CPS Teachers, Bring Your Kids to Work

A CPS teacher on why, if your paycheck says Chicago Public Schools, your own children should be in CPS too

In my first few years of teaching, I loved my students so much that it seemed almost impossible for any other educator to care about their kids more than I did. But after having children of my own, I realized that while I still love my students, I’ll always love my own children more. Although I’ll always go way above and beyond for my students, there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for my own children.

I don’t say these things lightly. I’ve made a conscious effort to work for my students and the community. I’ve constantly worked to create a curriculum that teaches my students to question power structures and to work to create change when inequalities exist. I’ve written countless articles about my students and ways to improve our schools. I’ve been arrested for fighting to keep Chicago Public Schools (CPS) from closing fifty schools in 2013. At times, this commitment to my students has put me at odds with my administration, incited fear of write-ups, and produced threats from strangers. These risks sometimes make me question my desire to defend my students.

But like any parent, I would do anything for my own children, risk more, and ignore idle threats. My drive to protect my children and their well-being, education, and opportunities is stronger than anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s like that moment when you have children of your own and finally realize how much your parents actually love you. It is a window into the emotions of a decade’s worth of my former students’ parents. I now know more completely what those parents wanted for their kids, and wonder if I had fought hard enough. Did I fight as hard as I would have for my own kids?

I was recently interviewed by a reporter for the Weekly about my decision, as a CPS teacher, to send my kids to CPS. The interview was a follow-up to a study by the conservative Fordham Institute done back in 2004 which said that thirty-nine percent of Chicago Public School teachers didn’t send their own kids to CPS.

As a parent, I can understand why some teachers wouldn’t want to send their kids to CPS. Since 1995, mayors of Chicago have had absolute control over Chicago Public Schools. This power lets mayors appoint the CEOs of CPS and the school board members; therefore, the school board, without question, follows whatever terrible idea the mayor may have. In my eleven years of teaching in CPS, I have had eight different CPS CEOs. The Chicago Public Schools system is and has always been a mess at the leadership level.

Believe me: like many other educators, I am beyond frustrated with the way that CPS is and has been run. Working to improve CPS as a teacher (and parent) is extremely hard and, at times, absolutely demoralizing. It would be great to shield my own children from the struggles that every kid in CPS faces. But that wouldn’t help improve our city, nor would it fight against structural racism and inequality in our school system.

It hurts to have underfunded schools for my students, and now I feel that same hurt exemplified with my own child. It hurts that during our oldest son’s first year of preschool in CPS, they tried to cut the preschool special education teacher from his school. A few active parents made me aware of this. These parents created a petitionand contacted CPS, the alderman, and the media. I wrote an article about it, and together we organized a “Play In” to bring attention to this proposed cut. During the “Play In,” kids simply played while parents spoke at the school board and met with the principal, and it became a celebration instead of a protest. On the day of the “Play In,” CPS decided not to cut that position.

At the time of the “Play In,” I was exhausted. The only reason I marshalled enough energy to fight as hard as we did was because it was my son’s school. If it hadn’t been my son’s school, I likely would simply have felt upset for that school and moved on.

For this reason, I believe that if you work for Chicago Public Schools, you should send your kids to CPS.

I would go so far as to say CPS employees should be required to send their kids to CPS. Chicago Public Schools teachers are already required to live in the city, a policy that I actually agree with. I believe it creates a connection to our students and gives us responsibility for their success that can only be fostered by common ground and common experiences.

To fight for the schools our students deserve, we must also live in the city, send our kids to CPS, and fight for the city that we all deserve—as frustrating as that may be at times (or all the time).With skin in the game, CPS’ actions become personal, and the intensity with which we fight for a just education becomes stronger and more meaningful.

As teacher-parents, our involvement benefits everyone because we are able to evaluate a school unlike any other parent. This year, my partner and I made our son’s school administration aware of a teacher that needed more assistance, helped get the morning entrance policy changed, and made the school aware of an unlocked and open outside door by the preschool.

We have a trained eye for what works and what doesn’t. We have the experience and the skills to identify needed improvement, and do not tolerate inefficiency—even more so with our own children at the hands of CPS. We have the capacity to understand the system, and we know the right words to say to get the change we need to meet the expectations we hold.

