4 underperforming CPS schools targeted for closing

January 19, 2010 3:17:05 PM PST
Fourteen Chicago public elementary and high schools will be closed, consolidated or given new staff and teachers as part of an overhaul plan announced Tuesday. Four of the schools will be closed, another will be phased out and major changes are coming for the rest, including two well-known high schools.

Closing schools has always been a hot-button issue made even more explosive because of beating death and problems at Fenger High following the transfer of students from another high school that was repurposed.

This new list of changes has been studied for the last six months-- school officials saying they are absolutely critical and that they will come with what they are calling a "student bill of rights".

There is Marshall on the West Side, Phillips on the South Side, names of some legend in Chicago. But both schools have been on academic probation for years. At Phillips, less than 3 percent of the students meet state academic standards.

"Ninety-seven percent of the students who are in that building are not up to state standards. It is incumbent on us to say that this is not OK," said Ron Huberman, Chicago schools CEO.

So Phillips and Marshall and three Chicago elementary schools are about to undergo turnarounds because of poor performance. The students stay, but the staff, teachers, principal, even the lunchroom workers are replaced.

Four other schools, all elementary, are being targeted for consolidation. One is being phased out altogether because of low enrollment, and four additional schools are being closed because of either poor academics or building costs. One of them is Las Casas Occupational high, an expensive, older building with 60 special needs students and an attendance rate of less than 50 percent.

Critics of the Renaissance 2010 program say the school closings and turnarounds over the last six years have not led to demonstrable academic improvement and have been unfair to teachers who have been sent packing.

"We can't just replace people with people. And you are not giving people the opportunity to connect with students. As I said, you are changing people and changing programs," said Marilyn Stewart, Chicago Teacher's Union president.

"This is an uphill fight, and so remember, you just don't give up and say, 'Well, we have no answer' ," said Mayor Daley.

There have been some schools that have shown improvement after turnarounds and closings. In this latest batch, Huberman says, students who change schools will be guaranteed safe passage. The schools they go to will be given more money for extra instruction time, and most significantly, they must be schools with higher academic performance.

"We are saying, every student, if they are going through the hardship in school, has the right to go to a higher performing school," said Huberman.

These changes are recommendations. The school board must yet approve them following a public hearing.

When there are school turnarounds it typically means that the entire school staff is replaced. There are exceptions to that, and an exception will be made at Marshall High for girls' basketball coach Dorothy Gaters, who is the winningest basketball coach in state history. Huberman says, because she is part of the "fabric" of Marshall, she will be invited to stay on.