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April 9: Laptops stolen

Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart calls for the firing of CEO Arne Duncan because of the theft of two laptops containing the Social Security numbers of teachers and principals. Duncan calls Stewart’s remarks “silly.” The laptops were taken from a conference room at CPS’ main office. The district is offering affected employees credit and identity-theft protection upon request. Officials also say computer systems were recently updated to avoid the routine use of Social Security numbers for identification.

April 13: Ramos case

The chief witness in an ethics case against Curie High LSC Chair Thomas Ramos fails to show up at a hearing in the case. However, CPS attorneys present testimony from three people about conversations they had with the witness about kickbacks Ramos allegedly took from her. Ramos, a parent member and chair of the LSC that recently fired Principal Jerryelyn Jones and ignited a public controversy, could be removed if the allegations are substantiated. A tip from Jones led to the Ramos investigation, news reports stated.

April 20: Pay problem

For the second time in two days, reports surface about payroll problems when teachers complain they were shorted on their paychecks. CPS blames technical problems with new software. Previously, 15 teachers at Williams Elementary reported waiting three years for back pay of $3,000 to $11,000. CPS had paid the teachers via direct deposit but took the money back, then paid by check but said teachers could only receive $2,500. The teachers were paid the full amounts after they called reporters.

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Los Angeles: Sweeping reforms

Following the release of a report that harshly criticized the L.A. school system, Supt. David L. Brewer plans to hire a team of outside experts to help the district begin instituting reforms, according to the April 21 Los Angeles Times. Brewer will present a five-year strategic reform plan by June 30, and says he also plans to hire two new top-level administrators to oversee instruction and professional development. Brewer, a retired Navy vice admiral, invited Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to “make an offer” of how he would like to be involved in the reform efforts.

Washington, D.C.: Fenty takes over

The City Council gave Mayor Adrian Fenty control over the schools, including the power to hire and fire the superintendent and oversee the budget and capital improvement program, according to the April 20 Washington Post. The School Board will control administrative functions such as testing. As a council member, Fenty opposed plans by former Mayor Anthony Williams to take over the schools.

South Carolina: Luring teachers

Financial incentives, more time for professional development and better opportunities for teachers to become teacher-leaders would attract and keep National Board Certified teachers in low-income, struggling schools, according to the April 18 Charleston Post and Courier. Those recommendations are among 27 included in a report issued following a summit of National Board teachers from across the state. More than 5,000 South Carolina teachers are board certified, but only about 130 work in the lowest-performing school districts.

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“No one wants to have $110,000 contracts handed out by this board and by the mayor of this city.”

Valencia Rias of Designs for Change at the April 25 School Board meeting, on the district’s lobbying efforts to take away local school councils’ authority to choose principals.

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If your child is admitted to preschool at a school outside your neighborhood, are you guaranteed a slot at that school for kindergarten?

Anonymous parent

Children who attended preschool outside their neighborhood are not guaranteed a kindergarten spot at that school, says Paula Cottone, CPS’ deputy chief early childhood officer. Once children enter kindergarten, neighborhood schools must admit children in their attendance area before giving spots to anyone else. Any remaining slots may be filled at the principal’s discretion. Under-utilized schools sometimes enroll students from outside the neighborhood, because operating consistently under capacity can lead to staff cuts. But principals occasionally don’t fill the slots, choosing to maintain small class sizes, according to Cottone. “The only way around going to kindergarten in your neighborhood school is to apply to a magnet or specialty program,” she says.

E-mail your question to askcat@catalyst-chicago.org

or send it to Ask Catalyst, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 500, Chicago,

IL 60604.

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In 1998, the district launched Project SMART—Saturday Morning Alternative Reach Out and Teach—a 9-week program that teaches decision-making and problem-solving skills to students who would otherwise be expelled. CPS had limited data for the first 3 years, but the available data show that 59% of students who were referred to the program eventually completed it. (See Catalyst, November 2000.) Now, completion rates are declining: Between 2003 and 2006, the completion rate fell to 53% from 58%. About 1,100 students are referred to SMART each year.

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