What would a People’s Board of Education look like?

6:48 AM – 26 Sep 13 https://twitter.com/brothajitu/status/383181282399641600

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 “I love THIS Board, the People’s Board.  I no longer recognize the legitimacy of the Mayor-appointed School Board.  They hurt us. They closed our schools.”

On Wednesday night Chicago students, parents, grandparents, and teachers testified at the People’s Board Meeting at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church.  They described what was happening in their schools: high school students who, with overcrowded classrooms and few resources, felt shut out of the kind of learning that will lead them to college; parents in fear of the increased violence in neighborhoods their children were walking through; local school council members discouraged from questioning CPS policies.  

They were met with a Board who responded to them by listening, speaking in response, and immediately declaring motions to address the concerns. 

 Everyone was asked to fill out a detailed evaluation of the process before they left.

The contrast with CPS Board meetings could not have been more pronounced.  Most of the people who attended the People’s Board Meeting were veterans of CPS Board meetings who take their precious few sick days to head downtown on a Wednesday morning, stand in line for hours, listen to Board proceedings for hours, and, if they manage to get to the mic, are limited to 2 minutes of comment.  CPS Board members offer no response; the testimony goes unheeded.

For years community members have felt degraded, distrusted, and mocked by the undemocratic environment and process of the public school leadership.  The People’s Board meeting offered a model of a way of conducting business that is humanizing, community building, and educational.

CPS parent Rhoda Gutierrez’ testimony offers an example of the kind of analysis I heard throughout the meeting.  She listed the undemocratic processes the Board engages in, for instance:

*Blaming teachers and parents for the problems in public education, and calling schools and children failures, which diverts attention from having meaningful debates and discussions about education

*Stating that there is a fiscal crisis and declare that the only way to solve it is to follow a formula for closing schools by the proprivatization Broad Foundation by announcing 300+ schools may be closed, then pairing that down to 100+ then to 50, creating chaos across the district and setting up sham community hearings with appointed commissioners or paid hearing officers and disregarding any recommendations that don’t gel with the mayor’s plan for “right-sizing” the district

*Stating that there is a fiscal crisis, close a record-number of public schools, and fire 3,000 teachers and school workers and then fund massive private development projects (i.e. DePaul University stadium) diverting tax money away from public schools

Whereas people leave the CPS Board meetings downtown shaking off the atmosphere of hostility and division, at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, people walked into the night with hope and purpose, ready to bring new energy to their schools, their neighborhoods, and their families.  That’s how education in a democracy should work.

Here’s a Progress Illinois article detailing Wednesday’s CPS Board Meeting and People’s Board Meeting proceedings.

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