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A Tale of Two Schools: The Culture of Fear Continues

The Culture of Fear Continues: Beidler Elementary

August 13, 2012, was a prime day for another photo-op. On the first day of classes for Track E schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, accompanied by TV cameras and newspaper reporters, visited Jacob Beidler Elementary School in East Garfield Park. Emanuel mingled with teachers, and students, posing for photos with cheerful children eager to start the new school year. After addressing the school, Emanuel rang the bell, ceremoniously starting the school year at Beidler. Exactly six months later, Emanuel’s new CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett placed Beidler, which had been proposed for consolidation two years and three CEOs earlier, on a hit list of 129 schools that she would consider for closure. Sound familiar?

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(Alt Description: Photo of Mayor Rahm Emanuel at event for start of the new school year.)

After addressing Beidler teachers and students, Mayor Rahm Emanuel rings the bell, signaling the start of the 2012-2013 school year.
Photo by Brian Jackson, Chicago Sun-Times

Located at 3151 West Walnut Street, just steps from the Kedzie Green Line station, Beidler Elementary has been a staple of the East Garfield Park community for nearly 100 years. East Garfield Park, much like Englewood, has suffered from massive disinvestment over the past half-century. Like Englewood, East Garfield Park faces high crime and high poverty. East Garfield Park’s murder rate and percentage of residents living poverty are about 2.5 times higher than the city average.1 Finding affordable housing has become increasingly difficult because of gentrification efforts, as well as high foreclosure rates. Students in East Garfield Park schools were three times more likely to be suffering from homelessness than the CPS average in January 2013.2

Chicago is continuing to disinvest in East Garfield Park through the proposed 2013 school actions, taking away neighborhood schools for 1,355 students, 98.5 percent of whom are African-American.3 On February 13, 2013, CPS placed almost half of East Garfield Park’s noncharter elementary schools—Beidler, Bethune, Calhoun, Ericson and Garfield Park—on a hit list of 129 so-called “underutilized” schools that were being considered for closure or consolidation.4 Four schools in East Garfield Park are among the 54 schools CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has targeted in her final school actions recommendations: Bethune, Calhoun, Ericson and Garfield Park. When factoring in co-locating and receiving schools, all but two of the 11 non-charter CPS elementary schools in East Garfield Park are directly affected by the recommendations. Beidler and Kellman students were among the few on the West Side to avoid direct impact from the largest proposed school closings in American history.

Recommended School Actions in East Garfield Park: 2013

School Proposed Action
Bethune Close into Gregory
Calhoun Close into Cather
Ericson Close into Summer
Garfield Park Close into Farady
Cather Receiving
Faraday Receiving
Gregory Receiving
Jensen Receiving (King)
Dodge Co-Locate with Morton
Beidler none
Kellman none

Although it will not be closed or designated a receiving school in 2013, Beidler is still affected by school actions. Fighting off closure threats two times in three years has created a culture of fear at Beidler as teachers, students, and parents believe that CPS will continue to target the school for closing. CPS has consistently neglected to provide Beidler with essential resources, leading the community to believe the district does not have long-term plans for the school. The destruction of other East Garfield Park neighborhood schools only amplifies this fear. The 2013 proposed school actions prove that CPS is targeting East Garfield Park. Beidler avoided CPS’s wrath in 2013, but what about next time?

Teachers have become increasingly concerned about the impact of closing threats on their students. The school’s precarious status affects student performance, forcing children to worry not only about their lessons but also where they will be attending school the next year. Beidler is in “constant limbo,” and students must worry about losing the familial relationships that they have developed with teachers, staff and their peers at Beidler. Living in an unstable community, children in East Garfield Park deserve a stable school climate.

While Beidler will remain open for the 2013-2014 school year, the school still has many of the same disadvantages of those subject to school actions. Beidler has long struggled with insufficient resources, limited wraparound services and an incomplete curriculum. Beidler also shares demographic similarities with Guggenheim and the schools proposed for closure in 2013. Like 87 percent of the schools proposed to be closed, Beidler is an “Apartheid school”—schools with 99 percent students of color—in the 2013 school year.5 Eighty-eight percent of Beidler students qualify for free or reduced lunch, slightly less than Guggenheim in 2012, where 94.5 percent qualified.6 While not as extreme as Guggenheim, Beidler’s student body is also highly mobile, with a mobility rate higher than the district average in 10 of the last 12 years.7 These demographics and resource deficiencies are incredibly similar to Guggenheim and the 54 schools on the 2013 closing list, adding to Beidler’s fear the CPS will continue to target the school.

