The historic closing of 49 elementary schools in Chicago left many parents bitter and feeling left out as they try to get involved in new schools. Yet parent engagement is essential for school improvement, and principals are faced with the challenge of building trust at schools that scored poorly on surveys of parent involvement.
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CPS officials make charter recommendations
Even as CPS is in the midst of intense discussions about which schools to close, district officials announced late Friday afternoon that they were recommending the opening of five new charter and contract schools and the adding of grades at three schools.
They did not provide requested information on how many children will be served by these new or expanded schools, should the recommendations be approved.
The recommendations immediately drew criticism from the Chicago Teachers Union Spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin, who called it a “glaring contradiction. “CPS continues to pour resources into a counterproductive model for school reform,” Gadlin said.
CPS will hold a single hearing on these plans at 5 p.m. on Dec. 13 at school district headquarters, 125 S. Clark St. As they usually do, the Board of Education will be asked to approve the new charter and contract schools at the December meeting without knowing the school’s location. At this point in the year, many of them are still looking for space.
In the release, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett reiterates a pledge that she made to the state legislature that no new charter or contract schools will go into buildings of schools closed this year. Byrd-Bennett will work with charters and contract schools to go into areas that are overcrowded, according to the release.
Unlike year’s past, none of the new charters will be part of existing networks. However, last year, existing charter school operators, such as Noble Street and UNO, were given the go-ahead to open several charters in Fall of 2013.
One contract school, an alternative school to serve dropouts who want to reenroll called Camelot, is being recommended.
The recommended charter schools are all new names. One of them is Orange School, an arts-focused elementary school.
Two of the others are Foundations College Prep and Intrinsic School. They have already received $450,000 grants from the Next Generation Learning Challenges, a school initiative funded by Bill and Melinda Gates. Former CPS administrator Melissa Zaikos is the founder and CEO of Intrinsic and she plans to open one school each year for five years. Foundations College Prep, set to be located on the Far South Side, is being founded by Micki O'Neil, who started her career as an investment banker.
The fourth charter school, Chicago Collegiate Charter School, is being founded by a former KIPP teacher and an executive with Teach for America.
CPS also could be faced with having to open charter schools that leaders didn't recommend. Three of the charters that had applications pending with CPS, but didn’t win a recommendation, already filed appeals with the Illinois State Charter School Commission, said Andrew Broy, executive director of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.
The commission, established by a state law last year, can approve charters denied by districts.
Broy notes that CPS officials are only recommending local, homegrown charter schools, even though national operators, such as Rocketship Education out of California and Basis Charter School from Arizona had applied.
Broy says that the commission has never considered appeals from Chicago and that charter school proposals they considered in the past were not strong.
“This will be the commission’s first real test,” he said.
Schools to serve more grades
Four of the recommendations--Foundations and Intrinsic charter schools, as well as Marine Military Academy and Rickover Naval Academy--will create schools that serve students from middle school or junior high school (6th or 7th grade) through the end of high school.
Disney II, a magnet school in the north side neighborhood of Irving Park, would start in kindergarten and go through 12th grade, if the recommendation is accepted.
CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said that expanding schools is one way to give parents more “high quality school options.”
But the news that CPS was set to expand Marine Military Academy was immediately met with alarm.
For the past few months, parents and activists from Logan Square Neighborhood Association have been fighting to prevent Marine Military Academy from moving into Ames Middle School. Currently, Marine Military Academy shares a building with Phoenix Military Academy.
A few months ago, they got wind that Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward) was interested in having Marine Military School housed at Ames Middle School. In a newsletter, Maldonado argued that Ames is underutilized and could fill a need in the community.
“Relocating or expanding this school will not only benefit the current students but give the 26th Ward its first high school that provides a safe learning environment,” he writes.
Parents and activists from Ames say they don’t want a military school and think it would be unfair for a student to have to don a military uniform to attend. Also, they want to keep Ames a neighborhood school. Military schools are allowed to select their students based on test scores, grades and interviews.
At a packed community meeting in November, Ames parents presented a survey that showed 87 percent of parents don’t want a military academy.
CPS Executive Director of Family and Community Engagement Phillip Hampton was at the meeting and said he knew nothing of plans to convert Ames to a military school. He said he would bring the concerns of the parents back to the CPS portfolio office, which is in charge of such decisions.
On Friday, Ziegler said, even if the expansion of Marine Military Academy is approved, it does not mean that Ames is doomed.
“We will work with our families and the community to determine a strategic location for the school keeping in mind our goal of providing a high quality option for every child in every neighborhood and based on the needs of our students and their families,” she said.