Quick Hit Steven Ross Johnson Friday November 2nd, 2012, 6:44pm

Discord Over Chicago Public School Closings Grows, Logan Square Community Balks At Consolidation Plan (VIDEO)

The fight over public school closures and consolidations in Chicago came to the northwest side community of Logan Square this week, as nearly 100 concerned parents and residents filled a classroom in Ames Middle School in response to a proposed plan to move a military academy into the building.

The plan, submitted to the Chicago Board of Education by Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), would bring Marine Military Academy High School, currently located at 145 S. Campbell Ave., to Ames with the intent of expanding the school to include both 7th and 8th grades.

Organizers for the event said an invitation was sent to Maldonado to attend the community meeting, but he declined.

The proposal sparked anger among the school’s parents, who said Maldonado never discussed the plan with the community, which according to a survey conducted last month by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), is overwhelmingly opposed to the idea.

LSNA spokeswoman Bridget Murphy said of the 357 respondents questioned, 87 percent said they were opposed to the plan.

Here's a bit of what happened at the community meeting yesterday morning:

Ames currently has a population of 480 students in the 7th and 8th grades, according to the CPS Web site. Last school year, Ames was deemed “underutilized”, according to CPS’ School Space Utilization Report.

Murphy acknowledged that Ames' attendance had dropped, but explained that it was due to the Board of Education’s decision in April to include 7th and 8th grades at Wolfgang A. Mozart Elementary School, which traditionally served as a feeder school for Ames. 

Response to the proposal comes at a time when Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced plans to change the manner in which the administration choses what schools will close.

The new policy is based on those schools that have been deemed “underutilized”, where the number of students only fills about half of the building’s space. Last year, the criteria for closure focused on academic performance.

Under the new policy, up to 140 schools could be in danger of shutting down. By state law, CPS must release its list of schools it plans to close by December 1.

The Chicago Teachers Union responded to the new criteria by voting unanimously on a resolution that calls for a moratorium on all school closings. The teachers union planned to stage a protest at City Hall on Friday afternoon.

“This moratorium should remain in effect until such time as: CPS has completed and published a study done by an independent researcher on the impact of the school actions on the students, community, and affected personnel,” the CTU resolution stated.

This week, CTU unveiled a new Web site they say is designed to educate the public about school closings and other CPS-related actions.

As the Chicago Tribune reported today, CPS officials plan to ask the state to extend the December 1 announcement deadline to March 31, citing a need for more time to assess the impact school closings will have on the surrounding communities.

In response to CPS’ request, CTU President Karen Lewis released the following statement:

We appreciate the CEO recognizes the CPS’ process around school closings is extraordinarily flawed. However, we do not support delaying the date to announce which schools will be targeted by the district for disruptive actions. Given today’s assertion that CPS needs more time to unveil their newest community targets, the only announcement that makes sense on December 1st is ‘There will be no school closings this year.’  We have called for a moratorium on all school actions until we have an analysis of the devastating impact these actions have on our students and neighborhoods. 

Clearly we need real analysis, meaningful conversations and valued community input from the parents and groups who have been on the frontlines of fighting for more resources and support for neighborhood schools. CPS must repair the damage that’s been done by these failed policies as it seeks to rebuild trust with the community.

CPS owes Chicago a legitimate fiscal plan that details how we build and support school communities. Taxpayers deserve stability on Clark Street and an end to the revolving door that has created chaos in our school system. They should not change the law because they have a change in leadership.

Murphy said a meeting is scheduled for next week that will allow the community to discuss the matter with a CPS representative.

Images and Video: Logan Square Neighborhood Association

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