If we want to make Chicago change, then our professional lives and our own personal lives must intertwine. They must coexist. We must be invested beyond our paychecks. Our fights, rallies, strikes, and decisions must become more passionate and personal.

I believe that Chicago Public Schools must end mayoral control of schools, that Chicago needs an elected school board, that Chicago must stop stealing TIF funds from Black and brown neighborhoods for downtown projects, that there is no reason to close a public school, and that money should go to students and schools as opposed to police, jails, and a new cop academy.

However, given the hyper-segregation of Chicago and the systemic racism of our school system, it is evident that even within CPS—where all schools need support—schools that teach predominantly Black and Brown children need even more resources. So while I believe that all CPS teachers should send their kids to CPS, I am much more understanding of a teacher of color choosing to or feeling forced to send their child(ren) outside of CPS than I am of a white CPS teacher doing the same. If, as a white teacher, you are willing to teach Black and Brown children in CPS, but unwilling to send your own kids to the same system from which you profit financially, it says more than a few things about your savior-like mentality.

Teaching is about building connections with our students. We teachers may differ from our students in terms of race and/or economic status, but when we live in the city, pay taxes here, and send our kids to the same public schools, our students will see that. They will see that despite our differences, we share many common bonds—most importantly, the desire to improve the city that we all call home.

To view this piece on the South Side Weekly click here.

21 Day Reparations Won unit

My amazing colleague William Weaver and I created a 21 day Reparations Won unit about Chicago Police torture. Included in this Google Folder is our Daily PowerPoints, labeled day by day handouts, summative assessment options, and Common Core aligned unit plan. Please feel free to check it out, use it and share it. When you improve it send it back to us.

https://drive.google.com/drive/mobile/folders/1ha2o5VYVcpA49rHEbc8XUO3MVBINGhg4

I Want Jon Burge’s Pension

Jon Burge in Prison (Photo courtesy of A Peoples Law Office)

I want Jon Burge’s pension.

Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was entrusted to protect but instead he and his Chicago Police Officers tortured over 100 Black men.

Commander Burge and his crew of Chicago Police used torture to force confessions to crimes that 100 over Black men did not commit. To this day some of these men are still in jail. Some were imprisoned for 20-30 years before finally getting their freedom.

Jon Burge because of the statute of limitations was not found guilty of committing torture.  He got 4 and a half years for perjury and was out in less than that.

Burge is a felon.

He’s a thug who cost the city of Chicago over $120 Million dollars. His court cases, abuses, acts of torture, and legal fees cost our city $120 Million.

Burge is a criminal.

A criminal that is still getting his $4,000 a month pension from the city.

So I want Jon Burge’s pension.

I want his pension to go to the Chicago Torture Justice Center. A center created to help victims of police brutality and torture. Victims past and present. The Torture Justice Center works with the Burge torture survivors and helps connect them to schools and organizations so they can share their stories of survival.

I want Jon Burge’s pension to go to the torture survivors. These survivors had the foresight to have what happened to them be taught in Chicago Public Schools as part of the Reparations Won curriculum taught to all 8th and 10th graders.

I want Jon Burges pension to go to the activists and students. Activists who fought to help the torture survivors get justice for torture then. Activists and students who are now fighting against the proposed construction of a new $95 Million cop academy on the west side of our city. Activists and students who realize the police don’t need new concrete for a $95 Million building to make changes to police training.

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) has already cost the city nearly 1/2 of a Billion dollars for its continued acts of police brutality. Why should CPD be rewarded for harming citizens with a new building? Prove you have cleaned up your act CPD, then maybe after schools are fully funded, neighborhoods are revitalized, then CPD can ask for more funding.

I want Jon Burge’s pension and that $95 Million earmarked for the police academy to fund jobs in communities on the South and West sides.

To fund schools.

To fund clinics.

To invest in quality of life not the criminalization of it.

I want Jon Burge’s pension to be put into a new ad. campaign. Let’s call this campaign “Education Not Incarceration” or “Invest in Our Neighborhoods Not Our Prisons” or “Jobs and Opportunity will Help Everyone Not More Police”.

