Monday, October 3, 2022

Book Review

Book Review:  The Chicago Schools by Mary Herrick

Review by Jim Vail

Mary Herrick taught high school from 1922 to 1965 and was actively involved in the Chicago Teachers Union movement. She was president of the Federation of Women High School Teachers from 1933 to 1936 and served as VP of the American Federation of Teachers. She was also the first editor of the Chicago Union Teacher newspaper and today there is a CTU Scholarship named after her. She wrote a great history of the Chicago Public Schools called The Chicago Schools published in 1971.

What makes her book a great read is her research into how the schools first began in the early 1800s during the pioneer days when Chicago was only marshland along the Great Lake. She then details the dirty politics and the Chicago machine that used the schools to enrich themselves at the expense of the children’s education which was constantly being shortchanged because the union did not play politics.

She also details some incredible school superintendent stars who helped build up the public schools despite the challenges, including William Wells for which Wells High School is named after, and Ella Flagg, who also has an elementary school named after her.

The stories are engrossing and powerful. You would never expect that the leaders of the schools would have done so much to build up these schools when today it seems they only want to tear them down. Think Arne Duncan, who called the public schools failures and implemented the Turnaround model to fire everyone inside buildings mostly in impoverished neighborhoods, followed by a string of political appointees trashing the public schools and the union: Jean-Claude Brizard (Rahm’s first choice to lead Race to the Top), Barbara Byrd-Bennett (who went to prison after she closed a record 50 schools), and Forrest Claypool (a political hack from the Park District who tried to fire activist teachers).

The history of the Chicago schools is fascinating and powerful and we should know this history.

However, where Herrick falls flat is when Mayor Richard J. Daley takes control of the Chicago Machine and his fight to keep the schools segregated and the union under heel. She writes very little critical analysis from 1950 - 1970. Perhaps being a union leader prevented her from using her research and analytical skills to paint an accurate picture of these years.

Here are some fascinating facts and information from her book which I still recommend all teachers and lovers of history and our city public schools to read:

-The first school building the city owned was at the corner of Madison and Dearborn built in 1845 with 843 students but 1,000 students were turned away.

-Chicago businessmen had no interest in the public schools in the beginning except for William Ogden (a Chicago mayor who helped build up Chicago via his speculation - has a school named after him!), John Wentworth (school named after him) and Richard Hamilton (school with his name as well).

-Chicago settlers were indifferent to education and benefited from child labor “schools always been an afterthought for most Chicagoans in money-making bustle”

-William Wells was one of the most effective administrators in the early history of the schools who had educated himself and fought to increase teachers' pay.

-In 1859 the average primary class size was 81 students, while in St. Louis it was 60 and NY 50. Some Chicago schools had 200 small children with one teacher in one room!

-First high school and first teachers training college was opened in 1859

-Superintendent Wells wanted to decrease corporal punishment and prevent military training during War. Teachers loved him!

-Mayor Wentworth in 1862 attacked the bankers who he called the robbers of school funds.

-In 1850s male high school teachers made 4x as much as female teachers

-In 1867 prisoners helped clean the schools.

-Prior to WWI German was taught in the public schools because Germans were one of the biggest immigrant groups.

-The gap between the rich and poor grew after the Chicago Fire of 1870 with ‘railroad kings and capitalist press’

-Another great Superintendent Albert Lane (Lane Tech High School) expanded vocational training, pensions for teachers after 8 years of service, and set up a teacher training college.

The Chicago Tribune was very hostile to working class public schools, arguing against ‘fads and frills, cut down on pie-making’ = to cut foreign language classes, music, art, etc. NY Times argued against teachers unions.

-1898 City mandated playgrounds for each school.

-1895 the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund set up with 1% teacher contributions

-1899 the school budget was based on property taxes. George Pullman of the Pullman Rail Car Co. paid no taxes.

-Chicago Tribune was ‘flagrant offender of school money’ was against re-evaluation of property and the Board of Ed said it lost $15 million because of the corrupt Tribune lease of property. Mayor Ed Dunne in 1905 appointed Activist Jane Addams as trustee to the Board of Education and wanted the Tribune lease deal declared illegal. Tribune engineered a lease deal until 1985 (sounds like the parking meters scam when an investment consortium bought meters at grossly undervalued price for 99 years to screw Chicago tax payers!).

-Press against Chicago Teachers Federation - first teachers union set up in 1890s - because “character and citizenship could not be taught by a teacher in a labor organization which taught hatred of other classes.” Tribune attacked CTF a lot when it urged the Board to re-evaluate its lease.

-CTF worked to elect mayors and aldermen. They supported Mayor Edward Dunne in 1905 who supported municipal ownership of utilities, stronger pensions and tenure and to re-evaluate school land leases.

-Chicago Teachers Federation felt Jane Addams sold out to businessmen. Carl Sandburg wrote book about leader Margaret Healy

-Teacher sick leave introduced in 1916.

-1925 debate between commercial training (vocational ed) v. classical training (academics) modeled on the German system.

