PI Original Ellyn Fortino Thursday August 20th, 2015, 7:24am

Chicago's Southwest Siders Bring Fight Against Noble Charters To Ald. Burke's Office

Southwest Side residents and education activists delivered over 500 community letters to Chicago Ald. Ed Burke's (14th) office on Wednesday as part of their campaign against new Noble charter school campuses proposed for the area. Local residents were also granted a meeting with Burke's assistant to discuss the charter school issue.

Chicago Southwest Side residents brought their campaign against new charter schools proposed for their community to the office of powerful Ald. Ed Burke (14th) Wednesday morning.

About 40 members of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC) dropped off over 500 letters signed by local students, parents and others asking Burke to oppose the Noble Network of Charter Schools' proposal to open as many as two high schools on the Southwest Side.

At Burke's ward office, 2650 W. 51st St., the group spoke for roughly 30 minutes with the alderman's assistant, Peter Andrews, about Noble's proposal and requested a future meeting with the alderman.

Southwest Side parents, students and education activists told Andrews that their community does not need a new high school. Rather, the Southwest Side's existing schools need more resources, they said. The community members also expressed worry that the new Noble campuses, if approved, could mean less funding for the already cash-starved traditional neighborhood schools in the area.

"There is no point to building a new school when [existing schools are] in dire need of resources," Tykira Taylor, a junior a Thomas Kelly High School, told Progress Illinois before the meeting at Burke's office.

BPNC members are targeting the long-serving alderman, who represents communities including Archer Heights, Brighton Park, Gage Park and Garfield Ridge, because he has not publicly stated whether he backs Noble's propsal. Other Southwest Side aldermen and state lawmakers, including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), have voiced opposition to Noble's plan. Local principals and teachers have also spoken out against the proposed charters.

Andrews acknowledged that Burke has met with Noble representatives about the proposal. But he said he believes the alderman has not yet taken a position on the plan.

He told the group he would present their letters to the alderman and relay their concerns about Noble's proposal as well as their request for a meeting.

During the conversation, Andrews noted the Southwest Side school improvements Burke has helped to achieve, including the expansion of Richard Edwards Elementary School

After the discussion, BPNC leaders said they will continue to push for a meeting with Burke.

"We couldn't get any answers from him," BPNC organizer Alejandro Sanchez said of the alderman's assistant. "From what he knows, Ald. Burke has not made a decision ... He hasn't decided whether he's supporting the community or if he's supporting the Noble Network. So we were here to speak to him personally, to get his stance on the matter. We got a bunch of back and forth. No real concrete answers. So our next step is to keep fighting."

Sanchez said BPNC members also plan to make their voices heard at next week's Board of Education meeting as well as the September 2 Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) meeting for the Southwest Side.

NACs, comprised of parents and community members, are formed by CPS to review proposals for new schools, including charters, and make recommendations to the district about which schools they prefer.

The "Southwest Region" NAC, which is considering Nobel's proposal, held a community forum on August 10.

But BPNC members say approximately 100 people, most of whom were with BPNC, were barred from entering that meeting because it was at capacity. As a result, BPNC organizers said both CPS and NAC members agreed to hold a second meeting Tuesday evening to accommodate those who were unable to attend the August 10 forum.

CPS, however, abruptly canceled the NAC meeting on Monday, a day before the scheduled event, according to BPNC.

So, the neighborhood group held its own meeting Tuesday night to voice opposition to Noble's proposals and the budget cuts impacting neighborhood schools.

CPS did not return a request for comment about the canceled NAC meeting and why it is considering new Southwest Side charter schools. By law, CPS has to open up its application process for new charter schools each year. The district, however, is not required to approve the new charter school applications it receives.

The locations for Noble's proposed Southwest Side campuses have not been finalized, though the charter network is reportedly considering sites near 47th Street and California Avenue as well as 57th Street and Karlov Avenue.

A representative from Noble could not immediately be reached for comment. Noble has previously stated that private funds would be used to start up the new campuses, if approved. Noble argues that its proposed high schools could help address overcrowding at local schools and provide convenience to Noble students who already live on the Southwest Side, but attend schools in other communities.

Kelly High School Principal James Coughlin, a vocal critic of Noble's proposal, said the area has enough schools already.

"Within a mile of Kelly High School, there's three high school charters already," he told Progress Illinois at BPNC's Tuesday night meeting. "Kelly is not afraid of competition. We will meet the competition, and we will beat the competition, but it's getting to the point where it's just self-defeating."

Coughlin noted that Kelly and the newly-built Back of Yards College Preparatory High School have open seats.

"If either one of us was failing, you could make the argument that we need to get better seats for the kids, but that's just not the case in Brighton Park and Back of the Yards," he said. "We've got two very strong neighborhood high schools with empty seats."

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