Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Barbara Byrd-Bennett today announced that CPS is proposing that "61 elementary school facilities will be removed from our footprint." Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis countered by saying that the closing are "racist, classist and unnecessary." Lewis said that the closing would send the "school district into utter chaos" and she vowed to "fight."
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett called it a "series of significant new investments to create a quality, 21st century education for children currently enrolled in 54 underutilized, under-resourced schools and programs recommended for closure."
Barbara Byrd-Bennett argues that "by consolidating these schools, CPS can focus on safely getting each child into a better performing “welcoming school” near their current school this fall with all the tools they need to succeed." The list has been whittled down by 276 schools originally under "consideration for closure as part of a rigorous, three-month community engagement process around the District’s utilization crisis."
Byrd-Bennett is promising "investments" into what she calls "welcoming schools" that will include nearly 70 additional libraries and computer, engineering, media and science labs that are currently not offered. Air conditioning in all the new "welcoming schools" that do not already have it.
But Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis isn't buying it, as she called for a news conference late this afternoon at Mahaila Jackson Elementary School on the southside of Chicago in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. The school is one of the 61 school building proposed to be closed by Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the Chicago Public Schools.
Karen Lewis told the throng of reporters that “We are standing here today in the beautiful Mahaila Jackson elementary school in our city’s Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. This school was named for one of the greatest gospel singers in our nation’s history, a woman who sang at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral, a woman who was instrumental in our Civil Rights struggle."
"Unfortunately, we are gathered here today not to talk about this pioneer or even about how this school does an outstanding job of providing a great learning community for some of our special needs students," said Karen Lewis."We are standing here because this school, along with scores of others, has been targeted for closure by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Public School district."
Karen Lewis continued questioning the timing of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's scheduled ski vacation and the announcement of the school closings. “I also find it extremely cowardly for the Mayor’s administration to announce these actions while he is vacationing out of town."
"They are also making this announcement days before people are headed into spring break. CPS has spun our entire district into utter chaos, a management model perfected on Clark Street where they are headquartered. This city cannot destroy that many schools at one time; and, we contend that no school should be closed in the city of Chicago. These actions will not only put our students’ safety and academics careers at risk but also further destabilize our neighborhoods," said Karen Lewis.
The CTU President Karen Lewis also announced a rally, "united and strong," on Wednesday, March 27. In particularly harsh language, Karen Lewis labeled Mayor Emanuel as the "murder mayor."
Karen Lewis said, "He is murdering public services. Murdering our ability to maintain public sector jobs and now he has set his sights on our public schools." Lewis also questioned the justification for the school closings, based on the CPS claim that these schools are "underutilized" and that CPS faces a "billion-dollar deficit."
"CPS continues to peddle an ‘underutilization myth’ and ‘billion dollar deficit lie’ as justification for their actions. When research and the facts prove them wrong they simply reconfigure their talking points in order to further perpetrate their sham and to keep us playing their school reform games," Karen Lewis said.
Lewis was joined by a group of aldermen, called the "progressive caucus," that came out strong against the closings. The members of the Chicago Progressive Reform Coalition are Alderman John Arena (45); Alderman Bob Fioretti (2); Alderman Toni Foulkes (15); Alderman Leslie Hairston (5); Alderman Rick Munoz (22); Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6); Alderman Nick Sposato (36); and Alderman Scott Waguespack (32).
In a statement issued by the Chicago Progressive Reform Coalition said that they "are concerned that the plan disproportionately targets schools serving African-American and Latino children.As a result, this massive closure would leave entire neighborhoods as virtual 'school deserts,' disrupting the lives of children and families and depressing property values."
"The impact of these closings is overwhelmingly negative and socially costly: It will have a negative impact on children who are forced to travel long distances to the receiving school, or to be bussed out of their communities," said the aldermanic caucus. "Children will have to travel through unfamiliar and possibly dangerous neighborhoods beset with gang activity. Schools which receive children will be at risk of overcrowding, thus negatively affecting both the new arrivals and the children already in the receiving schools."
The Chicago Tribune reported that even allies of the mayor are starting to turn on him as a result of the school closings, as Alderman Carrie Austin (34) blasted the move to close the school. "Rahm Emanuel, I've been a supporter of yours since day one, but you've done us wrong this time," said Alderman Carrie Austin. "He's forgetting about the people who helped put him in office."
"I don't think anything is a done deal in this city. I'm not going to let them do this to us, not again," said Alderman Carrie Austin. "Every time the whites get to screaming and hollering, they back off and steamroll over black and brown folks. Not this time."
Alderman Willie Cohran (20) made a much broader charge about the mayor. "It is just unfortunate they don't show more respect for the alderman in any of the decisions that they make. There should have been briefings before it became public," Alderman Cochran said.
Further, Alderman Cochran said Emanuel's administration has failed to listen to black aldermen who have been generally supportive. "If you look at the city's investments in the communities, it speaks for itself."
The CPS argues that by redirecting resources from closing underutilized facilities, CPS will be able to provide students from those schools with access to better performing options close to their current school. All welcoming schools will receive investments as needed to provide students access to schools with enhanced learning environments, including:
Air conditioning in every classroom
Library in every school
Safe Passage for every school to provide increased security for students on their way to and from school
iPads for all students in grades 3-8
New and upgraded technology supports including expanded Internet bandwidth
A dedicated Principal Transition Coordinator, who will be a former CPS principal or assistant principal, to support students transitioning from sending schools to welcoming schools next fall
All students with disabilities, students in temporary living situations, and English Language Learners will continue to receive required services to support their learning. In addition, CPS will monitor instructional quality and provide supports for families. Students in temporary living situations will be provided counseling to help them understand their enrollment options.
Based on the needs of individual schools and student bodies, welcoming school principals may receive additional supports and upgrades such as:
Security and safety supports, including alarms and entry screening equipment
Improved ADA accessibility
Upgraded interiors and cosmetic improvements, including fresh paint, masonry work, new windows, new ceilings and floors, and others
Improved food service capacity through enhanced lunch rooms and food services as needed to accommodate and service the new welcoming school student body
Based on the needs of individual schools and student bodies, welcoming school principals will be able to choose from a menu of academic, engagement, and social and emotional options to support students and the entire school community. Examples include:
Academic supports such as tutoring, instructional coaches andintervention software
Student engagement to provide student mentoring and leadership opportunities, joint field trips, and welcoming week activities
Social and emotional supports for counseling and social work resources, and training on assisting students with coping skills and managing stress
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is recommending the District close 54 underutilized schools and programs, co-locate 11 others and six turnarounds, for a total of 71 actions. At the start of this process, CPS has identified 330 underutilized schools for review and public comment. Feedback from over 20,000 community members who attended nearly 30 public meetings, in addition to recommendations from the independent Commission on School Utilization, helped CPS create criteria that has removed a total of 276 schools from consideration for closure.
The Chicago Board of Education is expected to vote on these proposals at the May 22 board meeting. As required by state law, CPS will hold a total of two community meetings and one public hearing on each school proposed for closure, phase-out, or colocation to continue getting feedback from school communities.
The Chicago Teachers Union will be there. So will some aldermen.
Author's note: To see a list of the 61 schools to close, click here.
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John is the author of an award-winning book, the 2010 Winner of the USA National Best Book award for African American studies, published by The Elevator Group, Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots. Also available an eBook on Amazon. John is also a member of the Society of Midland Authors and is a book reviewer of political books for the New York Journal of Books . John has volunteered for many political campaigns.