North Lawndale school closings must wait

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Valerie F. Leonard

Valerie F. Leonard

As we enter the final stretch of the race to close down a record number of schools, the most ever in a single district at one time, we are extremely concerned about the patterns that are emerging in North Lawndale.

We find that capital costs used to justify closing North Lawndale schools have been inflated up to 3 times. Moreover, no capital projects are now in progress at the schools slated to be closed, and they are in excellent condition. We have also found, consistently, that CPS has misrepresented the amenities of the closing schools. In most instances, the closing schools have greater amenities than the receiving schools. For example, CPS has said that Pope and Henson don’t have computer labs. Yet Henson has two technology labs, a library and a computer in every classroom, and Pope has a technology lab and a media center.

(Catalyst Chicago reported on the impact of closings in North Lawndale in the spring issue of Catalyst In Depth. Independent hearing officers have recommended against closing about a dozen schools, but none of those targeted in North Lawndale.)

Community residents have questioned whether the proposed school closings are providing cover for the Academy for Urban School Leadership, which operates turnaround schools, to consolidate its interests in North Lawndale. Bethune, an AUSL school, will close before being completely turned around. This will free capacity for AUSL to take over Chalmers, situated across the street from the northeast corner of Douglas Park. Pope, situated across the street from the southwest corner of Douglas Park, will close, and Johnson, which is an AUSL school, will assume its attendance boundaries. Johnson is situated across the street from Douglas Park on 14th Street. AUSL controls Collins High School, situated inside the park. After the dust settles, AUSL will control essentially every school in or around Douglas Park.

In addition, while Henson’s receiving school is Hughes, the new attendance boundaries are drawn such that the lion’s share of Henson students will go to Herzl, another AUSL school. There are also connections to the current CPS leadership. Board President Vitale is the former board president of AUSL. CPS’ Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley is a former managing director of AUSL.

While we believe schools should be improved rather than closed, it should be noted that AUSL schools do not necessarily present better options. AUSL schools in North Lawndale have historically under-performed the North Lawndale Average.

More segregation?

School closings will also “re-segregate” the African American and Latino communities around Paderewski, and will not provide better opportunities for African American students. Currently, Paderewski is the only North Lawndale school whose attendance boundaries include North Lawndale and Little Village. Paderewski’s student population is 82% African American and 18% Latino. African American students generally live in Lawndale, north of Cermak Road, while the Latino students generally live in Little Village, south of Cermak Road.

Even though CPS has designated Cardenas and Castellanos as receiving schools for Paderewski, the new attendance boundaries for Cardenas and Castellanos are drawn such that the northern boundary is Cermak Road. Likewise, the southern boundary for Penn and Crown is Cermak. Effectively, Latino students will be sent to Cardenas or Castellanos, which are higher-performing, while African American students will go to Penn or Crown, both lower-achieving. Cardenas is Level 1 and Castellanos is Level 2, and both are nearly filled to capacity. Paderewski, Crown and Penn are all Level 3 schools, and Paderewski is the strongest of the three.

We ask that CPS put a moratorium on school closures until they can complete their master facilities planning process, mitigate any conflicts of interest and change any plans that could compound segregation.

Valerie F. Leonard

Co-Founder, Lawndale Alliance