When the School Reform Board announced that 109 schools were being put on probation, it was news to its own Academic Accountabilty Council.

The council was created in May 1995 by the Illinois Legislature to bring some independence to evaluation of Chicago’s public schools. Specifically, its job is to develop and implement a comprehensive system of review, evaluation and analysis of Chicago schools; it may also recommend schools for closure, probation, remediation and commendation.

However, the council was left out of the administration’s accountability discussions. Called to the board’s probation press conference, Council Chair Leon Jackson nodded at the press packet and remarked to a reporter, “This is news to me.”

Since the Reform Board appointed members a year ago, the council has pretty much spun its wheels, trying to figure out its role. Until recently, it didn’t have any staff of its own and reported to the Office of Accountability, which Jackson says was confining.

With the help of Thomas Corcoran, a former Board of Education secretary who now works for Baxter International, the council won a budget of close to $100,000 and obtained a secretary. In addition, it now reports to the Reform Board and the Illinois State Board of Education.

Corcoran, temporarily on loan from Baxter, is advising the council on policy issues, says Jackson, and former Prescott Elementary principal Karen Carlson, now of Leadership for Quality Education (LQE), is advising it on educational issues. Only one council member is an educator.

Jackson says he is optimistic that the body will be able “to create something good out of what may have been an afterthought” by the General Assembly.

Besides Jackson, who is chairman of LQE and president of Multi-Fac Corp., other council members are: Albert Bennett, a dean at Roosevelt University; Jae K. Choi, owner of Fabricare Cleaners; Michelle L. Collins, a partner in William Blair & Company; Mary L. Decker, senior vice president for community affairs at First National Bank of Chicago; Armando Gomez, Sr., liaison to the City of Chicago for United Airlines; Richard Morrow, retired chairman of Amoco Oil; Leslie Roman, owner of San Juan Travel; and Laurence Stanton, executive director of the Beverly Area Planning Association.

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