In mid-June, 10 days before Mayor Daley appointed his School Reform Board of Trustees to take over the Chicago Public Schools, Gale Community Academy’s veteran principal, Edis Snyder, wondered if the system hadn’t already “gone to hell in a handbasket. Maybe I’m the last one to catch on,” she said.
A principal’s job is simply too hard without a system that supports her efforts, she said, wondering how long she’d stay.
Snyder was skeptical that the new regime would make any substantial changes. “The School Reform Law has not been enough to change the system,” she said. “And the new law, as written, well. . . .”
Two months later, Snyder is singing a different tune. The new administration “may actually make the principalship a workable job,” she says. In their first weeks, the new chiefs have given her school more help and attention than any of their predecessors.
At the same time, though, one of the elements that attracted the new board’s attention—a group of irate parents—has been making Snyder’s job harder. One of the final decisions of the old Board of Education had brought underlying tensions at Gale, especially racial tensions, to the surface. Now, some parents aren’t sure who they are angrier at: Snyder, the larger system, or each other.
JUNE 26 Dual shifts adopted to relieve overcrowding “Welcome to hell,” is Steve Brown’s cheerful greeting as a reporter steps into his 4th-grade bilingual classroom for the first time. He makes a sweeping gesture at the chaos in his room and gives a good-natured shrug.
There are piles of trash in the corners, some boxes along a wall, very few books on the shelves, and almost no decorations or posters. Students are scrambling around, getting ready for lunch.
“We’re literally imploding,” says Brown.
The implosion is Gale’s imminent switch to dual shifts, which the school grudgingly adopted to relieve its chronic overcrowding. Within a week, classes will be packed two-to-a-room; one group will meet in the morning and clear out by noon to make room for an afternoon class. Brown’s room is in chaos because, like most Gale teachers, he has to move to another one. And since Gale is a year-round school, there’s no time to do it when students aren’t around.
Gale Community Academy serves the Rogers Park neighborhood called “North of Howard,” a bump in the northeast corner of the city. Decades ago, when Gale teacher Ian Fingerman grew up nearby, North of Howard was mostly Jewish. The 1960s brought African Americans, and the 1970s and 1980s, Latinos.
Now, both the neighborhood and the school are roughly two-thirds black and one-third Hispanic. Many of the area’s large apartments have been “divided unmercifully,” notes Fingerman. Built for 740 students, Gale annually enrolls 900 to 1,100.
Last spring, in one of its last decisions, the old Board of Education capped enrollment at overcrowded schools, forcing them to take at least one of three steps: bus children to schools in less crowded neighborhoods, adopt dual shifts, or go on a year-round schedule, which puts a quarter of the school on vacation in any given month.
Under duress, Gale picked dual shifts. But the local school council also resolved to send busloads of parents to every School Board meeting until the board agrees to new construction.
JUNE 29 Teachers’ stuff moved to new rooms Like Gale, Nightingale Elementary is an overcrowded, year-round school; a section is shut down for construction. Even so, the Gage Park school has managed to clear a classroom for the official unveiling of the city’s new school regime. Dozens of reporters and camera-people cram themselves into one side of the room—some sitting on chairs built for 7-year-olds—while Mayor Richard M. Daley and his new school team array themselves on the other.
“This is all about children,” Daley reads from his speech. “Anyone who tries to turn this into politics or patronage will only undermine the future of our children and our city. I won’t stand for it—and neither will the people of Chicago.”
A few hours later, Gale Principal Edis Snyder is a guest on a radio talk show. Asked whether she’s encouraged by what she’s seen so far of the new regime, she replies, “I’m going to be encouraged by action.”
Meanwhile at Gale, all the students are outside for a party marking two occasions. First, students have just finished a mural illustrating the parade of different ethnic groups through north Rogers Park in the last century. Second, Gale’s school year ends today. A deejay is playing CDs while kids line up for free ice cream bars and their turn in a “moon-walk.”
But the party also serves another purpose: keeping kids out of the building for a few hours so movers can cart teachers’ stuff from their old rooms to their new ones.