-Corrupt Mayor Big Bill Thompson supported Loeb rule to prevent teachers from joining a union and 5,000 teachers protested at City Hall in 1915. Thompson had looted the schools from 1919-23 - non-existent companies got big contracts, principals got calls from board members to order unwanted equipment at quadrupled prices.

-In 1916 teachers got tenure after 3 years and recommended board trustees be elected to six year terms thanks to Chicago Federation of Teachers lobbying.

-In 1924 set up system of junior high schools 

-CTF Healy supported corrupt mafia mayor Thompson who ran on ending prohibition and pro-immigrant (alcohol) and anti British (teetotallers) and said schools should teach immigrant heroes like German, Irish and Polish in schools.  

Sunday, October 2, 2022



By Stephen Wilson

Moscow was obscured by a dismal and dense gray fog. It sent such an unpleasant chill through your body you were loathe to go out. It was tempting to just retreat into your home, curl up in bed, hibernate and render yourself reclusive. 'Don't leave the room' as the poet Joseph Brodsky wrote. But we are not just in a physical but moral and mental fog. Many people in Russia are unsure what the right thing to do is. Should they stay in Russia or go abroad? This is because on the 21st September, President Putin made a speech announcing partial mobilization, the organization of a  referendum in Russian republics in Donbas allowing locals to vote to become part of Russia, as well as threatening to use nuclear weapons in the event Russian territory was threatened. He emphasized that he was not 'bluffing.' Unsurprisingly, many Russians in Moscow became very tense and some are already stressed out. Much of the stress comes from not knowing what will happen next. Women have told me how anxious they are about whether their sons, brothers or husbands will be called up to serve  at the front in Ukraine. Many Russians don't believe when politicians attempt to reassure them they won't be called up. There is a long deep distrust of officials and politicians who can bend the law. There is an air of ambiguity about an increasing volatile situation where it seems anything might happen.
I first heard of partial mobilization when I encountered a student who looked very down and depressed. He looked as if his parrot had died. I asked him "What is the problem?" He answered "Haven't your heard? The government has announced we are to have partial mobilization. The situation is getting worse." Alexander, a student of around 20, expressed a fear of being called up despite the fact that students are exempt from partial mobilization. Again I met a very depressed mother who expressed fear her son would sent to Ukraine because he had already been sent his call up papers. "It doesn't make any difference whether he is in bad health. He will still be sent there."
A more dramatic indication of how anxious some people have become is the panic to leave Russia. After hearing about this declaration some desperate Russians, on impulse, headed for Georgia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and many other countries. Katya, a Russian who works in public relations, told me, "I heard that the price of some flights from Moscow to Kazakhstan have risen to 30,000 rubles and it cost 700,000 rubles for one flight to Istanbul from Moscow. Flights to those countries are already overbooked. At the border of Georgia the line of traffic stretches 20 kilometers. Many of those people have been waiting in these queues for days and have no water or food. People came to this border using all kinds of transport - going by car, by taxi, and even by foot. Some came partly by train, then taxi, then foot again. One person walked twenty kilometers to the border."  
Is this fear of being called up justified? After all, many of the young people fleeing are legally exempt from partial mobilization. 'Fear has big eyes' as a Russian proverb goes.
It is worth seeking to clarify what constitutes 'Partial mobilization.' According to the speech by President Putin "The call to military service will rest only on those at present who have military experience and most of all those who have served in the ranks of the armed forces and have definite military posts and the corresponding experience." Students and those doing military service won't be called up. Parents of four children or more not older than 16 won't be called up and neither will highly skilled specialists which companies badly need. People in ill health will also be exempt as well as invalids in category one. The Russian state hopes to muster as many as 300,000 recruits.
Perhaps one problem associated with the word mobilization is that people regard it as synonymous with going to war or sending people to a war situation. However, this was not always the case throughout history. Before the First World war, mobilization could mean the threat of war or a bluff designed to provoke an opposing power into giving concessions or retreating from a position. It was largely a strong form of diplomatic pressure. Unfortunately, due to the influence of Schlieffen, the head of the German general staff from 1892 to 1906, a new doctrine arose where 'mobilization meant war.' This new notion was one of the causes of the First World war. This is one of the reasons why the word mobilization carries so many bad connotations.
At present, many human resource managers are seeking to draw up a list of highly skilled specialists in their company and are taking precautions to ensure no mistakes are made by recruitment officers in calling up the wrong people. Katya told me, "A highly skilled worker who works at the Russian railways was taken by the army but then sent back when they found they could not legally do this. A loop hole is the law was found to protect him."
Mikhail, a 45 year old businessman, told me that one of his friends, a 57 year old who was very fit, had military experience and does shooting every week as a hobby was not summoned by the military because of his age.
So why are so many young people who don't fall under the defined group of those who are to be called up so uptight ? Why are they taking desperate measures such as giving up their jobs and fleeing to an uncertain and ambiguous future abroad? Is this not an overreaction? Mikhail asked the parents of those children this question. They answered that they were afraid the rules would quickly change in the near future, and partial mobilization would soon become full mobilization.  
But no doubt another factor is that the wrong people are often called up. The recruiting process is notoriously marked by bad organization, corruption and ineptness. Many people are aware of people in bad health being called into the army and medical commissions breaking the rules. The work of recruiting officers is assessed in terms of set quotas - the more people they recruit, the better. This often leads to recruiting officers bending the rules. The same quota system operates in the police force. The result is that some miscarriages of justice occur where innocent people languish in prisons. So a kind of grotesque performance motivation system is at work. Therefore it is understandable that so many young people experience fear and flee. It is always the poorest people who end up in the army as opposed to the children of rich parents who are described as untouchable 'golden teenagers'. Such parents can afford to pay lavish bribes to avoid their children doing military service.
But often this fleeing abroad seems to be a spur of the moment decision done on impulse. Will those fleeing abroad have enough money to survive and attain employment?  Their credit cards are frozen  in Turkey!  There have been cases of people being forced to return to Russia from Turkey because they could not access money via credit cards or obtain work there. And obtaining work and accommodation is not always as straightforward as it appears. Not all the people in those host countries welcome the presence of Russians. In Kazakhstan there was an uprising in January where the locals were attacking Russians. Russians were forced to run away from a pogrom and one couple going to the airport which had been besieged by a mob were only saved by a kindly taxi driver who took them to his home and put them up until the unrest died down. This taxi driver saved the lives of those Russians! It is worth recalling that Georgia had a war with Russia on several occasions.
So what should those people do? Are there any other options than leaving Russia? They are certainly worth exploring! Mikhail thinks there are. "The first thing people should do is not sign any documents which officials from the recruiting office hand them and then of course, consult lawyers or groups such as the Committee of Mother's Soldiers and read as much information about the law as possible. Check out different sources to avoid misleading information." Even the pro-Putin 'Russia Today' have become incensed by the foolish errors being committed by the recruiting officers in calling up those who don't qualify as recruits for partial mobilization. The recruiting officers have tried to defend themselves by saying they only handed papers to residents to fill in to establish  whether the person is a reservist or has military experience.  It is interesting to note that migrant workers have been promised Russian passports if they volunteer for military service. Given the insecurity of poor conditions and their often limited  legal status many jumped at the opportunity. While some are desperate to stay in Russia, others dream of getting out. Mikhail who has foreign citizenship tells me that, "I'm tired of people constantly asking me, 'Why are you still in Russia? Well I have a family, work and home here. Why should I get out?" He also told me like so many other people, he can't wait till this conflict ends! Many people in Moscow are praying for a swift end to this futile conflict where people feel they are at a dead end. Should you stay in Russia or should you leave? If you stay in Russia, you might regret it, but if you leave Russia, you might also regret it!
Editor's note: All the names of those interviewed have been changed to ensure their privacy as well as security.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

