Schools face changing times

Staff Writer

As the new school year begins, three Hyde Park elementary schools are experiencing the effects of school actions taken by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in efforts to balance its budget.

At the end of June, CPS closed about 50 elementary schools across the city in order to balance its budget. Canter Middle School, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., was initially on the list of school closings but after several community meetings and hearings, CPS decided to put the school on a phase-out plan. Since Canter no longer accepts 7th graders, CPS determined that Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., and Bret Harte, 1556 E. 56th St., would add 7th grade and 8th grade the following year to accommodate the graduating 6th graders from their own schools as well as nearby Shoesmith Elementary School, 1330 E. 50th St., which was the feeder school with the highest number of students who transitioned to Canter.

“The building is pretty vacant,” said Colleen Conlan, principal at Canter. “ It feels weird because no one is here.”

The school has 96 eighth graders and has seven teachers, down from 19. The school no longer uses the third floor and the Leadership Academy curriculum, which included children taking a hands on approach to choosing their classes and switching classrooms for different subjects, is gone, as is the arts program.

The school also lost its local school council (LSC). Conlan said the children whose parents were on the LSC graduated, one of the teachers who was on the LSC no longer works at the school and some of the community members who were on the LSC no longer live in the neighborhood.

“Because this is not an election year we can’t vote in new LSC members,” Conlan said.

Despite the setbacks, Conlan said the first week of school was great.

“There is a different feel in the school, but we want to make it a good year,” Conlan said. “We want to do what we can to enhance teacher and student growth and get [students] ready for high school.”

Shenethe Parks, principal of Bret Harte, said 16 percent of its incoming 7th graders were from Shoesmith and the neighborhood within its boundary area and 83 percent of the Bret Harte’s 6th graders remained at the school for 7th grade. She said the number of incoming students filled the gap of those who transferred to other schools.

Parks said Bret Harte hosts school fairs in February to get its 6th graders ready for the transition to a new school. Some of them were accepted to new schools by the time CPS announced that Bret Harte was adding 7th grade so they chose to go to their new school.

Parks said CPS has provided enough iPads so that each 3rd through 7th grader has individual access and 6th and 7th graders also have access to laptops. CPS also added air conditioning throughout the school and provided structural and facility upgrades. A featured upgrade to the school is its cafeteria, which is currently being upgraded from a warming kitchen to a mobile hot food service that will offer fresh instead of packaged meals.

Bret Harte will have an open house at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 11.

Ray Interim Principal Toni Hill said out of its class of 63 7th graders, 24 are from Shoesmith and 39 remained from Ray’s 6th grade class.

Hill said in addition to the air conditioning, iPads, refurbished chairs in the auditorium and other upgrades, CPS gave the school an extra $100,000.

Ray will have an open house from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 10.