Chicago parents, educators spar over proposed public school closings

  • By Jay Field
  • February 25, 2009 @ 3:00 PM

If Chicago schools officials thought opponents of closures and turnarounds might be at least somewhat satisfied, after six struggling and under enrolled schools got a reprieve earlier this week, today’s Board of Education meeting suggests activists are growing even more determined in their opposition. 

Board members were scheduled to vote on the revised list of sixteen schools late this afternoon.

Evidence of continued community outrage was on display way before the first gavel even fell, in the list of names Chicago Public Schools officials hand out as you enter the board chambers at 125 S. Clark St.

People on the list have signed up to give testimony during the monthly, two-hour public comment period, and this month, as one CPS official noted, there were more names on the list than at any other time in the last four years. 

Not surprisingly, many, like teacher Jackson Potter, did not come to offer praise and good wishes.

“It’s six schools that were spared, but it’s a somber day because sixteen (on the proposed closing list),” says Potter, a teacher at Social Justice High School in Little Village and a member of Grassroots Education Movement, which has been fighting school closures and turnarounds. 

Potter spent last night on the sidewalk outside CPS headquarters protesting the upheaval he contends closings and turnarounds can cause in students’ lives.

“Mr. Huberman, as the new CEO, you have an obligation to halt the tsunami of school disruption and reincorporate parents, teachers and communities into their natural role as leaders in the educational process,” says Potter.

Ron Huberman, who’s been on the job for just under a month, listened impassively from his desk on the dais.

Potter’s organization and others, including the Chicago Teachers Union, are calling for a moratorium on school closings and turnarounds.

Their crusade got a jolt of adrenaline last week, when the Illinois House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee moved along a bill by Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago), demanding a halt.

Soto’s measure, which now goes to the full House, also calls for a small group of state lawmakers to examine whether Chicago Public Schools is making the best use of its facilities. 

District officials see consolidating and phasing out half-empty schools as financially vital moves, as the system faces a staggering budget deficit made worse by the deepening recession.

At a quick news conference between board sessions, Huberman was quick to dispel the notion that his willingness to knock six schools off the closure and turnaround list means he favors a wholesale moratorium.

“The schools that have turned around have consistently shown progress, so I think it is unfair to make those kids in those low-performing schools wait while we debate the different research,” Huberman says.