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Letter to the CPS Inspector General-Final

Letter to the CPS Inspector General-Final

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Published by valeriefleonard
Letter of complaint to Chicago Public Schools Inspector General regarding conflicts of interest among Chicago Board of Education in recent school turnaround votes.
Letter of complaint to Chicago Public Schools Inspector General regarding conflicts of interest among Chicago Board of Education in recent school turnaround votes.

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Published by: valeriefleonard on May 17, 2014
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Chicago Citizens United to

Preserve Public Education

April 30, 2014

Mr. James M. Sullivan
Inspector General, Chicago Public Schools
Office of the Inspector General
567 West Lake Street
Suite 1120
Chicago, IL 60661

Dear Inspector General Sullivan:

We are writing this letter to respectfully request that you conduct an investigation into the board policies
and practices concerning the relationships between the Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL),
the Chicago Board of Education, Board of Education President David Vitale, Board Member
Carlos Azcoitia and Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley; the most recent vote of the Chicago Board
of Education to turnaround Dvorak Math and Science Academy, McNair Elementary School and the
Gresham Elementary School; the cost effectiveness of the AUSL school turnaround model versus the
school transformation model and other means of school improvement; the lack of a competitive bidding
process in selecting vendors to improve schools; the absence of minority-owned or women-owned
businesses providing school turnarounds and other improvement services. We ask that you share the
disposition of the investigation with us once it is completed. We have provided background concerning
AUSL and have outlined our concerns in further detail below.


AUSL (Academy for Urban School Leadership), created in 2001, is a nonprofit organization whose
mission is to improve student achievement in chronically failing schools, primarily in Chicago, through
its disciplined transformation process, built on a foundation of specially trained AUSL teachers. AUSL
currently manages 32 Chicago Public Schools serving over 18,000 students and has graduated over 650
residents from AUSL’s Chicago Teacher Residency.

AUSL also provides advisory services for schools, districts, other organizations and states, including New
York, Chicago School District 299 and Los Angeles. Engagement types include:

 Study tours of AUSL schools (1/2 day to multi-day visits)
 In-person consultation with AUSL expert staff (in Chicago or at client site)
 Professional development and coaching for teachers and school leaders
 Phone conferences and webinars
 Needs assessment and improvement plan consulting
 Intensive onsite technical assistance and implementation support steady, positive improvements
in academic achievement, student engagement, and parent satisfaction are hallmarks of all AUSL-
managed CPS schools.
AUSL turnaround elementary schools have outpaced the Chicago Public School district growth in ISAT
meets/exceeds gains every year since its first turnaround school in 2006. While the rate of growth exceeds
the District, AUSL schools still lag behind the State of Illinois and CPS in terms of numbers of students
meeting or exceeding state standards. Some of the schools have been in the AUSL portfolio since they
started turnarounds in 2006, and three of the 47 schools that closed in 2013 were unsuccessful AUSL
turnarounds. Only one school in the 32 member portfolio performs as well as district and state averages in
reading and math. Another school outperforms city averages but does perform as well as the State. None
of the AUSL schools on the West Side of Chicago perform as well as the cohort of West Side schools in
reading. The cohort of North Lawndale schools in North Lawndale underperformed their North Lawndale
counterparts as a group in reading and math, and in terms of growth. It should be noted that none of the
traditional public schools in North Lawndale schools have received the level of intervention and resources
that AUSL schools get. AUSL remains the exclusive provider of school turnaround services for Chicago
Public Schools.

1. Apparent Conflicts of Interest in the Most Recent Round of School Turnarounds

We are very concerned that there appears to be a swinging door between CPS, members of the Board of
Education and AUSL:

Since its inception in 2001, AUSL has enjoyed strong relationships with the Chicago Board of
Education. These relationships have only strengthened over time. Board of Education President David
Vitale served as a non-paid advisor to CPS from 2003-2008, having worked his way up to the Chief
Administrative Officer (also unpaid). He served as the board chairman for AUSL from 2009 until
2011. A period of one year lapsed between the time Mr. Vitale left CPS and the time he assumed the
position of chairman of the board for AUSL. When Rahm Emanuel was elected Mayor, he appointed
Mr. Vitale President of the Board of Education. Mr. Vitale resigned from the AUSL board and
immediately assumed the position of President of the Board of Education. Mr. Vitale is in a position
of approving and disapproving CPS contracts. On February 22, 2012, he voted in favor of turning
over six CPS schools to AUSL. On May 22, 2013, he voted in favor of 5 more AUSL Turnarounds.
On April 23, 2014, he voted to turn over Dvorak, Gresham and McNair schools to AUSL for school
turnarounds. In 2012, 2013, and 2014, he subsequently voted for AUSL to get the Turnaround
contracts. Mr. Vitale has been quoted in news articles as saying that he does not have a conflict of
interest in voting on schools being turned around by AUSL, or underlying management contracts for
AUSL because he is no longer on the AUSL board.

CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley is the former managing director of AUSL. He
resigned from his post with AUSL and immediately assumed his current position with CPS.
Mr. Cawley does not live in the City of Chicago as required by Board Policy. In 2011, he was granted
a two-year residency waiver over your strenuous recommendations to the contrary in your role as
CPS Inspector General. Mr. Cawley is in a position to approve CPS contracts, including the AUSL

Having David Vitale and Tim Cawley in their current positions is very troubling. There are several
vendors in the state who have been certified to implement school improvement grants. Yet, AUSL
seems to have an exclusive, no-bid relationship with CPS. Competing organizations are not taken
seriously. Furthermore, there are no minority- or women-owned businesses that do this work for CPS.

Dr. Azcoitia has had extensive experience with CPS as a teacher, principal and administrator. He was
appointed to the Board of Education in 2012. Prior to that he served as the Interim Chief of Midway
Network for Chicago Public Schools from 2011-2012. Dr. Azcoitia currently serves as Distinguished
Professor of Practice in Educational Leadership at National Louis University. National Louis is
AUSL's exclusive teacher preparation partner. Through the “urban teacher residency” approach, the
National Louis University and AUSL program structure teacher preparation more like the clinical
model used to train doctors. For a full year, the teaching residents spend four days a week in an
AUSL classroom in training with a mentor teacher, while also taking graduate courses at National

Section 501.1 of the Chicago Public Policy Manual Code of Ethics, Section XI. A (Conflicts of
Interest) indicates that " No Official or Employee shall make, participate in making, or in any way
attempt to use his or her position to influence any Board decision or action in which he or she knows
or has reason to know that he or she has any Economic Interest distinguishable from that of the
general public." It does not appear that Dr. Azcoitia's actions during the April 23, 2014 board meeting
were in full compliance of the Code of Ethics. Dr. Azcoitia voted to turn the school over to AUSL,
but recused himself from voting on the contract because of his position at National Louis University.
It seems that if one has a conflict of interest in voting for the contract, then he also has a conflict of
interest in voting to turn the school over to a contractor that uses his program exclusively to train its
teachers and administrators, rather than use veteran CPS teachers or administrators.

We respectfully request that your review of relationships among CPS, AUSL and Board members
prioritize the most recent votes, but also include all Board of Education votes, membership at the time of
the votes and contracts with AUSL, from 2001, until the present time.

2. AUSL Board Members Contributions to Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Seven AUSL board members and their spouses and executive director have made political campaign
contributions to Mayor Rahm Emanuel totaling $63,700 between November 1, 2010 and March 31, 2014.
The rate of AUSL's acquisition of CPS schools for turnaround has dramatically increased since Emanuel
was elected in February, 2011. In 2003, AUSL acquired one school for turnaround. It closed last year. In
2006, AUSL acquired two schools for turnaround. In 2007, AUSL acquired two schools. In 2008, AUSL
acquired three schools. In 2009, AUSL acquired three schools. In 2010 AUSL acquired four schools. In
2011, and election year, there were no AUSL acquisitions. In 2012, there were six AUSL acquisitions. In
2013, there were seven schools slated for AUSL turnarounds. Six were eventually turned over to AUSL.
After strenuous community advocacy, the seventh, Clara Barton, was granted the opportunity to improve
using the transformation model. Essentially, the school would be allowed to "turn around" with its
existing staff and intensive professional development. To the best of our knowledge, no funds have
materialized for the school to implement school improvement, nearly a year after the vote was taken in
May, 2013.

3. Given its record of uneven performance and student outcomes, AUSL is not a cost effective

The U.S. Department of Education recently provided the state of Illinois a grant of $22,060,358 to
improve schools around the State of Illinois. The state will make competitive subgrants to school districts
that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds and the strongest commitment to provide adequate
resources to substantially raise student achievement in their lowest-performing schools. Between 2009
and 2014, the State of Illinois has received more than $260,243,657 in school improvement grants. School
districts may use one of four models as follows:

 Turnaround Model: Replace the principal, screen existing school staff, and rehire no more than
half the teachers; adopt a new governance structure; and improve the school through curriculum
reform, professional development, extending learning time, and other strategies.
 Restart Model: Convert a school or close it and re-open it as a charter school or under an
education management organization.
 School Closure: Close the school and send the students to higher-achieving schools in the
 Transformation Model: Replace the principal and improve the school through comprehensive
curriculum reform, professional development, extended learning time, and other strategies.