HOD Sept. '22

Report on the meeting of the House of Delegates held on September 28, 2022

By George Milkowski

CTU President Stacy Gates ran her first
live delegates meeting as president.

NOTE: This was the first in-person meeting held since the pandemic began. All attendees needed to be masked. Consequently, the masking sometimes muffled the voices of the delegates and made it a bit difficult to entirely catch what they were trying to say.

Also, the CTU did not make its traditional delegates’ packet available in print. The Union put it on line, which I think is foolish as I did not have time to print up copies before I had to leave for the meeting and active teacher delegates can not use CPS machines and paper to print them up. The only recourse was to look at the material on out phones which is difficult as there where more than 21 pages of materials.

The meeting began at 4:15 p.m. with the resumption of the 30 minute pre-meeting. 

Question and Answer period

-Karen Sota (Waters Elem.) asked about using sick days during the Thanksgiving week break. The CPS is closing the school the entire week but only Thursday and Friday are paid days. The Union said “no” to this.

-One delegate said that the networks are looking into classrooms every week looking for paper postings of lesson plans, daily objectives, and so on. Teachers feel intimidated. What can be done? CTU Pres. Stacy David Gates said that principals should be welcomed into the classrooms as they are supposed to be instructional leaders.

If it turns out that their visits are perceived as punitive, the contract has an article that helps protect teachers from bullying principals.

-Jim Vail (Hammond) expressed concerns over the excess hours required of teachers to take safety training on their own time. Grievance co-ordinator Deidre Foster said the CTU has an arbitration case on this issue pending.

-The delegate from Hanson Park complained of the additional paperwork that Special Ed teachers are facing with a program called Branching Minds. It requires additional date entry time. CTU is looking into that; data entry is considered “paperwork”.

-The Cameron School delegate said he has 31 new immigrant students due to Texas shifting undocumented immigrants to Chicago. A new teaching method (Skylines) implemented by the Board is “trash”, adds more paperwork, and is ineffective. He also referenced that CPS test to get into selective enrollment high schools is in English only which, he said, is immoral and probably illegal. Stacy was sympathetic and the Union has had similar concerns expressed by others.