Art teacher Ruth Fingerman—married to fellow Gale teacher Ian—is celebrating both the mural and the move. She worked for months on the mural with colleague Marylin Maxwell and resident artist Michael Bresee. And dual shifts will end her nomadic life. “I’ve been given a permanent room after eight and a half years of doing art-on-a-cart,” she says.
Inside, Ian Fingerman is directing the movers who are trucking his wife’s supplies from a closet to her permanent room. He’s Gale’s teacher-coordinator, the person who makes sure everything in the building—books, supplies, video equipment—is where it’s supposed to be. In essence, he takes care of the teachers who take care of the kids.
JULY 5 Where is my kid’s new classroom? The first school day following the move, Augusta Hudson addresses her 3rd-grade class: “Now, a 6th- and 7th-grade class is going to be in here in the afternoon, so please don’t leave any valuables in your desks.”
In Gale’s offices, phones are ringing off the hook as parents try to figure out where their children are supposed to be and when. In some families, children are on different shifts and on different tracks of the year-round schedule. Within a few days, the phone lines will quiet down, but many parents will remain frustrated.
JULY 12 Central office payroll department criticized Today, Ian Fingerman takes a short break from putting away supplies in the school’s old lunchroom to talk to a reporter. “I compare this place to M*A*S*H,” he says. “It’s busy, very busy, and less busy. But it’s never not busy.”
“We’re crowded here because we have a reputation,” he says. “People around here have friends on the South Side, the West Side, and they tell them, ‘The teachers are good, it’s safe, there’s no fights. . . .’ And that’s why people come here.”
Dual shifts have made the school much quieter, he says. “We’re operating at capacity, but teachers say the place is like a tomb—because we’re so used to being packed.”
Even so, he notes that the new schedule does have a downside: Students and teachers have less time together. “Four hours goes so fast: WHOOOSH! and it’s gone,” he says.
The new administration on Pershing Road, Fingerman says, “doesn’t affect us at all. They could put Bill Clinton in there, and it wouldn’t affect us. The only official who affects us is our principal.”
Fingerman is largely wrong: Gale’s current dual-shift schedule, for instance, is the result of central office decisions. Even so, the central office doings in today’s newspaper stories do seem irrelevant to teachers. “No more free lunches,” trumpets the Sun-Times. “School chief ends perks.” Asking fellow administrators to “live like Ralph Nader,” new Schools CEO Paul Vallas rejects a chauffeur, nixes new furniture for Pershing Road and cuts out taxpayer-funded food at meetings.
However, there is one thing that Fingerman would like Vallas and company to do—clean up the payroll department. “The only thing that really affects the teacher in the building is payroll. . . . They owe me six and a half days, plus my pay raise. Eventually, you get the money. But who ever worked for a company where you waited months and months for the money?”
Later that day, Assistant Principal David Ichishita also puts payroll at the top of his wish list. Ichishita is in charge of getting Gale’s teachers paid, and it’s a frustrating job. “I had teachers last summer not get paid for two or three months. I’ve seen grown people almost break down and cry.”
JULY 13 CEO Paul Vallas speaks about payroll problems Board President Gery Chico, Vallas and Lynn St. James, the system’s new chief educational officer, have just finished introducing themselves and some of their ideas to several hundred principals. The first question from the audience: “What do I do to get my summer school staff paid?”
Vallas has a ready answer: “Payroll is a major priority. Just yesterday, the mayor said to me, ‘If you can’t fix it, privatize the damn thing.’ ” But he also warned, “We’re not going to fix the problem overnight, because every week is another payroll crisis.”
Vallas’ comments will get buried inside tomorrow’s papers, but today’s Sun-Times shouts about the “SCHOOLS’ WAREHOUSE OF WASTE: Startling discovery of unused supplies.” Both the Sun-Times and the Tribune quote new Operations Chief Ben Reyes as saying the board’s warehouse will be eliminated, and manufacturers will deliver orders directly to schools.
To Gale’s Edis Snyder, the warehouse story isn’t earthshaking. But she agrees with Reyes about direct ordering and delivery. “A principal spends an enormous amount of time figuring out the system,” she explains. “It’s absurd that in order to get furniture, you have to know someone—not Know Someone with capital letters, just know who the correct people are and what’s the procedure.”
