Marlen Garcia: School shuffle making Southwest Side parents wary

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Art on the wall at Esmond Elementary School in Morgan Park celebrates the school’s spirit. /Photo by Marlen Garcia

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Built in the 1890s, Esmond Elementary is one of Chicago’s oldest schools. Some say it is falling apart.

Thursday morning, after dropping off a child in steady rain, a parent said a leaky roof caused water to drip in the hallway.

Later, Ald. Matt O’Shea of the 19th Ward told me there have been reports of steady drips in some classrooms on rainy days. There are also issues with cooling and heating.

A three-story modular addition built in 1971 was supposed to be in use for 20 years, the alderman said. Forty-five years later, it’s quite shabby.

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Laurie Smith, a teacher’s assistant and parent of two former Esmond students, said the addition is coming undone. From certain vantage points, she can look down to the second floor from the third floor, she said.

O’Shea wants to modernize Esmond in the Morgan Park neighborhood, but there is another pressing need in his far Southwest Side ward. Mount Greenwood Elementary, less than 3 miles from Esmond, is overcrowded with 1,106 students, up from about 600 in 2005.

Two additions at Mount Greenwood, built in the last several years, no longer can accommodate its growing student enrollment. Instead of building another annex, O’Shea wants to consolidate other elementary schools, which would free up money for Esmond.

That’s where things get thorny. His proposal calls for moving Kellogg Elementary from 9241 S. Leavitt Street down the street to Sutherland Elementary. Both have declining enrollments. The Keller Regional Gifted Center on West 108th Street in Mt. Greenwood would move to Kellogg’s former building.

Mount Greenwood then could occupy Keller’s old space.

Understandably, parents of students at Kellogg, Sutherland and Keller are resisting the proposal. At a Board of Education meeting Wednesday, about a dozen parents gave plenty of reasons to nix it. Their reasoning: Those schools are solid Level 1 performers. Why mess with their success?

Others said putting Sutherland and Kellogg together would create overcrowding for those schools.

The schools’ racial makeup also comes into play. Mount Greenwood, the school that would get more space, is 84 percent white; Kellogg and Sutherland are mostly black.

Board President Frank Clark said no plan is currently before the board. He added that he was “more than slightly impressed” by the turnout as well as the passion and thoughtfulness of the parents.

O’Shea said he is looking for alternatives to his proposal, including leasing or buying space for Mount Greenwood from nearby Saint Xavier University.

He’s worried if he doesn’t address declining enrollment, the city will if it closes more schools in 2018.

“I’ve had colleagues say, ‘They didn’t touch you (in 2013),’” O’Shea said. “But you can bet they’re going to say, ‘You better go into wards you didn’t touch the first time.’”

Parents of students at Esmond haven’t made much noise. Then, too, they’re not dealing with overcrowding or a possible move. But they shouldn’t be forgotten. Ninety-nine percent of Esmond’s students are African-American and 87 percent are considered low income. Kids use the school as a second home; some stay until 5:45 p.m. and get three meals a day there.

“We’re survivors,” Smith, the teacher’s assistant said. “We make do with what we’ve got.”

Still, they can’t be left in the cold.


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