-The delegate from Roosevelt High asked how an individual may be removed as a contributor to the CTU Pac fund. Stacy said to send a letter requesting that to Norma Alber at the CTU, but she also stressed that this would not be a wise thing to do. There are strong forces funding candidates and positions that are against the best interests of the Union. We need to be prepared to be able to counter that.

While using Zoom during the pandemic, delegates were able to send in questions during House meetings using the “chat” function. That seemed successful and the Union will continue to take questions during the meeting using delegates’ phones

I. Officers’/Committee Reports

A. Christel Williams- Hayes – Recording Secretary. Chistel urged all delegates to include PARAs in their schools’ Professional Problems Committee (PPC). PARA issues are not the same as that of teachers.

B. Linda Perales – Organizing. Linda urged delegates to reach out to her if they need help in organizing a PPC. She also said that there are 500 new immigrant students and we are expecting a total up to 8,000. To that end the CTU has developed a “Newcomer Kit” to help them out.

Additionally, the Union is following the lead of one school and is accepting donations of toiletries, clothes and so on. Delegates were asked to consider organizing a donation drive at their respective schools. Items can be dropped off at the CTU building.

CTU pressure on the CPS is getting them to move to increase training and pay for more interpreters needed for developing students’ IEPs.

The Union is conducting a delegates and school leaders training session on November 12. This would be for delegates and members of PPCs.

The CTU is holding a webinar on Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The webinar is currently full with 200 participants, but the CTU will plan on having additional webinars as needed.

C. Kathy Catalano – Financial Report. Kathy is out on a FMLA leave so Kurt Hilgendorf gave an abbreviated financial report. The CTU, due to its standard conservative budget projections and due to a large increase in new members, ended the fiscal year (June 30, 2022) with a balance of $870,581. He said that about 47% of dues are “pass throughs” to the AFT, the IFT, and so on although some of that money comes back in services provided to the Union by those organizations. He said about 2/3 of our budget is for staff.

Lastly, Kurt said that the first month of the new fiscal year, July, 2022, had an income of only $94. That means that for that month we are heavily in the red. However, that will change as the new year has begun and the Union just received the first installment of members’ dues.

D. Maria Moreno – Financial Secretary – Our membership has grown by almost 1,800 to 29,001, of which 1,690 are retirees.

E. Jennifer Conant – Charter Division – Jennifer reported that 11 charter schools are currently in contract renewal talks while two others are in their first contract negotiations. She stressed that whatever the charters contracts can get will help set precedents for our own contract when negotiations begin next year.

F. Jackson Potter - Vice President – Jackson’s remarks stressed the importance of each schools PPC being active and up and running to set a positive tone for the school year. This is where many problems can be resolved before jumping into the grievance process.

Jackson also spoke of the Union’s “We Care Coaching and Mentoring” program.

Too many newer teachers feel isolated and lost in their first two years and end up quitting in frustration. The Union’s program pairs up newer and veteran teachers to try to help the new ones navigate the trials and tribulation of teaching.

Lastly, he reminded that delegates that the CTU’s Special Ed Committee is having a training session on how to use the State’s complaint process when the CPS ignores rules and regulations required by Illinois for Special Ed students.

G. Kathy Murray – Field Representative. Kathy reported on two important wins we had over the summer. A teacher retired in June but was denied her $32,000 sick day pay out because the Board said she had to wait to retire until August. After some back and forth the CPS relented and gave the woman what she was due.

Also, a TAT transitioned to PAT status but was denied health insurance. CPS claimed the individual never turned in the proper paperwork. Kathy was able to prove the Board was wrong and the teacher‘s insurance was restored.

Kathy said that teacher ratings for the 2021-2022 school year are out and gave the deadlines for anyone who wished to appeal.

Kathy also gave kudos to Debby Pope who serves on the join CTU-CPS committee on class size. So far 74 new positions have been established and in high schools teachers who were given six classes are now going to be properly paid.

Kathy concluded her remarks by citing that COVID testing protocols are continuing and that school Safety Committees should still be active.

H. Political/Legislative Committee – Kurt Hilgendorf. Ten years ago the CTU came out with a report titled “The Schools Chicago Students Deserve”. A newer, updated version is out now. It cites some gains but also highlights things that still need to be accomplished. Go to: is you would like to see it.

Kurt also stressed the importance of voting because this is election season. Early voting starts in the wards on October 24. Besides voting for endorsed CTU candidates, members should vote “Yes” on the first item on the ballot, an addition to the Illinois Constitution known as the Workers’ Rights Amendment. Note: had this been in effect earlier, then the 25 years the CTU was handicapped in negotiations by the Amendatory Act probably wouldn’t have happened. I don’t think the union busting court case (Janus v. Rauner) could have been successful, either.

Kurt said that last year the CTU’s PAC spent about $500,000 and has $1,099,761 on hand now. It is projected that the PAC will need $4,000,000 for the 2023 and 2024 election cycles.

