Four Chicago neighborhoods to give input on school improvement

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To try and get community buy-in for school closings and new school openings, CPS has chosen four neighborhoods in which officials plan to develop a school improvement plan. The communities–Englewood, Grand Boulevard, Humboldt Park and Austin—all have struggling schools that are prime targets for some type of action from the district.

To try and get community buy-in for school closings and new school
openings, CPS has chosen four neighborhoods in which officials plan to
develop a school improvement plan.

The communities–Englewood, Grand Boulevard, Humboldt Park and
Austin—all have struggling schools that are prime targets for some type
of action from the district.

Officials say the “school action process” will involve informing
parents, teachers and community members about how their schools are
performing and helping them come up with ways to improve them. Then, if a
school doesn’t improve, the community will help decide whether the
school should be shut down, undergo a turnaround or replaced with a new
school.

The process will be led by Bill Gerstein, the former principal of Austin
Polytechnical Academy and South Shore School of Entrepreneurship.

Gerstein says he hopes that through the process, CPS will do a better
job of understanding and preparing for the impact of a school closing or
opening on other neighborhood schools.

“We don’t look at communities as eco-systems, when we should,” Gerstein says.

Each community will have a council made up of residents and lawmakers,
who will be responsible for spearheading discussions. In Austin and
Grand Boulevard, the process will coincide with an initiative funded by
the Chase Foundation to improve education in those communities.

Gerstein also would like to include charter schools in the discussions.

At the same time that CPS is spearheading this effort, the Chicago
Educational Facilities Task Force is about to start holding public
hearings. The first will be held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, August
31st, at Northern Trust Bank, 7801 S. State Street.

In October 2009, the task force was created to “ensure that school
facility-related decisions are made with the input of the community and
reflect educationally sound and fiscally responsible criteria.” It was
sparked by complaints from neighborhood activists that CPS made
decisions about schools without consulting the community.

Cecile Carroll, an education organizer at Blocks Together, says she’s
aware of the new school action process, but is skeptical of its
potential impact because of past experience with the district. Carroll
still thinks there’s a need for state law to govern the school opening
and closing process.

Gerstein is realistic about the fact that there will always be
opposition to drastic school actions, such as closings or turnarounds.
But by “truly being transparent” and upfront, he says, such opposition
can be tempered.