Copernicus Elementary staff fights to keep jobs

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • February 13, 2008 @ 6:32 PM

The proposed replacement of the entire staff at Copernicus Elementary School left 8th-grade teacher Lois Ashford in tears today at a Chicago Public Schools hearing.

"Give this some thought," said Ashford, a 16-year teacher at the school, which has been designated as one of eight CPS "turnaround" schools next fall. "This is more than a job for us. We love our children."

Under a sweeping CPS consolidation plan to be considered by the education board Feb. 27,  the faculty and staff at Copernicus would be replaced by a staff trained by the private, nonprofit Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL), which would likely operate the South Side school under a new name but retain Copernicus as a part of the name.

The plan does not sit well with some community leaders.

"I have heard nothing but positive remarks concerning the current staff," said Joseph B. Williams, a 1981 Copernicus grad and pastor of a community church in the Englewood neighborhood.

Copernicus, at 6010 S. Throop, has been on academic probation for eight years. Test scores at the school are substandard in all four criteria used by the school district for determining turnaround status, according to Ginger Reynolds, chief officer of CPS for research, evaluation and accountability. About 33 percent of the school's students met the state test's standards for reading, math and science. The district average is almost twice that, at 64 percent.

While the school's scores have  risen from 27 percent in the last two years, the results are still below the CPS' acceptable standard of 35 percent.

Linda Martin, who has been principal at Copernicus for less than two years and says she was forced by CPS to cut 14 positions during that time, will be out of a job if the CPS proposal is approved.

"I believe in change," she said. "But change in the best interest of the students."

"Ms. Martin has been a wonderful principal," said Judith Kelting, a retired teacher. "We need to have change there, but the change isn't Ms. Martin."

All current Copernicus students will have the option of attending the new Copernicus school in the fall if the measure is approved, but they probably won't recognize any teachers.

Copernicus faculty and staff may reapply for jobs at other CPS schools. The current teachers' contract stipulates that teachers be moved into vacant CPS positions, if available, according to Michael Kane, a field representative for the Chicago Teachers Union.

But, says Kane, they won't necessarily come through unscathed. "It's like a stain on them," he said.

The lack of resources was cited by many at Wednesday's hearing. The school has one teacher's aide, a faculty of 31 and classes as large as 42.

The restructuring at Copernicus is part of a larger plan involving Harper High School, where only 5 percent of students over the last three years have met or exceeded state academic standards.

Harper, at 6520 S. Wood, has also been targeted as an AUSL turnaround school, along with Fulton Elementary at 5300 S. Hermitage.

The new Miles Davis Elementary, at 6740 S. Paulina, scheduled to open in the fall as a math and science magnet school, would replace the old Miles Davis, at 6723 S. Wood, and Johns Middle Academy at 6936 S. Hermitage.

In all, the changes in the five schools will affect more than 3,000 students.  Another 14 schools also face restructuring.  A series of 19 public hearings will continue through Saturday.

Copernicus, Fulton, Miles Davis and Johns Academy all feed into Harper High, although many students go elsewhere due to Harper's academic history.

"This is not meant to demean Harper," said Jay Almer, math and science specialist at Copernicus, but "the staff at Copernicus is committed to giving our eighth graders as many options as possible for high school."

In the last four years, Almer said, fewer than 20 percent of Copernicus graduates have chosen to go to Harper.

Parental involvement is likely to be a topic for discussions of reform at Copernicus, a fact made clear by the absence of parents Wednesday.

"You wonder, what's their problem?" Kane said. "Do they care?"

Indeed, Williams said, that is "one of the greatest challenges we face around there." Many parents look at school as a daycare, he said, and their children aren't prepared.

"They're not clean, they haven't eaten," he said.

Upcoming CPS public hearings

At CPS Central Office, 5th Floor, Board Chambers, 125 S. Clark St.:

Feb. 14: Gladstone Elementary, 3-6 p.m.; De La Cruz Elementary, 7-10 p.m

Feb. 15: Irving Park Middle School, 3-6 p.m.; Anderson Elementary, 7-10 p.m.

At Gladstone Elementary School, 1231 S. Damen Ave.:

Feb. 16: Gladstone Elementary, noon-3 p.m.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.



Check your facts. AUSL is not involved in the turnaround process for Copernicus as you stated. They are working with Morton, Howe and Orr. CPS is managing the turnaround of Copernicus themselves. Please make sure your facts are accurate before you publish them...