Lastly, Kurt said the annual Legislators Educators Appreciation Dinner,

(L.E.A.D.) dinner will be Friday, September 3. This is a chance to meet with various legislators and inform them one on one of the problems we face daily in the schools or as retirees. A social hour will start at 4:30 p.m. and at 5:30 the dinner will begin. Tickets are $50 per person.

II. President’s Report

Pres. Stacy Davis-Gates opened her remarks commenting that she is new to her position in running the House meeting and asked the delegates for patience if she makes an error in procedures.

Stacy announced that the street along the CTU’s north side, Carroll Avenue, will receive the honorary name of Karen Lewis Way.

Regarding the teacher evaluation program (REACH), Stacy said most principals did not follow through on proper procedures. Generally, ratings held steady but individuals who wish to challenge their rating should contact the CTU as soon as possible.

News reports have Miami-Dade as the third largest school district in the nation.

CPS has fallen to fourth place with another drop in enrollment but that means we will have to fight to maintain and increase the resources needed in the schools. She did give kudos to Superintendent Pedro Martinez. He seems assessable and willing to listen.

Stacy also said we need to celebrate the work that our members are doing, so she specifically devoted some time highlighting the work done by Delegate Moselean Parker (McKay School) and Field representative Kathy Murray.

Looking to the future, Stacy said we are currently working on the new contracts and renewed contracts for charter schools; next year we will have municipal elections; and in 2024 our contract expires plus there will be the first round of elections for a new, elected, representative school board. To that end we need to continue contributing to the CTU PAC fund.

III. Items for Action

A. Stacy asked for and received a suspension of the rules to allow three CTU members to speak. The first was Muise Bawany who is running for alderperson in the 50th Ward and the second was Lori Torres who is running for alderperson in the 36th Ward. The third member to speak was Brandon Johnson who is up for re-election to the Cook County Board and may run for mayor next year. All three gave moving speeches as to their background and why they feel the need to run for office.

B. A resolution was presented endorsing Bawany and Torres for alderpersons and also for Johnson IF he decides to run for mayor. Retiree Delegate Lou Pyster presented an amendment to defer endorsing Johnson’s possible mayoral run. Lou cited our past support of Chuy Garcia and that Garcia is considering running again. He wonders how supporting Johnson now may affect the mayoral race if Garcia ends up going into a runoff against Lightfoot. After much debate, Pyster’s proposal was defeated. I voted against his amendment. Then the original endorsement resolution passed. I voted in favor of it.

C. A resolution supporting the new immigrant families being bused to Chicago from Texas passed. I voted in favor of that, too.

D. The last item was a resolution honoring State Rep. Greg Harris who is retiring from the General assembly. He has been supportive of CTU positions in Springfield. I voted yes on this item too.

IV. New Business/Question and Answers

There was an announcement asking CTU members to support workers of Howard Brown who may be going on strike. (I think that is the name of the company. The voice was too muffled for me to be sure).

V. Question and Answers

Lou Pyster asked about the status of renaming some Chicago schools, including a proposal to name one after Karen Lewis. Stacy said the CTU will follow up on that.

A delegate asked about when we can expect to have a retiree meeting as we haven’t had one in more than a year. Stacy said the various Union committees are being organized and she expects to have one in a month.

The delegate from Bright Elementary strongly objected to Brandon Johnson’s remarks. Johnson mentioned the name of a student who was murdered just outside of Kenwood High, where Johnson’s son goes to school. The delegate said the student was in her class at Bright School and she chided Johnson for using his name “for political purposes”. (I didn’t take it that way. I felt he was just highlighting the unequal resources and situations that are faced in too many schools). She also was upset that the Union has not taken a position supporting reparations for foundational African Americans. Stacy referred her to the head of the Policy Committee on that issue.

Another delegate pointed out that there are class size limitations for K-3 and in high school, but not middle school. Stacy recognized this and said the Union will have it in mind when contract negotiations start up next year.

Jim MacIntosh (Roosevelt High) referenced class size excess in high school P.E. classes. Stacy recognized this problem, too.

Jim Vail asked about reports in some right wing news outlets that the CTU gave a $62,000 loan to Brandon Johnson. Stacy made it very clear that the Union does not give out loans; that any money given is a donation from our PAC fund.

At that point a motion to adjourn passed. It was 7:37 p.m.

Saturday, September 24, 2022


Model Teacher Unfairly Placed on DNH 

By Jim Vail

Stacy Council 

Stacy Council should be hailed as a hero who overcame poverty in the Robert Taylor Homes to become a great teacher.

Instead, the Chicago Public Schools have put her on a Do Not Hire list.

Council was a fourth grade teacher at Cuffe Elementary School at 8324 S. Racine on the South Side in 2014. She worked late on her lesson plans after school and did not get home until 7:30 or 8pm most nights. 

One night during the winter she was working preparing her next day lessons when she left to go to the bathroom and when she returned found her classroom door locked. She panicked because her winter coat was inside along with her car keys and purse. She went to the office and called for the janitor over the intercom but no luck.

