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School closings: Mollison, Prescott, Deneen

The Mollison Elementary community is celebrating their removal from CPS’s school closing list – but they say their experience demonstrates the need for big changes in the process.  (Mollison’s story was first highlighted here.)

“We want the process to include schools and communities sooner rather than later,” said Mollison teacher Jodi Curl.

“We are grateful we were taken off the list, but this process remains unjust and we can’t help but have concerns for other schools that were not given a fair and just process,” she said.

One school that remains on the list is Prescott Elementary, 1632 W. Wrightwood, and parents and educators there insist that CPS’s designation of the school as underenrolled is based on faulty calculations.

CPS maintains the school is below 40 percent of  a 540-student capacity.  But at the school’s February 3 hearing, Jennifer Moore, a reading coach with the Erikson Institute who works with Prescott teachers, pointed out that CPS had overcounted the number of classrooms in the school, and that several rooms are used as a library, computer lab, art room, and for ESL and special education.

“If Prescott filled all 18 rooms with a maximum number of students allowable in order to reach a capacity of 540 students, the school would run afoul of educational best practices, CPS policy, and legal requirements,” she said.

Prescott supporters say the school is actually at 64 percent capacity and that next year’s enrollment is expected to take it up to 75 percent.

At Deneen Elementary 7240 S. Wabash, clergy and students planned a candlelight vigil at 5 p.m. this afternoon to protest a proposed “turnaround” despite rising attendance and reading and math scores which rose by double digits last year.

“I am tired of CPS playing with our children’s lives by treating them like they are a shift change at Cook County Jail,” said Rev. Kenyatta Smith, president of the Baptist Pastors Conference Youth Division.

Smith said the change would disrupt a number of programs in place to improve learning in the school, including a three-year professional development program to help teachers work with underachieving students.

Meanwhile, in a statement celebrating their victory, Mollison supporters called on CPS to “reevaluate the public hearing process,” in which CPS staff talk for unlimited time but school supporters are limited to two minutes each, up to the two-hour time set aside for the hearing.  That meant many were shut out entirely – including most supporters of Wells Prep, which was to have been moved into Mollison.

They also questioned the use of the new “performance policy” ranking system to designate schools for closing when it “has not yet been fully vetted by CPS educactors.”

Rev. Jeff Campbell, LSC cochair at Mollison, 4415 S. King, noted that CPS “is already planning to remove two of our teachers.”

“If CPS wants us to do the job that needs to be done,” he said, “we encourage CPS to provide resources that will support educational opportunities, including a reading and math coach, money to keep our two teachers, and not having to make choices between buying teachers or books or books versus educational software.”

The group applauded their alderman, Pat Dowell of the 3rd Ward, for supporting Mollison, and for introducing a resolution calling for a moratorium on school closings until CPS gets feedback from a task force of the General Assembly that is studying the district’s facility planning. A hearing on that resolution is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

Hearings on school closings

For coverage of community and downtown hearings on Renaissance 2010 school closings, there’s really only Substance — since, as Substance reports, the Trib and Sun Times haven’t reported on hearings where 2,500 people have come out.

The paper posts daily on the web and is now posting video from the hearings on youtube.  Check out Debra Thompson, LSC chair at Paderewski, 2221 S. Lawndale:

One new trend: unlike last year, members of City Council are coming out to oppose closings.  Freddrenna Lyle of the 6th Ward has spoken out against “turnarounds” at Gillespie (9301 S. State) and Deneen (7420 S. Wabash), Pat Dowell of the 3rd against the “consolidation” of Mollison (4415 S. King), and Scott Waguespack of the 32nd  against closing Prescott (1632 W. Wrightwood).

Perhaps most notably, 17th Ward Ald. Latasha Thomas, who chairs the council’s education committee, has opposed the closing of Guggenheim (7141 S. Morgan), not only challenging the convoluted (and sometimes absurd) “performance” ratings used to justify the closings, but questioning the entire school closing strategy:  “When you close a school you penalize the students.  When you close a school you penalize the very people you are working for.”

There have been repeated challenges to the bizarre “performance policy” data (which turns out to be inaccurate in many cases) and repeated charges that schools have been denied resources.

And there is repeated evidence that CPS is flying blind when it comes to facilities planning.  Mollison lost its reading specialist based on a projected decline in enrollment that never actually occurred (the position was not restored); Prescott is being closed for underenrollment even though it’s attracting young families that are now moving into its attendance area; Paderewski lost enrollment after CPS reduced the school’s attendance boundaries.

