If I knew back in January 2008 what I know now, I never would have picked up the phone to call Arne Duncan.
I probably would have dialed his wife or his mother instead.
The recent Chicago Tribune story about Duncan and his "clout list" suggests that I may have been better served by placing calls to Duncan's distaff side -- provided, of course, I dropped the right names during those discussions.
You see, back in January 2008, I heard a rumor that the former CPS CEO had decided to move my youngest daughter's grade school across town. Duncan's plan, according to the rumor mill, was to relocate our K-8 school into an under-utilized building that was already serving as home to 300 junior-high students.
That didn't strike me as a particularly good idea. My daughter was in kindergarten at the time, and despite my best efforts, I couldn't identify another CPS facility that sported a 10:1 ratio of teenagers to kindergarteners. (A CPS official eventually confirmed that there was no such beast.) But as I said, Duncan's planned move was still just a rumor at that point.
So rather than traffic in rumor, I called Duncan's office to find out what he had in store for my daughter and her classmates. To cover my bases, I also called the office of then-Board of Education president Rufus Williams to ask the same basic questions. Neither gentleman took my call, so I left polite, detailed messages for each man - all for naught, of course. No one from either office ever responded to my inquiries. (Duncan's gang, as we learned last week, was likely too busy placing calls to principals on behalf of well-connected patricians and politicians.)
Don't get me wrong. I didn't actually expect Duncan or Williams to contact me, but I did hold out hope that I might hear back from a secretary, a staffer, or maybe even a robo-caller. No such luck.
But I am persistent, so I eventually sent a short (and entirely pleasant) e-mail message to Duncan's office asking the same basic questions about a possible move. I ended my brief e-mail message with the following statement:
I'm confident you'd ask the same questions and have the same concerns if you were in my shoes. I look forward to your response.
Again, radio silence from Duncan's office. As I later learned, several of my fellow parents were running into the same dead-end.
We parents quickly concluded that CPS's institutional silence was not a good sign, so we organized and began pitching the story to members of the local media. We hoped that might get the attention of the folks at CPS headquarters. As it turned out, a number of reporters were interested in what we had to say. In fact, on the morning of the board's January 2008 meeting, we awoke to hear a thoughtful piece about our school on public radio, and we also got some good ink in the Chicago Tribune.
A few hours later, reporters from five TV stations, two radio stations, and at least three newspapers showed up at CPS headquarters to cover the day's events. Duncan stuck to the script, telling almost 150 of our parents that no decisions had been made concerning the fate of our school.
Twenty-four hours later, however, it was a different story. Duncan proved the rumor mill correct by announcing his plan to move our kids. One month later, the board unanimously voted us out.
On the day of that vote, Duncan explained to the media that the move would enable CPS to expand our school's highly-regarded program. For those scoring at home, the promised expansion didn't happen, and Duncan has since moved on to greener pastures.
Are he and his family members still making calls on behalf of the children of Chicago's "A-list" parents? I doubt it. Duncan is likely too busy with his latest effort, traveling from state to state with bags of cash hosting "Who Wants to Be a 'Race to the Top' Millionaire?"
It's anyone's guess whether our school would have been saved from relocation had our parents sported stronger Rolodexes. But the recent Tribune series leaves no doubt that it would have at least given us a fighting chance -- something we never had back in January 2008.