Apr 24, 2011
Of all the school actions to be considered by the Board of Education this week, the consolidation of Avondale Elementary and Logandale Middle School may be the most curious.
On its face it seems like a minor tweak: two schools across the street from each other, one with pre-K through 5th grade and the other with grades 6 to 8, would be combined into one school sharing both buildings. Yet it’s inspired a storm of outrage and protest by large numbers of parents at both schools.
School supporters will march and rally outside Avondale, 2945 N. Sawyer, on Monday, April 25, at 2:45 p.m. Tuesday morning they’ll present a counterproposal (see below) to CPS officials in a meeting at Avondale. The board is set to vote on the consolidation proposal on Wednesday.
Over recent weeks, hundreds of Avondale and Logandale parents have joined marches and attended meetings and hearings — more than any other school on CPS’s consolidation list., said Bridget Murphy, education organizer for Logan Square Neighborhood Association.
‘A horrendous process’
“I’ve never seen parents and teachers get together, unite and fight like this,” she said. CPS “has really touched a nerve in these schools.”
It’s been a “horrendous process” leaving parents feeling “totally insulted,” said Murphy. And the CPS proposal ignores and undercuts ongoing efforts at the schools to address the very same issues the district is raising.
CPS never consulted parents, who learned about the consolidation proposal from a Sun-Times article, said Sonia Cortez, community representative on the LSC of both schools. Since the announcement, there have been conflicting statements by CPS officials about the purpose of the proposal, she said.
“First they told us this was to save money, then they told us it isn’t about money,” she said. “We don’t feel we’re getting the real truth about why they want to do this.”
“The proposal is an effort to better utilize available facilities,” said CPS spokesperson Frank Shuftan, noting that Avondale is overcrowded and Logandale is underutilized.
It’s a problem that parents have been acutely aware of and have been working to address, Cortez explains. Eight years ago Avondale’s LSC fired the old principal and brought in Ana Martinez Estka, who is seen as open to parents and supportive of English-learning students. The LSC recently gave her a four-year contract renewal.
At Avondale – the overcrowded school — parents now volunteer extensively, some on a daily basis, and its pre-school program has a long waiting list. But only 40 to 50 percent of Avondale parents send their children on to Logandale.
Last year Logandale’s LSC fired the school’s longtime principal, an “old-school” type who was seen as hostile to parent involvement (he even barred parents from volunteering in the school) and as culturally insensitive.
After an intensive, months-long selection process requiring countless volunteer hours, they hired Evelyn Roman, who had previously served as assistant principal at other schools. CPS now wants to put her in charge of the combined schools.
“She’s been a principal for three months, and she still has a lot of work to do” at Logandale, said Cortez. “And now they want her to take on 700 more kids?”
With close to 1,000 students — more if the pre-school program expands –the combined school would be among the top 10 percent of the district’s largest elementary schools. Parents point out that all but one of those 47 schools are predominantly Latino.
And with Avondale losing its gym and art teachers – Cortez says they’ve already been given notice, along with Avondale’s lunchroom staff – the huge school would have only one teacher for gym and one for art. Half the school would troop across the street every day for lunch, rain, shine or snow. That’s a problem, Cortez said.
Meanwhile the two schools’ LSCs have been meeting and have developed a joint counterproposal, which they’ll present to CPS officials Tuesday. They’re suggesting shifting the fifth grade to Logandale, which would result in 650 pre-K-to-4th grade students in Avondale’s larger facility and 323 in Logandale.
They’re proposing creating a common vision for both schools, with curriculum alignment and joint professional development, and with shared community school activities.
Their proposal would continue the years of work they’ve put in improving the two schools. It’s not clear what the CPS proposal would accomplish, besides creating bitter feelings of disrespect in two schools where parents’ involvement should really be honored.
It’s a “poster child” making the case for school facilities reform embodied in a bill now moving through Springfield, Murphy said.
SB 620 would establish an independent planning commission that would have approval authority over facility standards and a ten-year facilities master plan drawn up by CPS. The commission would review an annual capital improvement plan as well as school actions. School closings would require detailed educational impact statements and student transition plans, and parents and staff could appeal decisions to the commission.
It would bring transparency and accountability to a process that has been opaque and apparently ad-hoc for years, roiling school after school, in some cases displacing low-income students repeatedly.
The bill passed the State Senate by a vote of 49 to 12 on April 15. No Chicago Democrats voted in opposition, though a few didn’t show up for the vote. It’s now under consideration in the House.