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Protesters vow to ‘save’ school from take over by ‘politically connected’ operator

Parents teachers marched MartLuther King Jr. Holiday try save Marquette School from closing down same neighborhood King marched himself

Parents and teachers marched on the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday to try to save Marquette School from closing down in the same neighborhood King marched himself for fair housing. L-r are: Mary Edmonds (teacher) , Charles Brown and Pat Pointer of Action Now organization. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: January 16, 2012 8:22PM

Scores of school activists waged a Rev. Martin Luther King Day march outside Marquette Elementary School Monday to protest plans to turn over the massive school to what they called a “politically connected’’ operator.

More than 200 protestors used the tune of “We shall overcome some day” to instead sing “we shall save our schools today’’ as they marched around Marquette School at 6550 S. Richmond and through the surrounding neighborhood.

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey decried Chicago Public School plans to turn over management of Marquette — one of the system’s largest elementary schools, with some 1,400 students — and five other academically struggling schools next school year to the not-for-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership, or AUSL.

“Would MLK support AUSL?” asked one sign at the protest.

Sharkey called the AUSL group “politically connected’’ as current Chicago School Board President David Vitale once served as its board president, and CPS chief administrative officer Tim Cawley was once a top executive there. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has praised rising test scores in other schools AUSL has emptied of employees and “turned around’’ with new staff, new curriculum, and student teachers — called “residents’’ — helping out in classrooms.

“Educational justice is about finding the way to stop these takeovers of public facilities and public schools,’’ CTU President Karen Lewis told the gathering of teachers, parents, students and activists at one point. She charged that AUSL staff and officials “don’t know our children, don’t care about our children and will step on our children to get where they need to be.’’

Marquette math teacher Jacqueline Ward questioned why Marquette was targeted for a turnaround when its scores increased last year, from 51.4 percent to 53.1 percent passing all state tests. The CPS elementary average is 73.3 percent passing.

Ward said the school’s success came despite being “sabotaged’’ by a CPS revolving door of leadership — three principals supervised by three different middle managers since 2010. The current principal should be given the same resources, extra staff and stability AUSL will receive to run Marquette and further her reforms, Ward said.

In an emailed statement, CPS communications chief Becky Carroll said that “For too long, our students have been cheated out of the high quality education they deserve and we can no longer accept a status quo that has failed them year after year.’’

CPS is proposing a “record number” of turnarounds — six by AUSL and four by CPS management, at a cost of $20 million — so “students returning to school in Fall 2012 can start the school year at the same school but with new staff, new leadership and new culture of learning laser focused on boosting their academic achievement.’’ Carroll wrote.

“The needs of our students must come before all else and we must do everything in our power to prepare them for college and career.”

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