Despite protests, Chicago Public Schools continue with closings

By Stephanie Saviola

After months of public outrage and protests, Chicago Public Schools and the Board of Education are slowly making headway in the ongoing matter of school closings and consolidations.

During the past few weeks, Chicago Public Schools removed seven of the 14 schools from the closing or turnaround list. For some concerned parents and teachers, progress is being made, but many are still dissatisfied with the news.

“It is a step in the right direction, but until there are no schools closing without real justification and real study, I think the whole process is flawed,” said Jack Moran, vice president of Coalition for a Strong Democratic Union.

On Feb. 24, Chicago’s Board of Education held a meeting at 125 S. Clark St., with a full roster of public participants. More than 500 people attended the meeting, and 50 people spoke during the public participation portion. An overflow room was needed for the large attendance number.

Protestors gathered, once again, outside CPS headquarters hours before the meeting in a last effort plea to stop further closings, consolidations or turnarounds.

“We want a cooperative meeting, working together, to improve the conditions for the students,” said Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman in the beginning of

the meeting.

The purpose of a turnaround school is to remove existing faculty and staff and bring in new staff. Schools are turned around due to poor academic performance.

During the meeting, several aldermen, including Sandi Jackson (7th Ward), Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) and Ed Smith (28th Ward) appeared to speak on behalf of schools in their wards.

Jackson asked the board to consider the best solution for the children of Myra Bradwell Elementary School.

“I am asking the board to give the school another chance,” Jackson said during the meeting. “Is it in the best interest of the children to take away people who they interact

with everyday?”

Despite Jackson’s plea for help and months of protesting, Myra Bradwell Elementary School will be converted into a turnaround school, according to Huberman. He shared the news with the meeting participants and the public after the board had made their final decision.

“I’m saddened by the decision to make Bradwell a turnaround school, but I trust that Mr. Huberman and his staff have done a thorough job of reviewing the facts and making the decision that is in the best interest of the children,” Jackson said in response to the decisions made by the board. “I am hopeful that expectations can be made to retain those that are adding positive contributions to the education provided at Bradwell.”

A total of eight schools will be part of the closing or consolidation plan. The changes will take place for the 2010-2011 academic school year, Huberman announced. Besides Bradwell Elementary, the following schools will be turned around due to low academic performance: Curtis Elementary, Deneen Elementary, Wendell Phillips High School and John Marshall High School.

John Marshall High School turnaround will be conducted by the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of School Turnaround. The rest of the schools due to be turned around will be conducted by the Academy of Urban School Leadership.

McCorkle Elementary will be consolidated into Ludwig van Beethoven Elementary School. George Schneider Elementary will be phased out due to low enrollment. And Bartolome de Las Casas Occupational High School is the only school closing for the time being. According to the Board of Education, Las Casas is closing due to

facility-related issues.

“This is indeed a sad day for public education in Chicago,” Dowell said during the meeting. “A lot of schools are being penalized for years of disinvestment from Chicago Public Schools.”

The debate about school closures has been ongoing for several years. But it wasn’t until recently, when the Board of Education members started taking initiatives to make changes to the schools, that concerned parents and teachers joined the fight.

“They need to do what is right and save all 14 schools,” said Mark Ochoa, financial secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union. “The program [the board has used since 2001] has  been running down the track un-engineered. It has had no guidance. It needs to be stopped, re-evaluated and done correctly.”

In 2009, according to the Consortium on Chicago School Research, about 100 schools in Chicago suffer from chronically high rates of teacher turnovers. Some schools lose more than a quarter of their teaching staff every school year.

Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart met with protestors outside and spoke during the meeting to share her disappointment with the

board members.

“Instead of fighting against your faulty process, we should all be fighting for funding for public education,” Stewart said.

She argued that the turnaround model does not work and is not in the best interest of students of Chicago Public Schools.

“This is absolutely wrong and it is immoral and it dishonors students,” Stewart said.  Instead of creating a culture of calm, in which [Huberman] advocates, it is creating chaos.”

During the meeting, the board also announced the official new Board president, Mary Richardson-Lowry.