This has been the most depressing spring break ever. My son's school is closing.
He brought home a packet of the most confusing letters and forms I've ever seen from CPS. I can't really decipher them, much less the majority of the parents at the school who don't speak English very well, if at all. Lucky for me, he is already set to attend Kindergarten at another school with his sister next fall. But that's not the case for most students at the school, not to mention the teachers and staff.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett, or BBB as most refer to her, has come into our district and cleaned house with the plans to close 54 schools, immediately affecting over 100 schools and eventually trickling through the whole system.
We've heard the laundry list of reasons: under-utilized, low performance, costly building repairs, and on and on. But the truth is, not every targeted school meets up to these claims.
For example, my son's school, Trumbull Elementary, was said to be 54% utilized, but CPS failed to account for the one third special education population. This means they calculated all of the classrooms to be filled at 30 students, yet the special ed classrooms can hold only 8 or 13 students, depending on the specific type. This means the school is more than 80% utilized.
But CPS has been unwilling to correct this error, even though two notable organizations have published the information: Raise your Hand Illinois and Apples to Apples. You can link to it through another great website: schoolcuts.org.
Trumbull has a principal, in only her second year, who is doing amazing things with the school. She spent her first year reviving the school, creating new ways for parents and community members to get involved, and finally getting a functional LSC after the former one had been in place for years. Now the students are engaged by great new teachers including four that are National Board Certified, and parent/community involvement has never been higher. The school is in a more promising position than ever. So why is it closing?
The building needs repairs, and it happens to be sitting on a very valuable piece of land. And CPS really has a business plan in place, not a plan to improve our children's education. If you look at the group of northside schools, it's pretty easy to see that the school closures were really determined as a real estate transaction. Close, consolidate, shuffle, empty out the buildings on the valuable land, and sell the real estate.
But does CPS really need to spend $16.3 M on the renovation of the Trumbull building, as was cited in my packet? Or can their credibility be questioned? Maybe it won't cost anywhere near that to renovate Trumbull, and maybe the estimates for other schools are way off too. CPS is lacking back-up information - that is supposed to be presented at a meeting next week - so how did they already make these decisions and come up with these numbers? Given their credibility in other areas, then how can we trust this?
With all the promise of better schools for our children, why are schools planned to close and relocate to other schools that in some cases are lower performing? And how can you consolidate all of these kids and not increase class size? Easy, go to 120% capacity. That's what it seems the CPS plan is, which will ultimately force all schools into bigger class sizes, something many parents have avoided by choosing smaller schools. And then there's the ever-present safety issue that exists when you suddenly have rival gang members walking around the same school hallways.
CPS thinks charter schools are what we all want, and there's even been some recent editorials boasting the high number of applicants for charter schools. But as one CPS principal said, how many kids are on waitlists for selective enrollment high schools and elementary schools? The answer is a lot more.
In the coming weeks, as the 60 day appeal takes place, there will be teachers and school staff looking for jobs, parents trying to figure out what to do, hearings, protests and alot of media attention. If CPS goes through with their plan, let's see if they can deliver on all of their lofty promises and wishful timeline.
But no matter what happens, it's a sad day in the city of Chicago to think of so many shuttered school buildings where kids are now happily learning.
See more of Heather's stories here.