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has used all four models in the past. Between 2004 and 2007, CPS relied
very heavily upon the restart model under its Renaissance 2010 program. After it became politically
untenable to close schools and re-open them as charters, the District focused more on the turnaround and
transformation models. In 2013, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) closed a record 47 schools, phased out
three additional schools and turned over six schools to the Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL)
for turnaround. Of the 47 that closed, three were previously turned over to AUSL for turnarounds.
To the best of our knowledge, in January, 2014 the US Dept. of Education has agreed that community
driven school transformation can be an option for districts receiving School Improvement Grants (of
which District 299 is one). Upon learning of CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett's recommendation to turn
Dvorak over to AUSL for a turnaround, the Dvorak Local School Council (“LSC”) unanimously voted to
reject the recommendation in favor of utilizing an evidence-based approach developed by the Center for
Innovation to implement school improvement through the transformation model while retaining the
Dvorak principal. Members of the LSC, parents and community members met with Board member Dr.
Mahalia Hines to present the proposed school improvement framework. The proposed framework was
shared with all board members and presented during the public hearing for the proposed Dvorak
turnaround. The Board of Education voted on Wednesday, April 23, 2014 to turn around Dvorak, McNair
and Gresham using the AUSL turnaround model. This decision was taken in spite of the fact that the
option proposed by the LSC has been proven to be effective and much less costly than the AUSL model.

With the acquisition of Dvorak, McNair and Gresham, AUSL has 32 schools under contract. By the time
the contracts for the latest acquisitions expire, CPS will have invested over a half billion dollars in AUSL
turnarounds since the organization started in 2001. (This includes base funding, a one-time management
fee and an additional per-pupil funding for each school.) This does not include hundreds of millions in
CPS’ capital expenditures for facility improvements to AUSL’s buildings.

Closer scrutiny of AUSL’s performance is needed: Three of the 47 schools that CPS closed last year
were unsuccessful AUSL turnarounds. To date, only one school in the AUSL portfolio performs as well
as the state average in reading and math; one other performs as well as the city of Chicago averages in
reading and math. AUSL schools generally under-perform their neighborhood counterparts as well. There
are two schools in the AUSL portfolio--Sherman and Harvard-- that have been in the process of being
turned around since 2006, and they are still under-performing. AUSL gets a one-time management fee of
$300,000 for every school in their portfolio, plus an additional $420 per pupil, on top of CPS base
funding. There are other ISBE-approved vendors that can provide school improvement services through
other models, including school transformation, at a much lower cost than the AUSL model.

Another alternative school improvement strategy is the creation of the OS4 Network. In July, 2013, CPS
announced that twenty-two “reinvestment schools” would receive direct support from the newly created
Office of Strategic School Support Services (OS4) to provide guidance and tools to increase these
schools’ overall performance. To support reinvestment schools, OS4 directly provides both school
leaders and teachers with intense and comprehensive professional development tailored to the specific
needs of each school. Recognizing the critical role played by Local School Council members and parents
in supporting school improvement, OS4 also provides these groups with professional learning
opportunities to enhance their knowledge and skills in best practices to increase student achievement. The
style of support involves embedded coaching and training for school leaders and staff that will help them
sustain the new practices and improve performance beyond the three-year program. These professional
development resources and tools have been designed in collaboration with a cross-functional CPS team,
representing our Network and Teaching and Learning staff, and has been leveraged as a core District
resource for all schools. The reinvestment schools program is an early intervention support effort for
high-need schools that aims to prevent putting in place drastic, late-stage, school-level interventions in
the future.

Approximately 9,000 students from 22 schools are served through the OS4 Network, with $2.9 million, or
$322.00 per student being allocated for professional development. This compares sharply with the
aforementioned $420 per student for AUSL over and above CPS base funding, plus a $300,000
management fee per school.

During the April 23, 2014 Board meeting CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett indicated that there were no
more resources to put the schools in the OS4 network. CPS is willing to pay a premium for AUSL's (an
outside entity) failures while refusing to allocate more resources to the internal OS4 network or school

In closing, we thank you for your consideration, and look forward to hearing the disposition of your
investigation. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Valerie F. Leonard at 773-571-3886 or


Blocks Together
Educational Village Keepers Parent Teacher Student Association
The Lawndale Alliance
Valerie F. Leonard, Co-Founder, the Lawndale Alliance
Dr. Pauline Lipman, Co-Founder, Teachers for Social Justice
Dr. Grady Jordan, Retired Educator, Chicago Public Schools
Yvette Moyo, Co-Founder, Real Men Charities, Inc. & Real Men Cook
Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE)
Dr. Carmen Palmer, President, Educational Village Keepers Parent Teacher Student Association
Dwayne Truss, PACE
Julie Woestehoff, Executive Director, PURE
Teachers for Social Justice

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