By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Canter Middle School is one of the 54 schools on Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) closing list. Parents and community members said they are reaching out to elected officials to try to keep the school open.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced on Thursday that several schools across the city would be closed next school year, due in most part to underutilization. Students from Canter, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., a low-performing school that serves 7th and 8th graders, will be moved to Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., and Bret Harte, 1556 E. 56th St., elementary schools. Both are level 2 elementary schools in good standing. The receiving schools, which currently serve pre-K through 6, will have to make space for 7th and 8th graders.
Before Thursday’s official announcement of school closings, Kozminski, 936 E. 54th St. and Reavis, 834 E. 50th St., elementary schools were also in consideration for closing. Community groups, such as Hyde Park Community Area Residents Empowering Schools (HPCARES) and the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference (HP-K CC), recently spoke out against school closings.
On March 21, HP-K CC sent a resolution to elected officials in Hyde Park, including state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25), state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13) and Ald. Will Burns (4th), seeking a deferral of CPS school closures (see HP-K CC’s resolution on page 2).
Anita Hollins, president of HP-K CC said the community wants to be a part of an equitable plan for the schools in the neighborhood.
“Barbara Byrd-Bennett had a massive set of hearings,” Hollins said. “It’s one thing to have public meetings. It’s another to really get to see for yourself what’s going on at each school.”
Camille Hamilton Doyle, co-chairwoman of the HP-K CC Schools Committee, said HP-K CC dedicated money and effort so that Canter could be a partner to other schools in the community and that effort should be supported not ignored.
About 10 years ago, the local school councils of Bret Harte, Murray, 5335 S. Kenwood Ave., Ray and Shoesmith, 1330 E. 50th St., elementary schools chose to have each of their schools stop at 6th grade and feed into Canter Middle School, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., which in turn would be a feeder school for Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.
“Canter was created to relieve the other grade schools in the area that did not have space for lunchrooms, gyms or assemblies because they had too many students,” Hamilton Doyle said. “The community decided to add Canter and set aside TIF money to open the school.”
Hollins and Hamilton Doyle said HP-K CC is not asking CPS not to close schools but they are asking that CPS work with the community to create a better strategy.
“The impact of these school changes will be monumental. Let’s have a sit down and talk this through,” Hollins said.
Linda Cayolle, an HPCARES member who’s son is an 8th grader at Canter, said the middle school model was a great step up for her son who wasn’t quite ready for the fast pace of 7th and 8th grade at Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.
“I had one son to attend the academic center at Kenwood and the rate of speed at which they expected him to mature was too fast,” Cayolle said. “I pulled him out of Kenwood and put him into Canter. It was the right social and emotional level that he needed and that is not often addressed, especially with boys.”
She said she is concerned about where other kids like her son are going to go.
“I’m fortunate that my son is in 8th grade this year, but what about the other children?” Cayolle said. “The Options for Knowledge application deadline has passed and Ray is not going to take everyone sent to them because they don’t do it now.”
Cayolle said it upsets her that many of the neighborhood’s elected officials “are not taking a stand.”
Flynn Currie has scheduled meetings with HP-K CC and neighborhood parents in April and Burns released a statement addressing school closings, in which he said he had been in negotiations with CPS regarding the closings and “believe[s] that CPS leadership was responsive to our concerns.”
“We will remain diligent and will continue to hold CPS accountable to the community,” Burns said in the release.
Community meetings to discuss the proposed closing of Canter will take place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, April 8, and Friday, April 12, at Kenwood Academy. A public hearing will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at the CPS central office, 125 S. Clark St.
HP-K CC resolution on school closings
Whereas: The public schools in Hyde Park and Kenwood and in every neighborhood in the City of Chicago are key assets and community centers, and
Whereas: We do not want to see school buildings abandoned, torn down, or repurposed out of public use, thus setting back our neighborhoods, and
Whereas: The teachers, administrators, staff, teams of volunteers, parents and various community organizations and organized school support groups have, through tremendous effort, helped these schools make great strides, and
Whereas: Children should have the option of being able to walk to good public schools in familiar settings without having to cross into danger zones or to endure inconvenient transport, and
Whereas: The closure and consolidation of schools, as done in the past by CPS, even in small batches, has been disruptive for children, families, schools and communities, and has not resulted in the children displaced going to schools that are better but to schools that are further away, and
Whereas: The yearly threat of closures sets schools and communities against each other and makes it impossible for parents to plan their children’s education or for schools to be assured of a stable population for long-term planning, and finally
Whereas: We believe that CPS’s stated goals for the closures, including to reduce building operations costs and to sell assets, are based on inaccurate assumptions and data, and that closures will be detrimental to families, schools and neighborhoods, Therefore be it resolved that the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference and its Schools Committee seeks deferral of school closings in our neighborhood and Chicago pending development of a sound and equitable plan that incorporates the input and takes into account the needs and concerns of children, parents and communities.