CPS makes history, closing scores of schools in less time than it takes to boil an egg
By Lauren FitzPatrick Education Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org May 22, 2013 12:05PM
- LIVE COVERAGE: Live-blog, video of hearing and updated map of closings
- Interactive Graph: CPS closing list by race, location
- News Blog: Interactive School Closure Map
- SPECIAL COVERAGE: The Final Bell
- GRAPHIC: Four schools on closing list saved
- Who made the vote? Meet the Chicago Board of Education
- TIMELINE: Chicago school closings
- Pickets, chanting begin long before vote on school closings
- Sunny news for staff, parents at schools taken off closing list
- Four Chicago Public Schools saved from closing list; fate of remaining schools up for vote today
- SPECIAL REPORT: Kohn students would pass many vacant homes on path to Lavizzo
- SPECIAL REPORT: CPS closings create school zone, danger zone
- SPECIAL REPORT: If Marconi closes, students will have to walk past drug dealers on way to Tilton
- List of school programs to be closed
- CTU files civil-rights lawsuits over school closings
- Teachers union vows to change political landscape after schools vote
- Editorial: The battle over, make schools plan work
- CPS closings vote shows it’s time for an elected school board
Updated: June 24, 2013 1:24PM
History was made in Chicago Wednesday in about 90 seconds, but most of the folks who witnessed firsthand the death of a record 50 Chicago Public Schools didn’t even realize it.
Rather than list the names of the doomed elementary schools, the Board of Education took a single group vote on most of the closings that will affect some 27,000 children. The board secretary read out the numbers assigned to each resolution and asked for the vote.
But onlookers didn’t even get that, as the board president resorted to parliamentary maneuver to speed the process along.
“Madam Secretary, if there are no objections from my fellow board members, please apply the last favorable roll call,” Board President David Vitale said, referring to the previous vote of six ayes and 0 nays. And with that, the bulk of the history — 49 of the 50 schools closed — was made in a unanimous sweep.
The closing of Von Humboldt Elementary passed on a separate 4-2 roll call vote.
Fifty of the district’s 472 elementary schools are going away for good, 48 of them in June. Canter Elementary will get a one-year reprieve, and Attucks Elementary will close at the end of the 2014-15 school year.
Confusion spread among the crowd, unsure about what had happened. Then what had once been a boisterous bunch left the chambers deflated, with some people hollering “Rubber stamp!” as they walked out of CPS headquarters, 125 S. Clark Street.
Board member Jesse Ruiz said afterwards he pushed for the individual vote on Von Humboldt, after spending time there, because “I believe that their plan had some merit. I was willing to let them try to implement the plan and keep that school there. Unfortunately, a few other colleagues of mine didn’t believe it as much as I did.”
Carlos Azcoitia joined Ruiz in dissenting on the Von Humboldt closing.
Parents at Von Humboldt and the other doomed schools around the city groaned, sighed and braced themselves for what’s next.
“Two votes, that’s still not enough votes, though,” conceded Wilson Santiago, outside Von Humboldt, the Near Northwest Side school where his five children go.
“Now kids will have to go to new schools, and lots of parents are worried they will be forced to cross gang territories,” the 34-year-old said outside the Humboldt Park school. “I love this school, they are very hands-on with the students.”
Further north, parents were just as upset.
“My son is borderline autistic, and it’s not going to be easy to move him,” said Catalina Simon, mother of a 10-year-old Trumbull student. “These are really happy kids here, and a lot of them, have special needs. ”
Young Jonathan Sumba, who also attends Trumbull in Andersonville, cried at the news.
“This is where I met all my buds from kindergarten through fourth,” he said.
When school let out at Jesse Owens Elementary, 12450 S. State, kids spilled out under the watchful eye of staff like any other day.
But Kirstin McGinnis, a popular teacher’s assistant at Owens, did hug the swarm of kids around her extra tightly before sending them on their way.
“I’m very disappointed. It’s very disheartening, especially for our children,” she said as she began after-school cheerleading with 10 2nd- and 3rd-grade girls.
