Making the case for Canter Middle School

To the Editor:

Chicago Public Schools needs to reconsider the pending decision to close Canter Middle School. As a CPS teacher and the wife of a Canter teacher, as well as a parent of future Ray Elementary students, I am appalled that Canter is on the closing list. It does not make educational sense to close this school. The arguments so far, as I have taken away from the press conferences, letters and media accounts, are that the tough decision to close schools is necessary to benefit all students, to improve all school and to help those that are “trapped” in failing schools. This is certainly not the case at Canter. This was proven by the testimonies given at the first community meeting on Monday, April 8. Those students who self-proclaimed that they were “lost souls” and found a family of support at Canter are not trapped.

Canter offers a middle school approach in a neighborhood that has three other public schools that are K (or pre-K) to 6th grade. This specialty focus is best for adolescents and how they learn, since teenagers develop so uniquely. A middle school creates the best transition for high school, as the staff is able to use their professional development and training days to further their expertise on the adolescent mind and to honor a common mission. A middle school offers “practice” for the freedoms and social expectations that students are abruptly confronted with in high school. This often gets overlooked or rejected in the elementary school setting.

Taking away the only middle school in the area, instead of investing in it and making it stronger, will be detrimental to the adolescents that Canter and the other neighborhood schools serve. It will do direct harm to Canter students, as well as negatively affecting the surrounding schools. CPS should be working to make Canter more viable for the future middle school students by adding a 6th grade portion to let the local schools be true elementary schools.

Research shows that middle schools help students more effectively transition to the high school setting. I teach 7th and 8th grade in a K through 8, and our upper grade team is constantly wishing for a setting that is more middle-school focused. eighth graders need to practice having the controlled freedom in the halls like high schools offer, learning about the responsibilities that come with freedom, not waiting in line to use the bathroom as an entire class.

As many parents and teachers can attest to, adolescents are unique, diverse creatures who have extremely different psychological, emotional and social needs than elementary students. They can best be educated in a middle school setting, not a K through 8 setting. CPS requires all teachers who teach 6th to 8th grades to acquire a specialty “middle school endorsement” to educate them on how middle schoolers learn and develop. Any teachers who do not take these classes lose their position in the middle grades.

I strongly urge CPS to reconsider the position to close Canter Middle School. If this decision stays, then CPS is not living up to the argument (and their responsibility!) that these decisions are best for the students. We do not want charter schools in Hyde Park. We want our current neighborhood schools that work to stay open and to be supported. I don’t think that is asking too much from those who are in charge of our schools.

Kristy Ulrich Papczun