When new Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett was appointed last year, her rhetoric related to public school closures gave us reason to be hopeful that, at last, CPS had a leader who understood the need for input from teachers and parents, especially when contemplating the dramatic decision to close schools. She promised to listen to the folks who know best how to educate children — those who are with them the most and care most about them — during these important deliberations.
Where has that Barbara Byrd-Bennett gone?
The latest list of schools that CPS administrators are contemplating closing includes many in Hyde Park that could not in any reasonable calculation be considered unsuccessful. These are Reavis Elementary School, 834 E. 50th St.; Kozminski Elementary School, 936 E. 54th St.; Canter Middle School, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., and Ray Elementary School, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave.
What is the great educational blunder of these schools that warrants their closure? They have been deemed underutilized — and underutilization is a big problem, we are told, for CPS. There are too many buildings and not enough children learning in them, and Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s administration seems to have decided that the best solution is to close schools — regardless of quality — if they’re not packing ’em in.
Setting aside the question of whether it is wise to judge our public schools the way we judge concert halls, it seems to us that the administrators of a school system that double the national average of parents eschew (20 percent of Chicago’s parent’s send their children to private schools, as opposed to the national average of 10 percent of children enrolled in private school) bear the burden of making CPS a place parents want to send their children to. Principals certainly should not bear this burden alone. Our local administrators are doing their best to provide a top-notch education. It is at least as likely that the reputation of the school system overall is to blame if they are not at capacity as it is the result of a Hyde Park school’s performance.
We hope that this is a case of bureaucratic number crunching and not a serious proposal. Closing half of one of the best public school neighborhood networks in the city is simply self-destructive. Instead, CPS needs to raise heaven and earth to help local principals fill whatever seats need to be filled.
Closing quality CPS schools cannot be what’s best for the children, and whatever else Barbara Byrd-Bennett thinks she ought to be doing in her new post, she has to be putting children first.