Troy LaRaviere: My Statement on CPS’ “Warning Resolution”

CONTEXT AND BACKGROUND
I’ve been asked for my thoughts in response to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education issuing a “warning resolution” against me for opposing their backward education policy and corrupt fiscal management of our school district. Before responding, I have to write a few words about who I am.

I have never written about myself, and I don’t discuss myself in interviews unless the reporter asks a question that requires that I do. This is why it baffled me that the Tribune story on the warning resolution stated I worked to “raise [my] profile.” I work to raise the profile of CPS’ and City Hall’s incompetence and mismanagement. When I write and post, it is always about CPS policy; never about myself. However, it seems that it might now be helpful to tell you a few things about my record. After all, who am I to criticize CPS’ management, and why should anyone listen to me?

I am the principal of Blaine elementary school. When I arrived at Blaine in 2011, 79% of students were meeting standards—one of the highest percentages in the district among neighborhood schools. Just two short years later 89% we’re meeting standards—remarkable growth for an already high-performing school. Only 43% of African-American students were meeting standards on the ISAT test before I began my principalship. Just two years later almost 80% were meeting those standards (The ISAT was discontinued after two years).

Most importantly–according to criteria established by Rahm Emanuel himself, as a part of his principal merit awards–only three schools in the entire district have consistently met three or more of his four school excellence criteria—for three consecutive years.** That’s three schools out of more than 600. Blaine is one of those three schools. Although he calls it a “principals” award, Blaine’s progress has been the result of the collaborative work of a strong team of people. I lead that team.

One would think CPS and City Hall would pay more attention to the critiques of a principal whom their own criteria has identified as one of the district’s three most effective school leaders.

One would be wrong.

CPS is not interested in anything that contradicts its ideologically driven anti-public-school privatization agenda; an agenda which includes, among other things, over-testing students, and the diversion of public education funds away from students into the hands of private interests. It was action I took against both of these backward elements of the CPS reform agenda that led to the Board’s warning resolution against me. The resolution contains two warnings.

SUPPORTING PARENT CHOICE IN OPTING STUDENTS OUT OF TESTING
The first warning is in regard to actions I took in response to a PARCC testing Opt-Out movement initiated by Blaine’s PTA. It was the most successful elementary school opt out movement in Chicago, with more than 80% of our parents opting their children out of taking the test. It was a parent-driven effort and I fully supported their right to opt their children out.

Parents submitted forms directing us not to give the test to their students. CPS responded by telling principals that we must defy parents and sit the student down in front of a test—that only when the student refused it, could we allow him or her not to take it.

I know of no other field in which the professionals are ordered to disregard parents’ choices and force children to refuse to participate in what their parents have already refused to allow them to participate in. If a parent tells a doctor that she does not want her child to take a particular prescription, the doctor is not ordered to disregard the parent and put the medicine in the child’s hand and make the child refuse it himself.

CPS’ directive appeared to be a thinly veiled effort to pressure students into taking the test in defiance of their parents. It is blatant hypocrisy for a district that promotes itself as supporting “parent choice” to go to such great lengths to get children to violate the choices their parents make for them. I responded in an open letter to CPS stating:

“I will not be following ISBE’s ridiculous directives aimed at intimidating children and families into taking tests they do not want to take… No child under my watch whose parents have opted him or her out of the PARCC will be sat in front of any computer to take it, nor presented with any materials. The test wastes enough time on its own. We are not wasting even more learning time by engaging in CPS’ and ISBE’s test-driven political theater.”

This is the stance for which I was cited in the warning resolution.

Within the resolution the board plainly states that their reason for issuing the warning is because, “You publicly supported the Blaine PTA’s Opt Out initiative for the PARCC test.”

In response I return to my analogy with medicine. Doctors have the right to advise patients against taking unnecessary prescriptions and medical tests promoted by the hospital and the pharmaceutical companies that profit from them. Not only do they have that right, they have that obligation as medical professionals. As education professionals, we not only have the right, but we have the obligation to give our professional assessment of the worth and value of the tests promoted by our district and by the private testing companies that profit from the administration of those assessments.

In each situation there is a company that stands to profit, and an institution allied with that company. There to protect the interests of the child in either situation is the professional judgment of the doctor and educator. As they do in most aspects of their management of this district, CPS officials and the Emanuel administration are attempting to eliminate the professional judgment of educators from all major district decision-making.

In the end, parents must choose for themselves and the board of education certainly has an obligation to insist that principals administer the assessments to all who choose to take it. However, the board and CEO have overstepped their executive authority when they give directives to principals that prevent us from meeting our professional responsibility to speak openly to students and parents about the worth of these tests. If you believe doctors should not be prevented from advising parents to forego an unnecessary medical test for their children, then the same logic must apply for educators. In fact, that logic is even more applicable to educators since we work for the public, not private sector interests.

