As CPS prepares to close a record number of schools, the fate of students and communities is in question.
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Four schools to close, but CPS wanted more
Days after announcing a record number of school turnarounds, CPS leaders said Wednesday that they will shutter just four schools—yet emphasized that they wanted to close more. What stopped them: a dearth of higher-achieving schools to send students to, a commitment the district had made to parents.
“It is devastating,” said CEO Jean-Claude Brizard regarding the lack of better schools for students whose low-performing schools will be closed. “It is painful.”
A Catalyst Chicago analysis showed that 140 schools met the criteria for low performance detailed in the district’s guidelines for closure and other actions.
Finding higher-performing schools for students of closed schools is a dilemma that faced previous administrations, especially former CEO Ron Huberman, who was the first to present a Student Bill of Rights stating that receiving schools had to be markedly better than those being closed.
On the list of schools Brizard wants to close are Price Elementary in Grand Boulevard and Guggenheim Elementary in Englewood; Dyett High School in Washington Park and Crane High School in East Garfield Park will be phased out—which means, in effect, closing down, since they will no longer take freshmen and will be shuttered when current students graduate.
After a number of public hearings, the Board of Education will vote on the plans at their February school board meeting.
In addition, two schools that are currently in the phase-out process--Lathrop Elementary in North Lawndale and Reed Elementary in Englewood—will be shuttered this year. Together, Reed and Lathop currently serve less than 130 students. (The phase-out at both schools began under previous administrations.)
A Catalyst analysis of the 2012 budget shows that more than 500 teachers and other instructional staff face job uncertainty because of the already-announced 10 turnarounds and the proposed school closings. CPS officials have, thus far, not wanted to talk about how many teachers and other staff would be affected, insisting that the actions are about children, not teachers.
School officials emphasized that as schools are getting ready to close, or in the process of being phased out, they will be provided extra supports, such as instructional coaches and counselors. Also, receiving schools will get additional programs and staff to ease the transition.
At least initially, these moves will cost the district $5 million.
Officials also announced earlier this week that they plan to turn around 10 schools, a process in which the principal is fired, most teachers lose their jobs and the district invests in extra supports and professional development for the school. Officials say they will spend $20 million on the turnarounds.
At the same time district officials are grappling with closings, they are in the midst of trying to navigate issues with new schools. On Wednesday, the Illinois State Board of Education released campus-level student achievement information on charter schools. And, though CPS officials have long released this data, they said on Wednesday that they are going to apply more stringent accountability measures to charter schools.
Brizard said he plans to take some action against one or two low-performing charters this year.
But he also on Wednesday said the school action plan will secure facilities for three existing new schools. Chicago High School for the Arts, a two-year-old contract school, will get a permanent home at Doolittle Elementary School in Bronzeville. Chicago Talent Development High School, a charter, will set up shop in Crane and ACT Charter, which has been out of operation for a year, will re-open in Nash Elementary School.
These actions come at a time when CPS is facing a difficult financial picture with the deficit projected at more than $800 million in fiscal year 2014. Though some education advocates take issue with the specifics of the district’s calculation of space utilization in school facilities, a 2010 report showed that 167 schools were under-utilized by more than 50 percent.
But CPS officials were emphatic that this year, school actions were going to be about making sure students are sent to better schools, not about saving money.
“We are not making changes for efficiency,” said Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley. “It is not fair to the children, regardless of efficiency.”
Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso said that other moves being made by the administration--investing in school turnarounds, lengthening the school day and implementing new, more rigorous standards--should result in better options for receiving schools in the future.
South Side hard hit by actions
Community activists in near South Side communities--where the district’s proposal calls for two schools to be turned around, one to be closed and one phased out--were immediately skeptical of the plan. If these actions are approved, no other neighborhood would be as hard hit.
The plan calls for students at Price Elementary to be sent to National Teachers Academy. NTA is a teacher training academy managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a not-for-profit that runs 12 turnaround schools and seven teacher training academies. AUSL will also take over six more turnaround schools next year.
NTA was built in 2002 and, after a tumultuous opening, has recently posted some strong test scores and was deemed a Performance Level 1 school, the highest level. Cawley, who, up until this spring worked for AUSL, noted that the building is nice—it sits on a large, grassy campus—and has a state-of-the-art swimming pool.
Cawley also said that the district will pay to bus students from Price to NTA, which is about four miles away.
Still, Andrea Lee, an education organizer for the Grand Boulevard Federation, said it doesn’t make sense to her that students from Price will be bused.
“NTA is far away,” she said. “It is a whole different neighborhood.”
Previous school closures have created a situation where students are still bused from one area to another, she says.
Jitu Brown, an education organizer from Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, said that four area schools—Dyett, Price, Fuller and Woodson South (one of the turnaround schools)—that are being targeted for action were on an upward trajectory academically. Some of them were already receiving schools, following closures in recent years; others were hit by principal turnover or lack of support from the district, he said.
“We can directly point to policies that have destabilized these schools,” Brown said.
Brown noted that the receiving school for Dyett students will be Phillips High School, which is in its second year of a turnaround by AUSL. Phillips, which had long been a low-achieving school, received a Performance Level 3 rating this year from the district—the lowest rating a school can receive.
“There is absolutely no record of success,” he said. “There is no proof that AUSL works.”
Students from Crane, the other high school that is being phased out, are slated to be sent to Wells High School, which is a Performance Level 2 school. This year, Wells got a $6 million federal School Improvement Grant to pay for extra supports and help in improving its curriculum and college-going rates.
“Wells has a strong principal,” Donoso said.
Guggenheim Elementary School students will be sent to Reed Elementary School.
Guggenheim was the first school Brizard visited as CEO of CPS. Though the new principal there seemed like she was trying to revive the school and there were some good teachers, Brizard said he immediately observed that the team in place was not up to the job.
“I could feel it,” he said.