Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sunny's Opus—a new twist on an old story

Posted By on 02.22.12 at 12:52 PM

Wont Back Down
  • Won't Back Down
Big news out of Hollywood: They’re making a movie where the “good” teacher joins forces with the “good” parent to beat the "bad" teachers—and their union—and save public education.

It’s called Won’t Back Down and it stars Viola Davis as the good parent and Maggie Gyllenhaal as her good teacher sidekick.

We've come a long way from Mr. Holland’s Opus.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the Illinois Supreme Court officially abolished tenure in Chicago’s public schools.

Yay, whee, whoo—let’s make a movie!

Because as we all know, tenure’s the main thing keeping poor kids from poor neighborhoods from doing as well in school as rich kids from rich communities like—oh, you know it’s coming—New Trier.

Our favorite mayor's alma mater—what’s up, Mayor Rahm!

Explanation time…

Tenure’s a union-negotiated, contractually protected (ha, ha, ha) right that protects teachers with at least three years experience from being summarily fired without cause.

In 2010, Ron Huberman, apparently having nothing better to do, came up with a personnel policy called redefinition that essentially enabled him to circumvent tenure.

Huberman used to be the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t bore you with the details, but why not…

Say you’re a principal with a tenured English teacher that you want to get rid of 'cause she doesn’t worship the ground you walk on. With redefinition, you simply redefine her position from English to something like English with a specialty in basketball. You then tell the old English teacher she’s not qualified to teach the redefined position and, voila, the dirty deed is done.

In August of 2010, several hundred teachers were redefined out of their jobs. The Chicago Teachers Union took the matter to court. Last week, the court ruled in favor of CPS.

If you recall, I wrote about this once or twice or thrice—OK, I was obsessed.

In particular, I fixated on the case of Sunny Neater-DuBow, a nationally certified art teacher who was redefined out of her job at a public school in Little Village. Then she couldn’t find another job in the public school—couldn’t even get an interview—though she applied to at least 20 schools.

She wound up at the School of the Art Institute where (irony of ironies) she taught want-to-be art teachers how to teach art. So the teacher who wasn’t good enough to teach kids was somehow good enough to teach how to teach kids.

I can’t make this shit up, people.

Wait, there's more.

After I read about the Supreme Court ruling, I called Sunny. Turns out she found a job teaching art in a charter high school on the west side.

As in charter schools that I’m always ripping as stooges for the mayor.

Sunny says she couldn’t be happier. Says the charter school's administrators are great, her fellow teachers are great, and she loves her kids.

So, at this point, I believe I have an apology to make...

Charter schools, I've been wrong to paint you all with a giant brush. It’s not your fault that the mayor uses you as a hammer in his fight with the teachers union.

Well, some of you are willing hammers, but don’t let me stray from my apology.

In particular, I’d like to take my hat off to the folks at that west-side charter school who had the foresight to hire a great teacher who never should have been “redefined” in the first place.

Which brings me to the final irony…

In the case of Sunny we have a teacher who apparently wasn’t “good” enough to teach in the regular public schools the mayor says must be changed. But she is good enough to teach in a charter school, which the mayor says is a model for that change.

Like I said—you can’t make this shit up.

You know, if they turn Sunny’s saga into a movie, Maggie Gyllenhaal should play Sunny. Brad Pitt should play her faithful husband, Shane. And I’ll play myself in a cameo performance as the chocolate-milk-guzzling writer who had to say: Well done, charter school, well done.

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