School closing meetings: Week 1

February 1, 2013

This is how CPS officials envisioned the 28 community meetings on school closings taking place this month: First, a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation with details in each area, showing how many schools are underutilized and low-achieving, followed by the now-familiar refrain about CPS’ looming deficit and limited resources being spread too thin.

Finally, the crowd would disperse into breakout sessions to share with independent facilitators the strengths and weaknesses of their schools, plus suggestions about how to make the transitions to new schools less painful.

In reality, this is the scenario: A CPS official tells the throngs of people in attendance that public comment will start immediately and that each speaker will only have two minutes to speak. Then, for the next hour, parents, teachers, principals and even some children make impassioned pleas to keep their schools open.

At the end of the meeting at Olive-Harvey College on Wednesday, Chief of Schools Denise Little got up and tried to reassure the suspicious crowd that she was listening. She noted that she wanted the pictures that attendees from DuBois School brought, showing their dilapidated buildings, and said she will remember, among other things, that White Elementary is the only other school located in the area.

Eventually, the attendees reluctantly retreated into breakout sessions. The media is not allowed in these sessions, but, from interviews, it appears that people continued to make the case to keep their schools open and refused to broach the topic of transition.

Taquia Hylton, principal of West Pullman School, says people in her overflow breakout session told facilitators that they don’t see how they will get around safety issues, should they try to move students.