Parents, community, students still fighting school closings

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Parents of two relatively high-performing neighborhood schools find
themselves in an unusual position: They are fighting to keep their
schools open.

Parents of two relatively high-performing neighborhood schools find themselves in an unusual position: They are fighting to keep their schools open.

As part of this year’s round of closings and turnarounds, CEO Ron Huberman and the School Board decided to keep other nearby schools open, even though they are under-utilized and lower-performing. But both those schools have nicer facilities, so the faculty and students of Wells Prep in Douglas on the South Side will move to Mollison, while Tilton’s faculty and students will be shipped off to Marconi. (The principals and teachers at Marconi and Mollison will lose their jobs in the consolidation.)

At his January press conference on closings, Huberman admitted that it was, in fact, a case of reverse closure.

But teachers, parents, community groups and even students are skeptical. Tonight, the Mollison and Wells Prep parents are expected to show up in force for a public hearing at district headquarters to question the plans. Last week, about 80 parents and teachers came out for the Marconi-Tilton hearing.

Both Wells Prep and Tilton share buildings with high schools, and allegations are flying that the schools are being displaced to make way for the district’s other plans. Wells is housed in Phillips, one of this year’s turnaround schools. Tilton shares its building with the new and growing Talent Development High School.

Robert Runcie, chief administrative officer for CPS, says that officials have been listening closely to parents and teachers and reconsidering the plans. He notes that last year, officials allowed six schools that were on the closing list to stay open.

Community members suspect CPS wants to be able to overhaul Phillips without worrying about a small elementary school in the building. But firing all of Mollison’s staff to make way for Wells won’t do any good, says Grand Boulevard Federation education organizer Andrea Lee, noting Mollison’s test scores have been on the upswing as of late.

“CPS can’t close Wells in good conscience, but the school stands in the way of its plans for Phillips,” says Lee.

Parents and teachers worry about how the change will affect the children.

“If you change things too fast, their performance will change,” said Jacqueline Terry, a Marconi parent who spoke at the public hearing for Marconi and Tilton. “Our kids are being cast aside.” Three Tilton students also spoke against the plan at the hearing.

Mollison teacher Laura Meili says she is concerned with how her students will adapt to a new teaching staff, as well as how they will perceive themselves in comparison to the academically stronger incoming students.

“There’s so much negative press out there citing Mollison as a poor-performing school,” she says. “The way things get portrayed, they start to think that all of this is their fault when it certainly isn’t.”

Safety is another major concern. Parents of Marconi and Tilton students acknowledge that there is a gang rivalry and prostitution in the neighborhood. CPS officials say they will work with the Chicago Police Department to monitor the new Tilton-Marconi Magnet School until they deem it stable.

Mollison parents are also concerned. “I feel comfortable sending my child to school every day,” says Mollison parent Lashonda Gartley. “I don’t know what the security policies are at Wells. I’m very undecided as to whether I would send my daughter to the new school.”

At Mollison, teachers and parents are asking students to make their voices heard. Meili says that even the first graders have been marching outside of the school chanting “Save our school!”

Above all, parents say they are upset at being left out of the decision-making process. 

“I wish we would have been told sooner than two weeks ago,” says Marconi parent Bridgette Stanciel. “They’re not thinking about the kids. It’s just about the buildings.”

Runcie says that next school year the process will be different, with public discussions happening earlier.

“We want to engage the community on the front end,” he says.