One of the worst things a teacher can do to a student is to break a promise. A missed basketball game or poetry slam can crack a strong bond with a student who’s counting on me to be there.
It was in schools on Chicago’s South Side, in Roseland and Englewood, that I learned to carefully craft promises I could keep. I only wish the Chicago Public Schools system could say the same about the promises it has made to students.
In a classic bait-and-switch, CPS has announced the closures of four neighborhood high schools in Englewood — the only four that remain in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in our city. All four schools have experienced declining enrollment due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is the explosion of school choice over the last decade.
CPS’ original plan, announced in June, called for the consolidation of Hope, Harper, Robeson and TEAM Englewood schools, and the addition of a gleaming state-of-the-art Englewood high school campus costing $75 million. But on Nov. 30, CPS called for the school closures without consolidation and added $10 million to the cost of the new building’s construction.
This means there will be no neighborhood high school in Englewood for the foreseeable future. And after its grand opening in 2019, the new school will only accept 300 freshmen.
As a former TEAM Englewood teacher, I’ll admit that getting a handle on enrollment in our school was tough. With four neighborhood high schools, two charter schools and a selective enrollment school — not to mention scores of other schools just a bus ride away — all vying for about 2,000 students, someone was bound to fail. Being a high-performing high school and having the ability to advertise and successfully recruit students proved to be impossible to sustain.
TEAM, Hope, Harper, and Robeson experienced this slow death simultaneously as schools lost resources, course offerings and staff. Englewood has become a prime example of what an over-saturation of schools can do to a neighborhood, and there are many more like it in Chicago.
Back in June when CPS first announced their plan, former CEO Forrest Claypool attempted to bolster support for the school closings by stating, “Englewood children should not have to travel for miles and miles to find a quality high school experience.” Yet, ironically, the closings will force them to travel miles and miles for a high school experience not all that different from the one they left behind.
The remaining charter schools that the district says will be allowed to expand cannot take in the current student population. One school is for boys only, and the other serves only 5th through 8th graders. Thinking of only future Englewood students, CPS forgot to factor in the almost 600 students who presently attend Englewood’s neighborhood high schools and will be pushed on to other schools and other neighborhoods.
In 2019, when the new school finally is opened, who will walk through its doors, given that students and families already will have moved on to other schools in other neighborhoods?
The move to close instead of consolidate schools further proves CPS is out of touch with the very families and students it aims to serve. During the massive school closures of 2013, CPS decided not to close high schools because they were fearful of gang lines being crossed. Today, CPS is not even mentioning gang boundaries, though students will be traversing them on a daily basis.
Most students now will have to travel and probably pay for transportation to “welcoming schools” located in Gage Park and Bronzeville. Even on a reduced fare, one high school student riding just one CTA bus round-trip each day for a school year will cost an already cash-strapped family an additional $275 a year.
Equally troubling is recent research that shows that although CPS students are leading the nation in academic growth, low-income African American students have made the lowest gains. Just as CPS did in 2013 when it closed almost 50 schools, the district is forcing the mobility of low-income African American students at a time when CPS should be finding ways to make their educational lives more stable.
With hearings set in January and the final decisions slated for February, I hope that under new leadership CPS will make good on its original promise and create a consolidation plan that allows Englewood students to go to school in their own neighborhood, if they choose, just as every other high school student in Chicago can.
And it is my hope that when CPS finally does open this dream of a new school, the administration will allow not just 9th graders to enroll, but students in all high school grades.
The students of Englewood and every other neighborhood deserve this promise of democratic schooling, not eviction.
Gina Caneva is a 14-year Chicago Public Schools veteran who works as a teacher-librarian and Writing Center Director at Lindblom Math and Science Academy. She is a National Board Certified teacher and Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alum. Follow her on Twitter @GinaCaneva.
Send letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org.