Urban Education

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After Reconstitution: When a failing school is overhauled and nearly entirely restaffed, where do the displaced teachers go?

In Chicago, most have headed back to the classroom.

The 430,000-student school system reconstituted seven low-performing high schools in Jue 1997. While about two-thirds of the schools' teachers were immediately rehired at their same schools, 174 teachers were not.

About 80 of those displaced teachers have since found full-time teaching positions in other Chicago schools, and about 50 remain on the district's payroll, looking for work inside or outside the school system.

District officials say that while some of the displaced teachers were proverbial "bad apples" unsuited for the rigors of teaching, many were promising instructors who had ended up at the wrong school.

"There were good, qualified teachers at these dysfunctional schools," said Cozette Buckney, the district's chief academic officer. Teachers who weren't rehired by their reconstituted school were bypassed mainly because they didn't meld with its new program or philosophy, she said.

None of the displaced teachers was or has since been fired by the board, but 34 did not reapply for their old jobs and seven retired, according to John Frantz, the director of accountability for Chicago schools.

Chicago officials originally gave displaced teachers 10 months to find a permanent job, either within or outside the school system, he said. That timeline was twice extended by Chicago officials, most recently to Jan. 22. Until then, those displaced teachers who are still out of work are serving as substitute teachers with one day a week to search for a job. They continue to receive full pay and benefits, Mr. Frantz said.

Norma White, the vice president of the local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, says the school board's rehiring process is fair. Many of the teachers from the reconstituted schools--even those who have not yet found new teaching positions--are well-qualified and have had good reviews.

"Teachers take what's available, and sometimes it doesn't work out. But that doesn't make them bad teachers," she said.

Gary A. Orfield, a Harvard University scholar who has studied the reconstitution process in several cities, said such schools are the result of an entirely distressed school community, not bad teachers.

"I think it's good to have an ultimate sanction for failing schools, but it's a terribly complex process," he said. "It's a tremendous mistake to pass judgment on a reconstituted school's teachers when it's not the teachers, it's the setting."

--Kerry A. White [email protected]

Vol. 18, Issue 16, Page 10

Published in Print: December 16, 1998, as Urban Education

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