Editor’s note: The following is an open letter addressed to Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
Dear Ms. Byrd-Bennett:
I have some ideas that might be useful to you regarding the proposed school closings. It is my opinion that not all 50-something schools need to be closed; a precious few, such as Canter Middle School, that have achieved at least level 2 placement as deemed by your institution should remain open.
Without knowing all the particulars about each school slated to be closed such as enrollment, attainment level, location, building condition and related necessary facts, I’m simply going to provide some suggestions as we as a city go through this negotiating process.
As an individual who attended Bret Harte K through 8 (class of 1969) with the distinction of having scored No. 1 in both reading and math and having been a member of the Kenwood Academy class of 1972, which held early involvement classes at what is now Canter, I believe I am uniquely qualified to make these suggestions.
Clearly, you have all of the information available at your fingertips as to the capability of every school, including those expected to be closed. Using Canter as my example, I suggest you send students from schools that are to be closed in the communities surrounding Hyde Park and Kenwood to our schools, including Canter, with Canter students having automatic acceptance into Kenwood Academy. You could do the same thing for schools throughout the city that are similar to Canter in terms of educational performance.
As a result, you will achieve enrollment totals similar to what they were during the baby boom generation. It is also important to continue to operate some of the schools slated for closure because we could have, at any time, another upswing in the overall birth rate – which may occur soon if the economy improves and remains supercharged.
If you close too many schools today, a time may come when the remaining schools are overloaded (as they were in my day) and then what are you going to do? Build more schools?
In the first half of my early involvement year, we were taught in a “Willis Wagon” [ed. note: trailers to ease overcrowding nicknamed by Chicagoans for school superintendent Benjamin Willis] — a bad enough experience that I still remember it. Sure, you should consolidate — but not too much. Later on, you may regret it.
Perhaps you do not want to invest the money at the current Canter site that you would need to ensure everybody’s safety and well-being. I suggest that you negotiate with the Nichols Park Advisory Council, the University of Chicago and local elected officials to build a new Canter on the north end of Nichols Park, next to Murray Language Academy.
The vacant lot across the street where there was once a McDonalds could be used for teacher parking, which would solve another neighborhood problem — the proposed 13-story behemoth for that lot and the neighboring Mobil Gas station. There will be plenty of Nichols Park remaining south of 54th Street — and we should retain the wildflower meadow that is to the north of 54th Street.
The students could be transferred to the new Canter by CTA drivers dedicated to particular groups of students from closed schools. They could pick up and drop off “their” classes based on their school schedule. Parents can pick up their children really close to home and have some peace of mind for that whole day — and every school day. Lateness would have to be severely dealt with by principals and teachers.
Parents may object to sending their children to Hyde Park. We would have to persuade them of the benefit of being in a neighborhood reflecting (as my church, St. Thomas the Apostle says in its motto) “God’s people in extraordinary variety.”
Canter serves as a very useful existing concept of segregating seventh and eighth graders both from the younger ones and young adults. This is a model that works just fine in Hyde Park. It is a model that I believe should be encouraged and replicated throughout the CPS empire.
Ms. Byrd-Bennett, will you now take all this given to you in good faith and trust and kindly prepare some reconsiderations?
Gregory Simonic Peter Papesh