It was an atmosphere reminiscent of a basketball game, with a cheering crowd packing the bleachers of a gymnasium donning the purple and gold colors of their favorite school.
But the rallying cry that came from those who attended Saturday’s Chicago Public Schools’ public hearing had nothing to do with rooting for their team to win, but rather it was a plea to officials to not shut down any one of the four schools still being considered for closure within the Ravenswood-Ridge Elementary Network.
Close to 200 concerned parents, teachers and community members attended the meeting held at Truman College on the city’s North Side. It was the latest in a series of discussions CPS officials are conducting with residents from various communities that have schools on the chopping block.
Last week CPS narrowed down its list of potential school closures from 330 to 129. In Ravenswood-Ridge, the number of schools that remain under consideration has gone down from 15 to four, which include Joseph Brennemann Elementary, Graeme Stewart Elementary, Joseph Stockton Elementary and Lyman Trumbull Elementary.
As the meeting got underway, 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman began the proceedings by expressing his support for the neighborhood schools, but acknowledged some tough decisions may ultimately have to be made.
“I want to say as a former teacher that I believe in the power of neighborhood schools,” Cappleman said. “It’s the neighborhood schools that make the community strong.”
Cappleman said he would fight any effort to replace a closed school with a charter facility, a reiteration of a stance he took last week when he was one of 35 aldermen to sponsor a resolution that would establish a moratorium on charter school expansion for the 2014-2015 school year.
According to Adam Anderson, CPS chief of planning in its Portfolio Office, nothing has been finalized regarding the fate of any school on the list. He said community feedback has played a big part in helping the district establish the criteria that has eliminated a number of facilities, such as Gale Elementary, from closure consideration.
“I want to emphasize all 129 [schools] will not close,” Anderson told the crowd. “We’re simply continuing to have a conversation about those schools.”
Some of the recommendations included taking all high schools off the list due to concerns over gang violence. Also, high performing, or “Level 1” schools would be excluded from closure consideration, as well as any that were in the process of adding grades, had a student population of more than 600, or were isolated by more than a mile from a nearby school.
Anderson’s assurances did nothing to assuage the uneasiness of attendees, who when given the opportunity to speak, expressed their concerns over the increased safety risks they felt many students would face if their neighborhood school were to shut down.
“Our students cannot go east, they cannot go west, they cannot go south, they cannot go north without crossing gang boundaries,” said Jennifer Lewin, a science teacher at Stewart. “It’s not just the size of our building and it’s not just the size of our population, it is the level of resources we can provide for our kids, it is the safety and stability that our kids need every single day.”
Safety was also a major concern for Nia Norris, a parent of a Stockton student who warned closing the school would take away a much needed safe environment for many children who are too often caught in the middle of gang violence.
“With all the shootings going on in Chicago, let’s not take a chance and have one more student in danger,” Norris said. “Students like Hadiya [Pendleton] need a safe environment; Stockton is a safe haven for students.”
Here is more from Saturday's public hearing:
According to CPS, closure of some schools is a necessary step in order to address the $1 billion deficit the district faces in the next fiscal year. The district has estimated that more than half of the Chicago’s schools are underutilized, and that nearly 140 facilities are more than half empty.
The deadline for the district to compile a final list of recommended school closings is March 31.