Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday April 16th, 2013, 11:48am

West Siders Hold Nearby Charters Responsible For Emmet Elementary's Shrinking Enrollment

Emmet Elementary School’s utilization rate is 66 percent, higher than a handful of other Austin neighborhood schools.

Even still, the Chicago Public Schools wants to close it at the end of the year, and that decision continues to puzzle some West Side community members and parents who spoke out against the action before Emmet’s final community meeting last night.

“Unfortunately we have an administration with this corporate ideology of privatizing education that uses our data to punish schools rather than use them as tools to go ahead and improve our children’s education,” said Dwayne Truss with the Austin Community Action Council. “And that’s wrong.”

CPS says Emmet’s enrollment has declined 34 percent in the last 10 years.

In the last three years alone, enrollment has declined 13 percent, according to CPS, which is one reason why the district has slated it to close at the end of the academic year.

Under CPS’ proposal, DePriest and Ellington elementary schools would welcome returning Emmet students in the fall.

But Truss said nearby charter schools are to blame for Emmet’s shrinking enrollment.

“If you look at the number of students over at Catalyst and students over at Plato, that’s where some of the students are disappearing to,” he said. “If you extend more charter schools, obviously they are going to get the kind of money to recruit.”

CPS also says Emmet’s building requires $11.5 million to update and maintain.

Emmet was built in 1913, whereas DePriest, one of the welcoming schools, was built in 2004, CPS spokeswoman Liz Utrup said before Emmet’s meeting.

The school also lacks full accessibility for students with disabilities as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), she added.

Tammie Vinson, a special education teacher at Emmet, said it was a strategic move on CPS’ part not to make building improvements for students with disabilities in order to shut it down later.

“Who’s responsible for retrofitting the building so that we are fit for students with disabilities,” she asked.

The school not being up to full ADA standards is the “nail in the coffin” for Emmet, Vinson added.

“They found the thing we really can’t defend against, so what do we say,” Vinson asked. “It isn’t there, but it’s not our fault.”

Teachers and parents touted the school’s Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) composite scores, despite a slight dip in 2012.

About 70 percent of students met or exceeded state standards on the ISAT in 2012.

In 2011, 73.8 percent of students met or exceeded standards, which was up from 71.2 percent in 2010.

“It is important for the board to listen to our voices,” said Emmet parent Ackisha Williams. “We should be praising, rewarding and building upon the significant success that we have already achieved at our school, not having decisions being made to tear down our accomplishments by people who are not personally invested in our students or in our students’ education.”

Emmet’s public meeting came just hours after the Chicago Teachers Union announced its plans to ramp up political activity for a campaign against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the mayoral-appointed Chicago Board of Education, as reported by Progress Illinois yesterday afternoon.

“No matter what happens today, we’re going to keep this thing going, and work together, organize organically, to go ahead and change leadership in the city of Chicago, and to make sure we call all black elected officials who have not collectively stood up to Michael Madigan in Springfield or the mayor to say, ‘Stop this madness,’” Truss said.

A bill, SB 1571, that looked to put a temporary moratorium on Chicago school closings advanced in the state Senate Education Committee last month, however it was “shelled” and all language was stripped out, because the votes weren’t all there for its approval, Progress Illinois reported.  

The previous language in the bill, sponsored by State Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago), required CPS to establish a clear education reform plan before following through with closing a record-breaking 54 schools, among other actions, at the end of the school year.

“We need to make sure we have a facilities plan in place before we continue to go through with this madness and our schools become overcrowded,” Truss said.

Emmet’s public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, April 17 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at CPS’ central office, 125 S. Clark St.

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