Despite these societal barriers, Beidler, according to the University of Chicago’s 5 Essential Supports, is “organized” for improvement. Based on teacher and student responses to the 2012 CPS My Voice, My School Survey, Beidler received a “strong” evaluation in two categories, Supportive Environment and Ambitious Instruction.8 In schools with a Supportive Environment, teachers identify and intervene when students are struggling academically. Even using CPS-supported metrics, Beidler has had success reaching low-performing students, significantly raising ISAT scores. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) recognized Beidler with the Academic Improvement Award in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011.9 Beidler also has four full-time special education teachers with a combined 86 years of experience on staff for the 2012-2013 school year, as well as two classroom assistants.10

Beidler also excelled on Course Clarity (very strong) and Math Instruction (strong), subcategories of Ambitious Instruction, which indicates a full and engaging curriculum.11 The school’s teacher retention rate helps explain the high scores in Ambitious Instruction. While only 57 percent of Guggenheim’s 2009-2010 year teachers were still at the school two years later, 75 percent of Beidler’s teachers remained at their school over the same time period.12 Given the increased retention at Beidler, teachers could collaborate consistently with their colleagues and formulate challenging, engaging lesson plans.

Beidler was rated as “weak” in Effective Leaders, which measures the level of collaboration between administrators and teachers toward the implementation of a “clear and strategic vision for school success.”13 2011-2012, however, was the first school year for Beidler’s new principal, which may explain the below-average score (which was still only one point away from “neutral). It is not unexpected that it takes more than one year for a new administration develop and execute a plan for improvement. The Effective Leaders score notwithstanding, based on teachers’ engaging curriculum and the school’s hard work with struggling students, the University of Chicago’s holistic approach to school evaluation determined that despite of the school’s limited resources, Beidler is on the correct path.

Through testimony from teachers and staff, the following case study explores the barriers to learning for Beidler students. This case study will also highlight how Beidler’s teachers and administrators have attempted to compensate for school’s resource shortage and compare the school’s learning environment, resource allocation, and other elements of performance to Guggenheim. Through threats of school actions, CPS created a culture of fear at both schools, but Beidler, although still woefully under-resourced, appears to have a clearer direction than the CPS-inflicted chaos that overwhelmed and divided Guggenheim.

Creating a Culture of Fear

Beidler is no stranger to threats of school actions. Like Guggenheim, the school was forced to fight two potential closings in just three years. On March 23, 2011, CPS Interim CEO Terry Mazany announced his proposal to consolidate Beidler in Willa Cather Elementary School, a half-mile southeast of the school.14 When announcing the plan for consolidation, CPS expressed its true reasoning for wanting to clear out Beidler—Mazany wanted to give the building to Urban Prep’s East Garfield Park Campus, allowing the charter high school to increase its enrollment.15 The new campus, which opened to ninth and tenth graders in the fall of 2010, had been occupying Cather’s second floor but would need more space to add 11th and 12th grade.16 Even though the Board estimated that it would cost $5.5 million to convert Beidler into a high school, CPS apparently thought that handing over a neighborhood school to a charter was the best course of action.17

“Everyone was sad because the teachers were working so hard and getting the test scores up; we kept making improvements. But then all of a sudden, [Mazany] comes in and decides that this would be a good school for Urban Prep.” – Beidler staff


Here’s Your Park, Now Give It to Urban Prep

Under CPS’s proposal, Beidler students would not be able to enjoy their new campus park, which was to be built in 2011. Without any safe and clean outdoor areas for the students to have recess, practice athletics and hold field days and graduation, teachers, parents and community leaders advocated for a park to be constructed at Beidler. After 15 years of pleading, the Board approved an Intergovernmental Agreement with the city of Chicago to replace part of the vacated alley behind Beidler with a new campus park. CPS would only have to pay an estimated $10,910 for the park, with rest of the $2.2 million project paid with TIF funds and a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.18 The Board approved the agreement on March 23, 2011, the same day that CPS announced its proposal to consolidate Beidler into Cather. As soon as CPS and the Board provided Beidler with a long-awaited societal resource—a resource unrivaled in East Garfield Park—the district announced that it wanted to kick the students out and gift-wrap the building and the TIF money spent on the park for a politically-connected charter school. It was a perfect microcosm of CPS’s priorities and its vision for privatized education on the West Side.

