School closings never go down easy. When Chicago Public Schools announced it would be closing three elementary schools and phasing out one high school at the end of the school year—the fifth round of closings in as many years—it again ignited a firestorm of community protest and controversy.
Last-minute recruiting brought the number of candidates for local school council elections to 7,059 by the Mar. 17 filing deadline, according to data from Chicago Public Schools. This year, 62 schools will have fully contested elections. Meanwhile, the longtime head of the district office that oversees elections announced he is leaving his post.
Last summer, when Chicago Public Schools staffer Patrick Haugh told a group of administrators that the district planned to launch a new test, administer it three times a year, and get scores back to schools within two weeks, they laughed. Rarely has the district demonstrated such quick turnaround. But CPS has lived up to its promise with the new Learning First tests, part of a sweeping change in how the district measures student and school progress.
An unnamed student group is the latest sign of efforts to turn around troubled Hyde Park High, where parents, teachers and even students say problems with discipline have been aggravated by the arrival of displaced students. Since 2004, Hyde Park has taken in hundreds of students who would have attended Calumet or Englewood high schools.
At the Bessie Coleman Library in Woodlawn one Saturday morning in February, more than 50 parents and children showed up to hear about the University of Chicago’s new charter school and pick up applications. The school, which has not yet been named, will serve 160 students in grades 6 through 12 in its first year, and will be housed in Wadsworth Elementary. Woodlawn students now have only one neighborhood high school option, Hyde Park.
In the furor surrounding the latest school closings, many residents in the communities most affected on the West and South sides view the promise of new schools with skepticism. Most new schools are now open to applicants citywide and many do not reserve seats for students displaced by closings. New schools are also cropping up in neighborhoods where real estate development is encroaching and low-income residents are being priced out.
In 1994, residents of Woodlawn Avenue between 61st and 62nd streets came together to develop an affordable housing cooperative in the area. But it wasn’t long before they made the connection between housing and schools. This fall, the Woodlawn Community School, one of the system’s first small schools, will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Despite recent ups and downs in reading scores, the school has become one of the two strongest-performing schools in the neighborhood.
Back in the 1960s, the University of Chicago was Public Enemy No. 1 in Woodlawn, the feisty neighborhood just south of campus. These days, relations between the university and the community have thawed, although some residents are still deeply suspicious of the school. Meanwhile, university students and tenants have come together to fight displacement of lower-income residents.
Twice in the last two years, Herbert Elementary in the gentrifying West Haven neighborhood has taken in students displaced from nearby schools that the district closed. This fall, Herbert’s student body includes some 91 children who transferred in from closing schools, some 22 percent of total enrollment.
Suder Montessori, a new magnet school, is drawing the attention of parents on the Near West Side and throughout the city. The new school is just the kind that parents want, school officials say, and that the district intends to open more of under Renaissance 2010. But some educators and grassroots leaders still question why the old Suder was closed. They also doubt that the reopened school is serving the poorest children in the neighborhood, those most in need of high-quality education programs.
Only four of the 18 schools tagged for chronic low performance will be closed or phased out next fall. Among the 14 spared are elementary schools with new principals and those that have already taken in students displaced by previous closings. Also allowed to remain open are elementaries that had no nearby school options for children who would be displaced. Schools that are partnered with the Chicago Teachers Union under the “Fresh Start” improvement program will remain open as well.
MOVING IN/ON Susan Woodward, previously the vice president of recruitment and assessment affairs for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, is now the director of development and communications for the Chicago Public Education Fund. The Fund has also elected Susan Crown, a principal of the Chicago firm of Henry Crown & Company, and Kimberly Querrey, corporate director of operations and environmental health and safety for IMCO Recycling Inc., to its board of directors.