“Some Valentine’s Day,” read the sign Angela Coleman, a Chicago Teachers Union delegate for George Washington Carver Primary School, held as she pleaded that her school not be shut down at last night’s Chicago Public Schools community hearing for the Lake Calumet Network.
Coleman and hundreds of other far South Side residents representing the 10 schools that remain on CPS’ latest list of possible school closures, which was released Wednesday, filled the bleachers of Olive Harvey College in attempts to save their schools.
Minutes before the meeting started, the feisty crowd, some holding signs reading “What would Ira Aldridge say?” (referring to the namesake of one of the schools) chanted in unison, “Take us off the list,” while stomping in the bleachers.
“Mr. Mayor and CEO Bennett, I know you have worked very hard to make the best decisions for the children of the Chicago Public Schools system, but I’m sorry, you made a mistake on this one,” said Erykah Snyder, an eighth-grader at Gompers.
Another student, Makala Smith, echoed her classmates’ cry.
Smith said Gompers is the only fine arts elementary school remaining on the Southeast Side of Chicago.
“My participation in these programs transformed me from a shy girl into someone with a unique and distinct voice,” Smith told CPS officials at the meeting. “It is my hope that other children can experience the sensational opportunities available at Gompers.”
CPS initially released a list of 330 under-enrolled schools across the district – including 20 in the Lake Calumet Network – but narrowed it down to 129 total.
“I want to be very, very clear,” said Adam Anderson of CPS’ office of Portfolio, Planning and Strategy, “This does not mean that 129 are proposed for closure.”
CPS said it would gather feedback from communities across the city before making its final school closing recommendations, which will be released no later than March 31.
The 10 Lake Calumet schools on the list include: Aldridge, Carver, Gompers, Lawrence, Metcalfe, Owens, Pullman, Songhai, West Pullman and Whistler.
Hear from one advocate explaining why Metcalfe should remain open:
The district says it has too many empty seats and needs to shut down some underutilized neighborhood schools to close its looming $1 billion deficit.
CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett recently announced that high schools and high-performing schools are off the table due to recommendations from a committtee that suggested closing secondary schools could lead to an increased risk of gang violence.
The district also released an updated set of considerations based on the first round of meetings.
“One of the things we heard from many schools in Lake Calumet was that there are schools that are isolated,” Anderson said. “We heard that, and that criteria has been added.”
In addition to sparing schools isolated from nearby elementary schools by more than a mile, schools with more than 600 students, those that have recently experienced a school action or are in the process of adding grades, among other criteria, are also safe, according to CPS.
But CPS’ new criteria still doesn’t sit well with some community members on the South Side.
“You took the high schools off, because you were concerned with the gang violence,” said CTU Recording Secretary Michael Brunson. “Everybody in here knows that gangs start in the elementary schools.”
Brunson, who previously taught at Aldridge, added that more elementary schools should be off the list, which riled up the crowd.
Senior Bishop Tyrone Harrington and pastor of Greater Morning View Church, located across the street from Lawrence Elementary, said he wants to save Lawrence from closing “for the sake of young lives.”
Lawrence sits in the middle of three major parks that are gang and drug infested, he said.
“We are asking you to save these 410 children for the sake of not having to perform 410 funerals,” Harrington said, adding that last year he officiated eight funerals for young people in the Jeffery Manor neighborhood.
Many of those young people died from gang violence because they traveled “outside of what’s called their own blocks into other blocks,” he added.
Lawrence is a “safe haven” where the students can go, Harrington said.
“Find other avenues to help push this budget, to find something else to give these children hope for tomorrow,” he said.