Protestors unite to stop school closings

By Stephanie Saviola

Hundreds of displeased people dressed in red gathered in front of Chicago Public Schools’ headquarters at 4 p.m. on Feb. 10 to protest a recent announcement of plans to close, consolidate and phase out several public schools. The crowd was composed mostly of teachers, union workers, upset parents and a few students.

Protestors said they wore red to demonstrate their anger about the

proposed plans.

The picketing was in response to Chicago Public School officials announcing the closing of four schools: George W. Curtis Elementary, Simon Guggenheim Elementary, William H. Prescott Elementary and Las Casas Occupational

High School.

“They are closing schools without following procedure,” said Caryn Block, who has taught at Haugan Elementary School for the past 21 years. “They are doing this without any thought. They are hurting children, teachers and communities.”

Along with the four schools they are planning to close, CPS officials are planning to consolidate four other schools, turn around five and phase out one school. The purpose of a turnaround school is to bring in new administrators to a school where there are low testing scores and

low enrollment.

Chicago Public School officials are proposing this plan to the Chicago Board of Education and if passed, it would be effective for the 2010 to 2011 school year.

Chicago Public School officials declined to talk to The Chronicle in response to the protest, but CPS said in a news release, “We encourage parents, community leaders and other stakeholders to express their First Amendment rights and make their voices heard.”

But most protestors felt disgruntled about the way everything was handled by CPS. Some even claim that they were denied the chance to speak at board meetings regarding matters of closing and consolidating schools.

“I’m not saying we don’t need improvement,” said Jack Moran, vice president of the Coalition for a Strong Democratic Union. “We need to improve, but talk to people in the schools, the teachers, the staff, the principle and work with us, not against us.”

According to Ron Huberman, chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools, the proposed actions are the result of months of study, analysis and outreach. The idea for the school closings and consolidations was presented to the Chicago Board of Education during a meeting in December 2009.

Many protestors felt that it was not about poor test scores and enrollment, but more of a political issue.

“It is not about the children anymore, it is about the money,” said Willy Richard III, Chicago Teachers Union delegate and Columbia alumnus. “What happened to all that money [President Barack Obama] sent to Chicago to be used for the schools?”

Demonstrators also discussed their uncertainties with the way “Renaissance 2010” is turning out. Renaissance 2010 was first proposed in 2004 and the goal was to create 100 new public schools by the

year 2010.

“The problem is the board has been privatizing public schools and giving public funding to private organizations with no proof that there has been any improvement in education,” Moran said.

There are three different types of renaissance schools and one of them is a charter school, which is free from state laws and board policies.

“This is all part of Mayor Daley’s big plan to privatize [public] schools,” Block said. “[Privatization] is not working, but no one is checking.”

According to a statement released by Marilyn Stewart, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, everyone wants schools to succeed and no one wants that more than the educators in the classroom. But closing schools and removing highly qualified and certified teachers in the name of “educational opportunities” is

just wrong.

There are currently 32,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union.

“[As of right now], there are 16 schools that are going through hearings and hopefully we are going to stop some, but this is a large number and it’s been getting worse year after year,” Moran said.

There will be meetings held throughout the next few months regarding the plans for future school closings.