About Lee-Ann Meredith

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Lao Tzu Lee-Ann Meredith is a second grade teacher, author, Department Chairperson and education advocate who has spent the duration of her time in public education at John B. Murphy Elementary School in inner city Chicago. Often characterized as funny, dynamic, and an independent innovator, Lee-Ann cites her idol as Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus. Fluent in a wide range in instructional strategies for the elementary level, Lee-Ann is dedicated to being an advocate for children everywhere by implementing 'cutting edge' strategies to increase student achievement. Some of the issues that she spearhead included: promoting literacy throughout the building, leading community meetings to advocate for full day kindergarten for all students and helping implement the Responsive Classroom strategies throughout the school. In addition to working closely with the curriculum, she also had the honor to supervise (and mentor into teaching positions) numerous student teachers and practicum students from various post-secondary institutions around the Chicago area such as: Erikson Institute, National Louis, DePaul. Northeaster Illinois, Roosevelt, and North Park Universities.

The system I work in, Chicago Public Schools, is in trouble. I realize that Chicago’s education problems need a book to explain, not an article, but I will attempt to summarize it.

The governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, wants CPS to declare bankruptcy. The mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, says “No-no-no!” but he has done much to undermine the financial stability of the system. Our last CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, has pleaded guilty to taking a 10% kickback to a $20.5 million no-bid contract for principal training administered by her former employer. (She used the funds she received to set up college funds for her grandchildren and to go to the casinos.) The school board is appointed by the mayor, and many have questionable investments in vendors for the city. In other words, corruption is rampant.

Our school bonds are now rated as double junk status. The city is about to do another bond sale and soon the banks will refuse to lend any more money. The Chicago Teachers Union contends that our financial difficulties were manufactured by the Board of Education.

The teachers are without a contract. We are the only school system in the state that does not receive help with pensions. The state and the board of education want to have the teachers pay the full portion of our pension. This will result in a seven percent pay cut. (Note: most school systems in Illinois pay the majority of pension costs.) There is also a threat of a layoff of 5000 teachers the first week of February.

In December, 88% of the teachers have voted to strike this spring. Click To Tweet In December, 88% of the teachers have voted to strike this spring. Click To Tweet

I was recently asked by a few people, after listening to me rant, how I would fix it. It is almost mind-bogglingly complicated. Then an idea came to me. This is my dream.

I would like to see everyone step back from their arguing and take a breath. I would like us all to remember what the point of education is. We won’t all agree but I would expect most of us could come to some accord on the concept that education is about teaching children how to become employable adults and citizens. Then we could begin discussing how to accomplish this for all of our state’s or our country’s children.

I would like this discussion to include not just people who will profit from this big idea. I would prefer teachers from all schools, the successful and the troubled. I want teachers from all grade levels. Principals, social workers, and counselors should be included. Even engineers, custodians, and lunch room managers see things and should have input, Education gurus should be there to remind us of what best practices actually have empirical evidence to support them and really do work.  I wouldn’t mind if the big investors attended but they would be one voice among many. Even better, they should sit and listen. (The real experts on education are the people who work daily with children and we are not stupid. We squeeze water from a stone a regular basis and we also know what works and what doesn’t.

If the mayor and governor want to come, they can sit and listen. If Rahm Emanuel storms off because he is criticized, as he is wont to do, he will be brought back and made to stay for twice his scheduled time.

Like all of these types of discussions, we start pie high in the sky. Then we bring it back to reality. No teacher wants CPS, or any other school system, to fail. We have watched the news about what is happening in Detroit’s schools. We are not fools. We know that we are in desperate times but there are things that make no sense. There are things that can be improved. Thankfully, there are still many things that work. We need to build on those things and fix what is broken.

Does this sound like fun? Hardly! It sounds like hard, hard, hard work. No one loves meetings but we need to fix this crazy broken system so we have public schools available for our children. No one person has all the answers, it needs to be a consortium of experts.

Yes, this is my dream. I know the big wigs will say we can’t let teachers or educators decide. We need financiers and textbook executives, and testing companies and billionaires to guide us on the right path. Well, they have been doing that for a while now and we have watched out system spiral out of control. We test these kiddos to ulcers. We’ve taken away a huge portion of support for struggling students. The powers that be seem to have forgotten that these are young human beings, our future, that we are doing this to. Schools need to be a secure and stable place and turmoil does not help any of our children. These problems need to be fixed not simply by throwing money at them but by the thoughtful insights and experience of people who have given their lives to work with our children.

My dream is unity. It is hard to imagine it will ever come true but I can still dream. Who knows?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email