Making the case for keeping Canter Middle School open

By HANNAH HAYES
On behalf of HYDE PARK CARES

Canter Middle School is a key school in this community and one among 54 proposed to be closed with very serious consequences for our children. It is clear from the testimony over the last few weeks that Canter is a school that works – for the students and the other schools in the area. Members of Hyde Park Community Area Residents Empowering Schools (HPCARES) have been working to right CPS’s mistake.

Prior to announcing the school closings, members of HPCARES attended the utilization commission hearings, the network meetings, the legally mandated meetings and the final hearing at CPS. No dialogue took place at any of those meetings. In fact, the process seemed designed to discourage rather than encourage input. Questions go unanswered and remain unanswered.

In August, in an effort to have more input, we asked for a Community Action Council (CAC) for our area. We were told that the CAC was no longer a model CPS supports.
Since the announcement, the community —teachers, current students, parents, alumni of Canter and members of the Hyde Park/Kenwood community who care about strong neighborhood schools — have come together to support Canter and the other schools directly impacted by Canter’s proposed closing: Ray, Bret Harte and Shoesmith.

At the CPS hearing, HPCARES put forth a strong case for Canter, addressing the misperceptions concerning utilization and performance. Further testimony spoke to the lack of transparency in the process and the utter lack of a cohesive plan — particularly for Shoesmith, the unnamed school in the action — and the importance of middle schools. We submitted written evidence covering multiple reasons Canter should stay open.

HPCARES proposed a concrete plan to ensure Canter is fully utilized: make Shoesmith a K through 5 school and Canter a 6, 7, 8 middle school. This would allow Shoesmith to have two kindergarten classes instead of just one kindergarten class and two classes at all other grade levels. (This year, Shoesmith had more than 40 kindergarteners enroll at the school, which forced the school to have one kindergarten class and two split K-1 classes to accommodate for the large number.) If Shoesmith could become a K through 5 school, it would become a more balanced school with the same number of classes in each grade level.

Canter’s enrollment would increase. Families would have access to schools for children at every grade level within a three-block academic campus. Children could continue to benefit from the Shoesmith/Canter/Kenwood continuum that has served the community well for generations.

We have met with our elected officials a number of times. But the one elected official who truly holds the power here is Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has not attended any community meetings. Disappointed, indeed outraged, by the inaction of our elected leaders, and above all, the deafness of our mayor, we will continue to act on behalf of our neighborhood schools.

The closing of Canter would be an injustice to students, families and to Chicago’s communities. With a family atmosphere, a strong educational experience, solid pedagogy and a committed team of administrators and teachers, Canter is helping its students achieve great things. Canter is a safe school in a safe neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Canter should remain open.

E-mail HPCARESgroup@gmail.com to get involved with the group.