For the record: Closed schools, more students for turnarounds

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When Chicago Public Schools officials talked about closing Price Elementary School in Bronzeville and Guggenheim in Englewood, they stressed that students would transfer to better schools.

What they didn’t talk much about publicly was where future students living in the Price and Guggenheim attendance boundaries would go. In fact, most will be assigned to schools that are currently no better than Price and Guggenheim, but are slated to be turned around next year. In turnarounds, the district fires the current staff, including the principal, hires a new staff, and provides them with more resources.

New students in Price’s territory will go to Fuller and Woodson South; those from the Guggenheim area will go Stagg. The turnaround process at Stagg and Fuller will be handled by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a not-for-profit educational management organization, and the turnaround process at Woodson South will be managed by the CPS Office of School Improvement.

CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus says CPS officials explained the change in attendance boundaries to parents and community members in letters and in person.

Margo Murray, a special education teacher at Price, said parents realized the distinction, but were confused. “That is the whole ball of wax,” she said. “They have lower test scores than us. It doesn’t make any sense.”

CPS officials said that with the track record of turnarounds, the new students can expect a better experience. Turnarounds, they said, have been proven to raise expectations for children and improve a school’s climate and culture, as well as increase test scores.

“The students will be walking into a dramatically better school than Guggenheim or Price,” Sainvilus said. She said Guggenheim was the worst school in the city last year so virtually anywhere else would be better. (Fuller’s composite ISAT score was worse than Guggenheim’s.)

CPS officials point to overall trends, but their data show that the narrative of each turnaround school is different. Several saw a decrease in test scores during the first year, and then rebounded in subsequent years. Many saw increases in composite test scores that were driven mostly by math, but minimal gains in reading.

Sherman, the turnaround school run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership since 2006, still has only half its students reading at grade level. Meanwhile, Fulton, a turnaround run by the Office of School Improvement since 2008, has only 43 percent of students reading at grade level—10 percent less than at Price.

The assignment of future students in the Price and Guggenheim attendance areas is part of a trend. Increasingly, students from closed schools are being funneled to turnarounds, most of which are being run by AUSL.

Students from Dyett, a phase-out, will be assigned to Phillips, a school in its second year of being turned around by AUSL. Students from Lathop, another closing school, will be rerouted to Johnson Elementary, a 2009 turnaround run by AUSL.

More such reassignments can be expected. CPS leadership has been clear that in a district with 251 schools on probation and 310 schools underutilized, more closings are on the way.

The problem, according to Chief Portfolio Officer Oliver Sicat, is that there aren’t enough better-performing options.  “Turnaround schools create high-performing options,” he told board members in December.