Top Education Stories You Don’t Want to Miss: September 18 – September 24, 2021

New CEO for CPS: 6 things to know about Pedro Martinez

By Alice Yin for The Chicago Tribune

“During Martinez’s tenure in San Antonio, charters were granted to nonprofits to take over underperforming schools. The partnerships took place because of a new Texas law that offered incentives to school districts of increased funding and less penalties if they invited a charter school or nonprofit to operate certain campuses. That led to immense blowback from Texas teachers’ unions, which have battled Martinez in the courts to void a New York charter school company’s control of an elementary school. But Martinez said Wednesday he is neither for nor against charter schools and simply wants to focus on the best results. In CPS, tens of thousands of students attend charter, contract or other schools that are privately managed and operated. Martinez saw the state ratings for the San Antonio district rise from an F grade to a B. Before the pandemic, Martinez said, his students were graduating at increasingly higher rates and dropping out less. He said the number of schools classified as low-performing were reduced by more than 70%, though the pandemic reversed some gains.”


Despite reduction of cops in Chicago schools, Board of Ed set to vote on $11 million resource officer contract with Police Department

By Tracy Swartz for The Chicago Tribune

“The Chicago Board of Education is poised to review a one-year, $11 million proposed agreement with the Chicago Police Department for the controversial school resource officer program. The deal, which is up for vote at Wednesday’s board meeting, was forged after policymakers at more than 50 high schools developed plans for creating an environment of physical and emotional safety, with or without uniformed officers on campus. Nine schools over the summer elected to exit the program. Twenty schools opted to retain both of their officers, while 24 settled on keeping just one. Schools that gave up one or both officers received funds to use on alternative strategies such as restorative justice coordinators or mental health supports, to the tune of about $3.2 million districtwide, Chicago Public Schools security chief Jadine Chou told the school board last month. At that time, it was revealed that schools that decided to nix one officer could start the school year with two anyway at no cost to CPS while the Police Department reviewed the terms of the agreement. Chou called this a “temporary arrangement” that stemmed “out of concerns raised by CPD to ensure the safety of schools and their school communities.”


Lightfoot ‘Disappointed’ in COVID-19 Testing, Contact Tracing at CPS

By Heather Cherone for WTTW

“Mayor Lori Lightfoot told WTTW News on Monday night she was “disappointed” that efforts to test all Chicago Public Schools students and staff for COVID-19 had gotten off to a slow and confusing start. District officials have delayed the full implementation of its testing plan, saying it will not be in place until the end of September, more than a month after students returned to schools five days a week without any capacity limits. At least 481 students have tested positive for COVID-19, potentially exposing as many as 9,600 students, according to CPS data.  Lightfoot declined to say whether she held Jose Torres, the district’s interim superintendent since June, responsible for those failures. He is set to be replaced by San Antonio schools chief Pedro Martinez in nine days. CPS officials have also acknowledged they need to hire more than a dozen more employees to contact those who have been exposed to someone who contracted COVID-19.”


Chicago will ramp up contact tracing in schools after widespread complaints

By Cassie Walker Burke for Chalkbeat Chicago

“Chicago Public Schools will hire and train 28 new contact tracers and redeploy supervisors and central office staff to address tracing delays that families and educators say leave students vulnerable. Chief Health Officer Dr. Kenneth Fox acknowledged “improvement is necessary” to Chicago’s Board of Education on Wednesday after parents and educators testified to delays and problems with contact tracing as well as the rollout of a campus-based COVID-19 testing program. The contact tracing department will grow to more than 80 people, Fox said, and response time will be narrowed to 48 hours. He did not share the district’s deadline to meet those promises. The district initially said it was starting the year with about two dozen contact tracers. But that has not proven sufficient when there are surges in cases, such as after Labor Day travel. That creates confusion when there are cases at schools, teacher Carrianne Scheib testified Wednesday.”


UIC College Prep Throws First Day of School Block Party

By the Noble Network of Charter Schools

“This is part of a series of blogs from Noble campus representatives to give a deeper look at campus life. UIC College Prep celebrated the first week of school with a block party. Students, families and staff gathered to enjoy fun games, music, and of course food! The school community was so excited to celebrate their return to in-person learning. “It was great to see our students interact on our first day. After 18 months out of the building, I was excited to see our students develop strong relationships and have fun!” Carlos Rivas, the Alumni & External Affairs Manager at UIC College Prep, said, “It was as if we weren’t remote for over a year.”


What should Chicago’s new schools CEO tackle first? Parents, students, and insiders have ideas.

By Cassie Walker Burke and Mila Koumpilova for Chalkbeat

“Jennifer Baez’s fifth grader started school at Columbus Elementary three weeks ago with a different substitute every day. The teacher was out sick with a non-COVID illness, in the middle of a national shortage of qualified substitutes. So one day, a security guard taught the class. Another, it was the PE teacher. The school didn’t communicate anything about the revolving door of adults until two weeks after classes started, Baez said. To her, that’s a symptom of a larger problem she hopes Pedro Martinez, Chicago’s newly appointed schools CEO, will work immediately to address. Right now, Baez says, Chicago Public Schools leaders don’t seek input from families or listen to what they say they need. She wants Martinez to change that. “Don’t just work for us — work with us and listen to us,” said Baez, also the parent of a sophomore at one of the Noble Charter Network’s high schools. “I’ve attended town halls. We ask questions, and they give us no answers.” What should be on incoming Martinez’s priority list differs according to whom you ask, but in interviews, parents, students, educators, and insiders say he should start with firmer plans around COVID-19 safety, a clearer strategy for addressing the academic and mental health fallout from the pandemic, and a push to tackle deep mistrust in some Black and brown neighborhoods of Chicago.”


3 CPS Schools Honored as 2021 National Blue Ribbon Award Recipients

By Matt Masterson for WTTW

“A trio of Chicago Public Schools, and more than a dozen other schools from across Illinois, have been named as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2021, according to a new list from the U.S. Department of Education. Chicago’s Disney II Magnet High School, Prosser Career Academy and Walter Payton College Prep are among the 325 schools recognized nationally for their “overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.” “This year’s cohort of honorees demonstrates what is possible when committed educators and school leaders create vibrant, welcoming, and affirming school cultures where rich teaching and learning can flourish,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement Tuesday.”