This complaint comes from someone who knows her way around. For instance, when Gale opted for dual shifts, it needed lunchroom tables in a hurry. Snyder got them because she knew that tables would be in storage—in the very warehouse Reyes wants to close—waiting for delivery over the summer. So she called people at the supply office and talked them into sending Gale the ones on hand and reordering for schools that could wait until September.
“I see it as appropriate that I have to deal with the system,” says Snyder, “but the system shouldn’t be so complicated. The problem is, it keeps changing completely. Years ago, in a situation like this, I probably would have been working right now to reconnect my network as quickly as possible. But now, things are very quiet. So for now, you just wait until they develop their systems—and you hope they’re sensible systems.”
Meanwhile, Snyder continues to manage Gale’s transition to a dual-shift system. “Mechanically, it’s going to be fine,” she says, acknowledging there is a lot of dissatisfaction. “Change is very, very hard. Many parents are upset because it shortens the day by 45 minutes.”
JULY 19 Parents boycott school over dual shifts There may be more dissatisfaction than Snyder realizes. Many classrooms are half empty, as parents boycott the school to protest dual shifts. Schoolwide, attendance is down about 30 percent. Parents are planning a protest march for tomorrow. Meanwhile, bilingual teacher Antonio Vargas, who has been at Gale for 11 years, requests a transfer and calls it an act of protest against dual shifts.
Snyder says the boycott is led mostly by a faction of Latino parents. Further, she says, some black parents fear the protest is part of a conspiracy to get blacks out of the school. Many parents believe that if dual shifts end and busing begins, Hispanics will be spared because they are in a bilingual program, she says. “There is real speculation among the black parents on this,” says Snyder, adding that in light of the speculation, many black parents are not with the protest group.
Gale’s attendance figures confirm that proportionately more bilingual students than black students are participating in the boycott—62 percent, compared with 19 percent. Even so, almost 1 out of 5 black students has stayed home.
While Snyder will talk with a reporter about the boycott, it’s generally a taboo topic. She doesn’t mention it at today’s faculty meeting and forbids CATALYST from asking teachers about the boycott or dual shifts while they are on duty.
JULY 20 Parent protesters march outside school and in neighborhood It’s protest day, and it’s drizzling. By 10 a.m., four police cars have pulled up at the corner of Jonquil and Marshfield, outside the school. Fifteen minutes later, about 70 protesters arrive, holding signs in the air and chanting slogans. Most are Hispanic, but a vocal minority are African American.
Jerri Whitley, a black parent of three Gale students, is at the front of the line. “We have kept our children home because we felt they were not getting their normal education anyway,” says Whitley, a protest organizer. “Just four hours and 15 minutes, including lunch.”
“It splits up households and disrupts parents’ working days,” she continues. “Contrary to what most people believe about people who live north of Howard, most parents here do have jobs.”
While Whitley stops to talk to a reporter, Florentina Leon, another parent organizer, starts a chant in Spanish: “A village united will never be defeated!”
Also up front is Horacio Peralta-Marinkovic, pastor of Good News Church, a storefront church where many of the parent meetings are held. Pastor Horacio, as parents call him, says that Snyder is playing fast and loose with the truth—as well as with the lives of Gale students, families and teachers.
He has drafted an “open letter” presenting parent concerns and calling for Snyder’s resignation. Parents are angry not just about dual shifts, but also about, as the letter puts it, Snyder’s “lack of respect for the community and their needs.”
As the marchers proceed down Jonquil, Wayne Frazier lingers at the corner. An African American with two children at Gale, Frazier wears many hats in the community. He is president of Gale’s local school council. He runs a community organization, with offices in Good News Church. And he is president of the 49th Ward Democratic Party.
The protesters don’t trust him. Frazier “does not speak for us,” parent leader Whitley will say later.
Frazier concedes that to get the bilingual committee’s support for dual shifts, he went so far as to tell them that any busing would include Latino kids—even though he believed differently. When they found him out, he says, they turned against dual shifts; hence, today’s protest. And now, Frazier blames Latinos for divisiveness. Even so, he says he’s here today to “support the parents who are marching.”
