Canter vote a good start

The Chicago Board of Education voted last week to phase out Canter Middle School, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., instead of abruptly closing the school’s doors at the end of this year. This means a shock wave that would have affected half of Hyde Park’s elementary schools and many, many families has been averted.

We congratulate and praise the parents, teachers, administrators and especially students who spoke up and spoke out for your school.

Thanks to 8th grader Dianna Richardson who told Chicago Public Schools officials in a hearing that Canter was “a place to learn and feel loved.”

Thanks also to Samara Spencer, also a Canter 8th grader, who explained to CPS officials that Canter teachers are “loving, caring [and] helpful with troubles.”

Thanks to 7th grader Nelson Williams who explained that he might not be able to take algebra if Canter closes and that he likes the building, the lunches and the teachers at Canter.

These are just a few of the children who spoke up for their school. We are grateful to all of them for their civic-mindedness and advocacy for their school.

Canter will remain open next year, allowing the current 7th grade class to finish their year at the school and forestalling unnecessary disruption at the schools slated to take in those students. According to the current plan, it will then be shuttered and students will be sent to local elementary schools where 7th and 8th grades will be reinstated.

Thanks to the many, many parents and teachers and other supporters of Canter who made the case when cynics said the school closing was inevitable. Your time spent at meetings, passing out flyers and arguing your case in coffee shops and on street corners was not wasted. This is an important step.

But it is only one step.

Canter is a work in progress that holds promise but needs a neighborhood rededicated to its very sensible philosophy that middle school-aged children need a special environment in order to thrive. Parents reluctant to send their children there need to make their concerns plain, and we must work together to ensure those concerns are addressed.

CPS will fight against keeping Canter open, but officials have removed it from the ledger books they are trying to balance through school closures — at least for this year. The heated rhetoric and political posturing that have hampered reasoned discussion about the merits of Canter and other schools on the closings list will have cooled come next year. There is every reason to believe that a strong case might sway the board of education next year.

Canter supporters will be able to argue its merits without their position being overshadowed by the titanic battle of wills that Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s massive school closure plan sparked. A demonstration of strong community support — and some behind-the-scenes persuasion — could alter Canter’s long-term fate.

For us, the merits of keeping Canter open are well-represented by the photograph we append to the bottom of these comments. In it, Canter principal Colleen Conlan comforts 7th grader Sydney Bishop during the public hearings for Canter last month. She is not playing to the cameras; she is simply doing her job as she understands it: Supporting the children who are in her care. That philosophy is suffused throughout Canter, where some teachers have spent decades of dedicated service helping to produce the remarkable children that are the foundation of our community.

That’s a place worth keeping.