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(Alt Description: Photo of Beidler Campus Park)
Beidler Campus Park, built in 2011. Photo by Kevin Russell

"The students were saddened. They stopped working on the playground. I had to put my shade down, because it was too depressing, just looking at it and seeing the trucks out there. It was a sad time for everybody." – Beidler staff


Determined to prevent CPS from surrendering their school to a charter, the Beidler community quickly rallied against the proposed consolidation. Beidler held enthusiastic protests, packed the community hearings and threatened to march on the Board if the proposal was approved.19 Much like Guggenheim in 2010, Beidler showcased the passion of their students and emphasized the school’s role in the community. At the April 11, 2011, hearing at the CPS Central Office, held only a week after the meeting was announced,20 CPS backed down, telling the attendees at the beginning of the meeting that the district was withdrawing the consolidation proposal.21

“[The students] were shocked and concerned. What would happen to their sisters and brothers? They were eager to fight.” – Beidler staff

“The community has such a relationship with the school because a generation of students has gone here. This is home to them.” – Beidler staff

Mirroring Guggenheim, CPS targeted Beidler for school actions again in 2013, just two years after fighting off the consolidation attempt. On February 13, 2013, CPS placed Beidler on its hit list of potential closings, citing “underutilization.”22 The announcement renewed fear and anger in the community that they would lose their neighborhood school. Teachers expressed frustration and despair over the school being forced into “constant limbo” by CPS’s reckless policies.23 This culture of fear and uncertainty continues to persist even though Beidler was not included in CPS’s final recommendation for closure. After CPS’s repeated plotting to close the school and the district’s failure to provide vital resources (see next two sections), the Beidler community still believes that they will have to face-off against CPS again in the future.

“People are sort of adapting to [attempted closings]. We know that it’s coming again, because it’s happening so frequently. [CPS] is searching to close a school [and] displace teachers.” – Beidler staff

CPS’s habitual threats of closure make it even more difficult to develop long-term plans for improvement or to keep students engaged academically. The school’s precarious status has had notable impact on the students. The culture of fear creates more instability in the children’s already-unstable lives; children in a chaotic community cannot even rely on the constancy of their school. Worried students find it difficult to concentrate on school work. At the February 27, 2013, utilization committee meeting, a Beidler student testified: “To continue to focus on my learning is really hard, when every two years I’m concerned about my school closing.” CPS’s threats of school action have intruded into lives of students and created a permanent state of insecurity for the community.

“It’s distracting to the students when you are constantly talking about school closings, school closings, school closings. I think that kids need a stable environment, and this is one of the few stable environments that many of these kids have, where they have familiar faces and people who care about them. It’s going to be a traumatic situation for them to lose many of the people who have been their support system, in addition to their home.” – Beidler staff

Archaic Technology and Restrictive Testing

When asked about the resources available at their school, Beidler staff consistently mentioned the shortage of functioning technology as a major impediment to educational progress. The SIPAAA planning committee recognized the need for new computers and “increased access to technology equipment.”24 The committee also wanted to use technology to educate parents and provide GED and job training workshops for the community. Beidler wanted to hire a technology coordinator to maintain the equipment and teach a computer class.25 The school did have a technology teacher for a few months in the fall and winter of 2012, but the teacher has since left Beidler and has not been replaced.26 The students still attend a weekly technology class, but without a trained instructor, teachers lamented the wasted course’s wasted potential.

While the school does have a computer lab, staff reported that the obsolete machines regularly break down, severely limiting access to the internet and other computer-based learning programs. Staff estimated that most of the computers, including the machines in the teachers’ classrooms, are nearly a decade old and inadequate for proper instruction or planning. Rather than purchasing up-to-date computers, CPS has only done small repairs, such as replacing full or unusable hard drives. The school has some laptops available for teachers, but they suffer from the same malfunctions as the desktop computers. Many teachers use laptops for interactive programs and differentiated instruction; not having working equipment restricts their ability to deliver creative lessons. Needing operable technology for their classrooms, a few teachers have even purchased laptops out of their own pocket.27 ELMO projectors and interactive SMART whiteboards, which give teachers more flexibility in their instruction, are a rarity at Beidler; the school has only a couple of these modern educational tools. Most teachers with access to this equipment took advantage of grants, because CPS has not supplied the school with enough for widespread use at Beidler.28 Technology is obviously a necessary resource in modern classrooms, and it is CPS’s responsibility to ensure that all schools have operable, up-to-date technology to educate their students. CPS has failed to provide this at Beidler.