She had noticed that there was a gap between the door handle and the wall so she decided to get a pair of scissors and try to jiggle the handle loose so she could get into the room.

"I used the scissors to jimmy the lock because I was in such a panic that I didn't realize how much wood I had shaved off," she said. "But I still couldn't get the door open."

She then texted the principal and a security guard came to let her into her classroom.

The next day the principal called her and asked why did she damage the door knob and she explained her situation and her frazzled state of mind. The principal called her stupid and irresponsible, Council said.

Her Principal then went on the attack.

Council had taken a sick day and got antibiotics to deal with anxiety. She also took a trip out of town. But another teacher informed the principal that a student claimed she said she had used her sick day for her vacation. They asked her for proof about her absence, and she gave the school her doctor's note. The school called the doctor's office to confirm the note, and the doctor faxed back the HIPAA privacy law.

A month later Council had to attend a hearing in which she was being charged with 'intentional damage to school property.'

Before her hearing Council was warned by her colleagues that she would not get a fair hearing. She was a probationary teacher who did not have full tenure rights and her union rep did not refute the allegations. 

She explained her situation to the hearing officer. She was asked to show her doctor's note which explained that she needed medication. The hearing officer refuted the note stating that she was in the care of a 'cosmetic' operation and not a medical provider. A few weeks later she received in the mail a letter informing her that she was suspended indefinitely and would be placed on the Do Not Hire list.

The insanity of the CPS Do Not Hire list hit the headlines in 2014 when many good teachers were suddenly labeled criminals and put on a black list. One probationary teacher who had excellent ratings but was cut at two schools due to budget concerns was put on the DNH, while another P.E. teacher at Schurz High School who had retrieved a discarded white board in the trash bin to use for his class was also put on the DNH. 

In other words, great teachers trying to do everything to help the kids were instead labeled criminals and told they could no longer teach here.

Stacy Council is the model teacher CPS should be lauding in their teacher bulletins. She overcame poverty growing up in the Robert Taylor Homes to become a teacher. She credited a teacher at her elementary school who helped her overcome the death of her mother when she was 8, and did not have a father in her life due to drug problems. She beat the odds to become a teacher and give back to the community she grew up in.

Council worked in a toxic work environment that is all too real for teachers today. She was the victim of a ruthless administrator who went after her because she was hired on the recommendation of their assistant principal, who then had a falling out with the principal. 

Life for Council after that became a living hell.

A big reason why she could not think straight and didn't immediately ask for help from her boss was fear. 

"The truth is I didn't call the principal for help because I was intimidated," she told Second City Teachers. "She would ridicule me at meetings. She did this with anyone she didn't like. Many teachers were afraid."

The principal would exclude her and other teachers she did not like from receiving CPS computers, deny her access to her attendance and then try to write her up for not putting in attendance, and falsify formal evaluations that she never participated in.

Any teacher that didn't agree with her tactics were later put on the DNH list as well, Council said. Many grievances were filed against Principal Lakita Reed, including several EEOC complaints for the same treatment she received, she said. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal agency that enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. 

"This whole ordeal severely traumatized me," she wrote in a letter. "It was so overwhelming that I would get physically nauseous every time I pulled into the parking lot. The sad part about it all is that this was happening to several other teachers at the time. I would vent to other teachers and I could see that they were actually scared of speaking anything negative about her for fear that they would be on the same 'list' that I was on." 

After she left CPS, she went to work in the suburbs and the Catalyst Charter School where she received excellent recommendations. The principal at Beasely Elementary School wanted to hire her, but he said he couldn't because of the DNH.

Council recently appealed her DNH designation but did not have the guidance of a union representative and was denied. 

She plans to speak out at the next Chicago Board of Education meeting September 28 to plead her case.

In this time of teacher shortages and Black Lives Matter, we need teachers like Ms. Council back where she belongs - teaching children and being the role model they need in their lives! 

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Douglass Park

Riot Fest Concert Continues Despite Growing Public Protests

By Jim Vail

The Riot Fest Music Concert at Douglass Park begins this weekend and runs Sept.16 - 18 despite growing protests from the community.

Douglass Park has been taken over by private music festivals including Summer Smash in June, Heatwave in July and Riot Fest in September.

Private and public school soccer games have had to be moved from the park to make way for the big money interests. 

My students wrote letters last year addressed to the Alderman to complain about the loud music, traffic congestion and not having access to their beloved park. They wrote that the noise prevented them from sleeping or having any peace and quiet, and one student wrote that his father ordered a pizza from a local vendor that never came because of the increased traffic.

Our soccer teams used to play games at the park before Riot Fest landed here in 2015 after it was kicked out of Humboldt Park where residents also complained. We used to use the park all the time to play softball, football and soccer games with the other public schools in Little Village and Lawndale. 

Now for 47 days during the summer the public cannot use their park!

The Riot Fest and other music venues have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Aldermen and a Latino public relations group that works with the politicians.

