Carrying signs and chanting about the need to save neighborhood schools, hundreds gathered at Armitage Baptist Church Monday night for a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) meeting to discuss potential school closings on the Northwest side.
Five representatives from CPS listened to testimonies from concerned parties at the Logan Square church during the meeting with local representatives, parents and teachers who pleaded their schools’ cases.
“This neighborhood is full of kids, and those parents are going to send their kids to our neighborhood schools — you’re here for a community hearing, so listen to us,” said Seth Lavin, a six-year resident of Logan Square who wishes to send his two-year-old son to Lorenz Brentano Math & Science Academy. Lavin’s wife serves on Brentano’s local school council.
Facing a $1 billion budget deficit, CPS is targeting underutilized schools for its next wave of school closures, eliminating roughly 100,000 empty seats. Nearly 140 schools are more than half empty, according to the district. The school system has classroom space for more than 500,000 students, but just over 400,000 students are enrolled.
To engage the community in the school closure dialogue, CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced in January the appointment of an eight-member Commission on School Utilization. Composed of stakeholders with varying experience and expertise, the commission is charged with holding community meetings and helping the district make more informed decisions.
“CPS needs to make sure it’s not fixing what isn’t broken,” the commission said in its interim report. “The District must not shutter schools that, though technically underutilized, are vibrant hubs of community activity housed in high-quality buildings, and that serve as an anchoring force in their neighborhoods.”
With an ideal capacity of 960 and an average daily attendance of 426 students, Brentano is included on the CPS list of underutilized schools. It is also on probation and considered to be a level three school, meaning that it currently has a low academic standing.
“We love this school, this is a wonderful school, we need this school — we need all the schools in Logan Square,” said Lavin. “You said you came here to hear us, we gave you 1,000 signatures on a petition to keep Brentano open, you have our trust in your hands. Don’t abuse that, listen to us and don’t close our schools.”
Here's more from last night's hearing:
The final list of proposed school closings will be submitted to the Chicago Board of Education by Byrd-Bennet in March, after she receives the commission’s final recommendations.
Along with Brentano, there are 14 other schools listed as underutilized in the Northwest side neighborhoods of Logan Square and Avondale, which are in CPS’ Fullerton Network.
Some of the representatives from CPS at Monday’s meeting included Leslie Boozer, chief of schools for the North/Northwest Side High School Network, Phillip Hampton, executive director of Family and Community Engagement, and Lynda Williams, chief of schools for the Fullerton Elementary Network.
“Some people call it saving a school, I call it having successful schools with the resources you need to help every child have a fantastic education like every child in this city should have,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), who’s ward includes Brentano, during the meeting. “When you see the (CPS) people here tonight that are listening to your testimony, they are individuals working within the system that we have. The system is bad, the system is broken, and the work we’re doing tonight, we're here to fix that system.”
Waguespack cited successful community campaigns to keep Prescott Elementary School and Hamilton Elementary School open when they were on the verge of closing.
Along with Waguespack, Alds. Nick Sposato (36th), Ariel Reboyras (30th) and Joe Moreno (1st), State Rep. Maria Antonia “Toni” Berrios (D-Chicago) and 35th Ward Democratic Committeman Nancy Schiavone spoke in support of keeping neighborhood schools open.
“We need to show people that our neighborhood schools are worth saving,” Waguespack added.
Before the meeting with CPS officials started, the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) hosted a rally at the nearby Logan Square Auditorium, at 2539 North Kedzie Blvd.
“(Darwin Elementary School) is an important part of this community, closing this school or overcrowding it would be a big mistake,” said Lydia Gonzalez at the LSNA rally. Gonzalez has one student at Darwin, which is also included on the list of underutilized schools.
“Please don’t close our school, it would be like taking away a part of the American dream. Darwin is diverse, united and growing every day. We’re here to stay,” she said. “Please let us not forget the children are our future.”