Under Fire, Board Closes Schools Anyway

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Under fire from parents, teachers, students and even some state legislators, the Chicago Board of Education voted to close, consolidate, phase out or turn-around 16 schools on Feb. 25. Four schools will close, four will be consolidated into other schools, four will be put into ‘turnaround’ initiatives, and four will be phased out. The difference between a closing and a consolidation is that all of the consolidated school’s students would move to the same receiving school. Staff members usually follow the students, except where there are overlaps, which would then be subject to union rules. The Board designates a school for ‘turnaround’ when it has consistently low academic performance. No students have to move in a turnaround. Instead, the staff have to reapply for their jobs and an outside organization works with the school to change the culture, according to Chicago Public Schools’ web site. “Schools are phased out for low enrollment, and all students currently enrolled in the schools would be allowed to graduate. However, the school would not be able to enroll any kindergarten, or in some cases pre-K, students as of the 2009-10 school year. “The following year, the school would not be able to enroll kindergarten or first-grade students, and each year would enroll one fewer grade.”

Teachers Union Calls for Moratorium
Marilyn Stewart, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, was among those who asked the school board members to delay the vote and put a moratorium on their plans for all the targeted schools. Stewart said the Board made their decisions based on “flawed” and “missing” data. “There is a lot of waste and mismanagement and a lot of missing data. I think a moratorium would be helpful…because it would be easier to postpone something than to reverse it…so you can get an outside independent organization to investigate that what you’re doing is working,” she said at the Board of Education meeting. Stewart said she’s been calling for a moratorium of CPS’s reform plans for the past four years. She noted that four years ago, Michael Scott was the city’s public Education Board president. Scott returned recently for another stint as board president. Mayor Richard M. Daley also recently appointed Ron Huberman to replace Arne Duncan as CEO of the school system after Duncan was appointed US Secretary of Education by President Barack Obama. Stewart said the recent leadership transitions make her case for a moratorium on radical change in the school system. She noted that Huberman removed six schools from the list shortly after he was appointed. “In the three weeks since Ron Huberman’s come along, he’s found some data and some missing information that he did not like. In three weeks, he pulled six schools. “Scott’s been gone for three years. That means that the two top people making these decisions need to have time to analyze the data. “The process is flawed, and they’re harming students, faculty and the community,” Stewart said. Stewart added that the closures, consolidations, phase outs and turnarounds are hard on the students, especially the homeless. “It is statistically known that when students are moved around the system like that, they lose four to six months of educational process. We have a lot of students who are homeless. “So if the schools are moving and the faculty is changing, you’re harming our students.” Stewart said deadly situations are also a result of CPS plans. “If the students are out there shooting themselves, what’s the emphasis that’s causing a child to harm someone when he gets outside of school? All of us are in danger,” she said. Stewart said she is not against the concept of closing or consolidating schools generally, but some of the under-enrolled schools are the result of gentrification in their surrounding neighborhoods. The under-enrollment has some positive effects, like smaller classroom sizes, which have created academic improvement for some low-income students. “Why does the faculty have to reapply for their jobs if the schools are not underachieving? None of the schools on the list that were closing were underachieving. So the people in the community think their schools are failing if they’re closing. “No, they’re closing schools because of space allocation utilization, which is they’re not using enough rooms. But the school is saying, ‘We’re succeeding.’ You’ve created a small school because of gentrification of the neighborhoods,” she said. Stewart added that about two years ago, the union wrote to the Board about the need for a moratorium on their school plans so they could better check their data before deciding and acting abruptly on them. Stewart noted that state Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-IL) recently passed House Bill 0363, legislation on a school moratorium, through the House Education Committee. The bill is moving to the full House. Michael Scott, who recently returned to governing the board after resigning three years ago, told reporters after the hearing that it wouldn’t make sense to him to have a moratorium. “Have you been to Lathrop?” Scott asked. “Would you send your children to a school where four percent of the children are reading and computing at grade level, whatever the reason was? It’s not the right thing to do.” Schools CEO Ron Huberman agreed with Scott’s assessment. “I believe it would be fundamentally wrong to stop the process where it is today, put a moratorium on this process and make those kids in those low-performing schools continue to go to those schools for years. Every year that they go to those schools, they’re losing a year of academic attainment. It’s a pure fairness equity issue,” Huberman said. Huberman agreed with Stewart that the process is flawed in how CPS makes their decisions to close, consolidate, and phase out schools, and said that in the future, CPS staff and the Board will review the process and explore ways to make the process more transparent. Huberman also said he will communicate better with all the different stakeholders, parents, teachers and principals.

Schools to close, consolidate, turnaround or phase out
The schools proposed to be closed for low enrollment and which are all less than half full:
* Nia Middle School, 2040 W. Adams St. (located in the Cregier Multiplex) * Foundations Elementary School, 2040 W. Adams St. (located in the Cregier Multiplex) * Princeton Elementary, 5125 S. Princeton Ave.* South Chicago Elementary, 8255 S. Houston Ave. Schools approved for consolidation:* Robert Sengstacke Abbott Elementary School at 3630 S. Wells Street, which is to be consolidated into Hendricks, 4316 S. Princeton Ave.* Davis Developmental Center, 9101 S. Jeffrey Blvd., will be consolidated into the new Langston Hughes building at 240 W. 104th St. * Medill Elementary School, 1301 W. 14th St., is to be consolidated into Smyth Elementary School, 1059 W. 13th St.* Schiller Elementary School, 640 W. Scott St., is to be consolidated into Jenner Elementary School, 1119 N. Cleveland Ave. Turnaround schools:* Dulles Elementary School, 6311 S. Calumet Ave. * Johnson Elementary School, 1420 S. Albany Ave.* Bethune Elementary School located at 3030 W. Arthington St., to be managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership. * Fenger High School, 11220 S. Wallace St. Phased-out schools:* Carpenter Elementary School, 1250 W. Erie St.* Lathrop Elementary School, 1440 S. Christiana Ave.* Reed Elementary School, 6350 S. Stewart Ave.* Best Practice High School, 2040 W. Adams St. located in the Cregier Multiplex.

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