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Parents, teachers resist more school closures in North Lawndale

The proposed North Lawndale STEAM Partnership Academy would merge three schools into a newly renovated building.

Educators, parents, and students rally in front of Lawndale Community Academy on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, demanding that Chicago Public Schools keep the academy open.
Educators, parents, and students rally in front of Lawndale Community Academy on Monday, demanding Chicago Public Schools keep the academy open.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Parents, teachers and alumni of three elementary schools in North Lawndale gathered Monday to voice their opposition to a plan that would close two schools and consolidate the students into a single building.

About 40 people gathered in front of Lawndale Community Academy, 3500 W. Douglas Blvd., shouting “Fund our schools!” They passed out leaflets to cars as drivers slowed to see the commotion.

Aisha Wade Bey, a teacher at Lawndale Community Academy, said the proposed closure of the schools is a “hate crime” and demanded Chicago Public Schools support community schools.

“We are here today because you chose to close two schools on the West Side,” Wade Bey said. “The parents have come together and have decided enough is enough — do not close no more schools here on the West Side.”

The North Lawndale Parent and Community Coalition organized the event and believe the closing of Lawndale Community Academy and Crown Community Academy of Fine Arts would further destabilize the neighborhood.

To create the North Lawndale STEAM Partnership Academy — proposed by the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council — CPS would remodel Sumner Elementary School and merge the other two schools there. The new school would focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

The Chicago Board of Education hasn’t approved the proposal.

Dr. Aisha Wade Bey, who has worked 5 years at Lawndale Community Academy teaching 5th and 6th graders, speaks with reporters Monday, Nov. 9, 2020 in front of the academy. She and others are demanding that CPS not approve a plan to close her school.
Aisha Wade Bey, who has worked five years at Lawndale Community Academy teaching fifth and sixth graders, speaks with reporters Monday in front of the academy.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

School closures are nothing new in North Lawndale. In 2013, the administration of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 schools citywide, including two in the West Side neighborhood. More recently, the Board of Education voted to close Frazier Preparatory Academy.

Advocates for the merger say enrollment at each of the schools is dwindling and students need an upgraded facility.

According to CPS data, the three schools’ combined population has fallen from 1,328 during the 2010-2011 school year to just 620 for the 2020-2021 school year. The 53% drop is a prime reason in favor of consolidation.

“If you got three buildings that each hold over 700 students but you only have 200 kids in there, how is that a problem with CPS?” Catrina Singletary said. “There are not enough children to occupy these buildings and if we can get one new school that can support all of these students, how can I not support it?”

Christel Williams-Hayes, recording secretary for the Chicago Teachers Union, warned those backing the new school to not “drink the Kool-Aid.”

“We can’t always be excited because somebody is offering us something new,” Williams-Hayes said. “We are already devastated with crime, we are devastated with death. Give us what we deserve. Invest in these schools. Stop taking from us.”

Williams-Hayes, a North Lawndale resident, said when neighborhood schools are closed, it contributes to disinvestment and crime, which in turn means parents refuse to send their children to neighborhood schools, so enrollment falls further. That cycle “must stop,” she said.

“They’ve taken so much from Lawndale. So much. You ride up and down these streets and it’s vacant lots door-to-door” Williams-Hayes said. “I watched them close Goldblatt [Elementary] School. You drive down Adams [Street] right now, it’s vacant. The entire block was devastated by the closing of the school.”

James Lofton, a Lawndale alumni and parent, said it hurts to know the school’s future is uncertain.

“If they close down the school,” he said, “they are closing down the community as well.”