“I know all 400 of these children by name. I would like to stay with my kids, and it hurts knowing we may not have a relationship with them anymore. But right now, it’s just a little bit draining because we have to continue to give these kids what they need through the end of the school year, while dealing with our own job issues.”
On the West Side, Calhoun grandmother Mary Gunn said she expected the vote to shake out as it did,
“They already had it on their mind,” she said, standing with her 10-year-old granddaughter, Breya Gunn.
“I’ve been to this school since kindergarten,” the 5th grader said. “I’ve been a part of it. It means a lot to me.”
Calhoun graduate and great-grandmother Katherine Robinson was resigned, though she won’t let her 6-year-old great-granddaughter walk to Cather. “It hurts. It’s a part of our neighborhood and it’s a part of my history, my family’s history. We just have to work with it, whatever the next step is,” she said. “There’s nothing we can do. We just have to go to the new school. What else can we do?”
But Calhoun grandmother Toni Graham supported Calhoun’s closure because of district finances. “I don’t see why the city should be paying money to operate a building for a few children,” the 49-year-old said as she waited for her three grandkids at dismissal.
Saying that the district couldn’t afford to maintain under enrolled buildings, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett urged the board to approve her recommendations on 50 closures, 11 proposals to put multiple schools under one roof, and five — down from an earlier six — turnarounds. She withdrew her recommendation to close four others.
“We can no longer embrace status quo because status quo is not working for all of Chicago’s children ...” Byrd-Bennett said. “We cannot maintain a system that cannot be sustained.”
She said the city has lost 145,000 children since 2000 — though CPS enrollment is down just about 30,000 children during that same time.
“I recognize that the choices are not easy, but I also recognize that we must do what is right for children,” she said. “The decisions you are about to make matter very much.”
The CEO paused for hecklers, then kept talking about the air conditioning and other investments going to receiving schools.
Byrd-Bennett said she does not want to see any child hurt and has kept safety a top concern in her recommendations — despite parents’ ongoing fears.
Byrd-Bennett promised legislators a five-year moratorium on further school closings if they gave her the extra time she wanted this year to figure out which schools to close, a plan she will honor, CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said.
Late Tuesday night, Byrd-Bennett decided to spare four schools, withdrawing her prior recommendations to close Ericson, Garvey, Manierre and Jackson. Quinn said the four schools that would have received those kids are no longer guaranteed the investments of other “welcoming” schools, such as safe passage for all, or the International Baccalaureate at Jenner and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program at Sumner.
“We put up a big fight and it paid off,” said Crystal Cook, president of Garvey’s Local School Council and a mother of four Garvey students. “I got all my parents together, and we made it. Thank God.”
CTU president Karen Lewis denounced the vote as a “charade” committed by an “unrepresentative, unelected corporate school board,” for a mayor who’s wanted for months to close 50 schools.
“What is amazing to me, is that these people couldn’t even call the names of the schools out loud that they were destroying. And that they couldn’t even say yes or no, to each individual school, but group them together by numbers, and didn’t even vote, said we’ll take the last affirmative. They should have all done that. They should have had the courage to do this deed in the open and correctly.”
The vote came more than four hours into a raucous meeting in which few in the crowd seemed to believe many — or any — of the schools recommended for closure were going to be opposed by the board.
One of the speakers lugged out of board chambers by CPS security was Erica Clark, a CPS parent and member Parents 4 Teachers. She used her two minutes time to recite, alphabetically, a litany of the schools on the chopping block: “Altgeld is my school, Armstrong is my school, Attucks is my school.”
Her microphone was cut off as she reached “Pope”. She sat on the floor and continued: “Songhai is my school”. As security guards picked her up and carried her out, protesters called out with her: “Every school is my school.”
Contributing: Jon Seidel, Tina Sfondeles, Mitch Dudek, Becky Schlikerman, Art Golab, Maudlyne Ihejirika, Stefano Esposito