By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah
An annual scorecard on the district's performance and greater accountability throughout the system are some of the promises outlined in the first long-term plan for Chicago Public Schools issued since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office.
Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett vowed that the public will be able to track CPS' progress in areas including parental engagement and will also be able to see how many principals and teachers are rated as high performers, under guidelines in the five-year "action plan.
"We must hold every adult accountable to make decisions in the best interest of our children," Byrd-Bennett said Monday during a speech to education advocates at Westinghouse College Prep on the West Side.
The plan aligns the entire district with the rigorous Common Core Curriculum by the 2014-15 school year. CPS will integrate art at every grade level, and social and behavioral support systems will be provided for students who need them, under the plan.
CPS this year launched more rigorous teacher and principal evaluations, the results of which are expected to be available this summer.
The plan, the district's first since one issued by former interim CEO Terry Mazany in 2011, includes some initiatives the district has already implemented, like full-day kindergarten. The plan was less clear how other proposals, like training for parents, might be funded or implemented.
Also unclear is how the plan's call for more art education and support services will be executed. The district faces a budget deficit in the coming year of nearly $1 billion, in part because of pension payments that are expected to balloon, and principals, given great responsibility over spending at their schools this year, will be looking for areas to cut.
In a telephone meeting with the Tribune editorial board Monday, Byrd-Bennett said that if a principal is interested in behavioral programs but lacks the funds, the district will solicit money from the philanthropic community.
School board President David Vitale said the district has talked with state legislators about revenue options including raising property taxes beyond the current cap.
The education plan released Monday comes after two years of contentious debate over efforts to reform Chicago's public schools.
The Emanuel administration focused on increasing the length of the school day in its first year, then faced down the teachers union during a seven-day strike. This year, the district followed through on a plan to trim underutilized schools, approving a plan to close 49 elementary schools and one high school program.
The closing plan continues to be controversial, and the district will be under intense scrutiny when next school year begins over how it is implemented. Last week, the Tribune reported that enrollment figures for students from schools being closed may have been inflated because some school officials had signed up students without parental approval. Byrd-Bennett said the district "found little or no evidence of that."
"If, in fact, there is any evidence that someone wanted to inflate their numbers or do something that was inappropriate and without direction from this team, we'll do course correction and move forward," she told the editorial board.
Byrd-Bennett's education plan drew a quick rebuke from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who said it was put together "in the silo of CPS without any stakeholders at the table."
"It is amazing that CPS' first impulse, no matter who heads it, is toward an autocratic, top-down approach that people who actually work with kids are expected to implement without the appropriate resources or tools," Lewis said in a statement.
Byrd-Bennett said she has spoken with Lewis on many of the components of the plan including full-day kindergarten, reduction of assessment testing and intervention at failing neighborhood schools.
During the speech earlier in the day, she had a message for the district's critics:
"While I am aware that not every member of the community will always agree with all of the decisions I make, that is no excuse for disruption, that is no excuse to sit on the sidelines," she said.
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