As Regional Director for Teacher Development with Last Stand for Children, I have attended quite a few Chicago Board of Education meetings. I have always loved these meetings for the model of efficiency that they are. Even though the Board knows how they will rule on things ahead of time, community members will wait in line for 2 or 3 hours so that they can have their voices heard on education matters that affect them and their families. The Board skillfully groups speakers on common topics into one two minute presentation so that everybody will have their voice heard. The speakers don't change anything and that's fine. They feel that they've had their voice heard and that's what democracy is all about.
All of that orderly democracy was ruined on December 14th when parents and community activists aligned to an agenda pushed forward by the militant Chicago Teachers Union disrupted the meeting. According to news pamphlet The Chicago Sun-Times, "Adourthus McDowell, a Chicago Public School parent and member of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, began the takeover by rising from his chair and interrupting a presentation by Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard on a new $660 million capital construction plan."
There is a happy ending here because the board courageously met in closed session and approved the plan providing many schools in disrepair with the money to get much needed renovations before next school year when they are turned over to the highly connected AUSL group. Board President David Vitale ran AUSL before Rahm Emanuel handpicked him to save Chicago's public schools. I'm sure it must have been a dream come true for him to be able to help his old organization.
There are many reasons why these turnarounds are necessary. For instance, Casalas school is doing so poorly on state achievement tests that nearly half of all AUSL schools are beating it. Chicago has had great success turning around schools, so much in fact that they turned around one high school twice--that's 720 degrees of education reform. AUSL is the premier group for turnarounds and their record includes a huge success at Collins High School.
What is most distressing though is what this outburst does for the rubber stamp. The rubber stamp is a time honored tradition that I would hate to see go. As Board President Vitale said, many who wished to be heard were not because of this mic check. The meeting was actually taken over by the people in the audience who decided to hold their own meeting while the Board was meeting in closed chambers. A Board meting without the Board is just wrong. Without a rubber stamping authority, there is nobody to rubber stamp. Fortunately, the Board returned and order was restored, but the damage to our democracy was already done.
Speaking of loud voices ruining Democracy, I wanted to thank Andrew Russo for his great article in This Week in Education defending small groups like ours, Stand for Children and Students First who are under constant attack by internet bullies. Thank goodness somebody besides Bill Gates has the courage to let our voices be heard.