Administrators under fire for hearings on school closings

  • By Megan Waitkoff
  • Medill News Service
  • February 03, 2006 @ 7:45 AM
Chicago Public Schools administrators have scheduled public hearings on their plan to shut four schools next year during working hours at their Loop office, riling some parents and teachers.

"There's no public in public hearings when meetings are being held downtown when teachers and parents are working," said Rosemaria Genova, spokeswoman with the Chicago Teachers Union. "[CPS is] doing everything they can to make this as difficult as possible for everyone."

CPS spokesman Malon Edwards said the district does not plan to change the location or time of the hearings.

Edwards said the district holds hearings in the board chambers of its downtown office because it's close to public transportation and, he said, is easily accessible to everyone.

He also said it's easier to provide security there and the room is able to accommodate the large crowds that are expected to turn out following the news that CPS will close four schools next year and complete phase-outs of several more.

Four CPS facilities--Frazier, Morse and Farren elementary schools, and Collins High School--are slated to be shuttered next year. Phase-outs will continue at five others--Arai Middle School, Bowen and DuSable high schools, Lindblom College Prep and KIPP Village Academy.

Also, Sherman Elementary will be taken over by a Chicago not-for-profit and Carver Military Academy will be reconstituted as a college prep military academy

The hearings will be held from Monday through Saturday next week at the Chicago Public Schools administration office at 125 S. Clark St. for schools scheduled for closure, conversion or phase-outs. Some schools, such as Frazier, are scheduled from 7 to 10 p.m. But hearings for other schools begin as early as 3 p.m.

The hearing for Sherman School, 1000 W. 52nd St, is set from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday. The school day at Sherman doesn't end until 2:45 p.m., leaving hardly enough time for teachers and administration to get downtown. Principal James Smith said he'll have to leave early to make it, but teachers might not have that option.

Genova added the union and the board has yet to work out whether teachers would be allowed to leave early to attend the hearings. But Genova said the union will provide teachers with buses to the hearings if they want them.

For some schools, timing shouldn't be an issue, according to Edwards, who noted that some end their school day as early as 1:45 p.m.

"Collins had a rally downtown at City Hall at 2:45 p.m. in the afternoon [Wednesday], and to my knowledge, teachers were there," he said.

Derotha Rogers-Clay, assistant principal at Collins High School, 1313 S. Sacramento Dr., said the downtown location of the hearing is a bigger problem.

"I would think that, if they really didn't want to hurt our feelings, that they would come on our territory," she said. "Some of our parents do work, but many of our parents do not work, but that also means that many of our parents don't have the resources, meaning monies, to get back and forth, or own a car."

The Collins hearing is scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday.

The board chambers holds about 175 people. The Collins gymnasium can seat more than 800 people.

The district does not provide money for people who can't afford public transportation to attend the hearings because anyone can submit written testimony, Edwards said.

"It's not that their voice won't be heard if they don't attend," he said.

Teachers, administrators and parents already are working through issues to raise at the hearings. Frazier's principal is retiring at the end of this year, which means the school would be under new leadership next year. According to McLaurin, this should prevent them from being considered for closure.

"We have new leadership coming and new excitement that we haven't had for awhile," he said. "We're realize that the schools aren't where they need to be. We're not stupid. But work with us to change things."

A plan of action was also to be laid out at a meeting Thursday night in the Collins High School area. Rogers-Clay said she's already received feedback from parents and local organizations and politicians. She also plans to ask the district why they plan to close Collins and build a new high school when new science labs were recently installed in the building. Plans to build a new high school in the area were announced by Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins during the school closure press conference last week.

"It kills me that this kind of foolishness takes place," Rogers-Clay said. "That makes me really think: 'Are you really worried about test scores or do you have a hidden agenda?'"

Schools are still hopeful the tide will turn.

"We're keeping hope," McLaurin said. "We're not going to say that it's a done deal."