UNO packs charter school community forum

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A standing-room-only crowd packed Saturday’s community forum on eight proposals for new charter schools and expansions. Charter school proponents far outnumbered the opponents, who blamed late notice and the forum’s location for their side’s low turnout.

A standing-room-only crowd packed Saturday’s community forum on eight proposals for new charter schools and expansions. Charter school proponents far outnumbered the opponents, who blamed late notice and the forum’s location for their side’s low turnout.
Matthew Luskin, a union organizer and CPS parent, said charter school operators were notified of the meetings before CPS announced them to the public. Also, many charter school opponents assumed the meetings did not cover proposed schools in their area, since they were not in their neighborhood. 
Within the last week, CPS posted notice of the community forum. District officials organized it and another forum scheduled for Tuesday evening in response to a large number of people who attended the December Board of Education meeting to speak against the proposed charters. 
At that meeting, board members took the unusual step of putting off voting on the charter schools. Among the proposed charter schools are a Montessori School for Englewood and a Legal Prep High School for West Town. Also, the three biggest charter school operators–Chicago International Charter School, United Neighborhood Organization and Noble Street–have pending proposals to add campuses. 
Supporters came out to support the existing charter school operators, especially from UNO, which wants to add three elementary campuses and expand its middle school in Gage Park into the high school grades. Many had signs and tambourines; the group also had half a dozen mariachi musicians in tow, who burst into song when the school’s presentation was introduced. 
Noble Street Charter School parent Gerardo Negrete, whose child previously attended an UNO school, came dressed in a cape and costume – an allusion to the movie “Waiting for ‘Superman.’” In the movie “Waiting for Superman” charter schools were presented as the antidote to failing public schools.  
“I’m here to save the local communities, the local neighborhoods, so people have a choice,” he said. “There’s no more waiting. I am what all local neighborhoods want, an opportunity to choose.”
Parent Irana Gonzalez, who was wearing a blue UNO beret, said she came to the event because she has seen the positive things the charter schools offer.
“The difference in the education is very obvious,” she said. “The behavior, the academic improvement of the child, the parental involvement.”
Juan Rangel, CEO of the United Neighborhood Organization, said it was “very easy” to mobilize the parents. “When you give parents options, which is what they want, and you threaten to take those options away, they come out in force,” he said. “We shouldn’t deny them options.”
Cheering from the parents frequently drowned out the CPS officials and presenters running the meeting. 
But charter school opponents managed to fill the question and answer session with questions about charter teachers’ qualifications and how they are verified; how CPS can find funding for charter schools when there is a budget crisis; and why UNO does not offer students bilingual classes. 
UNO offers offer English immersion, based on the philosophy that students in CPS take too long to learn English.
“We don’t believe it should take them 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 years to learn a language,” Rangel responded. “Our students are very good (at learning).”
More than one heated argument broke out between charter foes and supporters. And during a lull while CPS officials gathered Q&A cards, a man stood up and loudly tried to turn the UNO parents against the district by asking why CPS had not provided Spanish translation for the meeting. He was countered by an UNO supporter who asserted the parents could understand what was going on, and could fill each other in.