“They gave us some laptops that were literally non-functioning. It was something that should have been thrown in the garbage. We couldn’t even use the CD-ROM drive. That’s how old they were.” – Beidler staff


Testing Madness

Beidler’s computer lab is primarily used for testing and test preparation, further reducing it benefits. The primitive computers often fail during testing as well. When the machines freeze, teachers have to ensure the child has exited the test so the results are not affected, reboot the computer and have the student re-enter the testing program. Teachers even struggled to acquire the resources required for the new computerized tests. After not receiving the headphones needed for the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress exam (NWEA MAP), one teacher had to go to the store the night before the test and buy 31 headphones out of her own pocket just so her students could take the assessment. These types of preventable technological mistakes and resource shortages not only skew results for students, but with teacher evaluation now tied to test scores, can also influence a teacher’s supposed effectiveness.

“We have the hardest time with testing. [The computers] freeze up, and then I have to go in and maneuver to get the kid offline, to remove them from the test, and then try to put them back into the test. … We’re in a situation where the technology that is supposed to be used in our evaluation is working against us.” – Beidler staff

“I knew that first thing the next morning, I was supposed to be doing that test. I had to go out that evening and buy 31 headphones out of my own pocket.” – Beidler staff

Teachers denounced the overwhelming amount of testing they are forced to integrate into their classroom planning. Administering and preparing for standardized testing occupies so much of the teachers’ time that it is difficult to find room for creative lesson plans, incorporate fine arts into instruction or nurture critical thinking skills. Offering unique units, such as poetry, is nearly impossible, especially in “benchmark grades” (3rd, 6th, and 8th), because of the frequency of testing. Benchmark-grade teachers estimated that they must give their students a CPS-mandated test every five weeks. Because of the increasing high-stakes nature of these tests, the week or two before testing is spent almost entirely on reviewing material on the assessments.

“You do so much testing that you barely have any time for learning. Every time you pull out a sheet of paper, the kids are saying, ‘Is that a test?’” – Beidler staff

“Maybe I want to do more with poetry in my class, but I really can’ t because I have to make sure they hit these mandates from the Network. … A week or two before test time, most of your instruction is review for the test. … We’re focusing so much on test, test, test [rather than] teaching those creative thinking skills that they can use outside of the test.” – Beidler staff


Insufficient Academic Resources

Similar to Guggenheim, Beidler teachers and staff reported that supplemental resources have declined to unacceptable levels over the past few years. Since the teachers still need many of these materials to implement their lesson plans, staff has to spend increasingly absurd amounts of their own money on supplies for their classrooms. While the Board of Education reimburses teachers up to $250, each teacher interviewed for this report has already surpassed this insufficient amount, with most interviewees purchasing more than half of their supplemental resources out-of-pocket.

“Each year it seems you have to spend more and more. You have to budget yourself as a teacher, but at the same time, you need certain things to help your students.” – Beidler staff

Estimated Out-of-Pocket Spending by Beidler Staff in 2012-201329

Level/Position Out-of-Pocket Expenditures
K-5 teacher 75-80 percent
K-5 teacher 35-40 percent
K-5 teacher 50 percent
K-5 teacher 50-75 percent
K-5 teacher 90 percent
6-8 teacher 85 percent
6-8 teacher 30 percent
PSRP 50 percent

Teachers and PSRPs spend money on a plethora of crucial classroom materials, purchasing even the most basic supplies such as pencils, paper, dry erase markers, staplers, scissors, rulers and calculators, out-of-pocket. To encourage their students to perform to the best of their abilities, many Beidler teachers buy stickers, prizes, awards and other incentives to reward students for exceptional work. Staff purchases decorations for their classrooms, hallways and bulletin boards to enhance the learning environment and develop a sense of camaraderie at the school. Much like the Guggenheim staff, Beidler teachers strive to motivate their students and aspire to make their school a safe and stable second home for the children.30

