Monday, February 13, 2012

Education the New Trier way—Mayor Rahm can learn from his alma mater

Posted By on 02.13.12 at 10:30 AM

New Trier
  • New Trier
Looking for clues as to how Mayor Emanuel runs the school system, I go to Friday's Evanston-New Trier basketball game.

I know that sounds like a strange place to get insights on public education in Chicago, but many of our educational policy makers hail from the greater New Trier community.

Tim Cawley, the chief operating officer for CPS, lives in Winnetka. Todd Connor, one of CPS' highest-paid officials, is a New Trier grad. And, of course, Mayor Emanuel's also a proud New Trier graduate.

In fact, there are so many CPS officials from New Trier that they can't sit together at a Trevian basketball game without violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

Rimshot....

The strange thing is that their attitude toward schools in Chicago is nothing like the attitudes toward education in their native North Shore communities.

On the North Shore, they spare no nickel when it comes to educating their children. They have art and music and dance and drama in all the grammar schools. They provide computers for all the kids. Every school’s got its own library. They keep class size low—never much more than 20 students per classroom.

They foster a loyalty among their faculty, which is represented by a union. They pay them well, give them good benefits, and make sure they get extra money for the additional after-school time they put in coaching, tutoring, directing the school play, etc.

And, of course, they listen to the parents.

I remember a few years back when a growing school-age high school population forced officials to reopen the old New Trier West campus.

Some school officials proposed dividing the community into two high schools—with kids on the east end going to New Trier and kids on the west end going to New Trier West.

There were heated hearings and impassioned debate. It was clear that many parents did not want two separate high schools.

So officials compromised. They turned New Trier West into a system-wide school for freshmen, and sent all the upperclassmen to the main branch on the east end of Winnetka.

Somehow or other, everyone managed to get through that controversy without bringing in busloads of paid protesters.

So I can see why Mayor Emanuel's so proud of his New Trier connection. Just as I'm sure New Trier's generous, open-minded, arts-friendly, fair-to-teachers-and-parents approach had a role in launching his career.

But when it comes to Chicago? Different story!

There’s hardly any elementary school in the city that offers art, music, drama, and dance to all of its students. The arts are considered frills in the era of high-stakes testing.

If parents demand a stake in their kid’s future—like the parents protesting the longer school day or school closings—they’re basically told to shut up and do as told.

If they protest harder, they’re written off as union dupes.

As for the teachers—well, you know it’s open season on them. Take away their tenure. Cut back their salaries. Make them work longer. Threaten them with charters.

Remember, it's all about the kids. As if a beaten-down teaching force is the key to learning.

Oh, but I'm getting depressed—let's talk about that game…

What a thriller. Evanston took an early lead but New Trier came roaring back. With seconds left, a New Trier guard named Reid Berman hit a cold-blooded three-pointer to send the game to overtime.

You know, if things go as they have, Mayor Emanuel probably will hire Berman as a district superintendent before too long.

Good news for me and all the other Evanston alums in the stands—the Wildkits won in overtime! As the jubilant Evanston students stormed the court, the old timers sang the school fight song.

C’mon everyone—you, too, Mayor Rahm: "E-T-H-S, we will fight for you…."

The bad news is that Mayor Emanuel’s probably not pleased—the mayor's never been known as a good loser. Probably stomp into work on Monday morning and close some west-side schools, turn a few union schools into charters, and add an hour or two to the class day—just to show everybody who's the boss.

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