Parents protest dismantling of school staff

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • February 04, 2008 @ 8:49 PM

Ten years ago, when Chicago Public Schools began the long process of planning a new Miles Davis Elementary, Englewood residents and Miles Davis teachers rejoiced. A school with falling ceilings and basement classrooms that had leaky overhead pipes would be replaced by spacious new digs that neighborhood residents would boast about.

Instead,  a crowd of about 40 people showed up at a hearing today, upset that at least some of Davis' staff will likely find themselves without jobs at the new school.

Some in the group of parents and teachers brought signs with them to underscore their concerns.

"Please don't punish and sabotage the staff," said Carolina Kennedy, a parent of two Miles Davis students. "The staff deserves and has earned the right to go."

District officials expected today's hearing, the first in a series of 19 meetings involving consolidations and proposed school closings, to be free of controversy.

But independent hearing officer Frederick Bates, a Chicago attorney, was greeted by a parade of speakers wo questioned the wisdom of disbanding a teaching staff that has produced better-than-average test scores at the school.

For parents like Shanta Miller, a 20-year-old mother of two who attended Miles Davis herself and credits her teachers with turning her life around, potentially losing those teachers was a disheartening thought.

"To me, the teachers are like parents, a second parent," she said. "Most of the teachers there now are my old teachers."

The new Miles Davis, 6740 S. Paulina, will house up to 900 students in 100,000 square feet of space, and will be a math and science magnet school.

It will enroll Davis' pre-kindergarten through third grade students, as well as fourth- through eighth-graders from Vernon Johns Middle Academy, 6936 S. Hermitage Ave.

Miles Davis and Johns Academy teachers and administrators won't be automatically transferred to the new building. Instead, a CPS spokesman said, they will have to apply for jobs there.

Bates seemed puzzled by the objections raised by those who spoke at the hearing.

"You wanted a new school. You got the new school. Now you don't want the old school closed?" Bates asked.

Rhonda Washington,  Davis' Local School Council chair and a parent of three students there, said she's comfortable with the current roster of teachers.

"My children know all the staff," she said.

CPS officials and Bates will get a second round of discussion the new Miles Davis Academy on Feb. 11. A second hearing will be held at 5 p.m. that day at St. Andrews Temple, 1743 W. Marquette Road, which is right across the street from the old Miles Davis school.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.