Altgeld Gardens charter protests CPS’ proposed closing

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The principal and students of a Far South Side charter school protested its proposed closure by Chicago Public Schools after school Monday, saying the district abruptly changed the rules and hasn’t provided better options nearby in Altgeld Gardens.

Chicago International Charter Schools’ Larry Hawkins campus has been named as one of four poor-performing charter campuses that CPS is seeking to close in June. Its operating charter will be revoked, should the Board of Education approve the closure as it’s expected to as early as December. CEO Forrest Claypool said he wanted to “signal to charters not performing well, that they need to either improve or pack their bags because they will not be able to operate in Chicago.”

CPS said in making the announcement late last week that Hawkins had been warned about its poor performance and failed to implement a remediation plan or improve kids’ academic performance.

But the school serving grades seven to 12 at 801 E. 133rd Place says it did improve since last year, pulling its lowest-ranked rating up a notch to Level 2. Then, it says, CPS suddenly changed the rules saying recently that a charter couldn’t be Level 2 or Level 3 for two consecutive years.

Senior Cameron Barnes, 17, was a seventh-grader at Hawkins in its first year and said the school “has made a tremendous change since the first day it opened.”

Hardly any fights now. Tougher classes.

“When I first got here, there was not much to keep myself on the honor roll but now I have to really strive and do my best,” he said by telephone, shortly before joining the principal for a press conference on the front steps.

“We worked hard,” said principal Rodney Hull, now in his third year at the school. “We basically worked on the educational environment the last couple years I’ve been here.”

Hull said he hired stronger teachers, arranged for relevant training and brought up the school’s attendance rate, too.

Hull said he didn’t know why CPS changed its rules.

“We don’t have a lot of information. We just know we built a strong community here for the kids. We have community partnerships to support them,” he said, adding, “We wish they would look at the school on an individual basis.”

Now the closest neighborhood school for one of the city’s farthest South Side communities is several miles away — Fenger High School. And it’s also rated Level 2.

“Students and parents are very concerned. They believed that they were finally seeing success and it is now being taken away from them,” Hull said.

Nearby Carver Military Academy High School has a high rating of Level 1 but follows a strict military model not designed for everyone. It also draws applicants from the entire city.

Barnes said he has walked to school and wants the same for the younger students, saying, “I don’t want them to have to commute very early in the morning and very dangerously to another school.”

CPS stood by its recommendation Monday. Those schools “have demonstrated an inability to provide students with a high quality education,” spokesman Michael Passman said in an email. He said CPS is acting now so families have time to carefully choose a new school.

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