Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday April 16th, 2013, 5:18pm

CTU Report Examines Culture Of Fear, Disinvestment Among Schools Targeted For Closure

Chicago Public Schools plans to close 54 schools in June, but a new Chicago Teachers Union study raises questions about whether the district has the capacity to close that many in such a short time, given its issues with closing at least one of four schools last year.

Once Englewood’s Simon Guggenheim Elementary closed last year, only 37 percent of its non-graduating students enrolled at the designated receiving school, Carrie Jacobs Bond Elementary, according to CTU’s “A Tale of Two Schools” study.

Also, CPS has yet to account for 23 former Guggenheim students, the study added.

“To lose any student, let alone that many ... it’s just dangerous, and it just baffles me how CPS thinks that this is a good plan, when for the past 10 years or so, when these school closings started, they’ve never been able to get it right, because it’s not right,” said Action Now Executive Director Katelyn Johnson.

Guggenheim was on CPS’ school closing “hit list” in 2010, but was removed after the potential closure incited strong opposition from community members.

But the school’s “revolving door” of CPS-appointed administrators after 2010, paired with few resources from CPS, made it difficult for the school to maintain any real plan for improvement, the union said. 

Last year, CPS cited Guggenheim’s poor test scores as a reason to ultimately close the school, according to the study.

The union’s analysis also included staff, parent and community member testimony regarding the school’s overcrowded classes, overwhelmed teachers, hostile administrator attitudes toward parents and inadequate learning materials, among other concerns.

“Guggenheim is another chapter in a very bad book,” said Jitu Brown, education organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

This year, CPS is looking to close 54 schools, consolidate 11 and turnaround another six. The Chicago Board of Education is expected to vote on the actions next month.

Brown said the report’s case study of Guggenheim could be repeated at several other schools that have closed in recent years.

“Young people’s education has been harmed,” he said. “Young people’s safety has been compromised, young people have been jumped on, young people have fallen behind. Our communities have been destabilized as a result of these actions.”

The study also cited mishandling of Guggenheim’s more than 60 homeless students, saying the principal devised a plan to transfer the kids to another school before community meetings were held.

CPS also replaced most of the Students in Temporary Living Situations staff over the summer as they were making progress in arranging necessary supports for students with unstable homes, according to the union.

Students across the district not directly impacted by the most recent round of school actions are living in constant fear that their schools may be on the chopping block next, the study also noted.

Jacob Beidler Elementary School in East Garfield Park is not slated to close in June, but it had to fight off closure two times within three years.

“CPS has consistently neglected to provide Biedler with essential resources, leading the community to believe the district does not have long-term plans for the school,” the report reads. “The school’s precarious status affects student performance, forcing children to worry not only about their lessons but also where they will be attending school the next year.”

Johnson agreed that CPS’ “reckless” policies have created a culture of fear among students, teachers and communities.

“Given the other hits our neighborhoods have taken via housing and violence, (closing schools) just creates this sense of chaos and a sense of panic, and the community members and parents just don’t deserve that,” she said.

CPS announced it wanted to close Beidler in 2011 and turn the school’s building over to Urban Prep’s East Garfield Park Campus, a charter school. CPS later withdrew the proposal after outrage from the community.

But two years later, Beidler was on CPS’ initial list of schools targeted for closure at the end of this year, which renewed fear in the community, the union said.

Beidler didn’t make it onto CPS’ final list, but the community is worried it will have to fight off more closure threats in the future, according to the report.

Brown said he knows of other parents and students worried about what will happen to their schools, specifically noting Irvin C. Mollison Elementary School on the South Side. In 2010, Ida B. Wells Prep Elementary consolidated into Mollison, and now CPS wants to close Anthony Overton Elementary School, making Mollison the receiving school yet again.

“Parents are like, ‘We’re just at the place where we’re ready to soar, we’ve got a strong Local School Council, a good principal, a good corps of teachers, and you’re getting ready to bring in 300 children from another neighborhood,’” Brown said.

Closing and consolidating schools in Chicago is the “status quo,” Brown added. Johnson says she isn’t too optimistic that school actions will stop anytime soon.

“Until we get an elected representative school board, and until we get elected leadership who truly stands for the community, unfortunately these policies will continue,” she said. “On the ground and in the streets, we all see that this has nothing to do with anything that CPS is saying, but in fact, it’s a siege on our communities.”

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