Several days later, Frazier will aptly describe his situation. “My position,” he says, “is like standing on the edge of a cliff, with one foot in the air and the other on a banana peel.”
JULY 21 Gale School student dies in home fire “Contract Near for Teachers,” heralds this morning’s Sun-Times. “Schools slate 3% pay hike for teachers,” says the Tribune. It looks to be the earliest teachers union settlement anyone can remember—and this in a year when many people feared a strike.
At Gale, though, the good news dissolves quickly, when 9-year-old Fabiola Enriquez dies in a fire at home. As her mother, Florentina Leon, leads a second protest march, the family’s apartment building catches fire. Marchers see smoke pouring out of a nearby building, and Leon speeds—too late—to the scene.
JULY 24 Gale School student dies in home fire Gale’s social worker, Ellen Schein, spends the day helping students and teachers deal with Fabiola’s death. In teacher Steve Brown’s room, the girl’s classmates talk about their memories of her, write consoling letters to Mrs. Leon, and create a memorial display. “We miss you, Fabiola,” their sign says.
This evening, teachers Ian Fingerman and Antonio Vargas head downtown to the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates meeting, where they join in a unanimous vote for a four-year contract. “I think it’s the best they could get,” says Vargas. “I don’t see any problems with it, considering the problems with legislators downstate. I was afraid there was going to be a strike.”
From Gale’s point of view, the new contract has an interesting gap; the section on year-round schools is blank. During the meeting, one teacher asks union president Thomas Reece about the blank. “The new Board of Education would like to create a policy with our input,” Reece responds, adding that the details haven’t been worked out yet. One hitch is that “the mayor’s been talking a lot about year-round schools, but they may not be the same kind of year-round schools we’re talking about.”
Union spokesperson Jackie Gallagher says that the mayor’s people didn’t know enough to negotiate, and, rather than force the issue, the union left the section blank for now.
JULY 25 Programs for poor kids are run in closets and hallways Principal Snyder calls the early contract settlement “outstanding.” She’s more and more encouraged by what she sees coming out of the new central office, and she’s starting the process of rebuilding her network.
“The fact that there are so few schools open in summertime may work to our advantage,” she says. “I am able to do my networking with newly-placed people. That kind of relationship-building is one of the most significant responsibilities of a principal.”
Snyder also is preparing to take a group of parents to the new Board of Trustees’ first meeting. Educational Officer St. James already has hinted that the policy of capping enrollment will be up for review, but Snyder wants more. “They must alleviate our overcrowding,” she says. “We can’t run programs this way.”
Cramped quarters mean that supplemental programs for poor kids, which the state and federal governments fund, often have to be run in closets and hallways. “That’s not acceptable. What are we, garbage?” Other places don’t accept such treatment, she says. “Why should North of Howard?”
JULY 26 Principal takes parents to School Board meeting Around 9 o’clock, a school bus pulls up to take parents to the board. Only a couple dozen are going, along with Snyder, a teacher LSC rep, and Ald. Joe Moore (49th). “I don’t know,” says parent Pamela Robinson. “I just hope that we can make a difference.”
At Pershing Road, Robinson and most of the other Gale parents end up sitting in an “overflow room,” where they watch the board meeting on closed-circuit TV until it’s time for them to speak. Moore serves as chief spokesperson for the delegation, which arrays itself behind him as he makes his pitch for an annex to Gale. At the end of his allotted two minutes, Moore thanks Operations Chief Reyes for agreeing to meet with him next week, signalling he’s done some work behind the scenes.
Before they leave, both Whitley and Frazier also get to address the board.
Outside of the Gale delegation, only one other speaker complains about overcrowding, and he hasn’t brought anybody to back him up.
The board’s first meeting, attended by four of its five members, is cut and dried. On items requiring a board vote, president Gery Chico typically asks a staff member to present the administration’s recommendation. Then he makes a few comments, and then the board votes unanimously. Norman Bobins and Gene Saffold do ask a few questions about a proposed ethics policy. Tariq Butt asks one about a travel reimbursement policy. Sharon Gist Gilliam is absent, due to illness.
This afternoon, at Good News Church, there is a wake for Fabiola Enriquez.