This ad. campaign can help educate the public on the possibilities we have in Chicago to really improve our city and options our city has with its budget. (Remember the Chicago Police Department gets 40% of our entire city’s budget per year.)

Prisons and police do not make our neighborhoods safe.

Jobs, fully funded schools, neighborhoods with services, resources, and opportunities do.

So let’s create a fund. Let’s call it the Chicago Neighborhood Investment fund. And let’s make the first check deposited in this fund be Jon Burge’s pension. Or let’s do even better. Let’s make Rahm reallocate his $95 Million check earmarked for the cop academy to deposit in this account instead.

Invest in Our Children.

Don’t Close Schools.

Fund Communities

Not more police.

Education Not Incarceration.

*Credit for this idea comes from Black Lives Matter Chicago and their campaign to stop former Chicago Police Officer Dante Servin from receiving a pension after his murder of Rekia Boyd.

To view this piece on ChicagoNow click here.

FB Live Ed. Chat

This is a FB Live conversation (link at bottom of this post) with the amazing Dr. Roshunda Allen, Professor at Tougaloo College and myself.

We addressed educational issues impacting Jackson MS, Chicago, and our country.

We specifically talked about the idea in Denver of having a 4 day school week and also about gun violence in our schools.

(Skip the first 2 minutes and 20 seconds of technical issues/me staring at the screen to get into our convo.)

https://m.facebook.com/dfstieber/posts/10155502076561676

Closing Schools, Increasing Policing -The Chicago Way

Closing Schools, Increasing Policing -The Chicago Way
Courtesy of The News-Gazette

Chicago spends 40% of its entire operating budget on policing. In addition the city has paid out over $500 million on police brutality cases. On top of that Rahm thinks it a wise choice to spend $95 million more on a new cop academy.

Meanwhile those that run Chicago Public Schools (don’t forget Rahm appoints them) voted to close 5 predominantly Black public schools. Add that in with the 50 plus Black schools closed in 2013.

It is not conspiracy to say that Chicago wants to incarcerate, not educate, its Black youth.

It is policy.

Many in the city see the connection. If you underfund and then close schools, while continually increasing funding to police it becomes apparent what the goals are.

A budget is a political document, not just a financial one. It shows what the city prioritizes.

Chicago prioritizes criminalizing our youth, NOT educating them.

Rahm says he cares about kids, but he does NOT send his own kids to CPS. So he can say whatever he wants, BUT unless his own kids are in the CPS system his words mean jack.

Never forget that Rahm said, “25% of CPS students won’t amount to anything.”

Chicago is filled with harmful policies past and present such as redliningblockbusting, and gentrification. Actual policies created and implemented by the city that targeted and harmed Black communities in our city.

School closings, school turnarounds, and school phase-outs, is just the new or continued version of these policies that target and harm Black communities.

While these policies continue to destroy education for the children in our city, Rahm and his crew make sure to always fund policing.

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) is responsible for torturing and killing Black Chicagoans. CPD has been proven to cover up its own crimes and illegally detain people in secret sites.

In Rahm’s Chicago, if a school is deemed unsuccessful, under his bogus school rating system, then that school is punished. Charters will be built in the area and then the school will be closed or phased out after having it’s funding systematically cut.

The police do not receive this same treatment. In fact it seems as if the police are rewarded for the more flawed that they are. Students and schools punished, police rewarded.

The Chicago Police Department is getting a brand new $95 Million Cop Academy on the Westside. More for incarceration and less for education.

Our children in CPS are treated like they are in a police state. Metal detectors, police with guns in the school. Limited resources. Terrible Food.

Yet, students are told, if you work really hard you can overcome all of this. You can make it.

No doubt the amazing kids in Chicago do overcome. BUT kids should not have to overcome. Kids should just have what they need.

So instead of building a new cop academy invest that money into the schools.

Instead of policing and incarceration we could try fully funding education.

But Rahm says no.

Rahm closes schools.

Closing over 50 elementary schools in 2013 was not enough. He wants more closures. Now it is TEAM Englewood, Roberson, Hope, and Harper high schools. Eliminating all of the public neighborhood high schools in Englewood.

