Kenwood blames Aramark for failed health inspections

Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.

Staff Writer

Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., is seeking additional custodial services after the school failed two health inspections within the span of two weeks. The Kenwood community blames CPS’s failure to provide appropriate custodial resources as a cause of the failed inspections.

The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) released a report, March 30, stating that Kenwood High School and the nearby Kenwood Academic Center (formerly Canter Middle School), 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., did not pass their health inspections on March 24.

Problems in the inspection listed according to public records included mice droppings in numerous areas of the school. Other observations noted in the inspection were the absence of hot/tempered water for some of the student and faculty restrooms in the building.

Kenwood Academic Center passed its follow up inspection on Friday, March 31.

Kenwood High School passed its follow up inspection on Tuesday, April 4, according to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) spokesman Michael Passman.

“Kenwood Academy passed its health inspection on Tuesday, following a brief period in which cleanliness levels at the school fell below our standards, Passman said in an email. “Our team has taken steps to remediate the issues, and we are implementing new procedures to help prevent this from happening again.”

Kenwood said the recent health inspection failures point to a larger issue facing their school and other Chicago Public Schools that receive custodial services provided by Aramark.

Dr. Gregory Jones, principal at Kenwood, sent a letter to the school community, last week, that said he has sent, “over 100 complaint emails with pictures, regarding staffing, the lack of cleanliness, professionalism, and commitment to our school” in the past three years.

Jones said the Kenwood does not have enough custodians to clean its large campus. Two full-time custodians are assigned to clean the building, which is made up of 1,500 students and 100 staff members during school hours.

During the school day, according to Jones custodians are required to clean 15 restrooms, three cafeteria spaces, off-campus area, two locker rooms, natatorium locker rooms, classrooms, water fountains, snow removal, hall floors, dock area, and two elevators.

The Kenwood Academic Center houses 300 students, has 19 classrooms, a cafeteria, elevator, and restrooms. Jones said one person is assigned to clean the building.

Karen Cutler, vice president of Corporate Communications at Aramark, said the custodial staff at Kenwood is made up of two daytime custodians and six who come in at night to clean the school.

The middle school has two total custodians one during the day and one at night, she said.

There is not a set ratio per size of the school or student body. Cutler said Aramark evaluates the needs of each school and staffs it based on that.

The cleanliness of the school also impacts students. Kenwood High School students Ayanna Watkins and Laurence Minter said teachers sometimes have to cut into class time to clean classrooms, which interrupts the flow of learning.

The pair is advocating for a cleaner school environment. They hosted a forum in which students were able to share their experiences and thoughts on the school’s appearance and what they can do to change it. They also are planning a major cleaning event where students will come in and assist in cleaning the school.

“Our school is a representation of us,” Watkins said. She said that having a clean school impacts student performance and how they, in turn, view their school.

Jones said parents are also reaching out to him to offer their help with cleaning the school.

In 2014, CPS and Aramark entered into a three-year contract worth $260 million dollars to supply cleaning services to all schools in the district. According to reports, over the span of a few years several hundred custodians have been laid off.

According to the contract, Aramark is required to meet the Association for Higher Education Facilities Officers (APPA) standards of cleanliness and reasonable inspection methods.

“The cleanliness level at Kenwood High School, which is measured by an independent firm, is 81.88 percent, which is above the required level to meet APPA2 cleaning standards,” Cutler said.

APPA2 equals “Ordinary Tidiness.” APPA standards are graded on scale level one to five with level one being the highest and five the lowest. Each APPA level is defined by a range of tasks and their frequency.

Level 2 Ordinary Tidiness means the “floors and baseboard molding shine and/or are bright and clean. There is no build-up in corners or along walls, but there can be up to two days worth of dust, dirt, stains, or streaks; All vertical and horizontal surfaces are clean, but marks, dust, smudges, and fingerprints are noticeable upon close observation; Washroom and shower fixtures and tile gleam and are odor-free. Supplies are adequate. Waste containers hold only daily waste, are clean and odor-free.”

Over the last few years, principals, schools and parents from numerous schools have complained about the cleanliness of their schools since Aramark began managing the district. In a 2014 survey, conducted by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), 74 percent of respondents said custodial services had worsened under Aramark, and 72 percent said familiar custodians were no longer at the school.

Jones said he spends many of his Saturdays making visits to the school to ensure that when students enter the building on Monday the school is ready to receive them. Other staff members also assist in keeping the school clean. Security guards armed with a broom and dustpan sweep in the annex that connects the high school and middle school.

They also volunteer and conduct walkthroughs with Jones at the school on Saturdays. They document issues on a clipboard and take pictures, which typically takes an hour. Jones then passes on the information to their Aramark contact.

Jones has had to use money from the school’s budget to purchase additional cleaning supplies. Jones said Karen Calloway, assistant principal at Kenwood has also purchased several vacuums for the evening cleaning staff. Calloway also routinely checks restrooms, auditorium spaces and school grounds.

“I appreciate that they want to help but it’s not their job,” Jones said referring to the staff members, who also dedicate time to cleaning.

The contract between the district and Aramark stipulates that the company is responsible for the purchase of cleaning equipment as well as upkeep and maintenance of the equipment over time. The contract states that, “the vendor shall purchase new cleaning equipment…which shall be used by the vendor in connection with the performance of the Services hereunder.”

Jones said accountability is also an issue. He said there is no one assigned to supervise the high school or middle school custodial staff.

Jones said in his email to the Kenwood Community that the recently failed inspections were the final straw.

He said he is requesting, “at least five full-time employees assigned during school hours, a site supervisor assigned during school hours and at nighttime, sufficient cleaning equipment and two additional cafeteria porters.”