By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
After reviewing the recommendations of the Chicago Public School’s Commission on School Utilization, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has announced that high schools and Level-1 high-performing schools will not be considered for the school-closing list CPS is required to release by March 31. This announcement does not affect several Hyde Park schools on the closure list.
Byrd-Bennett also released the dates, times and locations of a second round of community hearings starting Feb. 13. A Hyde Park parent said she attended a meeting that encouraged community members to conduct their own utilization levels.
One of the mandates in Senate Bill 630, which is sponsored by State Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-4), requires that CPS release a list of schools they intend to close the following school year. The mandates in the bill are in response to a report issued by the Illinois General Assembly Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force (CEFTF).
In December, then newly-appointed Byrd-Bennett, went to Springfield to seek an extension on the Dec. 1 school closing deadline stating that she needed the time to get community input on her plan to “right size” the school district making school utilization a key factor in which schools would close in order to balance the CPS budget.
According to CPS, the district has too many buildings and too few children, which is stretching its resources too thin.
No official school-closing list has been released but there is a list of schools that have been classified by CPS as underutilized.
Hyde Park schools in the area labeled as underutilized include: Reavis Elementary School, 834 E. 50th St.; Kozminski, 936 E. 54th St.; Canter Middle School, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., and Ray Elementary School, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave.
Once she received the extension, Byrd-Bennett created the Commission on School Utilization, which held several hearings throughout the city to get community input and create a report.
Since the announcement of the commission, many parents and community members wondered why Byrd-Bennett did not consult the Community Action Councils CPS set in place in several communities in 2010. For about two years now the councils have been working with CPS to develop high quality school models tailored to the needs of their communities.
“While I appreciate the sentiment expressed by appointing a neutral body to weigh in on these decisions, I find it rather odd, and in some respects, quite offensive, insulting, and disrespectful that this commission has not made any effort (that I am aware of) to engage the body of community leaders, parents, and residents who have been having focused conversations for two about these very issues,” said Chris Harris, parent, Pastor of Bright Star Church and former Bronzeville CAC president, in his resignation letter to the council.
Joy Clendenning, a Hyde Park resident whose children attend Ray Elementary, Kenwood High School and Whitney Young High School, said she also found it disheartening that none of the members of the CAC were a part of Byrd-Bennett’s commission.
- Clendenning attended a CEFTF meeting on Jan. 12 where they encouraged local school councils, parents and community members to conduct their own school utilization investigation. Suggestions include:
- Do a walk through to look at Space Utilization in your school —you can use this tool from Blocks Together: BT Fact Sheet on Utilization
- Write up any details about your school, which might explain the current situation at your school — a change in administration, a shift in attendance boundaries, the role of the school in your community, etc.
- E-mail the report on your school to your Network Chief, the CTU, the Principal’s association, and the CEFTF.
- Attend the next public hearing of the Task Force meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 9 at the Chicago Embassy Church 5848 S. Princeton Ave., and testify about your school.
Clendenning shared the information with the parent-led group Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education and the Hyde Park Herald and said she is sharing the information because “people need to make a case for their schools.”
For more information on the second round of CPS school utilization community meetings, visit cps.edu.