air. CPS doesn’t require new schools to budget a unique position called “Campus Manger”. The new policy simply suggests that someone from the new school ought to designate herself as Campus Manager, so that when the inevitable issues resulting from shared facilities arise, there is a specific individual (probably the principal or AP) who can speak to the issues.

Suggestion to Russo: There are plenty of opportunities for you to forego re-hashing half-baked Trib editorials and get to some real stories within the ever-changing Ren10 world. For starters, try reaching out to the every-day workers who continue to move the project forward.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Alexander Russo said...

You sound like you're very knowledgeable, and I'd love to talk more. send me something at AlexanderRusso@aol.com.

I agree that none of the individual factors cited in the Tribune or covered by me in the past means much on its own. I wrote two weeks ago that Ren10 would continue without Greg, it just wouldn't be as good.

However, taken together the staff changes etc. could have a real effect -- making funders hesitate about giving more money to the effort, bringing additional scrutiny from communities or advocates about how the new schools are being rolled out.

Convinced or not, sign your posts, tone it down a notch, and thanks for the comment.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Cornelia Grumman said...

I've been trying to find the line in my editorial that says Ren10 is "in peril". I believe this is the relevant paragraph:

"Troubling signs in recent weeks have many concerned that the dynamic responsible for innovation--getting the heck out of the way as these new schools form--already is being undermined."

I'll keep looking.

Cornelia Grumman
Chicago Tribune
Editorial Board

12:23 PM  
Anonymous FelixLopeDeVega said...

The reference “in peril” was to the title of Mr. Russo’s post, though this is clearly the intent of the Tribune editorial.

I was a little too harsh on the Tribune’s editorial, perhaps. But it seems to me that that the Tribune’s editorial board and education writers are far more interested in cultivating and publishing opinions and stories about Ren10 and CPS that conform to their poorly developed sense of what a story should be, rather than the what the story actually is.

Alas, the truth is an imposter.

Mr. Grumman suggests “the bureaucrats are getting out their watering cans” and Mr. Weinberg, board chairman of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools warns, “We have to be careful that they [CPS bureaucrats] don’t love us to death.”

Take a look at what’s happening between CPS and new charters regarding leased/shared public school facilities, capitalization, lease rates and facility services. This isn’t bureaucrats with watering cans. More like embryonic charters drinking heavily from the trough.

Also, from the Chicago charter schools’ perspective, does "not wanting to be loved to death" mean that charters schools do not want to increase their enrollment of special needs students beyond the current average of 2%, while the average special education enrollment for neighborhood (non-charter) schools is often closer to 20%?

8:55 PM  

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