By Lesley R. Chinn
The Chicago Public Schools system is in the midst of shutting down several schools and so far students, parents, and teachers are awaiting the Board of Education’s decision on February 24 to see if they stay open or not.
Right now, five schools are on the list for a turnaround. The proposed turnaround schools are: Bradwell Elementary School, 7736 S. Burnham; Gillespie, 9301 S. State; Deneen, 7257 S. State; Wendell Phillips High School, 244 E. Pershing, and Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams. Under this proposed action, staff and faculty at these schools will be terminated while students remain. New faculty and staff will be brought in to implement new teaching strategies to improve academic achievement.
At Deneen, Joyce Fisher, principal, said the school, which has a population of more than 492 students, has made improvements in academics and attendance under her leadership for the past two years. “The staff has invested greatly in the students,” she said. “When the students come back to the school [in the fall], the only thing that will be familiar to them will be the building.”
Deneen teacher Odessa Jefferson who recently attended a PUSH rally to keep schools open, said she could retire but doesn’t want to. “The students have a special connection with me so why should I retire from a job that I already love,” she asked.
Four schools will be consolidated into other nearby schools due to low enrollment, low or under performance or poor facility conditions: McCorkle, Marconi, Mollison, and Paderewski Elementary Schools. McCorkle, 4421 S. State, will merge into Beethoven Elementary School, 25
W. 47th St. Students from Paderewski, 2221 S. Lawndale will transfer to Mason Elementary School, 4217 W. 18th St. Students from Marconi, 230 N. Kolmar will consolidate with Tilton School, 223 N. Keeler to form the Tilton-Marconi School. Mollison Elementary School, 4415 S. King Dr. will be consolidated with Ida B. Wells Prep Elementary School, 244 E. Pershing Rd. to form the Wells-Mollison School.
George Schneider Elementary School, 2957 N. Hoyne, is under the phase-out plan. When a school is phased out, existing students at the school will stay at the school, but there will not be any enrollment for new students.
Finally, four schools will simply be closed because of poor academic performance or low student enrollment. These schools include: Curtis Elementary School, 32
E. 115th St. The designated receiving schools for Curtis are Haley, 11411 S. Eggleston and Pullman Elementary Schools, 11311 S. Forrestville. Prescott Elementary School located on 1632 W. Wrightwood will be closed. Designated receiving schools are Agassiz, 2851 N. Seminary and Burley Elementary Schools, 1630 W. Barry.
Another school that will be closed is Guggenheim Elementary located at 7141 S. Morgan. The designated schools for Guggenheim students are Hinton, 644 W. 71st St. or Altgeld Elementary School, 1340 W. 71st St.
Guggenheim eighth grader Robert Campbell said he has two younger cousins that currently attend the school, but in the fall they will have to travel seven blocks to another location. “[Guggenheim] is right across the street from their home, but now they would have to cross dangerous paths just to get to school,” he said.
Guggenheim assistant principal Gervaise Clay said she would have to look for another job. “I haven’t started looking yet because I refuse to say our school is going to be closed and we’re going to fight until the very end.”
Students at Bartholome De Las Casas Occupational High School located at 8401 S. Saginaw will be closed because of facility-related reasons. Students from this special needs school will be either placed in private schools that can meet their needs or they will be transferred to Montefiore School, 1310 S. Ashland.
CPS officials have previously defended their decisions on school closings as part of their education reform efforts while touting the benefits of closing underutilized or underperforming facilities. “Our primary obligation is to assess the performance of schools and provide the best possible educational opportunity for students in every school,” said CPS chief Ron Huberman in a written statement. “This means taking a long hard look at every school…and making what can be difficult decisions on whether a school is properly serving its students.
For example, CPS pointed out on their website that when Sherman Elementary School, 1000 W. 52nd St., became a turnaround school in 2006, standardized test scores have increased in reading from 30 percent to 40.3 percent and in math, percentages rose from 26.3 percent to 46.4 percent.
However,a study released last October by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago showed that eight in 10 CPS students displaced by school closings transferred from one low-performing school to another. After one year of school closings, displaced students fell behind a month-in-half in math and reading. This is in contrast to students who transferred to high-performance schools who excelled by nearly a month in the same subjects. The study also pointed out that students have traveled longer distances to get to school.
If a decision is made to close or consolidate a school, CPS officials plan to address public safety concerns of children transferring to another school. They will also work with receiving school principals to extend instruction time in designated receiving schools. These plans are part of provisions presented in the Bill of Rights Initiative presented last December before Board officials. The initiative’s aim is to encourage successful transfers for students impacted by a school closure or consolidation. The Board’s recommendations will not be effective until the school year of 2010-2011.
Previously, there were numerous public hearings at CPS headquarters downtown and community hearings concerning the impacted schools. Huberman said officials will evaluate testimony from previous public and community hearings before recommendations are presented to the Board. He pointed out that he removed six schools last year from proposed school actions list after assessing input from the hearings.
At a Sixth Ward meeting held last Thursday, CPS officials informed residents that they will recommend that Gillespie School be removed from a turnaround list.
CPS chief administrative officer Robert Runcie spoke very highly of Gillespie principal Dr. Michelle Willis, who has been at the school since 2007. Under Willis’ leadership, Gillespie has increased its test scores in 2007 and 2008; improved student attendance by 93 percent and staff attendance by 96 percent; obtained 200 new computers for the school and decreased student discipline problems that occurred in previous years.
“Gillespie is already turning around,” Runcie stated. “[Willis] is already one of the best principals in the academy. I truly believe that. This community is very fortunate to have an educational leader to make the kind of changes in the short period of time that she’s been at the school.”
When she heard the news that Gillespie was going to be a turnaround school, Willis said she was “shocked” because the school had been making improvements in the two years under her leadership despite having a slight decrease in test scores in 2009. “We invited the Board out to see the work that we’ve done and they did come.”
But now after hearing the announcement to recommend that Gillespie be removed from the turnaround list, Willis said that while it sounds like good news, she wants to “wait-and-see” what the Board’s final decision is going to be during a meeting on February 24 at its downtown headquarters. “I don’t know if it’s definite, but we’re trusting that [officials] will take [Runcie’s] advice.”