New Board of Education opens discussion in marathon 1st meeting, still passes CPS agenda

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Questions from all seven members. Thoughtful policy discussion. Criticism of administrative decisions.

And — almost — a no-vote.

The seven new faces on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Board of Education instantly distinguished themselves from their predecessors during their marathon first meeting on Wednesday, pushing the Chicago Public Schools CEO to defend district policy proposals that likely would have passed without a second thought — and behind closed doors — under previous boards.

”This is what you get when you put together a board with expertise,” newly appointed board President Miguel del Valle said after members grilled a top CPS administrator on changes to the district’s school rating system. “This type of exchange, this back-and-forth is needed. it’s very much needed.”

Those changes to CPS’ controversial School Quality Ratings Policy (SQRP) proved a critical first test of the new board’s relationship with Jackson, who was appointed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and was retained by Lightfoot.

The complicated SQRP formula in place since 2014 rates most schools on a five-point system, based mostly on a school’s test scores and attendance, test score improvement — especially by at-risk groups of students — and a survey of the school’s culture and climate. Critics have argued SQRP unfairly punishes schools in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods on the South and West sides, and that the ratings are often used to justify shutting down schools.

CPS administrators asked the new board to vote Wednesday on changes to SQRP, including a new “3-8 On Track” metric for elementary school ratings measuring their success in preparing students for high school success, and changing how much daily attendance affects ratings.

”Given the constraints around having to have a performance policy, CPS stands firmly behind the fairness in our current policy, but we’re also open to revising it as needed,” Jackson said. “We have to have a policy in place that pushes for excellence.”

The board’s new vice president, options trading firm director Sendhil Revuluri, called the changes “somewhat underwhelming” and initially voted against the proposal, along with West Side activist Dwayne Truss and UIC history professor Elizabeth Todd-Breland.

With “yes” votes from del Valle, former National Teachers Academy teacher Amy Rome, Erikson Institute professor Luisiana Melendez and marketing officer Lucino Sotelo — that put the vote at 4-3, one short of the required five for approval.

”Where was the engagement with the community [when the SQRP changes were formulated? Where was the engagement with teachers?” Truss asked. CPS officials said they held dozens of meetings with working groups over the last two years.

”Given the constraints around having to have a performance policy, CPS stands firmly behind the fairness in our current policy, but we’re also open to revising it as needed,” Jackson said. “We have to have a policy in place that pushes for excellence.”

Still, the added discussion during the six-hour meeting ended like many did under previous rubber-stamp iterations of the education board under Emanuel and former Mayor Richard M. Daley — with the motion passing along with other agenda items.

Revuluri abstained in a re-vote and Todd-Breland switched to a “yes” vote after CPS officials said they’d be without a state-mandated elementary rating system if it didn’t pass. But they told Jackson to re-evaluate the SQRP system from the ground up.

”This is a mandate from the board to you to make this happen,” del Valle told Jackson.

The vote in front of the public marked one in a series of new board policies put in place by del Valle. Starting next month, board meetings will be streamed live online and Spanish translation services will be offered. Del Valle also said policy proposals will be shared a month ahead of board votes, rather than just a few days as has been practice.

An unspecified number of new board member committees also will be formed to tackle “critical education policy issues,” with hearings at different sites across the city. And later this year, “periodic” board meetings will be held in late afternoons and evenings in different neighborhoods, to open access to the meetings that have been held during school hours downtown.

Those committees are expected to be announced at the July 24 meeting.

Read more about the new SQRP changes:

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