The shortage of printer ink at Beidler demonstrates how small, often-forgotten materials can make teaching much more difficult. Through the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, Beidler had no ink for their copier. Teachers had to take their lesson plans, supplemental reading materials and anything else they wanted to print or copy to a local store. Teachers spent exorbitant sums of money on these copies, especially for social studies lessons. Because Beidler does not have social studies books, teachers must print documents to replace material that a textbook would usually provide. Beidler occasionally receives Scholastic and Time for Kids magazines, but these are hardly enough to teach students the complexities of social science. The lack of textbooks also emphasizes the consequences of not having sufficient technology; because of the inadequate technology, teachers cannot substitute textbook material with creative, interactive lessons that utilize computer-based programs and information. These resource deficiencies create unnecessary barriers to teaching, tying the hands of trained educators and restricting their ability to reach their students.31

“I have to spend a lot on copying and materials. You have to have supplemental resources to do certain things. … So, if I know that the materials may not be available when I need to teach them, I have to go out and get some things myself, and it’s very costly. And you only get reimbursed $250 from the Board of Education. 85 percent of supplemental materials I had to purchase myself.” – Beidler staff

Beidler experiences similar learning material shortages as Guggenheim. Teachers stated that Beidler does not have enough textbooks or learning materials for all its students, forcing students to share the limited resources. Many grade levels did not even have math textbooks for the first two months of the 2012-2013 school year.32 For years, science textbooks were out-ofdate, and rather than getting new books, CPS gave Beidler science kits, which contained limited materials for various experiments. When teachers were reviewing practice materials for the ISAT, however, they discovered the kits did not cover all of the sections tested on the science portion of the assessment. Because of the emphasis on test scores, teachers went back to using the old textbooks until new editions were purchased. Despite stressing standardized testing, CPS also did not supply Beidler with enough ISAT reading practice books for all students. One teacher reported that she only received 30 practice books for her two classes, which have a combined 48 students. These practice books did not arrive until late January, less than two months before the ISAT.33

“[A K-5 teacher] fought to get [science] textbooks, and they told us to use these kits, but these kits were not enough information to teach the full science curriculum for them to pass the ISAT science test. It’s not a full science program. It’s supposed to be an additional resource, not the entire science program, but [CPS] promoted to us as a standalone science program.” – Beidler staff

The inadequate supply of ISAT practice books is not the only resource shortage hindering Beidler’s push for improved literacy. Lower-grade teachers expressed a need for phonics books. Teachers viewed these materials as vital resources in teaching children to read and to catch students up to grade level. Unstable family situations are common among Beidler students and many children enter the school without parents who read to them—many parents cannot read themselves—or have the time and ability to help them with their homework. These supplemental workbooks help bridge this learning gap. Teachers reported that they have spent hundreds of dollars on sets of workbooks. Teachers also supply short stories, such as Dr. Seuss books, for the students to spark an interest in reading.34 For Beidler to make substantial gains in literacy, CPS needs to provide the school with more classroom resources such as short stories, novels and supplementary workbooks.

While Beidler has a fairly well-resourced library, the school does not have librarian on staff. For the first time in recent memory, Beidler had a part-time librarian for part of the 2011-2012 school year, but that position is currently vacant.35 Recalling the testimony of Guggenheim librarian Rosie Burns, it is unrealistic to expect a library to function efficiently without a librarian to guide students and maintain its many resources.

“We’re pushing literacy, but we don’t have a librarian. We do not have enough reading [text]books for all of our students. We don’t even have enough ISAT practice books. We didn’t get our math books until three weeks after the strike. … We are literally begging for resources at this point.” – Beidler staff

“I don’t see the finances being put forth in as far as resources are concerned. I would like to see more books, up-to-date books, [and] more phonics materials at the lower grade level. I would like to see more hands-on things, like a science lab and art. I’d like to see a librarian, more things for our parents, and an emphasis on computer literacy.” – Beidler staff


Striving to Educate and Nurture the Whole Child

While Beidler does boast a CPS-sponsored Comprehensive Gifted Program, the school does not have the resources to provide a full curriculum for all of its students. Beidler has weekly music and physical education classes for students but no official art program. To help compensate for the lack of an art class, Beidler sometimes recruits volunteer art teachers, but the school would certainly benefit from a regular art instructor. Research has found that arts education correlates with high class attendance, low dropout rates and improved student motivation and aspiration. Fine arts programs can also enhance students’ self-awareness and self-confidence, stimulate the acceptance of others, develop interpersonal skills, promote teamwork, increase creativity and improve abstract reasoning skills.36 The value of Beidler’s weekly music class in developing these skills and qualities should not be dismissed, but an art class during the regular school day, along with theater and drama, would allow students to benefit even more from their education.

