CPS board approves only two new charter schools

December 19, 2012

CPS board members gave the nod Wednesday to two charter schools and the expansion of three traditional schools, but deferred action on two other charters.

The board approved Intrinsic Charter School and Chicago Collegiate Charter School, as well as the addition of 7th and 8th grades to Marine Military Academy and Rickover Naval Academy. Disney II also will expand to include a high school. 

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett asked board members to delay approval of Foundations College Prep and Orange School, an arts-integration elementary school. The request for delay was not made in an open meeting, but rather, according to Ziegler, as Byrd-Bennett and Board President David Vitale walked from the closed-session meeting room into board chambers.

Ziegler said Byrd-Bennett just wants to “take extra time to review.”

Board members acknowledged approving charter schools was a delicate issue, given that they are in the midst of making decisions about which schools to close.

Board member Andrea Zopp bristled that she was being asked to approve charter schools without knowing where they are to be located, though this has always been the practice. “I need to know more than ‘somewhere in CPS,’” she said. “It is impossible or hard for me to approve them without knowing where they will be located.”

Byrd-Bennett said the new charter schools will be located in places where existing neighborhood schools are overcrowded or in communities that need more “high-quality” school options. 

Chicago Collegiate Charter School, a high school designed to get its students to graduate from college, has been trying to find a space in Roseland.

Roseland has 10 underutilized schools, one of which is Fenger High School. CPS and the federal government have spent at least $6 million trying to turn around Fenger over the past four years and,board members have praised the efforts. But it is only at a third of capacity and its enrollment has dropped by 57 percent since 2010.

Still, Chicago Collegiate Charter founder Beth Napleton said she has strong support from the Roseland community because it needs better high schools. Rogers Jones from the Safety Net Works of Roseland said he sends his child to a Noble Street Charter in another neighborhood, but would have liked to keep him in the community.

“This is something I want done for the young people, so they can change their plans, change their attitudes,” she said.

Intrinsic Charter founder Melissa Zaikos said they don’t have a location but are willing to open in a northwest side community, such as Hermosa or Belmont-Craigin, where schools are overcrowded.

At the board meeting, many speakers spoke positively about charter schools; there seemed to be a contingent organized by New Schools of Chicago.

Also, a student and an alum spoke about improvements made at schools run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a not-for-profit which manages 19 schools in the city, including many turnarounds. So far this year, CPS officials have not announced plans for additional turnarounds.

But the biggest issue of the day was a CPS report that CPS officials have considered closing 95 schools and even identified the neighborhoods those schools would be in. 

The September report, obtained by The Chicago Tribune, also says that CPS will open 20 charters a year. However, the acceleration of charter openings won’t start until after this year of school closings, according to the report.

Opponents of school closings say this report confirms their suspicion that CPS is not being upfront with the public. “They need to be honest with us,” said Kristine Mayle, Chicago Teachers Union financial secretary. “This board is misrepresenting the facts, and it needs to stop.”

Byrd-Bennett emphatically denied the existence of any list of schools to be closed. She insisted that the community engagement process and the recommendations of her school utilization commission, created in September, will determine the list. The commission has held hearings over the past month.

But board members seemed to indicate that they supported CPS officials making plans and laying out scenarios. “We would be criticized if we didn’t try to understand what our situation was,” Vitale said.

Zopp told Byrd-Bennett that she can’t rely just on the commission. More than 300 schools meet CPS criteria for closing, but the actual number of closings will be far less, and CPS officials should be looking into their options, she said. CPS officials need to share the scenarios with the community, Zopp said.

“CPS has to have a point of view,” she said.