A successful neighborhood school on the West Side is fighting “disinvestment” while a failing charter nearby gets millions of dollars worth of renovations, parents charge.
On Friday, March 16 at 8 a.m., the Emmet Elementary School LSC and the Austin group Progressive Action Coalition for Education will hold a press conference and rally against “education apartheid” at the school, 5500 W. Madison.
Emmet’s scores have improved dramatically in recent years and its performance rating is currently Level 2 (“good standing”) and headed toward Level 1 (“excellent”), said Dwayne Truss of PACE. In a recent Designs for Change  study, Emmet was one of 33 very high poverty schools performing above the CPS average on the ISAT reading test.
Emmet’s success is the result of “the LSC, the teachers, and the principal working together,” Truss said.
But the school is badly in need of capital improvements, he said. Students are served lunch in the hallway and eat their lunch in the same room used for physical education and assemblies. This creates scheduling difficulties, and the lack of space and the presence of permanent seats creates a hazard for kids in gym class, he said.
The school’s fieldhouse is decaying and dangerous, with “paint chips all over the place,” and while CPS is planning to implement recess next year, the school’s playground is pocked with potholes, Truss said.
In addition CPS recently cut the school’s librarian. The school has 450 students in Pre-K through 8th grade.
The charter advantage
Meanwhile CPS is spending $13 million to renovate an annex at Nash Elementary, 4837 W. Erie, for a revived ACT Charter school. ACT’s low-performing high school suspended operations in 2010; the new school plans to serve 5th through 8th graders.
It will be operated by KIPP, whose Ascend charter school now serves 5th through 8th graders – and like ACT, is rated at Level 3 in performance. (If charters were subject to probation, KIPP Ascend would be on probation.)
“CPS likes to talk about quality schools, but here’s a quality school that’s not getting the investment it needs,” said Truss, speaking of Emmet. He said the school has been seeking repairs from CPS for many years.
The Designs report looked at all 210 very low income elementary schools, including turnarounds, and found that all of the most successful ones – 33 schools, including Emmet, that topped the CPS average on reading scores — had elected LSCs hiring and evaluating principals and approving the school budget and plan.
Of twelve turnarounds, none bested the citywide average and only three ranked in the top half of the high-poverty of schools on performance – despite an additional investment averaging at least $7 million per school over five years.
The report notes that while turnaround schools have received extensive news coverage, successful neighborhood schools rarely get publicity. It recommends that “the resources now used for turnaround schools …be shifted to helping these effective [neighborhood] schools become resources for other schools.”
At a press conference on the report last month, Dunne Math and Science Academy LSC chair Bernard Kelly spoke of that Far South Side school’s academic success – and presented slides showing damaged ceilings and walls due to roof leaks, a crumbling exterior, and a small multipurpose room used for lunch, gym, and assemblies.
The building was originally intended to be temporary, and the community has been seeking a new facility for thirty years, he said.
“This school, if given the opportunity, the sky’s the limit,” Kelly said. “We don’t need to keep building new schools somewhere else.”