The Chicago School Board last month dismissed 182 local school council members for failing to complete the required 12 hours of board-run basic training. That represents 7 percent of the 2,500 members elected last spring for the first time.
In contrast, when 5,600 LSC members needed to complete training in 1996, only 106 did not fulfill the obligation.
This year, 112 schools lost at least one member, with 18 losing three or four. Region 2 schools lost no members.
Under state law, newly elected members are obliged to take six two-hour lessons on such topics as school budgets, LSC member rules and responsibilities, and principal selection and evaluation.
They must take an additional six hours of training on topics of their choice through either the board or community-based organizations.
Some educators and activists contend the board’s training had logistical problems that prevented council members from completing the courses, including inconvenient locations, confusion about who was required to take them and a lack of translators. However, most central office administrators and principals contacted by Catalyst cite illness, job conflicts or other personal problems as the main reason members missed training.
“Many people don’t have the time and couldn’t comply—not because of lack of opportunity, but because of commitments to work and family,” says Carlos Azcoitia, deputy chief education officer.
Aida Montijo, the LSC liaison in Region 1, says most of the 37 LSC members dismissed from her region’s schools had valid reasons for missing the training. “I have a lot of council members who were genuinely sad they had to leave the council because they ran in ’98, they won the seat, and … had been attending the meetings and living up to the requirements of the reform law. And all of a sudden [they switched jobs], and they were unable to stay on. They felt really bad about that.”
“I know that [LSC members] are not sitting at home saying, ‘I just don’t feel like going,'” says Ruth Lewis Knight, principal of DePriest Elementary School, which lost three members. “The people care very much for the school, the children and for the programs we’re offering.”
Of the three dismissed from DePriest, one had already resigned because of family responsibilities, another has two jobs, and the third is juggling children, work and going to school, she says.
Similarly, Joanne Reynolds, a teacher at Terrell Elementary in Region 4, says a commitment to pursue a master’s degree kept her from meeting the board’s training requirement. The LSC training schedule conflicted with her graduate school courses. Reynolds resigned from Terrell’s LSC shortly before the list was made public.
Still, other educators and school reformers believe that changes in the board’s program were partially at fault. In a controversial move last year, the board banned outside organizations from doing basic training, entering into a partnership with City Colleges of Chicago instead.
“We had people calling our office trying to find out how to get the training,” says Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE). “Clearly, these LSC members didn’t know how to start to get the training. You start putting obstacles in people’s way, and they’re going to get stopped.”
PURE is one reform group who can no longer administer core training.
James Hammonds, interim director of the Chicago Association of Local School Councils (CALSC), agrees that the board did not clearly specify who had to take training and who was authorized to give it. “I think there was some confusion in terms of the information given out to people about that issue,” he says.
Hammonds says the lack of information prompted him to retake training this year, despite having completed it in 1996.
Judith Hernandez, principal of Senn Metropolitan Academy, says three of her school’s LSC members didn’t undergo training because of job and family conflicts. But she adds that transportation was a concern for other LSC members.
Fausto Lopez, principal of Jungman Elementary School, says sessions were “given too far away from the community, and then they don’t have translations.” His council lost two members.
PURE received similar complaints from LSC members, who relayed tales of trainers who neither spoke Spanish nor had bilingual training materials.
But CPS officials say they offered training sessions at a wide variety of times and locations, as well as in different languages. LSC members could take a marathon training session, where they got all six lessons in a single day, notes James Deanes, director of the Office of School and Community Relations. In some cases, trainers went to schools for small group sessions. “We’ve gone in and trained as few as two or three people, or a cluster of schools,” he says.
Training could always be translated, he insists. “We have in-house staff that are bilingual, and we have people that we paid as trainers to go out into situations where there was a need,” he explains. “And we received very few complaints.”
Although Azcoitia concedes CPS made a greater effort to get out the word on LSC training in 1996, he says this year’s notice was sufficient.
Senn’s Hernandez agrees. “The people in charge of training remind principals and LSCs of the training and where it’s going to take place,” she says. “They aren’t remiss.”
“They know about it,” concurs Peter Carlino, principal of Richards Career Academy, which lost three members. “I repeatedly tell them about the training and where it’s offered. If I know they’re missing training, I talk to them individually.”
However, the Council of Chicago Area Deans of Education (CCADE), which by law plays an advisory role in LSC training, believes training could be improved. In March, it sent the board a list of recommendations, including locating training sessions closer to schools and expanding the pool of trainers beyond board employees.
While Azcoitia says the board has no plans to change training procedures, he acknowledges the need for continued evaluation. “Training always has to be revamped,” he says. “It’s an ongoing effort.”
A few argue that the board dismissed some LSC members by mistake.
Samuel Williams, Jr., principal of Englewood High, says the board erroneously dismissed a teacher representative who completed training. Frances Brooks, a teacher representative at Barton Elementary, says she was wrongly dismissed. “I went to Malcolm X College one Saturday morning and did the training,” she says.
Deanes says no one has contacted the board about such discrepancies. “But if they can verify it, we will make the necessary adjustments,” he says.