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Pingree Grove charter school, parents clash
Survey the last straw for many families
By Jameel Naqvi | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/29/2008 12:04 AM

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Like many parents who live in and around Pingree Grove, Debbie Brehm had high hopes for the Cambridge Lakes Charter School.

When it opened in September 2007, Brehm enrolled her son and daughter in seventh grade at the school.

They didn't last a year.

"Our children are no longer attending the charter school," Brehm said Friday, just a few weeks before school lets out.

At least 66 students have transferred out of Cambridge Lakes this school year, according to Community Unit District 300, out of about 512 who were enrolled at the beginning of the year.

Brehm is one of many parents who say they have been frustrated with the actions of the charter school's administration, while praising teachers' dedication to the school and its students.

Parents have complained of poor communication from charter school leaders and say they haven't been given much input in the school.

But for most of the school year, those frustrations weren't enough for Brehm to pull her kids out of school.

That changed on May 14, when the charter school handed out unannounced surveys to all its students, asking them to evaluate the school and their teachers and to put their names on it.

The survey also asked what students' parents were saying about the charter school.

The survey irked many parents, and for Brehm, it was the straw that broke the camel's back.

"That's absolutely the thing that pushed us over the top," Brehm said. "Otherwise, we would have stayed until the end of the year."

Brehm pulled her kids out of the school and will home-school them for the rest of the school year. Next year, the Hampshire mother says she will continue to home-school her kids or enroll them in Hampshire Middle School.

Larry Fuhrer, the executive director of the nonprofit organization the runs the charter school, said the survey was part of what will be a quarterly evaluation of teachers and learning.

Fuhrer said a crucial part of that evaluation is finding out what parents think of the instruction at the school.

"If there are shameful things being shared with children at home, and they come to light, that's unfortunate," Fuhrer said. "From our standpoint, we don't care."

But many parents did.

"Those questions are totally out of line," said Tanya Windbiel, the mother of three children who attended the charter school this year. "Kids are not the right ones to ask about that."

Windbiel, who lives in Pingree Grove, has already transferred her son to Gary D. Wright Elementary School in Hampshire. Her other two children also will attend other schools in the fall.

A majority of teachers at the charter school have said they want to form a union, according to the Illinois Education Association.

But the charter school administration has filed objections to the Illinois Education Association's petition to represent teachers.

Teachers have also filed a grievance against the school's leaders, saying their right to unionize was violated at a Feb. 25 meeting at which teachers were asked to denounce the union.

A fourth-grade teacher who led efforts to unionize at the charter school says he was not asked back for next year.

Two members of the board that govern the charter school, including board chairman Jerry Conrad, resigned last week.