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CPS lets West Side residents sound off on school needs; more events planned

CPS community meeting at Collins Academy High School

Residents attend the first in a series of CPS community meetings. | Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Catherine Jones, 60, intently flipped through a printed analysis of West Side public schools.

“Why are there so many vacant seats in Level 1 schools here, you all?” she asked the other five people sitting at a table with her. “And why are these kids traveling outside of their zones to go to worse-off schools when they have a Level 1 schools near them? Come on, you all, think! … Why?”

Longtime Austin resident Stella Mason had some ideas.

“Parents may be driving out of the community to take their children to these other schools because they are looking at their safety,” Mason, 52, said. “Also, to be honest, sometimes it all has to do with the programs other schools have to offer.”

Nearly 100 people gathered at Collins Academy High School’s gymnasium for the first of 16 Chicago Public Schools forums being held across the city. The discussions — designed around CPS’ Annual West Side Regional Analysis — will bring parents and others together to discuss possible solutions to some of the hurdles facing schools in all 16 CPS regions.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson wants people to voice their concerns and search for solutions on various issues unique to each region. Wednesday night, for instance, Jones wasn’t the only one to bring up the issue of children choosing to attend underperforming schools outside their area.

Of 58 elementary schools in the West Side region, nearly half are Level 1 or 1+. But the majority of the nearly 15,000 elementary students in the region aren’t attending a Level 1 or 1+ school. Schools on the West Side rated at those levels have 9,921 unfilled seats.

There are only two high-performing high schools in the region; Level 1 high schools on the West side have 72 open seats.

Mason also said parents also want to feel good about their school. If the front office is unwelcoming, she said, parents may wonder if is best for their child, regardless of rating.

According to CPS, in the West Side region, one-fifth of elementary-aged students attend schools outside their region, and more than half of high school students aren’t attending high-performing schools in their region.

Those attending Thursday’s meeting broke into smaller groups, and Jackson walked from table to table in the gym to join in the discussions.

Mason was happy to see Jackson talk to people at the meeting; Jackson, she said, was genuine in empowering the community to decide what is important for their schools.

“I think we have to get away from these stand-and-deliver meetings where we just present information and then hear from people but not really engage them,” Jackson said. She hopes these meetings can help improve how CPS allocates resource — which also means the community has to be open to what she called “tough decisions” involving underperforming schools.

“At some point, people are going to have to buy into the process,” Jackson said. “Here is the community engagement and opportunity for parents to say what you want, think or feel should happen in your community.”

Jones, who has been involved with CPS for over two decades, is more pessimistic.

“[CPS] has tried doing this in the past and has been unsuccessful,” said Jones, who has served on both her Local School Council and been a longtime Parent-Teacher Association member.

“We propose things and try to figure out what we can do it improve things and they simply go unheard. … I hope something can come out of this, but I doubt it.”

The next event is 6 p.m. Thursday at Lincoln Park High School, 2001 N. Orchard St.

Here are the other meetings that have been scheduled:

Oct. 22, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Corliss High School, 821 E. 103rd St.

Nov. 7, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Lindblom High School, 6130 S. Wolcott Ave.

Nov. 8, 6p.m. – 8 p.m.
Chicago Vocational Career Academy, 2100 E. 87th St.

Nov. 13, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Morgan Park High School, 1744 W. Pryor Ave.

Nov. 14, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Steinmetz High School, 3030 N. Mobile Ave.

Nov. 15, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Wells High School, 936 N. Ashland Ave.

Nov. 19, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Kelly High School, 4136 S. California Ave.

Nov. 26, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Benito Juarez Community Academy, 1450 W. Cermak Rd.

Dec. 6, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Curie Metropolitan High School, 4959 S. Archer Ave.

Dec. 11, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Roger Sullivan High School, 6631 N. Bosworth Ave.

Dec. 12, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Phoenix Military Academy, 145 S. Campbell Ave.

Dec. 13, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Dyett High School for the Arts, 555 E. 51st St.

Dec. 18, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Roosevelt High School, 3436 W. Wilson Ave.

Dec. 19, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Graham Training Center High School, 2347 S. Wabash Ave.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.