Alderman Michael Scott in Lawndale who oversees most of the park was replaced by his sister who told the community at a public hearing this summer that she thinks it is good to see people who do not look like them and no one uses the park anyway. Alderman George Cardenas never held any public meetings and records show he has received tens of thousands of dollars from the Riot Fest organization and the vendors inside the fenced-off public park.

Most concert goers are white who can spend $300 for a weekend pass (or an ultimate pass for almost $2k!) that the area's black and brown people cannot afford. The Juneteenth celebrations were forced to move their celebrations to make way for the Summer Smash. And this was after a school called the Village Leadership Academy fought for three years to rename Douglass Park after the great Civil Rights leader Frederick Douglass.

However, what happened next is a lesson in capitalist city politics. When the current organizers of No Riot Fest in Douglass Park reached out to the teacher at the school who fought to rename the park, she never responded. It turned out that Riot Fest made a donation to their school to shut their mouths. 

We are trying to elevate the fight as the corporate media has finally taken an interest after staying mostly silent since 2015. The outrage over a Riot Fest speaker mocking Spanish-speaking immigrants at a public meeting went viral and they piled on attacking Riot Fest and its glaring corruption and privatization of a public park in a community of low-income people.

The Chicago Park District said special permission needs to be given to music events with over 10,000 people. I would say this is stalling and trying to appear the city is concerned about minority residents being shut out of their park for a quarter of the summer.

More pressure needs to be done and the organizers of No Riot Fest in Douglass Park continue to meet and discuss how to stop this madness. 

They wrote a letter addressing the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District that focused on the main problems:

1. There are no longer any youth soccer programs held at Douglass Park, residents have longer commute times because of the huge increase in traffic, and families suffer extreme noise levels.

2. The festivals threaten the livelihood of local vendors who typically sell during soccer  games and most other local businesses  see no increased revenue as the traffic and noise tend to drive their regular customers away and the festivals' "no-entry" policies keep festival goers from leaving the grounds to buy food from local vendors.

3. The festivals cause physical damage to the park that already suffers from disinvestment and chronic flooding and repairs made do not address the major infrastructure of the park.

4. The festivals impede Mt. Sinai and St. Anthony Hospitals because crowds and traffic keep ambulances from quickly reaching the hospitals in emergency situations. Mt. Sinai is a Level 1 Trauma Center that serves a huge part of the city, including Cook County Jail.

No privatization of public lands!

Sunday, September 11, 2022

CTU Mayor Endorsement

Endorsement should be earned, not given away with political hints at public press conferences

As Chicagoans prepare to deliberate and consider who is to be their next choice for mayor, it is imperative that they consider how candidates are endorsed and if an endorsement from one organization actually represents that organization’s members.

By Froylan Jimenez, Chicago Public Schools civics teacher

Brandon Johnson addresses reporters alongside Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates after her speech Wednesday at the City Club of Chicago.

Brandon Johnson addresses reporters alongside Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates after her speech Wednesday at the City Club of Chicago.


Nader Issa/Sun-Times

In response to the Sun-Times report that Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson is favored to be the mayoral choice of the Chicago Teachers Union: There is a big difference between Johnson being the CTU brasses’ pick and him having the full support of the general membership. 

The article details Johnson’s expected jump into the mayoral race resulting in an almost automatic CTU endorsement since “to many [it] is a foregone conclusion, given he’s on the union’s staff and is making public appearances with CTU leaders.” An endorsement should be earned and not given away with political hints at public press conferences.

As someone who has previously co-chaired the CTU’s Political Action and Legislative Committee, I can attest that the democratic process to obtain our union’s endorsement involves several steps. It requires careful deliberation by the union’s political action committee and executive board and finally a final vote by the majority house of delegates.

While it’s evident that our union leaders have clearly decided that Johnson is their personal selection to be the next mayor of Chicago, it is worthwhile to point out that not all CTU members agree. In fact, in the last election for CTU posts, 46% of the membership did not support the current leadership’s political positions. It was one of the lowest margins of approvals in union history.

With that disparity in mind, there are several reasons to be cautious in going along with this pushing of an endorsement and, as a CTU member and taxpayer of Chicago and Cook County, I think it is imperative to at least consider these reservations before nodding along with the CTU leadership’s pick.

It is a fact that Johnson is both a Cook County commissioner and paid organizer of the Chicago Teachers Union. No full-time public servant should be working and simultaneously earning a paycheck as a full-time union organizer.

Taxpayers who go to the polls have the expectation that whomever they elect is not going to clock out of their public duty in the middle of the day and to go to another job. Similarly, union members expect full service and dedication from the people the union employs, and that their hard-earned union dues are going to people who are actively working on their behalf and not punching out and stepping away from their union duties. Both union members and Cook County taxpayers deserve full-time leadership and accountability from the people who work for them.

Simply put, double-dipping is a political tradition that is wrong, especially when it harms taxpayers and union members, and it should not be rewarded. As a CTU member and CPS civics teacher, I would go further to say that our union should serve as a working- class example where our actions promote good government and not questionable political maneuvers.

