Byrd-Bennett declares school closing process a success

Written By BY LAUREN FITZPATRICK Education Reporter Posted: 03/26/2014, 11:18am
Array Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett | Sun-Times files

As fervent supporters defended several schools pegged for major changes this fall, Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett on Wednesday said last year’s historically massive school closing process made the district stronger “in spite of dire predictions.”

Byrd-Bennett said that a district analysis of schools consolidated with the closed 47 elementary schools showed that incidents of misconduct were down in schools that took in children from closed schools in the second quarter of this year over last; grade point averages had risen; and the much-touted Safe Passage routes between the closed and new schools saw no major violent incidents while workers were at their posts.

“Much was said last year about potential adverse effects” of closing so many schools at one time, she said at Wednesday’s scheduled meeting of the Board of Education. “None of the negative predictions have come true. In fact the opposite has happened.”

Last winter and spring, thousands of parents, teachers and students begged at public hearings held throughout the city for their schools to stay open, primarily out of concern for the safety of children walking to new schools across gang lines.

“As a result of the consolidations, we’re stronger today than we were before, and we’re better positioned today to deliver the resources that support all of Chicago’s next generation of children,” Byrd-Bennett told the board.

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, reminded board members that the transition has not been entirely seamless.

“There are still 800 students unaccounted for from the entire move last year,” she said. “These are things that are never discussed publicly that need to be discussed publicly.”

Byrd-Bennett promised last year that she wouldn’t close any more schools for five years, but she left the door open for other kinds of major staff and curriculum changes to schools.

Supporters of several CPS schools targeted now for those changes rallied Wednesday morning outside district headquarters, and inside, they asked the school board to leave their schools alone.

Christina Torres, a supporter of Ames Middle School in Logan Square, asked the board to reconsider its decision to convert Ames into a military school, presenting results of an advisory referendum on the March 18 ballot.

“The results show an astounding 69 percent of verified voters voted in favor of keeping Ames as a community school . . . rather than being converted to a military academy,” she said.

McNair Elementary School in Austin, Dvorak Technology Academy in North Lawndale and Gresham Elementary School in Auburn-Gresham have been recommended for management by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, which already runs 29 CPS schools and teacher training academies. That means their entire staffs will be fired and replaced.

Lisa Russell, a mother of twins in the fourth grade at Dvorak, asked the board to spare the school when they vote in April.

“I know we’re not moving as fast as you all want us to, but you understand, we take every child from anywhere. We take the children that nobody wants,” she said. “I just ask that you please don’t turn us around. Give us resources and money.

“Oh I forgot, the new furniture, can you please put that on hold?” she said, referring to a proposal by the cash-strapped district to spend an additional $5 million at Staples on the purchase and delivery of new office furniture for its planned headquarters move to a smaller space at 1 N. Dearborn.

The board, after hearing a top district official say that the new space would save the district $60 million over 15 years, voted unanimously to make the purchase.


Twitter: @bylaurenfitz

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