A surprise co-location among proposed ‘school actions’

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CPS is proposing a half-dozen school co-locations, consolidations and closures for next school year, including a plan to consolidate Morton and Dodge elementary schools.

Photo by Melissa Sanchez

CPS is proposing a half-dozen school co-locations, consolidations and closures for next school year, including a plan to consolidate Morton and Dodge elementary schools.

In a surprise move, the Chicago Public Schools administration is recommending that Spry Community Links High School in Little Village co-locate with Saucedo and Telpochcalli elementary schools across the street.

The proposal is one of a half-dozen so-called “school actions” that the administration announced on Tuesday, the deadline for CPS to publicize closures, consolidations, co-locations and attendance boundary changes for the upcoming school year. Except for the Spry case, details on most of the other proposed school actions had already been reported.

CPS is proposing to move Spry’s high school one grade at a time over the next three years. Currently the high school is split between the building it shares with Spry Elementary and a leased space in an adjacent Boys & Girls Club building. CPS officials say the co-location would allow CPS to end the lease and save money — about $90,000 a year.

But the plans came as a surprise to some staff at the schools.

“This is news to my knowledge,” says Maria Cosme, a school counselor at Telpochcalli. “We do not understand why.”

Saucedo and Telpochcalli have been co-located for nearly 20 years, Cosme says, and the schools share a lunchroom, gym and auditorium. Saucedo, a magnet school, enrolls about 1,200 students while Tepolchalli, a dual-language school, has about 300. Already, they’re short on space, Cosme says.

According to CPS facilities data, the building that houses Saucedo and Telpochcalli can hold 1,680 students — just enough to accommodate all three schools’ current enrollment. Spry’s founding principal, Carlos Azcoitia, says the long-term goal is to expand the high school’s enrollment.

Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Saucedo, fears CPS will make room for the high schoolers by eliminating Saucedo’s library and dedicated special education classrooms. She expects staff and parents will turn out in droves to contest the co-location at the upcoming public hearings.

“Little Village is a very strong community,” says Chambers, an active teacher union member who has led testing boycotts at the school. “I don’t think they realize who they’re messing with… To us, this really means war.”

Saucedo’s principal referred questions to the CPS communications office, and Spry’s principal did not respond to a request for comment.

Azcoitia, a former CPS School Board member who led Spry until 2007, says the move is part of a larger plan to create a preschool-to-high-school pipeline in Little Village. He was unsure about whether the elementary schools would eventually accept fewer students as the building begins to accommodate high school students, but says demographic data indicate there will be fewer students overall in the area.

In an email on Thursday*, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said CPS introduced the proposal “in response to the need for a new facility for Spry High School.”

“The District engaged principals earlier in the process, and the school leaders have given support to move forward,” she wrote. “Key community stakeholders, including Ald. Cardenas, have also provided support for the proposed action.”

Other proposals

Three public hearings must be held before the Board of Education takes a vote in February. (See here for a schedule of meetings.) CPS released the proposals in compliance with a state law regulating school closures, co-locations, consolidations and attendance boundary changes.

In a statement, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said “community input has played an important role in informing these proposed actions, and we believe these modifications will allow us to better use our limited resources to meet students’ needs.”

The proposed school actions include:

* The consolidation of three Austin high schools with dwindling enrollment that were once part of Chicago’s “small schools” movement. Under the proposal, Austin Polytechnical Academy and Austin Business and Entrepreneurship would consolidate into VOISE Academy. The plan was drafted by Austin’s Community Action Council (CAC) and has the support of the schools’ principals.

“If we and CPS all work together, then we can potentially set VOISE as a model for neighborhood high schools in an area where you have a large number of at-risk students,” says community activist Dwayne Truss, who sits on the CAC.

Altogether, the schools enroll just over 400 students.

Consolidating the schools means only one principal will remain. During a press conference last month, Wayne Issa, principal of Austin Business and Entrepreneurship, and Ali Muhammad, principal of Austin Polytechnical, both said they’re okay with that. “We want to do what’s best for the students,” Muhammad said.