Beidler teachers and staff offered a sharp critique of the school’s wraparound services, describing them as “limited” and “horrible.”37 A social worker visits Beidler twice a week while a psychologist and nurse see students once a week. The instability in the home lives of many Beidler students, as well as the school’s high mobility rates, warrants more visits from social workers and psychologists. With the rising costs of health care preventing families from regular doctor visits, a once-a-week nurse is hardly sufficient. Appointments with these Essential Support Personnel (ESPs) often must be scheduled in advance because of their excessive case loads. Because of limited access to these support services, the teachers and staff “become doctors, nurses, mothers, and psychologists.” The Beidler staff work to gain their students’ trust and attempt to guide students through difficult times and “keep them a whole person.”38

“There’s so much violence and chaos in our students’ lives that is has almost become the norm, but it still gets to them. We really become doctors, nurses, mothers and psychologists. [When evaluating schools] CPS isn’t thinking about the things that keep a student a whole person.” – Beidler staff


+++Adapting to CPS-created Deficiencies and Building a Stable School Climate

Beidler attempts to teach the whole child through mentoring programs: Girls for Destiny, Boys to Men, and partnerships with the Chicago Police Department. These programs, coordinated by members of the Beidler staff, focus on character education, grooming the whole child and preparing students for adulthood. In these programs, students and staff discuss drugs, relationships and other vital elements of a complete education that are neglected in the standard CPS curriculum. Beidler also organizes Proud Men Read Aloud, a program that recruits professionals from the community—lawyers, doctors and ministers, for example—to visit Beidler and connect with male students. The professionals are free to do whatever they feel is most productive for the children; some read with the students, but others have group discussions about non-academic topics, much like in the Boys to Men program.39

The school has also organized partnerships with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Mobile C.A.R.E. Foundation and the Norwegian American Hospital to address health concerns in the community. The Greater Chicago Food Depository provides nutritious snacks for students and hosts workshops to educate families on healthy-eating habits. The Mobile C.A.R.E. Foundation provides free asthma treatment through its Asthma C.A.R.E. Van that visits Beidler once a week. The Norwegian American Hospital also sends representatives to Beidler once a week to administer free vaccines for children.40 Despite the meager wraparound services provided by CPS, Beidler’s teachers and administration have been proactive, finding other ways to accommodate their students.

These programs are not the only rays of hope for the Beidler community. The campus park gives Beidler a truly unique resource that can be used for a multitude of events and programs. Students enjoy the playgrounds during recess and the school utilizes the green space for field days, graduation and athletic training. Teachers use the park’s open spaces and greenery to enhance their science lessons. Staff suggests that having a resource rarely seen on the West Side also provides Beidler students with a sense of pride and self-worth. After years of advocacy, CPS finally made a noticeable investment in Beidler; the students feel valued, and they can now profit from the academic and personal benefits of a modern and safe park.

“[The campus park] gives the children freedom. There’s no place like this park on the West Side. It gives them a sense of value.” – Beidler staff

“The kids have an actual playground to play in. They rarely experience that; most areas on the West Side don’t have parks where the kids can go to play. .. We can use it with our teaching as well. We were learning about solar energy, and we had a safe area outside to do instruction. When we had field days, [the students] had a guarded area for activities where they don’t have to worry about glass or other things on the ground.” – Beidler staff

Beidler is also making strides in the Involved Families Essential Support. To educate and engage the community, Beidler delegated a room for parent education. In this “parent room,” members of the community can access the internet to conduct research, complete GED or college homework, or search for jobs. Parents can also use a fax machine and printer in the room. The school occasionally hosts educational workshops in the room as well. Like the rest of the school, the parent room suffers from outdated, inconsistent technology, but teachers still view it as an important asset.41 Beidler’s parent room is a perfect example of a school using an empty classroom for the benefit of the community. CPS may claim that this room is not being utilized but having this extra space has clearly been useful at Beidler.

