By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Parents, community members, teachers and administrators from schools in Hyde Park gathered together at Kozminski Elementary School Saturday to discuss how they keep their neighborhood schools open.
Representatives from schools in Hyde Park, including Kozminski, 936 E. 54th St; Reavis, 834 E. 50th St.; Shoesmith, 1330 E. 50th St.; Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave.; Murray, 5335 S. Kenwood Ave.; Bret Harte, 1556 E. 56th St.; Canter 4959 S. Blackstone Ave.; and Kenwood, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., attended the meeting and agreed to form Hyde Park Community Area Residents Empowering Schools (HPCARES). HPCARES is a member group of the social justice group Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL) and is working to create education advocacy groups to help with ongoing efforts to keep neighborhood schools open.
At the meeting Hyde Park parent Joy Clendenning and Maria Fitzsimmons, community organizer at SOUL, explained the current underutilization-based school closing process, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) commission meetings and CPS community engagement meetings.
Schools in Hyde Park often go unscathed during the CPS school closing process but this year school closing considerations are being primarily based on space utilization and not academic performance. Three schools in Hyde Park, Reavis Elementary School, Kozminski, and Canter Middle School are under fire and residents are ready to fight to keep them open.
Fitzsimmons said the CPS school utilization formula doesn’t give an accurate account of how each individual school is using its space.
“The number doesn’t tell how your school is being used, and the number is being used to determine if your school is open next year,” Fitzsimmons said.
Community member Carla Jones said she’s concerned about how all the school closings will affect the vitality of the community.
“Is there a plan if all the buildings are closed?” Jones said. “How would that look in a community – so many vacant school buildings?”
In the past CPS has opened charter schools in buildings that once housed neighborhood schools but CPS has announced that none of the schools closed next school year will be used for charters. CPS will try to sell the properties.
In Hyde Park, many parents like that they have the option to walk their children to school. With so many youth violence cases in the city being connected to school closings, parents were concerned that CPS is not thinking enough about child safety.
A Kozminski parent said, “My child is a few blocks from our house now but if they move her to a school far away how can I get to her if something is wrong?”
Marilyn Alam, parent of a 5-year-old student with special needs said that Reavis, which is currently on the school closure list, was the only school that offered the program her son needed.
“My son, who is a slightly special needs child, needed an inclusion program. In Hyde Park, the only school that offers that is Reavis,” Alam said. “Now that it’s on the list to be closed, what’s going to happen with students with special needs?”
Clendenning also mentioned that Reavis offers other services such as a community clinic and a GED program for parents and community members.
Kristine Kohler-Hall, a teacher at Kozminski, said the school has been progressing despite the obstacles that are often thrown in its way.
“Kozminski is a spotlight school that met [the Annual Yearly Progress standards] seven years in a row,” Kohler-Hall. “Even though we were required to take [No Child Left Behind] students and other schools were not required to, we still made [Annual Yearly Progress].”
Lina Fritz, member of the Shoesmith local school council, said although Shoesmith is not on the school closing list it wants to be active in HPCARES.
“All schools in the neighborhood should help each other through this school closing process and other school concerns in the future,” Fritz said.
The next HPCARES meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 27. No location has currently been confirmed.