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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71 school actions in massive district shakeup
In announcing the largest shakeup ever attempted in one year by a major urban school district, CPS officials laid out a complicated plan for a total of 71 actions--closings, co-locations and turnarounds--that will affect more than 30,000 students. (Full list below.)
CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett will recommend that 54 school programs be shut down. Nearly 90 percent of the students in the closing schools are black, though African Americans make up only about 40 percent of the district’s entire student population.
The impact of school actions on black communities has been a major factor driving opposition among activists as well as the Chicago Teachers Union, which held a press conference attacking the actions.
Under this proposal, the communities that would have the most closings are: West Town, Auburn Gresham, Austin, West Englewood and West Pullman.
In addition to the 54 shut-downs, 11 schools will co-locate with another school, eight of them with charter schools. Two severely underutilized high schools—Bowen and Corliss—will share their buildings next year with new Noble Street charter high schools. CPS officials said this will give people in the area two “good, strong” options in one building, but some community members and others are likely to worry that the charters will drain away more students from the neighborhood schools.
Finally, the non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership will get six more schools to “turn around,” a process that entails replacing virtually an entire staff. AUSL is a politically-connected teacher training program that has won national recognition from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. One AUSL school, Bethune Elementary in East Garfield Park, will be closed. Also, Dodge and Morton, two AUSL school, will co-exist in the Morton building.
The board is set to vote on this proposal at its May 22 meeting. Before then, CPS will hold three hearings on each recommendation, two in the affected communities and one with an independent hearing officer at its downtown headquarters.
Cost savings, teacher layoffs
Initially, these moves will cost CPS money but over 10 years, the district will save about $1 billion, said Chief Transformation Officer Todd Babbitz. The savings are a combination of $560 million in capital costs and $430 million in operating costs.
Critics will likely argue that less than $1 billion in savings over 10 years is not a lot of money, considering CPS has a $5 billion yearly budget.
But Babbitz and other officials said the school district is not only closing schools to save money, but also to make the remaining schools better.
At the welcoming schools, CPS plans to make $155 million in capital investments and spend $78 million in “up front” operating costs.
The initial investment is high as CPS officials have spent the last week announcing the various things they plan to provide for welcoming schools. Each will get air conditioning, a library, a science lab and computer lab, as well as a social worker and other social supports for students. In addition, safe passage workers will watch over students as they make their way to their new school. Students at a handful of schools will get bus transportation.
CPS leaders earlier today announced that 19 schools will get specialty programs, such as International Baccalaureate or fine arts programs. These will be magnet cluster programs, which maintain an attendance boundary, but can take students if they have space. Officials could not say on Thursday how many extra staff these schools will get for these programs.
Spokeswoman Becky Carroll argued that the district is prioritizing these welcoming schools, many of which will become the neighborhood schools.
“These are communities that have been under-resourced and underserved for years,” she said. “We want to give them all the things that they need that they do not have now.”
At the Chicago Teachers Union press conference, President Karen Lewis lambasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who reportedly is on vacation with his family. “This is not going to save money, it is going to cost money and it is going to leave abandoned buildings,” she said.
CPS officials could not immediately say how many teachers will be laid off as part of the upheaval. As part of the new teacher’s contract, those teachers from closed schools get to follow their students to a new school, if they are tenured and highly-rated.
But at the press conference, little was said about the fate of teachers. Lewis, parents and teachers said they worried most about the students.
Kohn lunchroom attendant Takeeva Thompson said that at her school, a 7-year-old was killed and other students have been shot. She said the school is a haven for students. “We are either giving them a gun or a book,” she said.
Nina Gibbs, a parent of a student at Mahalia Jackson, said the plan calls for her daughter to go to Fort Dearborn Elementary. “That is on the other side of the tracks,” she said. “What kind of safety and security are they going to have? You have already got a lot of children here been shot, beat up, kidnapped. What about the parents who will no longer be [in] walking distance from the school?”
Safety a top concern for parents
Adam Anderson, the district's officer of portfolio, planning and strategy, said that officials took into account the concerns about safety that parents and residents expressed at the 28 community hearing held this winter.
Among the things that CPS officials heard were that people want a school in their area and they don’t want children to have to cross barriers, such as railroad tracks, to get to school. Anderson said it also was important to him and other school leaders that children were sent to better facilities and better schools.
But all these criteria created quite a puzzle for CPS leaders and this is evident by the plan they laid out. In several situations a school program closes, meaning the administration is displaced, but the children stay in the building. The principal and staff from a better-performing school take over that closed school program, leaving their building empty.
For the first time perhaps ever, CPS will try to combine three schools into one building and, in at least one case, the district will split children from one closed school up between two schools.
These unusual combinations left some people in the community with their head spinning. Dwayne Truss, an activist in Austin, said he was trying to get his head around all the proposals for his community.
“Some of this is just crazy,” he said.
|Wentworth||Wentworth @ Atgeld|
|Armstrong||May into Leland|
|Banneker||Mays @ Banneker|
|Von Humboldt||De Diego|
|Melody||Melody @ Delano|
|Wadsworth||Wadsworth @ Dumas|
|Emmett||Ellington and DePriest|
|Fermi||South Shore Fine Arts|
|Herbert||Dett @ Herbert|
|M. Jackson||Fort Dearborn|
|Kohn||Cullen, Lavizzo, L.Hughes|
|Lawrence||Burnham @ Lawrence|
|Mayo||Wells @ Mayo|
|Pershing West||Pershing East @ Pershing West|
|Ryerson||Ward @ Ryerson|
|Sexton||Fiske @ Sexton|
|Stockton||Courtenay @ Stockton|
|Trumbull||Chappell, McPherson and McCuteheon|
|Williams||Drake @ Williams; co-locate with Urban Prep|
|Mason||closes high school|
|Crane with Chicago Talent Development H.S.|
|Noble-Comer with Revere|
|New Noble HS with Bowen|
|Montessori of Englewood with O'Toole|
|Kwama Nkrumah Charter Gresham|
|New KIPP with Hope HS|
|Disney II expanision with Marshall Middle|
|Belmont Cragin with Northwest Middle|
|Noble HS with Corliss|
|Dodge with Morton|
|Drake with Urban Prep for Young Men--Bronzeville|