The only way to test the legality of an unjust policy or law is to break it. The classic examples are from our nation’s civil rights struggles. In order to fight segregated busing in Montgomery, Alabama for example, Rosa Parks had to test the law by deliberately breaking it. So let me state it clearly: I am deliberately testing the legal soundness of a policy that forces educators to violate parental choice, and prevents us from meeting our professional obligation to advise parents and students regarding the wisdom and need for them to subject themselves to an increasingly onerous load of unnecessary testing.

INSUBORDINATION: VIOLATING THE NO-QUESTIONS POLICY
The second thing I was cited for was insubordination when I violated a “no questions” policy at a district principals budget meeting. I sat there at the meeting listening to CPS officials blame Springfield and teacher pensions for the budget woes, while they completely ignored their own well documented corrupt and reckless spending (e.g., $20 Million Supes Contract, $340 Million Aramark Contract, $10 million central office furniture purchase, etc. etc.). So I stood up and asked the question anyway, citing several questionable expenses. Then CEO, Jesse Ruiz, stood up and told me that I was being disruptive. It is a profound moment of truth and clarity when a CPS official gets up and makes it clear that he considers asking relevant questions “disruptive.” I have already written extensively about the details of this encounter in a post entitled, “Adding Insult to Injury: A Look Inside a CPS Principals Budget Meeting.” In the resolution, the board cites me for insubordination, in part, because Ruiz asked me why I worked for CPS if I were so unhappy with its leadership, and I responded, “To save it from people like you.” It is important to note that Ruiz asked me to come into the hallway where he called me a “loud-mouthed principal” and asked me that question. In essence, the board is attempting to discipline me for answering his question. If he didn’t want an honest answer, he should not have asked the question.

Another disturbing thing about this resolution is the way I was informed about it. I received an email on Monday telling me I could come in on Tuesday at 1pm to respond to the allegations on a resolution that the board would be voting on the next day. The board clearly knew that I was scheduled to speak at the City Club of Chicago’s panel on CPS Bankruptcy at that time since one of their own—Jesse Ruiz—was also on the panel. I chose to keep my appointment on the panel and thereby miss my opportunity to respond to this absurd resolution.

WHAT NOW?
Yesterday, I drove by Washington Park to see if there was any organized activity at the scene of the Dyett School hunger strike. There didn’t seem to be, so I pulled away and headed toward 43rd and Vernon, about a block east of Martin Luther King Drive.   The entire part of the block facing 43rd street is an empty lot on which once stood a fire-damaged slum I lived in as a child; where my brothers and I slept on floors and cots for months until the owner of Moore’s Furniture and Piano Mover’s donated a bunk bed to my mother. I go back there often to remind myself of the road I have traveled, and of the awesome responsibility I have been given. I came here from nothing. By any reasonable odds, I was not supposed to be here. And yet, here I am. I am not an overtly religious man but circumstances leave me no choice but to believe that whatever power put me on this earth—and in this position—did so for a reason. While I am here, I have a responsibility and a duty to use this position to advocate as strongly as humanly possible for the betterment of our city and its schools. That includes advocacy for sound evidence-based education policy and prudent fiscal management of district resources—the advocacy that led to the current warning resolution.

I will continue to support all of my PTAs efforts on behalf of the children and families of Blaine and I will continue to call out CPS on its reckless fiscal operational and educational mismanagement of our district at every opportunity they give me. Unfortunately, for our teachers and the students they serve, those opportunities abound.

I have been called a hero many times; and sometimes a saint. I am neither, by a longshot. Like all of you, I have my personal flaws and my ominous fears. However, each day I work to rise above those flaws and to rise above the foreboding limitations and restrictions of the corrupt system in which we find ourselves living and working.

Cord Jefferson and Hampton Sides once stated: “It is self-defeating to want our heroes to be perfect, because we aren’t perfect ourselves. By calling our heroes superhuman we also let ourselves off the hook: Why do the hard work of bettering the world if that’s something only saints do?”

We don’t need heroes, and we don’t need saints. We need a movement. A movement of hundreds of thousands of people across this city who stand together to retake it from the grips of the corrupt and inept elected and appointed officials who hold the reigns of power. The hero we need is the public itself, awakened and ready to change our collective reality; ready to serve as examples to our children—examples of citizens who come together to work and change our city for the better.

On a related and somewhat humorous note, one of the Board’s “Directives for Improvement” was for me to “Conduct yourself as a role model for students.”

I don’t imagine they’ll ever get the irony.


