'Welcoming schools' to ease transition for CPS students

April 30, 2013 3:32:00 PM PDT
The transition to a new school will not be easy for Chicago students whose schools are on the list to be closed in the fall. But Chicago public school officials are preparing welcoming schools to make the change a little easier.

ABC7's political reporter Charles Thomas spoke with CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett about the welcoming schools.

The Chicago school board will not make its final decision on closings and consolidations until May 22, but Byrd-Bennett is touring those schools listed in the draft plan as though it is a done deal.

Tuesday morning, Byrd-Bennett added John Milton Gregory Math and Science Academy, 3700 W. Polk St., to the list of nearly two dozen welcoming schools she has already visited.

"There's a whole lot of children who are not getting what your kids have that are going to get it," Byrd-Bennett said.

In August, 90-year-old Gregory would absorb nearly 400 students from the nearby Bethune Elementary School, which is only 44 years old but not, according to Byrd-Bennett, in very good condition.

"What does it take to keep this building operating and to repair it ,and this building, the cost is far less," said Byrd-Bennett.

And Bethune, at 48 percent of capacity, is better utilized than Gregory at 37 percent.

Bethune parents say it hasn't been explained well enough why their kids are moving.

"If you want my child to go to another school and you haven't reached out to me, then what sense does it make?" said parent Felicia Hilson.

"When they planned it, they planned it wrong, and they planned it too fast," said Bysheeon Edwards.

Byrd-Bennett notes that Gregory is a Level 1, high-performing school, while Bethune struggles on academic probation. She says raising issues other than what kids are learning are distractions.

"If we believe that we have a process in place that will work for children, then we have to be relentless and make sure that we don't have the kind of distracters and that we stay very, very focused in making this happen," said Byrd-Bennett.

The board will make its final decisions on school closings and consolidations on May 22.

Meanwhile, Byrd-Bennett says she'll continue touring schools as though the plan as drafted will be accepted. And she said she is already preparing the effort's next -- perhaps most important phase- - that will happen during the late spring and summer.

"You have to be cognizant of and prepared for the psychological, the emotional and the necessary coming together of people, not just buildings," said Byrd-Bennett.

At CPS, there is talk of picnics and summer outings to join the parent and students involved in the individual consolidations.

Many parents ABC7 talked to were most concerned about the speed at which much of this happening. They worry that three months after May 22 will not be enough time for themselves and their children to prepare.


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