JULY 28 School Board member visits Gale School At 9 a.m., Len Dominguez, the board’s new head of policy, signs the visitor’s log at Gale. He has come to talk with Snyder about an annex and space that may be rented in the meantime—four classrooms at Good News Church that, until recently, had been used by an independent school.
Since the board meeting, Snyder has been working the phone, tapping her network of influential people. “A community that has been well put-together has been divided,” she tells her contacts. “Attention must be paid to this kind of thing.”
In an afternoon interview, Snyder sounds confident. “I think we’ll get a very positive response from the board very soon” on Gale’s request for an annex, she says.
Parents suspend the boycott but warn that it will resume in two weeks if dual shifts have not ended by then.
JULY 31 School Board will build annex to relieve Gale overcrowding By 7 p.m., everyone but Ben Reyes has arrived at Joe Moore’s office. “Everyone” includes Moore, Snyder, LSC president Frazier, the board’s Dominguez, parent leader Whitley, Pastor Horacio of Good News Church, and Horacio’s co-pastor, Karen Mosby.
Reyes shows up within minutes and gets right to the point: First, a Gale annex will be a top priority in the board’s forthcoming capital development plan; the school can expect it to be built in 18 to 24 months. Second, the board will assist Gale in renting space nearby to relieve overcrowding in the meantime. Third, the board will pay the cost of operating Gale’s building on summer nights and weekends, so that the Park District can expand the schedule of after-school programs that it provides at Gale.
AUG. 1 Special LSC meeting with two School Board members present Florentina Leon arrives a few minutes early for a special LSC meeting. The school counselor asks her how she’s doing; she shrugs in response. Another staff member walks down the hall with her, putting a comforting arm around her shoulders. As she nears the meeting room, a third teacher struggles to express condolences. “To face the situation,” the teacher says in Spanish, “you must be strong now.”
“My daughter was my strength,” replies the grieving mother.
Almost 40 adults and maybe 20 children have crammed into the teachers’ lounge, which might seat 25 comfortably. The board’s Len Dominguez and Carlos Azcoitia, head of the reform office, were among the first to arrive.
“Don’t start the meeting!” cautions one of Gale’s teacher LSC reps. “We need to get a translator.” Without introducing themselves, Dominguez and Azcoitia volunteer.
Members of both the council and audience clamor to learn everything at once, but LSC chair Frazier sticks doggedly to his script, asking the council to pass four motions, one at a time.
First, to ask the School Reform Board of Trustees for a waiver from the capping policy so that the school can return to a regular year-round schedule without having to bus kids out of the community
Second, to declare the council’s intention to lease space for overcrowding relief until an annex can be built. Frazier and Snyder relate Operations Chief Reyes’ commitment to build an annex and his instructions to find an interim solution.
Third, to ask the Reform Board and the Park District to extend the after-school programs the Park District runs at Gale to a year-round, seven-day-a-week schedule. Frazier, who sits on the local park advisory board, says he doesn’t think the district will have a problem supplying staff for an extended program.
Fourth, to create a parent committee at the next LSC meeting to look for an annex site.
All four motions pass unanimously.
But not everything is harmonious. Florentina Leon and a few other parents have some questions, and they’re determined to get them answered. They interrupt Frazier several times, asking about Mr. Vargas, their ally in the dual-shift protest, who has asked for a transfer. Now that dual shifts are to end, they demand, will he be able to stay?
“I cannot discuss personnel matters at a council meeting,” says Snyder flatly.
AUG. 2 Teachers and the dual shift problem As the faculty meeting begins at 7:30 a.m., Gale’s library is full and buzzing—in contrast to recent meetings, which began with the room half-empty and awkwardly silent. “The half-hour will pass quickly,” Snyder predicts. She saves her announcement of the annex for the end of the half-hour. Her other announcements would be big news any other time, but they are eclipsed by the dual-shift turmoil and the hope of relief.
Snyder ends the meeting with a five-minute speech, heralding the new building. She applauds the “loyal and committed faculty at Gale,” as well as Ald. Moore (“really . . . rock-solidly behind the council all the way on this”) and Ben Reyes (“just a terrific and energetic guy”). And she notes her own efforts: “Apparently, the years of . . . being able to reach out and touch key people have paid off for me—and now for our children as well.” As a result, she says, when the board presents its new capital development plan, “Gale is going to be at the tippy-top of the list” of schools slated for new construction.
