The Chicago Public Schools website states its mission as follows: “To provide a high-quality public education for every child, in every neighborhood, that prepares each for success in college, career, and civic life.”
But two recent decisions by the Board of Education run in stark contrast to that mission.
In Englewood, CPS soon will phase out three neighborhood high schools with low enrollment — Harper, Hope, and TEAM Englewood — and close and demolish Robeson High to make way for a new $85 million campus that will open in August 2019.
Unfortunately, the teens at the schools that are closing won’t get a chance to attend the brand-new school. In this case, CPS’ vision to offer “a high-quality education,” apparently applies only to future students, not students who will be stuck in the dying high schools.
There’s another issue at play here: The corruption behind the West Englewood Coalition, which showed up at several hearings to voice support for the closures and often drowned out opponents. But as the Sun-Times discovered, the West Englewood Coalition was in fact based in Homewood, a suburb of Chicago miles from Englewood. And CPS was paying one of its leaders as a vendor.
Last spring, I stood on the steps of the Capitol in Springfield and listened to then-CEO Forrest Claypool speak at a rally for equitable funding, with current CEO Janice Jackson by his side. As I reflect on that moment, it is clear to me that while my district will fight for equitable funding, it won’t use equitable practices that are common elsewhere.
I can only imagine the lawsuits that would have been filed by the people of suburban Lockport, where I grew up, if residents of a neighboring town had banded together to protest our decisions about schools. And if those protestors were actually being paid? The resignations and firings would have taken place shortly after the news was reported.
Not in Chicago, though. Here, unfathomable as it may seem, the news got swept under the rug. CEO Jackson responded to the report by saying, “You don’t have to live in a community. I don’t live in the community and we’re making proposals and decisions about that.”
Here is another example of how CPS is failing in its mission: The board’s vote to close the National Teachers’ Academy, a high-achieving, mostly African-American elementary school in the South Loop that embodies the idea of a “high-quality education” for low-income children of color. Yet the board ignored the pleas of parents and students to keep the school open and voted to convert it to a high school for the burgeoning middle-income population in the area.
There’s one recent bright spot where CPS made the right move. That’s the merger of Jenner Academy with Ogden Elementary School, which will integrate Ogden’s mostly white, middle-class students and Jenner’s mostly black, low-income children. The decision came after careful planning and consensus from both parties, hammered out over several years.
CPS cannot live up to its mission if it continues to pick and choose which communities are allowed to have a voice in decisions, and to shift students from school to school, displacing families along the way.
It is clear that Chicago needs an elected School Board so that practices and decisions are more transparent and fair.
Until then, our most disadvantaged communities and schools will continue to have little control over their fate.
Gina Caneva teaches at Lindblom Math and Science Academy and a former policy fellow for the group Teach Plus.
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