* As part of the Austin plan, CPS is proposing to reassign the current attendance boundaries for nearby Douglass Academy to the new VOISE Academy. Douglass would then become an open-enrollment, citywide high school. Douglass’ principal did not respond to a request for comment.

Few students from within Douglass’ boundaries choose to attend that school, and even fewer from other parts of the city do. District data show that 1,886 high school students live inside its attendance boundary, but only 177 attend the school. Only 57 from outside the attendance area attend.

A district spokesman would not say whether CPS plans to phase the school out, but said that current students “would not be affected.”

* The consolidation of Dodge Renaissance Academy into Morton School of Excellence, in the East Garfield Park neighborhood. Both elementary schools are run by the nonprofit Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL), which manages the district’s so-called “turnaround” schools. They have been co-located since 2013.

Some parents and teachers at Dodge say they were upset about the proposal, which was quietly drafted by the schools’ principals and submitted to the district in October. Principals at the two schools initially denied during staff meetings that they knew any specifics about plans to consolidate. Only after being questioned last month by Catalyst, did they admit they were its authors.

Morton Principal Peggie Burnett-Wise declined to say how the consolidation would impact staff. “We have to do whatever is in the best interest of students,” she said. “With student-based budgeting, it’s really hard to run a school like Dodge, with 100 students. We don’t want the kids to suffer at all due to lack of resources.”

Dodge has 122 students; Morton has 340. Both schools received the second-lowest possible rating under the district’s five-tier rating system, although Dodge has a slightly higher overall score.

* The co-location of a new KIPP elementary charter school campus with Orr Academy High School, which is also an AUSL school. CPS tentatively OK’d the opening of the KIPP campus earlier this fall, pending Board approval of the co-location. Orr’s principal and teachers protested KIPP’s proposal during a public hearing in October. Just over 400 students are currently enrolled at Orr, and the freshman class is smaller than the senior class.

* The closures of Montefiore Special Elementary School and Marine Military Math and Science Academy. CPS had already, in effect, shuttered Montefiore this summer, and Marine last year, but had refused to call either case a closure. Critics saw that as a largely semantic point made so that CPS could say that it hadn’t broken its own promise not to close any additional schools during the five-year period after the massive 2013 school closings.

In a statement, CPS officials now say that “maintaining a school with no students diverts resources from other schools.”

No Ogden-Jenner merger

Noticeably missing from the list is a proposal to merge  Ogden International and Jenner Academy on the Near North Side. A community-led effort coalesced earlier this year to merge the schools as a way to solve Jenner’s under-enrollment problem and Odgen’s overcrowding. Historically, Jenner has served mostly poor and black students while Odgen enrolls more white and affluent students.

Michael Beyer, Ogden’s principal, says the merger “became politically unpopular” after a “very vocal group of parents” at Odgen opposed the plan. A few Jenner community members also opposed the plan, he says, because they don’t trust the district’s ability to consolidate schools.

“It became very heated, and some felt it became rather ugly,” Beyer says. “Everyone had concerns, but the vocal ones were not a majority, and they tended to be parents who are new to Ogden and new to the community in general.”

Beyer says a group of Jenner and Ogden parents “who are still very much interested and in support of the consolidation” are going to work to make the merger plan more detailed and to drum up additional support. They’ll eventually take the plan to CPS for approval, he says.

*This story was updated on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2015 at 1:30 p.m. to reflect an additional response from CPS.

  • Concerned Parent

    Teachers -When CPS does consolidations-co-locations, and as these could become closures, heed this: trust none but CTU.

    Mr. Azcoitia, why not send SPRY elementary students to Saucedo, as Saucedo students, and open the Spry building as a high school? That would make room right? Or is there more that is not being stated…?

  • Concerned Parent

    Hey AUSL – where is the 20% for 20% on your school sign that all other CPS schools had to put up?

  • MaryfromIL

    Teens with preschoolers? Are they nuts?

  • Denis

    The Spry HS move seems to have an undiscussed external agenda written all over it. Why not be transparent and have that conversation? This is why trust is such a problem in this district