By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Hyde Park’s new schools chief received a grilling after disgruntled community members were stood up, Wednesday evening, by Community Action Council (CAC) representatives for an information session. The residents are taking steps to move forward in their efforts to keep Canter Middle School open.
At a CPS board meeting in October, Board President David Vitale told Nancy Baum and Camille Hamilton-Doyle, co-chairwomen of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference’s Schools Committee, that forming a CAC may help the community keep Canter open. Since that meeting, the committee has hosted several meetings to gauge community interest in forming a CAC.
Sitting in on the HP-K CC CAC informational meeting at Canter, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., was supposed to be a stop on Chicago Public School Area 9 Network chief Harrison Peters’ 90-day listening tour. The visit became an interrogation as parents questioned his dedication to helping them keep Canter open.
Peters said he’s heard proposals to have Canter become an extension of neighboring Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., which is overcrowded, and a faith-based organization requested to use the space as a food bank. Making the building a parent resource center has also been proposed. He said starting a CAC would help the community make a stronger statement.
“CACs are a very powerful voice because the community holds us accountable to promises made,” said Peters, who served as area chief on the Far South Side for two-and-a-half years before becoming the network chief of Area 9. “Some [CACs] have decided that some schools should be closed and they protested for others to stay open. Through their work some remained open and others CPS decided to close.”
Hamilton-Doyle said the committee expected to take its first steps toward establishing a CAC at Wednesday night’s meeting.
“I was disappointed that no CAC representative came because I didn’t get my question on how to start a CAC answered,” Hamilton-Doyle said. “I read what they were about and how they have helped other communities but it doesn’t tell you how to start one.”
Hamilton-Doyle read her copy of the guidelines to those attending the meeting. The focus changed from how to start a CAC to brainstorming a plan for Canter.
Hamilton-Doyle said with new residential development plans in Hyde Park, space may be needed for incoming families.
“City Hyde Park and Vue53 boundaries are within the Shoesmith boundary area,” Hamilton-Doyle said. “Together there will be over 500 apartments built. I’m not saying all of them will have students in them but there will be some.”
Jane Averill, teacher at Ray, said having 7th graders back in the elementary school is an awkward experience.
“Our vision stands – middle school kids are not elementary school kids and they are not high school kids,” said Averill, who was a part of the original committee to bring an open enrollment middle school to the Hyde Park community. “It breaks my heart to see these kids line up at Ray to go to the bathroom.”
Averill said the middle school is a model that is used all over the country. Chicago stands out for not having a middle school or junior high model.
Hamilton-Doyle said CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel have said they don’t believe in the need for middle schools but Emmanuel sends his children to the University of Chicago Laboratory’s middle school, 1362 E. 59th St. She also said that there are charter middle schools in the city, including University of Chicago Charter School’s Woodson at 4444 S. Evans Ave.
The group said Canter’s original purpose to alleviate overcrowded elementary schools is still needed and should Canter remain open it should offer 6th ,7th and 8th grades in order to keep the building at capacity.
“Shoesmith is currently using two mobiles for classrooms,” said Joy Clendenning, of Hyde Park Community Area Residents Empowering Schools (HPCARES), about the school at 1330 E. 50th St. that offers grades K-6 and sends most of its graduates to Canter. “They want to start a Pre-K and not use the mobile units.”
Shenethe Parks, principal of Bret Harte at 1556 E. 56th St., one of the schools absorbing 7 and 8 graders from Canter, said the school is “trying to control this year’s 7th grade enrollment to have space for 8th grade.”
Parks said if the school isn’t mindful of enrollment numbers, it could lose ancillary classes such as art.
A few parents expressed their lack of faith in the effectiveness of having an area chief. This is the third area chief to govern public schools in Hyde Park in the last four years.
When asked if he could help the community keep Canter open, Peters, who was appointed as chief to the Hyde Park, Woodlawn and Bronzeville communities in November, said he’d have to get more data before he could advocate for keeping the school open.
CACs are a component of the CPS Department of Family and Community Engagement (FACE). A group of parents and community members will meet with Phillip Hampton, chief of FACE, on Dec. 19.