But even that is not enough, so he takes out a high performing elementary school in the South Loop, National Teachers Academy. This closure is done to appease white parents afraid of sending their children to school with a majority of Black students

Rahm says screw the Black community. Because surely if Rahm truly cared about the Black residents of Chicago he would be upset by the fact that over 200,000 Black families have left the city.

But not Rahm.

He would rather close a school than fix a neighborhood.

Put policing over education.

Blame the victims.

Put Incarceration over improving communities.

This is policy. These are calculated choices. This is Chicago.

Courtesy of In These Times

Where Do I Send My Kids?

I was interviewed in the South Side Weekly about why I send my kids to CPS.

Here is the link to the article on SouthSideWeekly.

Three CPS educators on why they want their kids to attend public schools

Kamari Robertson

When students’ education is on the line, having more options isn’t always better if it means that parents and their children are being forced to choose between non-negotiable fundamental values like community, academic rigor, and safety. Yet, many parents and their children face this predicament when selecting between public neighborhood, public selective enrollment, or private schools in Chicago.

To some, the fact that such a decision must be made is evidence of the unacceptable inequities in Chicago’s education system; but others frame the decision as one of personal choice and shrouded in privacy and individual agency. Parents are especially likely to put it in those terms when the parents in question have a stake in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In a 2011 interview with NBC Chicago, when newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel was asked about his decision to send his kids to a private school, he responded with his notorious temper:

“The decision I’m going to make as it relates to my kids is one I’m going to make as a father, and not as a mayor…They’re not public tools,” he said. “Let me break the news to you, my children are not in a public position. The mayor is.”

Emanuel then unclipped his microphone and left after ten minutes of a twenty-minute interview.

He’s not the only government official to send his children to schools outside of the CPS system. Certain high-ranking CPS officials have done so too. Recently-ousted CEO of CPS Forrest Claypool, former CPS Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz, and former CPS CEO Arne Duncan sent their kids to private schools in Chicago. A 2004 Fordham Institute study found that thirty-nine percent of CPS teachers did the same.

Understandably, critics have pointed out that the decisions of the mayor, CPS officials, and even teachers to send their kids to private schools don’t bode well for CPS’ future. Others have reiterated that, in reality, the things that make CPS schools attractive—a sense of community, funding from the city, and diversity—are being systematically removed by the policy decisions made by CPS officials themselves. These policy decisions include school closings, disinvestment, and funding issues.

Meanwhile, CPS educators who support public schools through their work and advocacy often have an impossible choice to make between committing to that support and choosing what they feel is best for their kids. Moreover, CPS educators who are also parents have certain privileges in knowledge and experience that allow them to be better equipped at tackling selective enrollment processes or more discerning in finding ideal educational environments for their children.

To some degree, the future of CPS will be impacted by individual decisions—and how they can be used to either uphold a system of segregation and disinvestment or push for more resources and increased confidence in CPS’ schools, teachers, and students. As employees of CPS, do educators have a professional or ethical obligation to stand by their schools and send their kids to them too? Doing so would be a vote of confidence in CPS, but would also turn a blind eye to the widening gaps between CPS schools and alternative educational options—the private and public selective enrollment schools that are less harried by dwindling resources, lack of transparency, and unstable politics of the CPS.

The Weekly spoke separately with three CPS educators who sent their children to CPS schools about their respective experiences with CPS as both educators and parents. Their responses have been compiled below. The names of several individuals and schools were left out of this article to protect the privacy of the teachers who were interviewed in this piece and their families.

Tamela Chambers, a CPS librarian for almost eight years, cites her personal experience as a student in CPS schools as a large influence in her decision making process as a parent. She currently has three school-aged children—two in middle school and one in high school.

David Stieber is in his eleventh year as a social studies teacher with CPS. He has two children in CPS: one in kindergarten, and one that will enter pre-school next year. Stieber declined to name the schools his children attended for the sake of privacy.

Sashai Jasper, who worked in the district as a high school teacher in both a selective enrollment and neighborhood high school in South Shore, also worked in CPS’ central office for several years before resigning in March of 2017. Last year, she penned an Education Post blog post about how she pulled her daughter out of a private Catholic elementary school in order to enroll her into National Teachers Academy (NTA) in the South Loop. Jasper is now currently involved in efforts to save NTA from being closed and reopened as a high school.