In the last minute of the meeting, Snyder advises teachers that to come off dual shifts, they have to vote for a contract waiver that would let Gale’s class sizes swell beyond the negotiated limits until additional space is rented. “This is your choice,” she says as the bell rings.
But the vote is “sort of a rubber stamp,” says union delegate Ian Fingerman, as he hands out ballots in the teachers lounge. “I don’t think there’s a teacher in this building who wants the dual shift.”
“The first time we voted on the dual shift, we had a real uptight meeting that lasted for more than an hour,” he says. “No one wanted it. There was nothing good about split shift. Everyone knew. Mrs. Snyder knew. She said, ‘There’s nothing good about this.’ “
The teachers vote 57 to 13 to ask for the waiver.
At the end of the day, Gale’s assistant principals tell parent ally Antonio Vargas not to return tomorrow or ever again during school hours. Principal Snyder has approved his transfer.
AUG. 3 Parents protest a teacher’s transfer Pastor Horacio of Good News Church sees several squad cars, a paddy wagon and a few dozen parents outside the school this morning. When he stops to check things out, parents say they demanded to see Snyder and that she called the cops. Snyder says she doesn’t know who called the police. Apparently, Horacio learns later, a security guard made the call.
The parents say they want Vargas back at Gale; Snyder says Vargas has not asked her to stop his transfer; Vargas says he’s not interested in coming back anyway.
Meanwhile, Gale teachers vote on their new union contract. Because teachers on the afternoon shift must be at work during voting hours, the union sets up a special booth at Gale. With most schools closed for the summer, only about 6,500 of the union’s 31,000 members cast ballots.
AUG. 7 More parent-principal confrontation Snyder gets a fax from central office: State Superintendent of Education Joseph Spagnolo has suspended school Quality Reviews, while officials revise the process. Snyder is relieved. She estimates that preparing for a review takes the equivalent of more than 60 people working year-round.
Meanwhile, tensions between Snyder and the parent protesters keep mounting. Around noon, outside the lunchroom, protester Jerri Whitley waits for her child; security guards ask her to leave the building. She accuses Snyder of treating her like a criminal. Snyder says that it’s nothing personal; school security policy requires that parents wait outside so the administration can track who is in the building, when, and why.
Pastor Horacio reports that other parents are having similar experiences. He also claims that the school is threatening to kick out bilingual students who can’t produce Social Security numbers. “The parents know it is illegal,” he says. “That is why they are so angry.”
AUG. 8 Racial, political and personal issues ravage LSC meeting Despite the recent good news of Gale’s promised annex, tonight’s LSC meeting explodes into angry chaos. Much of the the discussion is a tangle of racial, political and personal issues.
When the meeting begins, more than 50 parents are sitting in the audience, dozens of children are scattered throughout the room, and latecomers are streaming in. Jerri Whitley is collecting parent signatures on a letter advising Snyder, “We strongly believe you should move on.” Fifty-five parents eventually sign the letter this evening.
“We can’t hear you!” parents shout, as LSC chair Frazier calls the meeting to order. Their words disappear into the lunchroom’s 30-foot ceiling, where they get garbled with the echoes of murmuring parents and kids. Speaking louder, Frazier introduces himself.
Pastor Horacio from Good News Church asks to translate. Making herself heard, Robin Gunn, a black parent in the first row, asks whether translation is necessary. “I work all day,” she complains. “This is going to take all night, if we have to translate everything.”
Florentina Leon stands up, insisting that the community has the right to a translation. Gunn counters that the Latinos should learn English, “just like everybody else had to learn when they crossed that ocean.”
Ald. Moore makes a short speech congratulating the school on the board’s promises and credits “the hard work of the principal, the local school council and all the people in our community who expressed their concern about the split shift and the overcrowding.”
But Leon and other parents feel they haven’t received enough credit for the victory. Leon stands up to say so, but Frazier cuts her off, allowing the alderman to make his exit before she speaks.
