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CPS CEO: ‘Time to turn the page,’ move on

BarbarByrd-Bennett addresses medifollowing her speech City Club Chicago May 28 2013.  | JessicKoscielniak ~ Sun-Times

Barbara Byrd-Bennett addresses the media following her speech at the City Club of Chicago May 28, 2013. | Jessica Koscielniak ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: June 30, 2013 6:17AM

Less than a week after her massive school-closing recommendations were finalized, the Chicago Public Schools chief urged the city to leave the past tumultuous year behind and to move forward, announcing a five-year plan called “Next Generation Chicago’s Children.”

But Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett released few specifics about the plan.

“This is not just about children in schools; this work is really about the future of our city,” Byrd-Bennett told the roomful of politicians and business leaders at the City Club of Chicago. “Our vision is that every student in every neighborhood will be engaged in a rigorous, well rounded instructional program and will graduate prepared for college, for their career, and for life.”

CPS declined to reveal details of the plan, saying they’ll be released in coming weeks.

“Whatever has happened this past year is done,” Byrd-Bennett said, alluding to September’s teachers strike, the first in 25 years. “The collective bargaining agreements are settled. There’s a moratorium on school closures for the next five years, and it’s the beginning of a new school year in a few short months.

“It is a new beginning. We are putting the past behind us, it is time to turn the page.”

Byrd-Bennett and the mayor who hired her also announced Tuesday that high school seniors could set the highest rate for Chicago Public Schools students to graduate within five years — on track to be 63 percent this year. A decade ago, the same graduation rate was 44 percent, rising to 58 percent during the 2010-2011 school year and 61 percent last year. Statewide, the five-year graduation rate was 84 percent in 2011-2012.

“No one can look at our schools today and say they’re good enough,” Byrd-Bennett said. “No one can look at the graduation rate and be satisfied. No one can look at our ACT scores and believe our work has been completed. We cannot say that this work is finished until each child in Chicago is successful.”

The Chicago Teachers Union also is “happy to see increased graduation rates for CPS,” CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said. “It proves that diatribes against teachers and the labeling of our public schools as failing is not only mean-spirited but inaccurate.”

One week ago on May 22, the Board of Education approved Byrd-Bennett’s recommendations to shutter 50 schools, 48 of them in June. CPS’ safety plans are under way but hardly finalized; safe passage plans for most schools taking in kids from closing schools are still being presented to parents. Civil-rights lawsuits to delay the closings for at least a year won’t be heard until July.

Gadlin said in an email that the CTU certainly is willing to move forward, “but we are concerned that she could be a party to such a large destruction of school communities — which is actually moving us backward — and expect people to simply get over it.”

“ What we’ve learned is that people who come into Chicago saying they are making changes that are in the best interests of our students often don’t. Ms. Byrd-Bennett has championed policies that harm our students and has led to the largest destruction of public schools in U.S. history,” Gadlin said. “She may want to put this page in history behind her but the rest of us will never forget.”

Many parents of the 12,000 being displaced from closing schools in June still are “reeling” from the Board’s historic vote to close so many schools at once, said Wendy Katten of the parent group Raise Your Hand.

“While Barbara Byrd-Bennett is ready to move on and put the past behind her, thousands of parents are scrambling to figure out the enrollment process after being given four days to enroll in a new school. Many parents were handed a packet of info, with no dialogue — in typical CPS fashion — and have many unanswered questions about the enrollment process,” she said. “This process was an utter failure and CEO Byrd-Bennett seems completely disconnected with how her policies play out on the ground where children, parents and communities are actually impacted.”

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