All must rally for Canter

If Chicago Public School administrators have their way, this will be the last school year Canter Middle School remains open. It was listed as one of more than 50 schools CPS announced would close last week because of underutilization. CPS is broke, we are told, and maintaining underused buildings will mean fewer programs for the students in them.

There may be school buildings in the CPS portfolio that are nearly empty, but Canter, 4859 S. Blackstone Ave., is not one of them.

Several years ago, Canter was turned into a middle school into which all elementary schools in the neighborhood would feed. In making the case for this dramatic change (7th and 8th grade programs that were popular with many parents had to be closed in these schools), we were regaled with study after study explaining the special needs of middle school-aged students and the value of an environment tailor-made for them. Local political leadership and public schools officials urged us to trust them.

Some six or seven years later, these students will now be shuttled to Ray and Bret Harte elementary schools. Apparently, how middle school-aged children learn matters less to the current leadership, or the folks who were making the case when Canter was developed were wrong. Either way, it’s a game of musical chairs these students cannot afford to play.

The negative effects of being moved to a new school on learning are so well-documented at this point that it should be a decision of absolute last resort. The network of support that parents, teachers and — most importantly — students develop in their school community is irreplaceable. Over time, new ties will be established, but invariably the damage has been done.

Sadly, the priorities of the decision-makers who oversee our public schools are more bottom-line-oriented than education-oriented. At the very least, we would hope that a “do no harm” to students ethos would be a reasonable expectation from education officials. Obviously, that is not the case.

Canter is a school alive with learning, with a dedicated staff of educators committed to making every day rich and rewarding for the children in their charge. We have an obligation as a community to support these teachers, who include our own neighbors and folks who have been teaching in our schools for years and even decades. In short, we must fight for Canter.

Plans are presented as a “done deal” so routinely in our city that some residents have come to despair of having any input in important decisions. But careful students of how politics really happen here realize that with enough pressure, noise and press, many decisions are eventually — often quietly — reversed that are initially presented as inevitable. Let’s make their decision to close Canter one of those decisions.

Then, once we reverse that decision, let’s take a good, hard look at a few of our own. This school is slated for closure because its student population of 228 is well below the 390 that CPS thinks should be enrolled there. Setting aside for a moment the contentious issue of class size, we need to confront the open secret in our neighborhood that many parents do not see Canter as a viable option for their middle school-aged children. Why is that? And what can we do to rectify it?

We are stewards of the public schools in our community. Our responsibility to them and the children that learn in them is redoubled when CPS administrators try to take an axe to them. Let’s treat this as a wake-up call.

Let’s fight for Canter.