CITY HALL — The head of Chicago Public Schools laid out a vision for the next five years Monday afternoon.
"The vision is really quite simple, but also profound," Byrd-Bennett said, before walking the crowd of politicians and community leaders through her ideas. "These are not just abstractions."
The plan, "The Next Generation: Chicago's Children", is made up of five pillars — or segments — addressing Byrd-Bennett's assessment of the third largest school district in the nation. It comes on the heels of a turbulent process of closing schools that eventually saw 50 slated for closure by the Board of Education last month.
"A big part of our meetings are often dealing with issues from the past," said Board President David Vitale in his welcome of Byrd-Bennett to the stage. "The opportunity to look forward is a special event for us."
Byrd-Bennett's tenure atop Chicago's school system has been marked with turmoil since she was promoted to the CEO position in October. She was hit with charges of racism over the closures, which generally affected schools in minority neighborhoods on the South and West sides. Byrd-Bennett called that an "affront" to her as a woman of color.
While stopping short of naming the Chicago Teachers Union directly, Byrd-Bennett said teacher evaluations in the past have been "staggeringly disconnected" from teachers.
"It's no wonder that some teachers have become suspicious, discouraged, disrespected, disenchanted — they just plan feel dissed when we come into their schools," she said.
That may be true, according to Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey, but the root of the conflict arises, in part, from CPS not keeping its word.
Sharkey called Monday's plan "top down mumbo jumbo."
"What the district is doing is repackaging a number of corporate school reform ideas, putting it in a doc and calling it news," he said. "What it leaves out is the need to actually follow up on previous initiatives."
Sharkey said Byrd-Bennett's new plan is essentially a repeat of the University of Chicago's "five essential supports" study from 2010.
"A lot of us use that [study]," he said. "It’s a useful way of thinking about school reform — It's not particularly new."
Along with lowering truancy rates and boosting community engagement, Byrd-Bennett pledged a focus on raising graduations to a "record rate" of 63 percent next year.
In answer to a question from one audience member, the CPS CEO also voiced support for restructuring soon-to-be vacant school buildings for community use, lest they become "eyesores."
"While the district has made steady progress over the last few years, this plan will put every child on a path toward a 21st century education," she said.
According to Alderman Jason Ervin (28th), the district will just have to wait and see how the plan works out over the coming year.
"This is the first time we're participating in any visionary theory from CPS," Ervin said. "We've got to give her a chance."
But, according to Sharkey, "it's not the first, and I doubt highly it'll be the last."
"I don’t have any problem with the district having a plan," he said. "We’re trying to look at what people actually do — whether policies benefit schools. There’ll be trust based on people actually carrying out meaningful improvements in the school and executing those plans."