In several cases, students will face long treks – and pass several nearby schools – in order to keep Ron Huberman’s promise to send them to schools with higher scores.  Latasha Thomas says:  “Seven or eight blocks means some students will drop out.”

Here’s what Debra Thompson says in the video above:  “You expect my kids to walk through drug-infested neighborhoods — for 12 blocks – to get to school?  That’s unreal.”   She asks: “What right do you have…to make decisions for our children and our community?”

Andersen sleepout/school planning bill passes

Parents at Andersen Elementary School are holding a sleepout Saturday night to protest the acceleration of the school’s phase-out — two days after the General Assembly gave final approval to a new law aimed at addressing shortcomings in CPS’s school closing policy.

Parents, students, teachers, and supporters will camp out at the school, 1148 N. Honore, from 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 30 to 10 a..m. on Sunday, May 31, said Andersen LSC chair Miriam Rodriguez.

Last February the Board of Education voted to phase out Andersen and phase in a new campus for LaSalle Language Academy, an Old Town-based magnet school. Andersen parents were promised that current students could finish elementary school there; Andersen would lose one grade a year, and LaSalle II would add one.

But this spring CPS announced that LaSalle II would add not one, but four new grades next year, expanding from its current scope of PreK-to-2nd to go to 6th grade.

Rodriguez said she has spoken at Board of Education meetings asking what this meant for Andersen children, and Board President Michael Scott promised to send representatives to meet with Andersen parents and teachers. But that hasn’t happened, she said.

“We don’t understand how CPS works,” she said. “We want an answer: Why take a school where scores are higher than the district’s, where they are going up every year, and phase us out? If something is working, why dismantle it?

“How is it that a certain class is entitled to a good education but those who are minority and low-income — and their teachers are succeeding with them — [CPS] keep[s] playing with their lives?” she said.

“If it’s the location that they want, why not relocate us and let us start again with PreK through 8th?” she said. “When they want a location, they don’t think about who they are hurting.”

Special Ed

Rodriguez said that LaSalle II has included some special education programming — Andersen had a large number of special ed students; indeed, it was deemed “underutilized” in part because legal limits on special ed classes aren’t considered in CPS space calculations (see Newstips 2-15-08) — but she doesn’t know how long they intend to keep it. “It may just be part of the transition,” she said.

Like many magnet schools, LaSalle’s main campus has some students with moderate disabilities, said Rod Estvan of Access Living. But when a student with severe disabilities was admitted to LaSalle through a lottery, the principal suggested the family find another school, until legal action was threatened, he said.

“In magnet schools in general, if they think a kid is going to be a burden, they’d just as soon not have them,” said Estvan. “They try to weed them out.”

Renaissance 2010 has not helped students with disabilities, according to a new study by Access Living. The group opposed Andersen’s closing last year, pointing to its test scores for students with disabilities, which were significantly higher than the district average.

School Facilities Plan

Meanwhile the Senate and House unanimously passed Rep. Cynthia Soto’s school facilities bill on Thursday, establishing a Chicago Education Facilities Task Force to develop a facilities policy for CPS that would establish clear criteria for decisions about school construction, repair, and closings — likely including requirements for community input and protections for students in schools that are closed.

A last-minute amendment allows the task force to make policy recommendations but it retains the option of proposing new legislation to establish legally binding guidelines — an option that is likely to be exercised, according to Don Moore of Designs for Change.

Despite strong opposition from CPS and Mayor Daley, the bill attracted not one single “nay” vote in House and Senate committee hearings or two rounds of votes by the two houses.

That shows that “a lot of legislators aren’t happy with the way the schools are run,” Moore said. “A lot of them feel that the schools in their districts aren’t being treated fairly in terms of resources and new buildings.”

West Town youth media center displaced by fire

Street-Level Youth Media is looking for program and office space after an early-morning fire on October 14 rendered uninhabitable its Neutral Ground Multimedia Center, 1856 W. Chicago.

“We’re all shaken,” said Street-Level executive director Manwah Lee. “Some of the youth who’ve been coming here for years see this as a second home. But we’re keeping our spirits up so we can move forward and rebuild Street-Level.”

