Victory in hand, activists to continue fighting school closures, turnarounds

  • By Jay Field
  • February 24, 2009 @ 2:00 PM

Opponents of school closures and turnarounds, fresh off a rare victory, are still expected to show up at tomorrow’s Chicago Board of Education meeting in large numbers to protest the district’s revised plan for under enrolled and struggling schools.

Chicago Public Schools originally wanted to close, consolidate, phase out or turnaround 22 schools.

But late Monday, new schools CEO Ron Huberman removed six schools from the list, citing persuasive arguments in recent public hearings on their behalf by parents, teachers, local school council officials and community leaders.

District officials cited improved reading scores at Yale elementary, as the reason for bumping that school from the list.

At Peabody Elementary, slated for closure due to under-enrollment, new information came to light about the building’s space utilization.

The other four schools getting a stay are Holmes and Hamilton elementary and two high schools, Global Visions and Las Casas.

The reprieves are a clear victory for community activists who have fought closures and turnarounds, since the district embraced these drastic remedies for struggling schools, early on in U.S. Education Secretary and former CEO Arne Duncan’s tenure.

But if there’s any celebrating going on, you wouldn’t know it.

“The victory is when Chicago Public Schools sits down with the local school councils to come up with a strategy for how we save our schools,” says Wanda Hopkins, with the group Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE).

Hopkins showed up at last month’s board meeting dressed as the grim reaper and will be there again tomorrow when the board meets to vote on the sixteen other schools still on the closure and turnaround list.

“I’m still torn up inside that CPS and the Mayor of this city continue to disrupt education for poor and African American and Latino children," says Hopkins, “'cause that’s what’s happening!”

The district has long maintained that drastic measures are needed—and eventually mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law--to insure that more of the system’s abundance of poor minority students are getting top-notch educations.

In past years, board members and top district officials have taken a beating over closure and turnaround proposals.

But they’ve almost always proceeded ahead according to plan, which makes this somewhat remarkable.

“I don’t know that they’re responding as much to community pressure as they are to economic realities and organizational realities,” says Barbara Radner, head of DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education.

Radner notes that the landscape inside district headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. looked pretty different when this year’s closure and turnaround list began to take shape.

“When they started planning this, Arne Duncan was there and not on a trajectory to get out,” says Radner.

But then the economy collapsed, Duncan did end up leaving and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley brought in a new CEO, Huberman, who immediately inherited an educational hot potato.

“They may have said we have too much to do, in-house, to deal with this other stuff,” says Radner.