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Clara Barton School 'Turnaround' Tag Angers Principal, Parents

By Wendell Hutson | April 3, 2013 3:47pm

AUBURN GRESHAM —  Clara Barton Elementary School has improved its Illinois Standards Achievement Test results in the last two years, an achievement Barton's principal and parents argue should have prevented it from being labeled a "turnaround" school this fall.

When an academically underachieving school is deemed a turnaround by Chicago Public Schools, the entire staff — including the principal and security guards  are replaced with a new personnel, although everyone is allowed to re-apply for their jobs.

"I was surprised when they [CPS] told me the school would be a turnaround. I still cannot believe it," said Principal Frank Gettridge.

Though he said he wasn't told directly by CPS the details of why the school was tagged as a turnaround, Gettridge said he has heard the decision "was based on us not meeting certain benchmarks over the past few years."

"But I have only been here for two years and cannot account for what happened before I got here," said Gettridge, who has two years left on his contract.

According to Barton's school report card, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state composite ISAT standards went from 54.3 percent in 2010 to 59.3 percent in 2012, a nine percent improvement. The CPS average is 76.4 percent.

Still, in a letter to parents, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, chief executive officer for CPS, said that Barton has been on academic probation for the last six years "and has not made the progress necessary to take it off probation."

The timing of the turnaround announcement did not sit well with Gettridge or parents.

"I was informed about this decision March 21, the same day the final school closure list was released, a list Clara Barton was never on," said Gettridge.

Jimmy Prude, a community organizer for the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp., a non-profit organization, worked with the school's Parent Action Council to organize parents and residents to attend Wednesday's CPS board meeting downtown.

About 100 Clara Barton parents and Auburn Gresham residents boarded two school buses at the school at 7650 S. Wolcott Ave. to travel to the board meeting and voice their concerns about the turnaround decision.

"These teachers have been here a long time and have built a relationship with our kids," said Sonya Williams, a parent who chairs the Local School Council for Clara Barton.

"I live a block away [from Clara Barton] and have lived in Auburn Gresham for 12 years. To uproot our kids' learning environment is thoughtless, cruel and down right wrong," Williams said.

The 39-year-old single mother has third- and eighth-grade students at Clara Barton and her other two children graduated from the school.

"Attending Clara Barton has become a family tradition for us. The teachers who taught my two oldest kids are still here and now they are teaching my young ones and that means a lot to me," added Williams.

Dwayne Morgan, a 52-year-old carpenter, does not live in Auburn Gresham but has children in the third and fifth grade at Clara Barton. He also has a grandson in pre-kindergarten at the school.

"I love all my children that are here, so that is why I am involved. To uproot kids at such a young age only damages them emotionally," Morgan said.

Retired Clara Barton principal Constance Means said CPS officials "see that this school is improving on its own and now want to take credit for it by using the turnaround method, so if the school continues to improve it could be attributed to their changes."

Means believes the turnaround method is an ineffective one.

"There is no record CPS could show where a school improved with this method," said Means.

A spokeswoman for CPS wasn't immediately available for comment.

But in the letter to Barton parents, Byrd-Bennett described the results of turnaround schools as "remarkable," saying that the percentage of students at elementary turnaround schools last year that met standards improved twice as fast as the district's average.

Means, who was principal from 1993 through 2004, said that "when schools are turned around, teachers that look like our [black] students fade away."

"Social services should be increased at schools, not turning children's lives upside down," said Means. 

John F. Kennedy, a 30-year Auburn Gresham resident, said it was important to attend Wednesday's school board meeting to show that fathers do care about their children's education.

"Most of time you see mothers on the picket lines but not a whole lot of men. I'm sure a lot of fathers want to participate but are at work," said the 47-year-old graphic designer, who has a second- and fourth-grader at Clara Barton.

"If the school is turned around my kids have to learn to trust a group of strangers and I don't like that at all," he said.