Parents of a Near South Side school, which Chicago Public Schools wants to close and convert to a new high school, have come up with their own test for CPS.
Families and staff at National Teachers Academy began circulating a “racial equity assessment” Wednesday in a bid to save their grade school at 55 W. Cermak Road from being closed in favor of a new neighborhood high school serving all or parts of the South Loop, Bronzeville, Bridgeport, Chinatown and other neighborhoods.
CPS, which announced the controversial conversion earlier this year, has argued that its plan will integrate the diverse neighborhoods just south of the Loop while delivering a sorely needed new high school in the area for a mere $10 million.
The NTA parents who stand to lose their school say the assessment will weigh the benefits and drawbacks of CPS’ plan via data-driven methods the school district lacks.
“Like a traffic study we do when a development happens, it’s a tool to solve community problems and avoid doing new harm,” said Niketa Brar, executive director of Chicago United for Equity.
CPS announced its plan for the Near South Side school as it prepares for its self-imposed moratorium on school closures to expire in 2018. CPS must announce any proposed school closures for next year by Friday, and many NTA parents fear their school is on the list.
Under CPS’ plan, NTA students would be absorbed into nearby South Loop Elementary School, which is building a new $62 million campus at 1601 S. Dearborn St., set to open in 2019. The proposed high school’s boundaries have not been announced yet.
Staff and parents at NTA have protested the closure since it was announced in May, speaking up at public meetings and demonstrating outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home, among other actions.
NTA attained the highest school rating on CPS’ five-point scale in 2016-17 despite rating much lower in recent years.
Some parents at NTA, which serves a predominantly black and low-income student body, say CPS’ plan will effectively shut out a high-achieving school of color in favor of one that serves a more affluent student body that lives closer to downtown.
“In 2017, racism doesn’t just look like people walking around in the streets with tiki torches,” Brar said. “It’s structures.”
The NTA parents’ assessment is a rubric that scrutinizes demographic and academic achievement data, as well as CPS’ community outreach. The parents will meet two more times before a panel including former CPS principal and mayoral candidate Troy LaRaviere present their findings to the city’s Board of Education in January. CPS has said the board will likely vote on the NTA proposal in February.
Janice Jackson, CPS’ chief education officer, said in August that National Teachers Academy’s conversion will be done in phases and its building will continue to be managed by the Academy of Urban School Leadership, a nonprofit that trains teachers who fan out among 30 CPS schools it manages.
The high school would keep the National Teachers Academy name, Jackson said then.
But NTA parents are skeptical.
Aiko Hibino of Hyde Park has a son in the regional gifted center housed at NTA. She said the city is arguing to close NTA because it lacks the $75 million or more it would take to build a new neighborhood high school, only to see that kind of money spent on other endeavors.
“If it’s the mayor’s pet project, it can get the money,” Hibino said. “I don’t buy the financial argument anymore.”
Marieyea Crawford, an eighth-grader at NTA, has been attending the school since she was in kindergarten. She hopes her protest won’t only help the school that she says helped her throughout her young life, but any others that could be on the city’s chopping block.
“Any way it goes, somebody is going to be affected,” Crawford said. “We’re not just fighting for our school, but all the other schools on that list.”