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Chicago Parents, Students Occupy Piccolo Elementary, School Targeted For 'Turnaround' (VIDEO)

First Posted: 02/18/2012 11:29 am Updated: 02/19/2012 1:59 pm

Updated story

A group of Chicago parents, students and activists on Friday began a sit-in inside, as well as an encampment outside, a West Side elementary school that Chicago Public Schools has targeted for "turnaround."

The protesters arrived at Brian Piccolo Elementary School early Friday evening to speak out against the proposed changes for the school. Late last year, Piccolo was flagged as one of ten schools that would be "turned around," meaning that its principal and the majority of its staff will be replaced and, in this case, the school's management would be taken over by the well-connected program Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL).

But some 30 parents of Piccolo students are demanding that they are able to meet with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and discuss their objections to the planned "turnaround," the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

As the Chicago Tribune reports, the protesters have deemed the occupation, which ended around 4 p.m. Saturday, a success. Protesters were able to air their grievances with a member of the Chicago Board of Education.

"They have a new principal," Shronda Wilson, a parent of two children at the school told the Sun-Times Friday. "They haven't given her a chance. She has come here from the beginning of the school year and done a tremendous job. They have good teachers here."

Latoya Walls, another protesting parent, told WBEZ that she and other protesters would "not [be] going nowhere until the mayor answers us!"

The turnaround of Piccolo was proposed, according to a news release announcing the demonstration, without the approval or involvement of its Local School Council. While Piccolo parents, staff and community members argued that they have introduced an alternative plan for school improvement to the Chicago Board of Education, they say the board -- which will vote on the proposal Wednesday -- has ignored it.

In a declaration issued late Friday, the Piccolo occupiers accused CPS of being "in violation of its own remediation and probation policy" and blamed the school's struggles on CPS's "chronic disinvestment in our school."

"We need our school," Nedra Martin, a Piccolo parent, told ABC Chicago. "If they've got the funding, give us the money and we'll do what we've got to do for Brian Piccolo."

In response to the sit-in, CPS said Friday that "we need to make difficult, but necessary, decisions to boost student achievement throughout the district and put their needs before all else," ABC reports.

Robyn Ziegler, CPS spokeswoman, added late Friday, according to the Sun-Times, that they "really respect the parents’ passion for their children’s education." However, "year after year Piccolo has failed students."

Representatives of the school system were reportedly on hand at the demonstration and police are also present. At this time, it is unclear whether the parents will be evicted at CPS's request.

While AUSL claims it specializes in successfully improving achievement at the city's "high-poverty, chronically failing" schools, critics call it a group that's "long been wired directly into City Hall" and have questioned whether the charter program is truly responsible for making "significantly greater" gains at the schools it has already "turned around."

The system, which is currently running 19 Chicago schools, according to a recent Chicago Tribune analysis, has typically seen test scores at its schools increase immediately upon takeover before later leveling out to results on par -- or sometimes below -- the city's neighborhood schools.

WATCH additional video from the Piccolo Elementary School occupation:

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Filed by Joseph Erbentraut  |