Officials from the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools agree that Dvorak Technology Academy has been underperforming, but the two sides are sharply split on whether current teachers can get the job done.
At a April 9, Chicago Board of Education public hearing, teachers, students, parents and community advocates for the North Lawndale school weighed in on CPS’s proposed “turnaround” model. If approved, the entire faculty would be replaced, with the reins handed over to outside management agency, the Academy for Urban School Leadership.
Wanda Washington, CPS’s chief of schools for Network 5 on the West Side, says academic growth at Dvorak has not kept pace with district averages despite the support provided by CPS in recent years.
According to Washington, Dvorak has been given ample opportunity to recover. This, she said, included a number of interventions, such as monthly development sessions with principals, as well as efforts to improve the school’s culture and climate.
These efforts, however, were not reflected in last year’s Illinois Standards and Achievement Test.
“This performance is consistently low across subject areas, and the school is not making progress in catching up to the district,” said Ryan Crosby, director of performance data and policy at CPS.
Dvorak, he added, has been on academic probation for the past seven years, and it remains 30 percentage points below the district average on ISAT standards. But school opponents countered that the turnaround model is flawed, and that CPS may have failed to consider extenuating circumstances.
“Sometimes test scores just don’t tell the whole story; it’s one indicator, and only one indicator,” said Susan Goldman, professor of psychology and education at University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as a fellow of the American Educational Research Association.
Carrene Beverley-Bass, a 23-year veteran teacher at Dvorak, gave the board an eyewitness account of issues that eclipse student test scores.
“We’ve got a lot of social-emotional, special-ed, homeless — not an excuse: a fact,” Beverly-Bass said about some of the school’s roughly 480 kids. “They need to look at how we’ve been kicked around and thrown around from network to network. We vote that this is not about test scores. It’s been very dehumanizing. Our students deserve the best education possible, and I feel that Dvorak can do that.”
CTU President Karen Lewis also called for a more holistic approach, arguing that the data in favor of Academy for Urban School Leadership is misleading.
“When AUSL takes over a school, the resources come with them,” Lewis, who has publicly challenged CPS on the turnaround approach, said. “If those same resources were given to Dvorak you would find very similar outcomes.”
Ald. Michael Chandler, whose 24th Ward includes Dvorak, acknowledged the school’s “performance challenges,” but asked that the board amend its request. Dvorak, he insisted, must be considered for increased funding by the state.
“To change academic leadership, and to terminate all existing staff at this time, would be very disruptive and have a destabilizing impact on the learning environment,” Chandler said.