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Jasper: The reason I’m sharing about my background and intimate relationship with CPS is that if it’s difficult for me, I can’t imagine how difficult it is for people who aren’t knowledgeable who don’t know the ins and outs of the system. It’s difficult to navigate and that’s by design.

I’m interested in learning your thought process as an educator and a parent. How did you make the decision to send your children to CPS schools instead of private schools?

Chambers: I am a lifelong Chicagoan born and raised on the South Side, and I attended my neighborhood elementary school and CPS high school. I lived in a neighborhood where my teachers and even my cafeteria ladies were my neighbors, which created a sense of a strong community. We had a relationship. It wasn’t just a teacher, you were also my neighbor. It also made teaching a desirable profession—an honorable profession or something that I could aspire to. So when I had children of my own, it wasn’t even a second thought. It was great for me; I didn’t expect anything different for my children.

Stieber: Teaching at CPS can be a challenge because of all of the politics about how CPS is run. My wife is also a CPS teacher so we both try to make our schools better for our students. It can be really depressing because of what I want my students to get that they don’t have. Before I had kids, I loved my students more than anything. But now that my kids attend CPS, it puts more pressure on me to work continuously to improve the schools for both my students and my kids who attend. It puts me under stress personally and professionally.

My wife is against the selective enrollment process. She teaches at the neighborhood high school we live in and our son goes to the elementary school that will feed into that high school. I personally envision [that] our son will go to the school he’s at up till sixth grade and go to the neighborhood public school as a freshman. Our kids will be in public school and CPS as long as we live in Chicago. We want to make our neighborhood schools good as well and that’s a whole other struggle.

Jasper: The only reason [my daughter] was in a Catholic school is because St. Philip Neri was convenient, down the street, and had a strong community-like family feel. I felt like their pre-K and kindergarten programs were strong and better [than the other schools in the neighborhood], but not necessarily with their upper levels.

But it was very clear in my head that [St. Philip Neri] was a temporary place for her. She was going to be there to experience the socialization but I knew she was going to need to be challenged. As a parent, you know your kid and you know what they need and you think you know what they need. Once she was in kindergarten, I could see that she wasn’t being challenged academically. She also wasn’t being fed or receiving the messages to adapt socially and emotionally. She started coming home and not wanting to go to school. She asked me “Am I white? People are telling me that I’m white.” By being in a 98-99% Black school, she was confused and kids were othering her. Of course, I want to protect her, but I wanted her to be exposed to other cultures.

I was born and raised in Humboldt Park, and I went to Richard Yates Elementary which was in a predominantly Black and Puerto Rican neighborhood. We had Polish students, white students, so there was more of a mix back then. Chicago is hyper-segregated; in many ways, I feel like it’s gotten worse over the years. It wasn’t until I went to CPS high school that I truly felt diversity that I felt was unreal. I definitely wanted [my daughter] to have what I experienced in elementary school and she wasn’t getting that.

[My daughter] is not at Bouchet [Elementary Math & Science Academy] because it’s not diverse. I want her to be around other cultures, other classes. I want her to be open and cultured and she’s not going to get that at Bouchet. What NTA offers in terms of their programs and community involvement is so key to me.

Parents at NTA are so organized and have been very active. It’s a flat out lie to say that a select group of parents—or white parents—are the ones making the noise. Everybody is involved and everybody is making noise. I am not one of the most involved parents—I am just doing my part, whatever that is, whether that’s writing an article or going to a board meeting. It’s really a concerted effort by the community. There are people who are in this fight who don’t even have kids that go to NTA. It’s about equity—people are fed up.

Would you do anything differently? Do you have any plans to change as they get older?

Chambers: I’m pretty much satisfied with the experience. I didn’t bring them to the places I worked only because I wanted them to develop as their own individual person. I think if your child attends the school you work at it makes it difficult to establish their own identity. Other than that, I wouldn’t change anything about it.

Stieber: I believe in public education; it should be with great schools with teachers who care about their kids. And the vast majority of CPS teachers care about their kids a lot. But my kids are now experiencing having schools that aren’t being funded the way that they should be and not having enough staff. With the violence in our city, the odds are my kids are going to know people that have been impacted by violence. All that stuff is in your head and is scary, and I have various levels of privilege that shield me more than others because of my income and race, but sending your kids to CPS is scary on many levels because of the way it’s being run at the top.

