Chicago School Board members Wednesday unanimously agreed to close or phase out seven flagging schools and to turn around a record 10 others, only to be greeted with cries of “Shame on you!” and “Rubber Stamp!”
In the toughest test since their appointment by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, seven grim-faced board members agreed to shake up 17 schools officials labeled chronic failures.
Although not every plan for every school was “perfect,” School Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz explained later, the vote marked an opportunity “to do something today for our children.” Targeted schools, he said, had been “not serving our students for years.”
Earlier, joining a crowd of hundreds that packed two rooms at Board of Education headquarters, the Rev. Jesse Jackson made his first appearance ever at a school closing vote. He declared that closings disproportionately impacted African-American communities and teachers and reflected an “apartheid” Chicago educational system.
Both Jackson and the Rev. Paul Jakes, a former mayoral candidate, said they were exploring civil rights lawsuits over the issue. And Jackson and others vowed that the board’s unanimous vote would give steam to calls to give Chicago an elected school board – like every other school district in the state.
Jackson Wednesday joined a long line of critics who complained that targeted schools had been starved of resources, lacked up-to-date-books, had no libraries, lost math and reading specialists and experienced an inequity in resources that contributed to their demise.
Said Jackson: “There are 160 CPS schools without libraries; 140 of them are south of North Avenue. That’s apartheid.”
Others charged their schools had been subjected to a revolving door of district-appointed administrators, each with their own fix that never had the time to stick. Several schools presented their own plans for rejuvenation, but the only community-generated idea that gained traction involved Crane High School, the alma mater of a host of sports legends, including George Halas.
Board members approved original plans to phase out the old Crane and give half its building to a charter high school. But they also signed on to an 11th-hour proposal to replace the old Crane with a new neighborhood high school that would focus on health sciences and tap the medical expertise in the area.
The board heard the message that keeping Crane’s “name and identity” as a neighborhood school was important, said Board member Mahalia Hines, a former CPS principal.
The clean-sweep vote brought cries of “Shame on You!”and “rubber stamp!” from the gaggle of school activists who waited out the board’s two hours of deliberation.
“They vote what the mayor says,” Carolina Gaeta of the community group Blocks Together yelled afterwards.
“We are not surprised that an unelected, unaccountable school board would vote unanimously to continue the same failed policies that have short-changed Chicago Public School students for years,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
“We are, however, disappointed that these board members lack the moral courage to do the right thing.”
Jitu Brown, a local school board member at Dyett High School, now due for phase-out, greeted the decision with a series of long, loud “boos” that reverberted through board chambers. He charged CPS had “destabilized” Bronzeville with more than 10 school actions in 10 years and now was ignoring community-written plans to rejuvenate Dyett and its Bronzeville feeder schools.
However, Board member Mahalia Hines, a former CPS principal, said board members want to continue to talk to Bronzeville community groups about their plans for the area. Dyett’s phase-out is a “three-year process” and local groups may still be part of the solution, Hines said.
Asked how she felt to be labeled a “rubber stamp,” Hines said: “I’m okay with it. Whether I am elected or appointed, I’m going to vote the same way. I am not just voting on what management told me….
Also approved for closure were Guggenheim, Price, Lathrop and Reed elementary schools, plus Best Practice High. Cleared for “turnarounds,” in which all staff in a school are replaced, were Casals, Fuller, Herzl, Marquette, Piccolo, Stagg, Wendell Smith and Woodson South elementary schools, plus Chicago Vocational and Tilden high schools.