During public participation, parents ask Frazier when the school is coming off dual shifts. He stalls, saying that Snyder will deal with that question in her report.
When Snyder ends her report without giving a date, Frazier makes a surprise motion to abandon dual shifts as soon as possible. Snyder does a double-take, and the meeting erupts into a heated discussion among Frazier, Snyder and parents.
Snyder explains that she’d rather wait until the rental space is ready before going off dual shifts; that way, teachers won’t have to move two more times, once to return to a regular daily schedule and once to redistribute themselves around the rented space. Every move disrupts education, she explains. And she warns that an immediate move back to a regular schedule could mean packing as many as 40 kids into a classroom.
Parent opinion is split. Combativeness persists. After many complaints about the noise in the room, Gunn blames Hispanic parents, saying “We didn’t bring our children to this meeting.”
Parents begin accusing each other of not taking enough initiative to help teachers in the classroom. Finally, an African-American mother who marched with protesters outside the school stands up. “This is to all the parents,” she shouts. “Where were you when we marched on 39th Street? We didn’t have but 25 parents there!” Florentina Leon puts her arm around her.
“I was at work!” replies another African-American parent.
After a half-hour of this verbal free-for-all, Frazier suggests that the council table his motion.
This brings parents to the front of the room to address members of the council—and each other—directly. After several stormy minutes, Florentina Leon leads a large group of parents and children out of the building, calling for a march on the school tomorrow.
“The local school council is still meeting,” says a forlorn Frazier. Only a few people hear him. “Would everybody who is staying for the local school council meeting please sit down?” he asks. Parents are swarming out. He shrugs. “I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t,” he says, leaving to talk to the parents who are gathering outside the school.
For about 10 minutes, the council members who remain conduct business without a chair. The audience has dwindled to about 10 subdued, black parents and a few teachers. Later, when Frazier has returned, he asks for a report from the bilingual committee. No member is there to give it. A sign-up sheet for the new committee that will look for more rental space has only a few signatures.
After the meeting, Jerri Whitley, who was among the parents who walked out, calls the meeting “a great disappointment” and laments the division between the vocal black parents and her own integrated group. “They were nowhere when we were meeting last month.” And tonight, she points out, they insulted and humiliated the Latino parents, who had done so much work. She is disgusted.
AUG. 9 “Divisiveness between … two ethnicities” For this week’s early-morning faculty meeting, the room is once again half-full and tense. Snyder talks only briefly about last night’s meeting, calling it “very upsetting. . . . There is a serious piece of divisiveness between people representing two ethnicities,” she says.
After the meeting, in the hallway outside the main office, Ian Fingerman tends the cabinet of pencils, pens and notebooks that is Gale’s school store. He says the store is his baby. “I used to have to write a letter to the district every year to get permission to run the store,” he says. “I wonder who I’m supposed to write to now?” (The new school board is replacing 11 districts with 6 regions.)
It’s important for Gale to have a school store, he says, because the nearest store that stocks school supplies is five blocks away. He reflects that some of the school’s current problems stem from the fact that so few students can leave the neighborhood easily, and that the neighborhood can’t provide everything families need. “This used to be a real affluent area,” he recalls. “Most people had cars, and they could drive out of the neighborhood. Not anymore.”
“The fact is,” he says, “you have a real vocal black community and a real vocal Latino community, and the two don’t mix well. And the school has become a place to voice your power. There’s no church here, no place where people can sit and talk. You’d resolve a lot of these problems if they’d build a church in this area. But there’s not enough room to build a school. Where would you build a church?”
AUG. 10 Parents demonstrate at principal’s house There’s a new box on the front desk, marked “IDEA BOX: SPACE PROBLEMS.” Snyder says she’s excited about the contents. A few teachers may be interested in team teaching, and one suggested combining the library with the computer lab for a one-room “information center.” Meanwhile, assistance from central office in the search for space “is making the principalship a workable job,” she smiles.
This evening, around 9 o’clock, about 50 irate parents leave a meeting at Good News Church to stage an impromptu march to Snyder’s home, less than a mile from the school. They stand outside and chant slogans, demanding Snyder’s resignation and an immediate end to the dual shift. They repeat the “vigil” the following night.
