Protesters comes to CPS official’s Winnetka home
Action Now visited the Winnetka neighborhood of Chicago Public School's Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley on Thursday to protest news that people were paid to support school closings at public hearings on the matter. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 24, 2012 8:11AM
About 35 Chicagoans came to Winnetka Thursday to demonstrate outside the home of a Chicago Public Schools official. The people, members of the community activist group, Action Now, oppose CPS’ plans to close schools in their neighborhoods.
Timothy Cawley, chief administrative officer for the Chicago Public Schools, lives in Winnetka. In December, he was quoted as saying CPS does not intend to pay for capital improvements in low-scoring schools that may be closed in five to 10 years. To parents who are working to improve their schools that does not seem fair.
“We want first to let Tim Cawley know that the arrogance of his statement . . . that he was not going to spend money on schools that have been on probation . . . was not lost on us,” said Brooke Doaks, the education organizer for Action Now.
Cawley did not return calls for comment.
Before being hired by CPS last year, Cawley was a director with the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a nonprofit organization that CPS has engaged to turn around and operate some low-performing schools.
Parents of students in the struggling schools object to CPS making capital improvements in schools that are being reconstituted and will be run by an outside organization, after not making similar investments when the school was under its old leadership.
Lajuan Criswell, whose daughter is in first-grade in Chicago, protested outside Cawley’s house on Blackthorn Road Thursday afternoon.
“Three years ago they turned around Johnson School. The staff was fired and a new staff (from the Urban School Leadership academy) came in,” Criswell said. “I don’t believe in demonizing teachers and bringing in a different staff and giving them more money and more programs. Why couldn’t they have done that for the old teachers?”
Criswell’s daughter attends Herzl Elementary School, which is one of the schools on the proposed “turn around” list, although “its ISAT scores are neck and neck” with other schools that are not targeted for reorganization, Criswell said. A new computer lab was put in Herzl after the principal was removed last year, and the school is slated to receive a new roof and elevator, she said. “They should be putting that money in schools anyway, and not just putting it in for these private companies,” Criswell said.
Action Now’s protest in Winnetka also was responding to reports that Hope Organization, a social service agency on Chicago’s South Side, had bussed people to public hearings on the plans to close or reconstitute schools and provided them with prepared remarks supporting the closures. Two men told the Chicago Sun-Times they were paid $25 to attend the Jan. 6 hearings, although they thought they were going to a rally for a different school issue.
HOPE officials said their organization gave the men training on community organizing and the $25 was “a small stipend” to compensate them for their time and carfare. HOPE organization has contracts with CPS to provide after-school programs.
Families opposed to their schools being reorganized or closed accused CPS of using “rent-a-protesters,” to fabricate support for the moves.
Members of Action Now mimicked the rent-a-protesters by going door to door on Blackthorn Road, and offering residents $25 to support closing public schools in Winnetka. They used Monopoly money for the demonstration and handed out fliers that read:
“Chicago parents and residents are visiting your neighborhood tonight because our neighbors were paid $25 to support the CPS agenda of closing our schools. Our neighbors were paid to sell out their own communities.
“We were wondering,” the notice read, “Are you willing to take $25 to support closing the schools in your community?”
“We decided to go to the heart of the issue,” Doaks said. “We want to draw attention to the paid protestors which we felt didn’t get enough coverage. The fact that they would pay (people) $25 to $50 and offer them dinner to support issues they know very little about is disrespectful. It upsets me as a community organizer.”
Using a megaphone, Doaks announced, “If you can’t find support for free, guess what? The support’s not there.”
The demonstrators, who walked with signs and chanted between 3 and 3:30 p.m., got no answer at most of the homes where they stopped, including Cawley’s. A young neighbor did ask the demonstrators to stay on the street and not gather on the homeowner’s private property.
Barbara Pointer of Chicago reported a resident in one home said she was just leaving to pick up her children from school, “but she would consider reading our letter and she took the (phony) money.”
In about a half hour, Winnetka police officers arrived and escorted the group down Blackthorn to Pine Street where they boarded a yellow bus and drove away.
The Chicago Public Schools Board is scheduled to vote on the school closures Feb. 22.