To increase parental involvement, Beidler holds many of the same events requested by Guggenheim teachers in their 2010-2012 SIPAAA. Beidler hosts family activity nights 2-3 times a month, as well as literacy nights, math nights and movie nights. The school prepares newsletters for parents, and Principal Charles Anderson calls parents with a recorded message that informs them of upcoming school events. These strategies have helped increase the number of parent volunteers; Beidler usually has 10 to 15 volunteers at the school each day, more than double what Guggenheim had when in closed in 2012. Parent involvement in the LSC is still a struggle, but staff hopes that increased community engagement at the school will eventually trickle over to LSC meetings.42

Principal Anderson, who replaced the well-respected Shirley Ewing when she retired after the 2010-2011 school year, represents perhaps the biggest difference between Beidler and Guggenheim. Similar to Guggenheim, the administrative change happened during a time of uncertainty after fighting off a proposed closure. Unlike Guggenheim, however, Beidler was not on probation, allowing the LSC to select the school’s new principal. Since Anderson was interviewed and thoroughly evaluated by the LSC before being hired, the Beidler community did not feel as if CPS was forcing a new administration on them, contrary to CPS’s unchecked selection of Principal Stokes at Guggenheim.

To have Effective Leaders, one of the 5Essentials, principals must collaborate with teachers and staff, working together to create a coherent, strategic vision for student success.43 While Guggenheim teachers did not believe that the administration respected their ideas, most Beidler teachers expressed genuine appreciation for Anderson, reporting that he listens to the staff and advocates for support they need. Teachers stated that Anderson will always consider a thorough proposal for a new program or idea for school improvement. The teachers, LSC, and administration all seem to operate as a team at Beidler, unlike the contentious relationship that the administration created at Guggenheim. Despite Beidler’s “weak” rating for Effective Leaders in 2012, teachers’ testimony indicates that the mutual trust and respect between teachers and the administration is improving. At Guggenheim, however, it only seemed to get worse over time. Like Principal Ewing before him, Principal Anderson has prioritized the Collaborative Teachers Essential Support. To encourage collaboration among the teachers and to increase staff morale, Anderson lets staff lead professional development sessions and plans team-building activities. Teachers reported that Anderson also encourages them to create action plans with their colleagues and attempts to implement the aspects of these plans into the school, important aspects of both Effective Leaders and Collaborative Teachers.

“Even though Mr. Anderson’s only been here two years, he really values our input. Most times, nine times out of ten, if we give him an idea, he’ll ask what we need from him [to implement it]. He’s very supportive and … [has] an opendoor policy. He lets us lead professional development, come up with ideas for different programs and come up with action plans for the school climate and the neighborhood.” – Beidler staff

Beidler teachers and staff, much like at Guggenheim, understand that, without many safe places in the neighborhood, the school must be a nurturing place for students. Focusing on the Supportive Environment and Involved Families Essential Supports, the teachers work tirelessly to form relationships with their students and their families, ensuring that there is a sincere level of mutual trust and respect between all parties involved in each child’s education. Since multiple generations have attended Beidler, the school has truly become an institution in East Garfield Park—an institution that provides some necessary stability in an unstable community.

“It’s really incredible the way the staff cares for the students. It’s really moving.” – 2012 addition to the Beidler staff

The Power of Collaboration and a Holistic Approach

CPS has not made it easy for Beidler. The school’s technology is archaic. Textbooks are scarce, incomplete and out-of-date. Staff must purchase most of their supplemental materials. Testing occupied much of teachers’ instructional time. CPS has created a culture of fear, with students and staff constantly bracing for the wrath of school actions and distracting the school community from its goal: educating students academically and cultivating their socio-emotional development. Through concentrating their limited resources on a holistic education that emphasizes teacher and family input, however, the Beidler community has organized the school for improvement.

Why did Beidler bounce back from the first closing attempt while Guggenheim struggled? The most obvious difference is the school leadership. At Beidler, a well-respected principal was replaced with an LSC-selected administrator that, for the most part, treats teachers, staff and parents as partners for school improvement. Guggenheim’s LSC, however, had no role in the selection of a new principal, and, as the teachers’ testimony makes blatantly clear, the staff and new administration did not share mutual trust or respect, key aspects of the Effective Leaders support. The inexperience of the Guggenheim administration showed, as it failed to collaborate with teachers and parents to create a coherent and consistent plan for improvement.