For over ten years, the center’s computer lab has provided open access and homework help to neighborhood youth and served as a community technology center for West Town residents. The center has offered free media arts workshops year-round on video, radio, music, and graphic arts production, and housed a gallery to exhibit youth productions, a community space for screenings and performances, and a small recording studio.

Street-Level’s music and radio workshops are moving temporarily to a nearby recording studio, Lee said. The group is also continuing in-school and after-school programming at several elementary and high schools. A permanent exhibit to showcase Street-Level productions at two schools, “My Community Matters,” opened this spring at the Chicago Children’s Museum.

Lee hopes to find temporary or permanent space so Street-Level can resume its full schedule in January. “We want to continue to be a place where young people are able to access resources so they can develop their voice, so they can have an avenue to address the things they care about through media arts.”

Growing out of a grassroots youth video project, Neutral Ground opened in the early 1990s at a location where four gang boundaries intersected. Young people concerned about violence created a series of video letters which opened a dialogue between rival gang members.

Street-Level incorporated as a nonprofit in 1995. In 1998 the organization won the Coming Up Taller Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts for its innovative approach to arts education.

“Street-Level gives young people a real sense of what engagement really means,” said founder Paul Teruel, who is now director of community partnerships for Columbia College. “More than just making a video or a CD or a website, what does it mean to care about your community and your world.”

He added that “my first thoughts go to the youth.”


West Town Residents Fight Hospital Cuts

When Resurrection Health Care acquired two longstanding Catholic charity hospitals in West Town in 2001, it promised residents that healthcare services would be maintained.

Now Resurrection is seeking approval from state regulators to eliminate pediatrics, obstetrics, intensive care, cardiac and emergency room services, and to sharply cut surgical and psychiatric services at St. Elizabeth Hospital (1431 N. Claremont).

The second-largest hospital chain in the Chicago area, Resurrection acquired both St. Elizabeth and St. Mary Hospital (2233 W. Division) in 2001; the IHFPB approved a common management structure in 2003, although denying a complete merger and requiring further applications for service changes. Community and labor activists have charged that charity care at the hospitals dropped dramatically since Resurrection acquired them.

Residents organized as the Coalition for the Future of St. Elizabeth Hospital say they have been rebuffed in attempts to meet Resurrection leaders and have had no response to a request to the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board for a community hearing on the service cuts. The IHFPB is scheduled to act on Resurrection’s application for a permit to cut services at a November 1-2 meeting in Carbondale.

On Tuesday, October 11, Coalition members — dressed in hospital gowns and displaying hospital sheets representing each of 168 beds Resurrection wants to cut — will deliver 2000 letters from West Town residents asking the IHFPB to deny Resurrection’s request (11:30 a.m. at the Thompson Center, 100 N. Randolph).

There is strong demand for pediatric, maternity, and cardiac services in the neighborhood, said Dolores Thibault-Munoz of Blocks Together, one of four groups in the Coalition. And emergency rooms at St. Elizabeth and St. Mary both operate at capacity, she said.

Blocks Together leader Darlene Runyon-Kaiser said she was turned away from St. Elizabeth’s emergency room in April 2003 after a bad fall in which she suffered a concussion and two broken wrists. The senior citizen has lived since 1973 in a house two blocks from where she was born at North and Karlov.

She said paramedics took her to St. Elizabeth but the emergency room was full and not accepting patients, and she was rerouted to Advocate Illinois Masonic. There she underwent two surgeries. “It was quite a trip to make — with a cast — for follow-up care,” she said.

Runyon-Kaiser told of unsuccessful efforts to meet with Resurrection officials over the past year. “The only thing they ever did was call security and the police,” she said. “They just shun us completely, like we have the plague or something.” After 50 Coalition members sought a meeting with Resurrection CEO Joseph Tooney last year, they were told to call for an appointment, she said, adding that “they never bothered to return our call.”

“We need these services in this area,” Runyon-Kaiser said. “Where are we supposed to go?”

The Coalition for the Future of St. Elizabeth Hospital, which includes Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp., Blocks Together, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, and West Town Leadership United, is calling on Resurrection to increase charity care and care for the uninsured and to maintain vital medical services.

The Coalition has expressed concern over job reductions at the two hospitals and over resident fears “that sale of St. Elizabeth properties for luxury residential development will further fuel gentrification that has driven up housing costs and driven out longtime residents,” Thibault-Munoz said.

“We want to keep the hospital open, and we want to hold Resurrection accountable to the community,” she said.

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