October , 2018

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Lack of accountability, transparency is undermining conditions in classrooms, say educators, who will vote to strike on Wednesday.


CHICAGO, IL –  Schools serve as a pathway to educational excellence and lifelong success — but that mission is foundering for ASPIRA’s students and educators, forcing teachers to take a strike vote this Wednesday to push management to greater transparency and accountability. A strike at ASPIRA’s charter schools would be the first strike in U.S. history at a charter school network.


ASPIRA runs four publicly funded Chicago charter schools serving roughly a thousand mostly Latino students. ASPIRA educators — all members of ACE, a council of educators with ChiACTS Local 4343 — have been negotiating for a new contract for almost ten months. But negotiations have stalled over lack of transparency and accountability in finances and foundering leadership at the network’s most senior levels, threatening conditions in classrooms. ASPIRA spends roughly 60% less on instruction than the average for Chicago’s public schools.

A Rally for ASPIRA educators will be held Wednesday • February 22, 2017, 4:30 p.m., at Aspira Early College/Pantoja High Schools, 3121 North Pulaski Road, Chicago.

At the rally, teachers and staff will announce the results of Wednesday’s strike authorization vote.


This year, ASPIRA will spend more than 40% of its budget on “overhead”, including senior staff salary, compared to a Chicago charter school average of roughly 25%. Yet school leadership has been marred by chronic instability and poor conditions at ASPIRA’s four schools, while teachers and frontline staff shoulder responsibilities for student recruitment and fundraising for classroom needs.


Many schools have had vacant positions since the beginning of the school year. 20% of Antonia Pantoja High School’s teachers are substitutes — underscoring a growing crisis in retaining qualified, committed teachers. Students at ABF lack the resources to conduct science experiments in their science lab. ESL teaching slots remain vacant, programs for special education students are not in compliance with ISBE standards at the same time that the percentage of students with IEPs — individualized education programs — is increasing, music programs and other extracurricular activities at Haugan are being cut, and students across the system are not getting the English language learning support they need — a critical abandonment of Aspira’s founding mission to serve the Hispanic community.  


Classrooms go days without being cleaned. Bathrooms lack toilet paper, handsoap and paper towels, while some toilets have been unusable since last year and building leaks stain school walls. Poor facility maintenance deters potential students and their parents, while many teachers clean their own classrooms in a desperate bid to improve conditions for their students. Some educators have resorted to GoFundMe campaigns to raise support for school projects and field trips.


Educators lay blame for the charter network’s poor management squarely at the feet of ASPIRA Inc. board chair Fernando Grillo, who has led the non-profit for the last seven years. In the last 6 weeks alone, the charter network’s CEO and Chief Academic Officer have been removed, only one principal who started the school year remains in that position, and the system’s COO — who had essentially been running the charter school network — recently resigned.


ACE educators work for ASPIRA because they believe in the non-profit’s founding principles — including its commitment of service to the Hispanic community — and have historically taken less in pay and compensation than their peers at other public schools. A teacher at Aspira with a Masters degree and five years of experience earns the same as a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree just out of college at CPS. And teachers have vowed to hold ASPIRA’s top management accountable for their actions and to their obligations to their students, even if educators must strike to force management to uphold educational standards for their schools’ young people.  


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