Email: TroyLaRaviere@gmail.com
Twitter: @troylaraviere
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/troylaraviere

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NOTES:

**I have confirmed three schools.  There are two others that may have met the criteria but the district has stalled on releasing the data on the last issuance of the award.  If those two schools met the criteria, then the total schools would be five–out of more than 600.  The three confirmed schools are Blaine, Hefferan, and Ward. The two other possibilities are Keller and Chavez. All five are public schools. None are charter.  It is also interesting to note that only one is a selective enrollment school (Keller).  Blaine, Chavez, Hefferan, and Ward are all regular neighborhood schools.

REFERENCES

Link to the a draft of the warning resolution (I have not been provided with a final copy).
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BytSj0QyFz1eTTdJN0pnd0FGVmhBaGNXV1hJeHNrZ0JCS3I0/view?usp=sharing

Letter to my staff regarding how to conduct themselves during PARCC testing
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BytSj0QyFz1eQjNQajBCM04xSEE/view?usp=sharing

72 thoughts on “Troy LaRaviere: My Statement on CPS’ “Warning Resolution”

  1. Sir, I applaud you on your courage, standing up against the bureaucracy of CPS. It’s been long overdue, and a big risk. As a CPS teacher, I have witnessed the underhanded and scrupulous dealings of CPS. Thank you for your hard work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are an excellent model for the students! You are modeling critical thinking and a high level of questioning! You are an inspiration to parents, students, teachers, and administrators as we seek to expose the truth and hold CPS accountable for their short-sighted and irresponsible decisions as well as thier continual disregard of community input.

    Like

  3. Troy, people like you give me hope that one day I might be willing to send my son to a CPS school. But then Rahm brags about having an “education venture capitalist” on his hand-picked board and I fear that CPS is doomed forever. The fact that such a thing as an “education venture capitalist” even exists is simply shameful. When our leaders put themselves in charge of schools to which they will not send their own children, hold themselves above accountability with non-elected positions, and then brag about turning those schools into a springboard for greedy investors, it’s no wonder that they fear you. Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As a CPS parent, I appreciate your well thought out and consistent questioning of CPS. While CPS does a lot of good, it is an organization that will benefit greatly from transparency, constructive criticism and systematic analysis and needs to be more open to the input of teachers, principles, parents and students. Thank You.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Keep up the good fight! I am in the suburbs, and my daughter is entering 3rd grade. I am strongly considering opting her out of PARCC testing. I read some of the sample questions last year, and it was quite alarming to me.

    Like

  6. Brava. The cat has been out of the bag, so Mark’s advise is unneeded. Teachers understand the Boards retaliation history, note my “name”. Be brave, stand for your principles and the students. I support your efforts and am fighting within the confines of the blender that is CPS because without us fighting they will sell us to the highest bidder or the lowest…. Claypool has the job now and I cannot see anyone of substance wanting it after the mess left by the Jolly Seven: Duncan (messing it up nationwide now), Huberman (lobbyist) Mazany (he didn’t make it worse), Brizard (underestimated the power of the teachers), Bennet ($$$), Ruiz (yes man) and Claypool (Rahm enforcer).

    Like

  7. Astounding that Claypool and the board make a demonstratively false statement in the warning resolution: “Failure to meet the 95% threshold puts schools and CPS at risk of financial sanctions.” Neither Illinois law nor Illinois regulations make any reference whatsoever to a 95% testing threshold, let alone link financial sanctions to it. And federal law makes no such linkage either. More than a Score has repeatedly asked state and district administrators making this claim to cite the relevant statute and regulation; none have been able to because it does not exist.

    Like

  8. Great job Troy !
    I am a CPS sped teacher I have been amazed and proud at how articulate,smart and correct you are in challenging better policies in cps I am sure you are going to go even further in life and inspire others

    Like

  9. You, sir, are the principal we all wish we could have…

    Your speech at City Club had me in tears, and your response to CPS’s insubordination letter was brilliant and spot on.
    Your fellow principals should be standing shoulder to shoulder with you… But alas they are not. I know mine would never create a ripple in the cesspool that is CPS bureaucracy. Whatever mandate comes down the pipeline, she lays on us with threats and intimidation tactics.

    Your teachers, parents, and students are so lucky to have your outspoken leadership. I wish I so fortunate. You must have teachers lined up, résumés in hand, begging you for a position at Blaine.

    You’re the type of administrator we’d follow to the end of the earth.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s so unfortuate we can not get all of our parents on board! You are right to stand up and fight for the rights of our parents, students, and teachers!

    We are the advocates for our parents and students! As a teacher, I also was called out
    but by a principal, when asking a question in a staff meeting. Like you, I also had to deal with the
    repercussions. The many tactics they use to punish us are awful; retaliation, harassment, blatantly lying to and about us, at times, excluding us from activities, and creating a fearful, demoralizing.

