Take 5: Ames closure, school funding, high school quest

Print More

 Did CPS close a school last year, despite promising a five-year moratorium on closings and failing to go through the process required by state law? It seems like this is the case from a Sun Times story this morning on what happened to Ames Middle School and Marine Math and Science Academy. As you will remember, last year two schools existed: Ames in Logan Square–a school that the Logan Square Neighborhood Association waged a mighty battle to keep as a neighborhood school; and Marine, a high school that shared a school on the West Side with Phoenix Military Academy.

When activists confronted Board President David Vitale in December of 2012 about rumors that Ames was going to be closed and taken over by Marine, he told them in a board meeting that he didn’t know of any plans. Then, in October of 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Marine is relocating to Ames. But, when it was pointed out that this would result in a school closing,  CPS spokespeople insisted that while Ames was becoming a military academy, Marine would stay open.

LSNA got a referendum placed on the ballot and by a margin of more than two to one, residents voted against the conversion to a military academy. But the board didn’t budge. Now, CPS officials are telling a convoluted story about why all the Marine Math and Science students wound up at Ames, as well as why the Marine principal is suddenly in charge of the Logan Square school. According to spokesman Bill McCaffrey, no students chose to attend. But the Sun-Times reports that students and parents say they were told that there was only one Marine campus: in the Ames building.

Bottom line: Only one school exists now, where there used to be two, and CPS did not follow the procedure for consolidation. The only question now is whether there’s anything anyone can do about it.

2. Heath risk…. Of the 18,000 CPS students with asthma, only a quarter of them had health management plans and only half of the 4,000 with food allergies had them, according to a Chicago Tribune story about a study of 2012-2013 records by Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The plans are meant to help schools address chronic health conditions and prevent reactions. The study found that students on the North and Northwest Sides were the most likely to have a plan on file compared with the rest of the city. Also, poor black and Latino students were the least likely, though more of them were diagnosed with asthma and allergies.

 The Northwestern pediatrics professor who led the study said that he thinks that CPS is representative of the rest of the country.

However, one obstacle may be that CPS schools have far fewer nurses than recommended. The National Association of School Nurses recommends a minimum of 1 nurse for every 750 students for a general population. The association recommends much higher for students with special health needs. However, the latest CPS data shows that the district only has 322 nurses or nurse practitioners, with only six assigned to individual schools.

3. The yearly shuffle… Austin Weekly News has a story about layoffs in local schools. According to the article, some 54 CTU members and 11 paraprofessionals lost their jobs at schools in Austin, West Humboldt PArk and Garfield Park. CTU organizer Brandon Johnson, who lives in Austin, seizes the opportunity to make the layoffs an election issue. Brandon is serving as treasurer of CTU president Karen Lewis mayoral committee and said the layoffs show Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “distain for public education and disinterest in African American Chicagoans.”

But the main reason schools lost staff is that they were projected to have lower enrollment. Some could lose more. The article is a good reminder of what is going on at local schools right now. Coming up to the 20th day, schools are trying to shore up enrollment because if they do not get as many students as expected, they will lost money. CPS schools get about $4390 per student, plus extra stipends for students who are low-income and teachers for special education and bilingual students. Last year, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett chose not to take back money from schools that missed their enrollment targets, but she won’t do that this year.

4. Funding overall still on table... Though he didn’t bring up the legislation in the spring, House Speaker Mike Madigan is quietly gathering together Democrats to get them to discuss a proposed change in the way the state funds schools, reports the Associated Press. The idea is to have the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, ready for hearings after the November election. The Senate passed the bill. The proposed legislation tries to even out disparities between districts with rich property tax bases and those that are property poor.

Manar’s plan would make almost all state funding dependent on need. It also would drastically alter the way Chicago gets money from the state. Currently, CPS get a block grant, but under the plan, the district would bill the state for services or get money per student receiving them, like the rest of the state. Chicago stands to lose about $28 million in state funding if this plan is passed. Property-rich suburbs also stand to lose a lot. Schaumburg, for example, would get $12.4 million less. One amendment to the bill is that it would cap the amount of per pupil loss to $1,000 per student.

5. High school quest… WTTW started airing the first of five documentaries at 7:30 on Friday that follow eighth-graders from Chicago and Chicago suburbs. The documentaries, which are already available on youtube, use the stories of these teenagers striving to get into good high school as a way to show the disparities in the situations confronted by the students.

One of the documentaries focuses on the administrations of the elementary schools being attended by the students. The segment at a Wilmette Junior High School features the principal cutting a ribbon for the new science wing, which was paid for through a $100,000 donation from the school’s education foundation. The principal there talks about how he sees the middle grades as a time for exploration and experience. This stands in sharp contrast to the scene in Calumet City. There, a principal stands in front of a projector talking about the school’s low test scores and how the state could come take over the school if it doesn’t improve. It also has the superintendent talking about how the school district spurned an attempt by Urban Prep to open the school in the South Suburb.

The three Chicago schools are also very different. At the UNO school, the principal shows off  a “student data notebook” which lists test scores, demerits, attendance and homework. At Disney Magnet School, students put on a musical and do a project utilizing technology.

The other episodes look at communities, the high schools they are striving to get into and eventually reveals whether they got into the high school of their choosing.