Nice Try Barbara, But We See You! An Open Letter to Barbara Byrd Bennett
I caught your appearance on Chicago Tonight trying to reassure Chicagoans that your five-year plan you call “The Next Generation: Chicago’s Children” is going to be the saving grace to a district that has been plagued with educational, cultural, and fiscal problems reaching further back than your days in Cleveland. Nice Try Barbara, but We See You!
Carol Marin wanted to know how your plan is any different from the plan that Vallas, Duncan, Huberman, and Brizard brought to the district. Instead of taking the time to be honest or humble you were arrogant enough to believe that you’ll do a better job at actually monitoring and managing the plan. You even went as far as to say “they had great plans for the moment,” but your plan is sustainable even with a new leader in place. Is that so? What happened in Cleveland with your last five-year building plan? Eugene Sanders, the man who was charged with taking your place had to clean up your mess after the “framework” that you left in Cleveland fell flat based on projected numbers. How can we be sure that your new plan’s framework is going to be sustainable here? Nice Try Barbara, but We See You!
Facing a $1 Billion Dollar shortfall you have varying messages. Your message to teachers who fear job loss is “hang tough,” to Chicagoans who has dealt with increased taxes and fees you tell them “you want more,” and to the state who is facing a structural debt problem with the pension you ask them “can we get more time?” How does that square with your fifth pillar touting “sound fiscal, operation, and accountability systems?” And spare us with your cutting from central office spin. We have literally heard that from all your predecessors who you more or less called incompetent. Nice Try Barbara, but We See You!
You were ready to agree that there is a division among district and charters schools in regards to accountability, transparency, and the nepotism law. What did you do when you were pressed on it? You gave Carol Marin a horrible talking point basically saying that another overpaid crony in central office is working with the legal department to make the necessary changes. You offered nothing concrete or specific. It seems to me you are pretty complacent with this division. Nice Try Barbara, but We See You!
Excuse me if I am not convinced by your plan or your willingness to stay in this district to see the five-year plan come to fruition despite your claim on Chicago Tonight. I don’t presume to have all of the answers, but I have a five-pillar plan that I think may move the district in the right direction.
Pillar One: Ensure that the resources that CPS currently has is being used effectively. Eliminate the million of dollars of spending on the multiple tests only to evaluate teachers and schools. Curb pet projects that don’t ever last long enough to make any meaningful change. Downsize the “chief” bureaucracy at the top. If school-based personnel have to do more than one job, why not the “chiefs.”
Pillar Two: Empower teachers to take control of some of the day-to-day operations of the school. This includes allowing teachers to develop and implement professional development and creating assessments that ACTUALLY demonstrate the student’s mastery. Learning how to teach the Common Core Standards, like the standards themselves, are learned only through a “deep dive” and consistent feedback and re-tooling. Teacher autonomy ensures that teachers are growing in their profession and gives them a personal stake in the success regardless of an evaluation system.
Pillar Three: Increase avenues for feedback from all stakeholders including principals, teachers, parents/guardians, and community members. Telling stakeholders after the fact that something is going to happen isn’t transparency and does nothing to bridge the trust gap that exists in this district especially after the strike and the merciless closing of 50 schools.
Pillar Four: Work with the collecting bargaining units not against them. Collaborate Chicago, a professional development CPS did with the CTU and Teach Plus is a good example of the good that can be done for the district when everyone work together.
Pillar Five: Provided principals with the autonomy to run their schools (not just with the budget) and hold them accountable. Principals should be provided the space and on-going training to mold the schools into the learning environment that is best for the students they serve. This should then be followed by a robust accountability plan. This accountability should include student data and feedback from teachers, parents, and students. Being an effective principal doesn’t begin and end with the ability to increase test scores.
But I am going to cut you some slack Barbara. To quote Charles Payne one of your predecessors, “thinking that one person is going to quickly clean up political and organizational systems that have been dysfunctional for decades is…to forget how multidimensional and twisted the roots the problems are.” I think you should take his advice.
The Ultimate War on Mediocrity