What do you think it says when CPS teachers won’t send their kids to CPS schools?

Stieber: I understand the reasons why they might do that. Working in CPS for eleven years and seeing people who worked longer—how have people worked with the chaos of CPS? We’ve had eight CEOs in my eleven years of teaching. It’s one of the biggest reasons why CPS teachers send their kids to non-public schools—they don’t want their kids to deal with what their students deal with or what they don’t have in schools. I get it.

Jasper: I’m not surprised by that [thirty-nine percent] statistic. I would have never sent my daughter to [a neighborhood high school] when I was teaching there given what was happening in the area. The academic rigor wasn’t there because we were fighting other battles. There were many times when I would go to work and just focus on classroom management. It was very different when I went to South Shore International College Prep, which is a selective enrollment IB and AP school. The student profile there was different, parents were involved, there was a different culture, a different feel. There were teachers, assistant principals, and office staff that sent their kids there. I knew I wanted to work there because that spoke volumes to me that the assistant principal’s daughter was in my AP class. Or that the security guard and cheerleading coach also sent their kids there.

We invest in the school by sending our kids there. But I know for a fact that’s not often the case. Is that only the case for Walter Payton, Whitney Young? If that’s true, that’s sad. That’s sad that if you work at a neighborhood high school, you don’t feel that way.

From the eyes of both a parent and an educator, what could or should CPS do to incentivize CPS teachers to send their kids to CPS schools?

Stieber: Parents don’t want to look for schools—they want to send their kids to the schools right near them, they don’t want to deal with the selective enrollment because it’s stressful and time consuming. Improve the neighborhood schools. And I think a major first step is to have an elected school board—that shows that people care what parents think, along with no longer closing public schools, or cutting librarians and social workers.

Jasper: I think the biggest disconnect right now between our education and our community is that there is no real conversation. I think what we need to do is get to know our communities.

There is inevitably a disconnect when you have someone who lives in Beverly and works in Englewood. They go there as a job, not because it’s their community. When I went to Roseland every day from South Shore, it was different from me teaching in South Shore when I lived right down the street. When I go to Walgreens, I see my students. When I go to the gas station, I see my kids. They were my neighbors. Me staying for a basketball game or cheerleading practice was not a big deal.

Principals and staff need to do a better job of getting to know their community. Going to community events, bringing in neighborhood clubs for local school council meetings or open houses. There has to be more communication and openness, and it needs to be a partnership. I think that will change that mentality.

There needs to be a shift in the places where we go to every day. Your work should become an extension of you and your family. In the service of educating students, it is a service. You shouldn’t have the attitude that this is just a job. It’s about your willingness to invest in that community, regardless of whether you live there or not.

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An Ode to the CPS Librarian

An ode to the dope librarian
Gatekeeper to tranquility
Checker of passes
Keeper of calmness

Provider of
safety
a place to
research
write
read
nap
chill
unwind

Recommender of books
Counselor for kids

Now tech coordinator
Changing with times
Collaborator with teachers

Will do any job that is asked
Most out of love
But also fear of being cut
Needs to feel needed

Is needed

But teachers aren’t used to you
There are so few of you

Self described unicorn

CPS librarians once flourished
Now all combined
Barely fill a room

Like all things good for kids
CPS cuts you
Attempting to eliminate you
Almost extinct
Just to save a mismanaged buck
Value ignored
Enrichment for students lost

By nature librarians aren’t loud
CPS knows this
So it attacks

75% of schools
no librarian
Librarian a luxury
Luxury too good
for CPS kids

Rahm’s Lab School
kids
1 librarian per 285
kids
CPS
kids
1 librarian per 2671
kids

Someone once confronted you
“why librarians
when we have Google searches
and a computer?”

Clearly this person never knew
You
Never knew what librarians
Can do

But we see you dope librarian
We appreciate you
We need to do a better job of fighting for you
Building w/ you
Working w/ you
Getting to know
you
Listening
to you
Appreciating
you

If you are interested in learning more/ wanting to advocate for librarians for our schools and our children then click here to get involved.

 

To view this piece on ChicagoNow.com click here.