Six Chicago schools spared closing, fight continues

CHICAGO – Local grassroots efforts by parents, teachers, students and community supporters here has paid off, for now, after Chicago Public Schools Chief Ron Huberman announced that six schools will be spared from a list of 22 schools the Board of Education is expected to close or reorganize.

Huberman said it was community input from parents and teachers at public hearings that helped him and school officials in its decision to keep the schools open.

One of the more outspoken groups fighting to keep its school doors open were supporters from Peabody elementary, a school in the West Town neighborhood. Local School Council member Lillie Gonzalez has put three generations of her family through the school.

“It’s like a dream. Oh God, I’m very happy,” said Gonzalez to Breaking News reporters from the Chicago Tribune’s website. “Peabody is so family oriented. We’ve come a long way,” she said.

Other schools that will remain open include two high schools, Global Visions and Las Casas Occupational, and three elementary schools, Holmes, Yale and Hamilton.

“Closing a school is not an easy task, nor is it popular,” said Huberman to reporters. “But it is our responsibility to be inclusive and open-minded so that we achieve and end result that benefits the students, parents, and community.”

Only one of the 62 schools recommended by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for closure in the past eight years has managed to remain open, prior to Huberman’s recent announcement. Unfortunately that school was recommended for closing the following year.

At the Jan. 28 rally, where the World reported hundreds of parents, students and teachers protested the school closings, it was clear that these school communities were organized and fighting mad. (see related story )

Dozens of parents argued at last months board meeting that schools like Hamilton should remain open due to its high student performance, diverse racial makeup and increasing parental involvement. Compared with the CPS average state testing standards at 64 percent in 2008, supporters of Hamilton point out their students met or exceeded that number at eighty-one percent. School officials argue that more needs to be done to address under-enrollment at the school.

One parent at Hamilton, Aaron Baar, told the Chicago Journal that he was surprised that Hamilton was spared.

“A victory is a victory,” said Baar. “A victory against a bureaucracy like the CPS system is an even better victory. I went down to the meeting. I read my speech and posted it on my Facebook account, but even I thought that I was tilting at windmills,” he said.

Stacey Paradis is the Local School Council chairperson at Hamilton and told the Journal she is very excited that her school will stay open. “We’re going to continue to improve this great school, which never deserved to be phased out in the first place,” said Paradis.

Las Casas is the only high school in the district that serves special needs students and was allowed to remain open after parents were concerned with having to send their children to four privately run schools in the area.

Ladwanna Harrison is a teacher at Holmes elementary where prior to the announcement by Huberman the school was scheduled for “turn-around” meaning the entire staff and every worker at the building was going to be laid off and expected to reapply.

“You stand up for what you believe in, and I think we all believe that we’ve been doing the right thing,” said Harrison to Chicago Public Radio. “We believe in our students, we believe in Holmes. And we stood up for that,” she said.

Despite the six schools that will remain open a coalition of parents, teachers, labor leaders, students and community activists are still outraged that other schools are slated for closing and reorganizing. They are expected to protest at the boards meeting Feb. 25 where a final decision will be made about the remaining schools slated for closure or reorganization.

The school district contends that many of the schools in question have low enrollment and are failing academically.

Many critics charge that Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 plan is part of long-term privatization scheme of public education that targets poor neighborhoods where populations are decreasing due to destruction of public housing and skyrocketing rents.

The majority of students enrolled in Chicago’s public schools are Black and Latino.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Cynthia Soto (4th District) and other lawmakers in Springfield have introduced legislation that would place a moratorium on school closings, phase-outs, turnarounds and consolidations. House Bill 363, which recently made it out of committee with a 20-0 vote, would require a committee of experts to assemble and review cases of shutdowns and develop criteria for evaluating proposals.