Jerri Whitley does not join them, and in a week, she will break with the group over the tactic. “I’ve never agreed with going to [Snyder’s] house,” she says. In targeting Snyder personally, “they have lost sight of the real issue: education.”
AUG. 15 Central office budget mysteries Chief Executive Vallas and his staff deliver bad news to 232 workers at Pershing Road, the first of some 1,700 people whose positions are being closed out to help balance the school system’s budget for the coming four years.
A central office worker who still has a job is calling Ian Fingerman, who is in charge of Gale’s furniture and equipment budget. “Well, it doesn’t look too good,” Fingerman says into the phone. “We need another $440, and we haven’t got it.”
When he hangs up, Fingerman explains the situation: Gale has bought about $11,000 worth of computer equipment, and now it needs another $440 worth of wiring to hook it up. Because it’s the end of the year—and because Fingerman is careful to spend his budget down to the last dollar—Gale won’t get the wiring money until the new fiscal year begins Sept. 1. So equipment will lie fallow for a month or two.
“This is what’s wrong with the system,” Fingerman says. He wonders, couldn’t this board staffer just send the wiring now and hash out the paperwork next month? The lack of trust, he says, “is like calling your brother a liar. This guy knows the school is . . . not going to go away.” But Ian himself may just be gone next month—though it’s unlikely. The new budget has eliminated his formal job title, teacher facilitator. “I could be out of a job, literally no job, by the end of this month,” he says. But he figures Snyder will re-shuffle job titles to keep him at his post, and that, at worst, he will “bump” a less senior classroom teacher. (The Legislature took such bumping rights off the lawbooks in May, but the new Chicago board reinstated them as policy—a favor to the teachers union.)
Fingerman seems more worked up over the fate of Gale’s fireman—whose job has also been axed. “He works!” says Fingerman. “I mean, the guy doesn’t stop. There’s a lot of janitors out there, they just sit and read the paper. But this guy works.” The fireman—officially, maintenance assistant—will be eligible for a regular janitor’s job, which pays less.
AUG. 16 Single shift will return to Gale in September Last night, a parent committee that is to help design Gale’s annex was supposed to meet with School Board architects. Today, signs at the school report the meeting was cancelled, “TO BE RESCHEDULED.”
Asked about the signs, Principal Snyder says, “Well, it’s hard to meet with the Facilities Department when they’ve all been fired!” The facilities department has been eliminated under the new budget, as has the entire food service bureaucracy, Snyder says.
School engineer Pat Ferrara interrupts an interview to tell Snyder that his old boss, the district supervising engineer, has just been cut. Ferrara wants to know where to send his time card.
“See, I told you it would be quiet for most of the summer, and then, a couple of weeks before school started, there would be a lot of directives,” says Snyder. “These firings are the directives.”
There are others. Two days ago, Snyder got what she calls “a snippy note” from Ken Gotsch, the system’s new chief financial officer. Gotsch reports that one of Gale’s clerks made an error on the latest payroll; he suggests that Snyder send the clerk to Pershing Road for some training. Snyder intends to call Gotsch back. “This guy needs educating,” she says. “There are probably 1,000 errors made on our payroll in a given month, and 999 of them are not the fault of our clerks.”
Snyder picks up a fax from the top of her in-box, and curses. It says that one of Gale’s teacher interns no longer has a job. “Why is this position being closed?” she wonders. “I’ll have David [Ichishita, who runs Gale’s payroll] deal with this when he gets back from vacation.”
The phone rings. It’s a teacher whom Snyder interviewed just two days ago. Today, she has to tell him, wait and see. In this week’s chaos, she’s no longer sure the job will be available.
The whirlwind of central office changes doesn’t faze Snyder, but the continuing parent protests take a toll. “It’s a lose-lose situation,” she says. On any given issue, says Snyder, she’s bound to be criticized, even vilified—no matter what she does. “That cannot continue to be the case.”
Tomorrow night, parents will again march to Snyder’s home, again demanding her resignation and an immediate end to dual shifts. This time, several TV stations will send camera crews.
Gale will return to a single shift the day after Labor Day, says Snyder. “And I do not intend to resign.”