Both institutions had Collaborative Teachers that were committed to their schools, but unlike Guggenheim’s staff, most Beidler teachers believe that they are partners for school improvement. Beidler and Guggenheim struggled to get the resources needed for Ambitious Instruction, but Beidler received a “strong” evaluation for this Essential Support in 2012. At both schools, excessive testing also limited teachers’ creativity and lesson plans from stimulating critical thinking. Since the Guggenheim staff had to spend much of their time on classroom discipline, it was difficult to focus on the qualities of Ambitious Instruction.

Earning a rating 18 points above the CPS average on 2012 My Voice, My School Survey, Beidler excels at making the school a Supportive Environment, offering newly-created mentoring programs and housing a campus park that gives students a safe place to learn, play and practice for sporting events. According to CPS Position Files, Beidler has four full-time special education teachers, as well as two classroom assistants. Guggenheim only had two full-time special education teachers for the 2011-2012 school year, one of whom became assistant principal in December 2011, leaving only one full-time instructor. Multiple Guggenheim teachers also claimed that the special education case manager would often delay or even refuse to evaluate students recommended by parents and teachers for servicing. This caused struggling students to fall even further behind. At schools with a strong Supportive Environment, these students are identified and given proper interventions, ensuring that they receive the proper resources and attention to obtain a high-quality education.

Beidler is making strides in Involved Families. The school has 10 to 15 parent volunteers at the school each day and hosts family activity nights, literacy nights, math nights and movie nights. Beidler parents receive newsletters and regular recorded phone calls from Principal Anderson to inform them of upcoming school events. The school’s parent room provides the community an opportunity to use the internet, especially for job searches and research for parents taking GED or college classes.

Some teachers still expressed frustration over parents not taking an active role in their child’s education. Homework and documents sent home often are not returned and parental involvement in the LSC is minimal. Beidler still needs to make some improvements to strengthen the Involved Families support, but it does seem that the teachers and administration have developed a reasonable plan to increase community engagement. Guggenheim, however, appeared to be going in the wrong direction. Guggenheim parents, especially those who advocated against the closing, had an exceptionally difficult time securing a meeting with the principal. The school’s homeless liaison faced restrictions from the administration on when she could hold meetings for homeless parents. Guggenheim parents were not partners for school improvement.

Schools that serve economically distressed communities and educate a significant number of homeless children must be fully resourced and supported. These schools need modern technology, diverse supplemental materials, high-quality textbooks, complete wraparound services, after-school programming and a full curriculum. CPS doomed Guggenheim by providing the school with inadequate resources and poor supports, especially considering its high mobility rate. Beidler has avoided the CPS guillotine thus far, but because it has been deprived of resources for many years, the school must face the uncertainty of possible closure every school year. Administrators and the district thwarted staff efforts to strengthen the 5 Essential Supports at Guggenheim, but (no thanks to CPS), Beidler staff was able to strengthen them, focusing on collaboration and creating a productive learning climate. The solution for students in schools like Guggenheim and Beidler is to support them with a holistic, well-funded education. Rather than spending $76 million for “New [Charter] School Development” and diverting millions of tax dollars into TIFs that benefit rich businessmen, this money should be used to resource and support our schools.44 Closing schools is not the solution; it is a cut-and-run approach that destabilizes neighborhoods and fails to address the real problem of education inequity in Chicago.

Schools that serve economically distressed communities and educate a significant number of homeless children must be fully resourced and supported. These schools need modern technology, diverse supplemental materials, high-quality textbooks, complete wraparound services, after-school programming and a full curriculum. CPS doomed Guggenheim by providing the school with inadequate resources and poor supports, especially considering its high mobility rate. Beidler has avoided the CPS guillotine thus far, but because it has been deprived of resources for many years, the school must face the uncertainty of possible closure every school year. Administrators and the district thwarted staff efforts to strengthen the 5 Essential Supports at Guggenheim, but (no thanks to CPS), Beidler staff was able to strengthen them, focusing on collaboration and creating a productive learning climate. The solution for students in schools like Guggenheim and Beidler is to support them with a holistic, well-funded education. Rather than spending $76 million for “New [Charter] School Development” and diverting millions of tax dollars into TIFs that benefit rich businessmen, this money should be used to resource and support our schools.44 Closing schools is not the solution; it is a cut-and-run approach that destabilizes neighborhoods and fails to address the real problem of education inequity in Chicago.

 

Next Section: Conclusion and Appendix

 

 

Next Section: Conclusion and Appendix