CPS wants to close 2 schools, consolidate others

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Despite a five-year ban on closing schools, Chicago Public Schools proposes to close two schools it emptied out in recent years citing “zero student enrollment.”

And in a slew of major planned changes that state law required the district to publicize by Tuesday, CPS says it’ll also put a new charter school into an ailing neighborhood high school building at 730 N. Pulaski Road. KIPP Elementary School would be set up at Orr Academy High School, whose enrollment has dwindled.

CPS will follow a community-driven recommendation to consolidate three tiny high schools on the West Side into one that can offer more variety of classes and programs — Austin Polytechnical Academy, Austin Business and Entrepreneurship, and VOISE Academy.

“Really because of student-based budgeting and fact that you had three principals in the building with less than 600 students, it doesn’t make any sense,” said Dwayne Truss, a member of the Austin Community Action Council that supports the merger.

For similar reasons, CPS will combine two schools run by the nonprofit Academy of Urban School Leadership into one — Mary Mapes Dodge Renaissance Elementary Academy and Morton School of Excellence.

And it will move the high school grades of John Spry Community School into a building that already houses Maria Saucedo Elementary Scholastic Academy and Telpochcalli Elementary School at 2850 W. 24th Blvd.

Telpochcalli counselor Erin Franzinger Barrett said her school was blindsided by the news Tuesday, though she grew suspicious last summer when CPS closed the building her small school has shared for decades with Saucedo and did major renovations.

She characterized the plan to house teenagers in space with two pre-K through eighth grade schools a “hot mess.”

“Telpochcalli is intentionally a small school so we have less than 300 kids and we try have small class sizes. We end up technically under the efficiency model. Can we cram more kids in? Yes. Is that what we do? No,” she said, “Because it’s not good for kids.”

The small dual-language school occupies a two-story wing of the structure at 2850 W. 24th Blvd., and Saucedo has a three-story space. Barrett couldn’t immediately tell where the high-schoolers from Spry would fit in.

CPS also will close for good two schools that have existed only on paper after CPS steered students elsewhere — Moses Montefiore Special Elementary School, formerly at 1310 S. Ashland, and Marine Military Math and Science Academy, once at 145 S. Campbell.

Montefiore students were spread out at other schools and Marine’s students were urged to go to a new expanded campus about four miles away at 1920 N. Hamlin called The Marine Academy at Ames. At the time that Ames Middle School was taken over by Marine leadership, CPS described the merger as an expansion and denied that the old school had been closed.

CPS continued to insist Tuesday that the proposal doesn’t violate the moratorium.

“No students or teachers are affected by either of the actions at Montefiore or Marine, which is what the moratorium was designed to address,” spokeswoman Emily Bittner said. “The moratorium was meant to ease the public’s concerns about year over year disruptions to students, while these actions clarify the status of schools that had no students.”

Under state law, CPS cannot close schools without announcing their intentions, and then holding public hearings before asking the Board of Education for approval.

Two community meetings and a public hearing required by state law for each plan will begin in January. Votes on all the plans are expected to happen in February.

“During the past few months, we have engaged LSCs, parents and principals throughout the city about how to best modify schools so that they align with the needs of families and communities,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said in an email. “Community input has played an important role in informing these proposed actions, and we believe these modifications will allow us to better use our limited resources to meet students’ needs.”

Before closing 50 schools in 2013, former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett pledged a five-year moratorium on shutting down any more. Claypool said he’d stand by that pledge after he was appointed in July to succeed her.

Claypool did not announce any “turnaround” plans in which a school’s entire staff is fired and then replaced, typically by the Academy for Urban School Leadership. The state law governing closures and consolidations don’t include turnarounds.

PUBLIC MEETING, HEARING SCHEDULE

Austin

Community meetings: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13 and Jan. 19 at 231 N. Pine Ave.

Public hearing: 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 25 at 42 W. Madison St.

Dodge/Morton

Community meetings: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13 and Jan. 19 at Westinghouse High School, 3223 W. Franklin Blvd.

Public hearing: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 28 at 42. W. Madison.

Spry/Saucedo

Community meetings: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14 and Jan 20 at Saucedo Elementary Academy, 2850 W. 24th Blvd.

Public hearing: 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 27 at 42. W. Madison.

Orr/KIPP

Community meetings: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 14 and Jan 20 at Al Raby High School, 3545 W. Fulton Blvd.

Public hearing: 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 28 at 42. W. Madison.

Montefiore and Marine

Community meetings: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 7 and Jan. 11 at Marine’s former building now occupied by Phoenix Military High School, 145 S. Campbell Ave.

Public hearing: 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 27 at 42. W. Madison.

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