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Star principal picks apart Emanuel's education agenda for Garcia

Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere addresses LSC members at Blaine Elementary School in 2013. File Photo | Lauren FitzPatrick~Sun-Times

A star principal who went toe-to-toe with Mayor Rahm Emanuel last summer was at it again Friday — this time by issuing a video released by mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia picking apart the mayor’s education agenda for a second term.

Calling himself a Garcia education policy adviser, Troy LaRaviere said the mayor has not improved schools over the past four years but instead increased “low-quality school options throughout our city.”

“Of the 50 highest-performing schools in Chicago, all 50 are public schools that were here before he arrived,” he said in the four-and-a-half-minute video, referring to NWEA scores. “Of the 20 lowest-performing schools in Chicago, 13 of them – over half – are turnaround and charter schools, which are cornerstones of the Rahm Emanuel education reform agenda.”

He also accused the mayor of making preschool enrollment harder for parents, resulting in fewer children having “access to this critical resource for their education,” and for putting school leaders in a tight spot with an unfunded mandate of full-day kindergarten at every school.

“Some principals had to increase class size, still others had to get rid of librarians and art teachers, and other principals had to eliminate key intervention specialists who worked with struggling students, students who were struggling in reading or mathematics to help them catch up, and that of course puts them on a track to failure,” said LaRaviere, who leads Blaine Elementary School in Lakeview as well as the activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

LaRaviere made waves last summer when he blasted Emanuel for granting principals no voice in school policy-making.

“While publicly praising principals in speeches and with awards, behind the scenes this administration has disregarded principals’ knowledge and experience. They have ignored and even suppressed principals’ voices in order to push City Hall’s political agenda for Chicago’s schools,” he wrote in a Sun-Times op-ed piece.

Emanuel defended his mixed record on education issues during a news conference Friday at Kenwood Academy Friday called to announce a corporate donation that will make it possible to more than double dual credit and dual enrollment programs.

“I do know this: We went forward with universal, full-day kindergarten for every child because it was the right thing to do. And we’re expanding pre-K and making it universal for all four-year-olds from families in need and the [U.S.] Department of Health and Human Services just awarded us $600 million [with] a five-year guarantee,” Emanuel said.

“We’ve set the goals, also, of educational independence [for top high schools]. We’re gonna award great schools like Kenwood the autonomy they need. We’re gonna make sure that high school is the reason parents stay in Chicago.”

The mayor didn’t flinch when reminded that critics of his education record have argued that, “at best, 25-to-35 percent” of black and Hispanic four-graders in Chicago Public Schools read at or above grade-level.

“It’s in third-grade that kids start dropping out of colleges, which is why we’ve put such an emphasis on getting ’em by three-years-old, which is why we expanded full-day kindergarten. Part of my tenure, nearly half our kids were only receiving only two hours-a-day. And I warn you that the kids who were receiving two hours-a-day should have been the kids receiving seven-hours-a-day,” he said.

“Having raised the standards around early childhood education — which is why we went from 24 percent of our kids kindergarten-ready to 47 percent in a single year — it means that our early years are working to create the level of educational attainment at the elementary level.”

Emanuel maintained that, when he took office, four out of ten CPS students were dropping out of school. Three years from now, eight out of ten students will be graduating and actually learning, as underscored by rising ACT scores.

The Chicago Teachers Union also released its own detailed analysis, focusing on what the mayor did not mention in his campaign presentation: charter school scandals, the first teachers’ strike in 25 years, and record closings of 50 schools on Chicago’s South and West Sides.

“Everything the mayor said yesterday is more about political messaging and election narratives and less about education, because to this administration, the facts are merely accessories,” CTU Acting President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement.

“He can attempt to rewrite history however he chooses for the next seven weeks, but the truth of his public education legacy is what the people of Chicago will remember, and that’s the first teachers strike in 25 years, mass school closings, charter scandals, swap deals that have financially crippled the district, a litany of transgressions uncovered by the inspector general and now a conflict of interest among a member of his handpicked board,” Sharkey continued, referring to the tripling of CPS business to companies in which Deborah Quazzo has invested since her June 2013 appointment to the school board.

The union accused the mayor of ignoring neighborhood high schools that serve African-American and Hispanic students; of mandating a policy of reducing suspensions without providing money for restorative justice programs; and of pushing different plans for “Chicago’s two cities.”

Advantaged neighborhoods, according to the union, are getting more selective enrollment seats at three schools downtown and on the Near North Side. The South and West Sides, by contrast, have seen the bulk of the closures, an increase in the number of charter schools and school turnarounds where the staff is fired and replaced by the not-for-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership, the union said.

And the student-based budgeting introduced under Emanuel’s tenure stripped neighborhood schools of money as schools needed to fill the mayor’s longer school day, according to the CTU.