    Our professional judgement and experience are not valued, we are not trusted to make the best decisions at the school level, we are being ruled by people in powerful political positions morally bankrupt people.

    Fight the good fight! Teachers are behind you and thankful you are speaking up and out loud!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I met you at a peace rally a couple months ago and I thought you made some really good points and I agreed with 100% then and I still do! Keep fighting for the kids and stand up for what you believe is right!!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you! I left teaching because of the constant high stakes testing. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your words and recognition of a child’s right to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I wish you were the Principal at Blaine when my child was there! Being involved with the PTA & LSC was a pleasure, but trying to work with the former leadership was just terrible. THANK YOU for what you are doing!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Troy, I too work for CPS. I stand with you in your outspokenness on behalf of public education in Chicago and the nation at large. You are a brave man and having met you and talked to you at City Tavern, I know you knew, full well, the risks to your job and career. When I asked you, “Aren’t you afraid to lose your job?” You told me that you feel compelled to speak out against these injustices exactly because of your position as an educational leader. You talked about the need for principals to stand up for thier “principles”! You said that because you have gone public, with issues that many people are concerned about, CPS wouldn’t dare to fire you. I argued that Rahm is beyond caring what the public thinks. I reminded Troy of the power of campaign cash, saying Rahm has enough campaign money to influence public perception of him. I pointed to Rahm’s bullying behavior and stated that Rahm has the political power to muscle anyone who challenges preferred perceptions of him. You responded, “you may be right, but if one cannot stand up for his principles, then what does this principal have left to stand for?”
    You are my hero, like it or not. You are a true educational leader and I’ve enough experience in education to know one when I see one. You are just the person we need to be in charge of the Chicago Public Schools, however you will never be seated as the Chief Exec. as long as we have an appointed school board. Mayor Emanuel is financially tied to privatization efforts and their investors. He will never allow an autonomous CPS leader, who might jeopardize his relationship with testing companies and private charter campaign donors.
    I have little doubt that Rahm ordered your firing. I’ll repeat to you what I heard Karen Lewis tell you. I believe she put it this way, “Well If you were to run for mayor you could take Rahm’s job away from him before he has a chance to fire you.” Laughter and large applause followed her comment.
    Well now that a warning resolution has been issued to you Troy, It’s beginning to look like Rahm might get the last laugh.
    Does Chicago have the heart to stand up for one good man, a man willing to put it all on the line for his principles and in service, not only to the children of Chicago, but to the tax payers of Chicago? Or will we Chicagoans sheepishly stand by, as Rahm Emmanuel enjoys a hearty laugh at our expense, while dancing his way to the bank once more?
    I call on all Chicagoans who have any sense of decency to stand with this principal. To call on the Chicago Board of Education to drop this Warning Resolution, which is pretense for firing one of Chicago best and accomplished principals. He is standing up to the powerful and speaking out for the public good. Who’s government is this, dare I ask? Is it not yours. Are you a Chicagoan willing to stand up for your principles, or do you just take up space here in this city, while allowing your corrupted elected officials to dictate your conditions. Let’s show Rahm who is really in charge. Let’s demand an elected school board and encourage Troy to continue to inspire educators to speak out against bad education policy. We the people, must stop corporations and the rich who are profiting under the banner of “non-profits” while violating the integrity, autonomy, capital, and future of our public schools system.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. You already are a role model for students and teachers, and it is a darn shame that no other principal went out into that hall with you. Thank you for speaking up!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I met you at a rally for Amara for mayor and I must say the speech that you gave really inspired me. What impressed me next was you coming over to the stand and chatting with me…..you were so humbled! I said to you that I ask my children when they come home from school what did they teach themselves today….and you said hmm mm I’ve never thought to ask my son that! I truly admire a man that will stand for the principles of our students….your character speaks volumes! Keep up the fight and know that you’ll have the backing of parents, students and your peers.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Troy-
    You give me hope as a parent. Standing up and speaking truth on the part of educators and administrators is critical for parents yet fully aware of the complex challenges we face with education being sold to the highest bidder. Parents must lead efforts but we look to professionals like you to open our eyes. Please know that many of us all over the country are sustained by your leadership. 3,000 miles away I am cheering you on and seeing it as an inspiration and call to action.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Requiring a student to defy a teacher in the classroom is clearly child abuse, let alone a violation of parental constitutional rights. Thank you for standing up for students and families.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Principal LaRaviere,
    Thank you. Your courage, skills and commitment to democracy and public education honor the nation.
    Routing out, the privatizing and corporatizing scum, with whom you have to deal, would be a start. But, it is insufficient punishment for their diabolical money-making schemes.

    Liked by 1 person

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