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Biggest turnaround  push in CPS history

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Updated: December 30, 2011 8:22AM

Ten city public schools stuck in the “educational emergency room’’ would undergo a summer “turnaround” in which adults in their buildings would change but kids could stay under the largest turnaround push in the district’s history, officials proposed Monday.

“We can no longer defend a Chicago Public School system that fails our students year after year,’’ new Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard told reporters during a telephone briefing Monday.

“We have to take immediate action this year. . . . Too many of our students are in what I call an educational emergency room.’’

Brizard said he is proposing that eight elementary schools and two high schools face “turnarounds,” meaning their entire staffs will be given pink slips but they can reapply for their jobs under new school managers and principals. A second wave of even more school shakeups, which could involve school closings, is due to be announced by Thursday.

Neither Brizard nor his staff could immediately say how many people the 10 schools employed but noted that 70 percent of teachers in past turnaround schools wound up finding jobs somewhere in the district. Rather than focus on possible layoff numbers, Brizard said, “I’m much more concerned about the lives of kids. Our focus is on children, not adults.’’

Some 5,800 students at the targeted schools “have been attending some of the worst schools in the district,’’ Brizard said. “As adults, we need to put the needs of students first.’’

Six schools were targeted for turnarounds overseen by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, an organization touted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which counts School Board President David Vitale as its former board chairman. They are : Casals, Fuller, Herzl, Marquette, Piccolo and Stagg Elementary. Marquette, a massive school with more than 1,400 students, is the largest CPS elementary school to ever face a turnaround.

The CPS Office of School Improvement would oversee four other turnarounds: at two high schools — Chicago Vocational Career Academy and Tilden, and at two elementaries — Wendell Smith and Woodson South.

CPS officials said all 10 schools had been on probation for at least five years and their percent of students passing state tests was lower than the average for surrounding schools.

Passing rates clearly varied. On elementary tests they ranged from 61.5 percent at Casals to nearly 50 percent at Herzl to 37.3 percent at Fuller.

Both high schools targeted have especially dismal pass rates: 4.2 percent at Chicago Vocational and 6.3 percent at Tilden.

The proposals now face community hearings and a February school board vote.

Despite repeated calls — and even a law — demanding greater transparency in proposed school actions, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said CPS once again “made decisions behind closed doors and that was the end of it. . . . The whole process needs to be looked at.’’

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