A coalition of North Lawndale leaders and education advocates released an alternative plan to school closings today, including a comprehensive community strategy to provide wraparound services and capacity building for schools targeted for closure.
The meeting at the Better Boys Foundation comes a day after news leaked that the Chicago Public Schools has plans to close 50 schools, which would be the largest round of schools closed at one time in the nation. WBEZ is also reporting that additional schools may be turned around to address low performance.
It’s rumored that CPS could release the names of those schools slated to close today.
“There were 12 schools on the list for North Lawndale that were slated to be closed as of yesterday,” said Valerie Leonard, with the Lawndale Alliance and a member of the ad hoc Committee to Save North Lawndale Schools. “We understand that this list could change today. We understand that principals are being notified as we speak as to whether or not their schools are on the list.”
Members of the committee, including two elected officials Ald. Michael Chandler (24th) and Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele (2nd), say massive closure of public schools in North Lawndale would be detrimental for all stakeholders involved, including the loss of valuable community anchors and safe havens.
School violence, student mobility and dropout rates have increased as a result of past school actions, they say, and the destabilizing effects could last for years to come.
Instead of closing schools, the group is proposing to save them by starting a community-school collaborative focusing on bringing social services that already exist in the community into schools to provide wraparound services.
“One of the big complaints has been you have a number of schools where children have special needs, or you also have a dearth of cultural activities, a dearth of recreational activities,” Leonard said.
The group would organize the 240 different organizations in North Lawndale to provide various services at schools aligned on 11 different fronts, including academic support services, health fitness and nutrition, truancy prevention, workforce development, and others.
Truancy is a huge issue in the community, Leonard said.
“North Lawndale ranks among the top five in terms of truancy in the city of Chicago,” she said. “We also have an issue with obesity due to lack of exercise, lack of activities, sports and recreation.”
The proposal will produce stronger academic outcomes and increase the quality of life in the community, she added.
Ald. Chandler said a plan like this is important because there needs to be a bigger discussion around bringing much needed resources to North Lawndale’s schools and others in struggling communities instead of closing them.
Here’s what Chandler said:
The committee wants CPS to review the plan, which piggybacks off of research the North Lawndale Community Advisory Council, a group of community stakeholders that works as a community liaison to CPS, did as soon as it got word that some North Lawndale schools could be shuttered.
Darren Tillis, co-chair of the North Lawndale CAC, said the council concluded North Lawndale schools are not underutilized.
“The schools lack basic resources needed for a high-quality education,” he said. “Our traditional schools are comparable and competitive with non-traditional schools. Despite the challenges that our schools are facing, over 50 percent of our schools are trending upward.”
The Committee to Save North Lawndale Schools and the North Lawndale CAC would become collaborators under the plan.
The first step includes more planning, an implementation phase and finally an evaluation of the program.
The committee said all of this can be achieved with about $322,000 in initial investment.
“At this point we don’t have any cash in hand,” Leonard said. “What we do have is in-kind investment from partners such as Sinai Community Institute, and when I say in-kind, it’s not like they just donated anything, we’re looking at their time. What we’re doing now is we’re doing comprehensive planning where we would actually formalize that proposal, put a little more meat on the bones, so to speak, and we will shop it to different foundations.”