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CPS to close three ’empty’ schools, considers Ogden-Jenner merger

Ogden International School, 24 W. Walton. | James Foster / Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools officials said Thursday three schools that already have been emptied out will be permanently closed at the end of the school year.

CPS says it also will move toward a merger of neighboring Ogden International, which is crowded, and Jenner Elementary, where enrollment is low, but wouldn’t take any definitive action until the 2018-19 school year at the earliest.

As for closings, Marshall Middle School and two contract schools recently put under CPS jurisdiction — Career Academy, 8 W. Root, and Early College High School, 1310 S. Ashland — will be formally closed in June if the Chicago Board of Education follows the recommendations of CPS administrators, which were required to be announced by Dec. 1.

Under state law, CPS cannot close schools without announcing their intentions, and then holding public hearings before seeking school board approval. Closing charter schools requires a separate process.

The dwindling number of Marshall Middle students already moved from sharing a building with the Disney II Magnet School, 3900 N. Lawndale, to share space and a principal with Roosevelt High School at 3436 W. Wilson, a move that could bolster the neighborhood high school’s enrollment, too, chief education officer Janice Jackson said.

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The merger is a “good example of a community-driven process,” she said. The only concerns about the move came from teachers who were worried about losing their jobs “and we made good on that.”

Unusually for proposed school closings, the Chicago Teachers Union declined to comment, with spokesman Ronnie Reese saying that the Marshall move was supported by the staff there.

As for the contract schools, Career Academy voluntarily closed, and Early College, formerly known as Prologue – Early College, was plagued by academic and financial problems over several years, she said.

“With Prologue, we made that decision last year and our team worked with those individuals and their families to get them into alternative placement,” she said. “They had [such] serious financial concerns we could not in good conscience to allow them to operate.

In late 2012, on the eve of closing a record 50 schools, CPS promised state lawmakers a five-year moratorium on closing schools in exchange for more time to consider how to undertake such mass closings. CPS has said in the past that its closings of empty buildings didn’t violate that moratorium.

It’s not the first time in recent years that CPS has closed a school, citing a lack of demand. Ames Middle School was swallowed up by Marine Math and Science Academy High School, formerly at 145 S. Campbell, and Montefiore Elementary School, which served special education students at 1310 S. Ashland, was shuttered after students had been urged to enroll elsewhere.

In fact, Early College took over the building vacated by Montefiore.

Jackson denied that any of these proposed closings violated the moratorium set to end in 2018.

“In every case we’ve made it clear, we will only consider consolidations if community is in favor of it. This is no different than what happened in Austin and this is a way we intend to look at these issues until the moratorium ends,” she said.

Though school turnarounds aren’t legally school actions, they have in the past been announced at the same time because of their impact on students and families. So far this year, Jackson said, CPS has no plans currently to do any school turnarounds — drastic changes in which a school’s entire staff is fired and asked to reapply for their jobs under new leadership that’s typically managed by the private, nonprofit Academy for Urban School Leadership.

Community meetings have been scheduled for Jan. 12 and Jan. 17, 2017, from 6 to 7:30 p.m at Wells Community High School, 936 N. Ashland.

Formal public hearings will be held at 42 W. Madison for:
• Career Academy:  5:30-6:30 p.m. Jan. 26.
• Early College: 7-8 p.m. Jan. 26.
• Marshall Middle: 6-7 p.m. Jan. 30.

Meetings for Jenner and Ogden have been scheduled for Feb. 15, March 18 and April 25 at both school campuses.