As Chicagoans prepare to deliberate and consider who is to be their next choice for mayor, it is imperative that they consider how candidates are endorsed and if an endorsement from one organization actually represents that organization’s members.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Sept. 1

School Begins!

By Stephen Wilson 

The 1st of September in Russia which is celebrated as 'The Day of Knowledge' as well as the beginning of the academic year has been marked by more changes to the curriculum as well as new lessons on patriotism for the youngest children at school termed 'Conversations of Importance.' Critics claim it is an attempt by the Russian state to brainwash impressionable young children and is wasting the precious time of school teachers.

Just like the weather, the future school program can just suddenly abruptly change in dramatic ways. In late August Moscow experienced a heat wave for one week of temperatures averaging around 30 degrees. Then suddenly the temperature has plunged to around 14 degrees and less. Instead of a clear blue sky you have a dense grey or white overcast sky with a chilly wind. Just as nobody knows exactly what to wear, teachers often don't know exactly what they must prepare. For instance, the format of the final year General English State Exam has changed yet again with new changes to the exam rendering some text books almost obsolete. English teachers feel pressurized into taking new courses or purchasing new textbooks they can ill-afford. The new changes involve a ban on mobile phones in the classroom, school students no longer being obliged to take two foreign languages and instead can choose only one {this move has been unwelcome for many Russian school teachers of French and German who worry about losing a lot of their hours at school}, beginning the school day with the singing of the national anthem and raising of the Russian flag and 'Conversations of importance' where school children as young as six will learn how to be patriotic.{often called history lessons}

In Russia, from the 1st September as many as 17.5 million children returned to school. Two million children went to school for the first time. When I asked some of my students how they felt about returning to school they grunted 'Don't even mention school' and later returned to enthusiastically playing video games as much as possible before they had less time for such amusements. They don't seem in any elated mood for celebrating.

It is fair to say that the 1st of September is still a special day for teachers. It is much more significant than the 1st of January as it really is the beginning of something new. In the old calendar of Moscow the 1st September did once mark the beginning of the new year rather than the 1st January. This is because it was the time where peasants had to gather the harvest. It was even thought that God had made the World in Autumn because it was the most convenient time to make it. It took Peter the Great to bring out a globe of the World and patiently explain to Russians that Russia is not the World and that when it is Winter in Russia it can be Summer elsewhere.

The ban on mobile phones has been welcomed by most school teachers. "About time to" you often hear in the school corridors. School students were often sending messages or secretly playing some games. They also use gadgets for cheating during some tests although that had become increasingly problematic with the imposition of very strict rules during exams.

The most controversial change has been the introduction of lessons on 'patriotism.' The lessons come under the title 'Conversations about what is important.' The idea is that children will learn about the most significant events happening around them and that children from ten will be allowed to discuss controversial topics such as the on-going 'Special military Operations' in Ukraine. Children will be taught of the importance of serving in the armed forces and their obligations to defend their country against any imminent invasion. On the surface, this might seem innocuous until you wonder how patriotism is be defined and explained and whether such discussions would just provoke pointless arguments. Not every school student eagerly wants to discuss 'Special Military operations' especially when their classmates are from Ukraine. A 16-year-old school girl told me that, "We don't even discuss this question at school because we don't want to hurt the feelings or offend the sensitivities of fellow schoolmates from Ukraine." They seem to be following an old English maxim of making conversation where a rule at parties was never to discuss politics or religion. This maxim was observed to prevent fist fights and duels against a background of Civil war in England during the 17th to 18th  centuries. This is not the most appropriate time to introduce such a topic. In many places in Moscow the atmosphere has been rendered toxic following political arguments. Teachers and students who have been friends for years have fallen out over different views on the conflict. Families have been torn apart by ugly arguments. An Orthodox priest who takes confessions stated that many of his congregation has come to him for advice on how to repair the damage inflicted on their families by political arguments.

Should teachers simply boycott those lessons? Such an action might only succeed in leading them to losing their jobs. Perhaps a more productive way of teaching might be allowing children to discuss what is patriotism! Is it love of nature? Does patriotism encompass friendship, love and charity? In that case it is worth children and ourselves learning how to value friendship, how to be a good friend and how to keep friendship going! We need to learn that just because you have a disagreement on a political matter does not mean the funeral of a friendship. There are cases where married couples have very different political opinions, but their marriages can continue until death! What is their secret? Perhaps it is how they disagree and what they do agree on that matters most!

So 'Conversations about what is important ' need not be brain-washing but an exercise in 'emotional intelligence' or practical wisdom. The main thing in those discussions would be to ask the questions than simply furnish ready-made answers in advance. One of the saddest things about many schools is that children are not taught what is love and how to truly love people. That is certainly one of the most important topics of any school discussion. And children should be encouraged to find the answers themselves. The poet T.S. Eliot claimed, 'Old men ought to be explorers. But children deserve to be given the head start when it comes to exploring. They should be inspired to retain a childlike curiosity which questions everything!'