We want to know the physical state of our local schools

Editor’s note: This letter was sent to Mary De Runtz, deputy chief of planning and construction for Chicago Public Schools on Aug. 24.

Dear Ms. De Runtz:

On June 27 you came out to the meeting of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Action Council at the Hyde Park Art Center and presented CPS’s updates to the Educational Facilities Master Plan. Thank you so much for attending our meeting and speaking to us. You asked us to look over the plan and share any feedback with your office. That is the reason for this letter.

A subcommittee of the HPKCAC met on July 31 and reviewed the Bronzeville/South Lakefront Planning Area section of the EFMP. We were disappointed to not find any specific information about the physical state of the school buildings in our area. For example, we would like to know what CPS sees as the individual building improvement priorities for all the schools in our area. We would also be interested in knowing the results of tests for lead in the water at all our schools. It would be helpful to see the facility reports from 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 to get a sense of the kinds of capital improvement projects that CPS has invested in in recent years.

We believe our schools would benefit from the addition of a component to each school’s CPS website through which parents could report any problems with the school building or its grounds. We know our principals are very busy and if there was a way for parents to flag an issue at a school building and get it addressed quickly, it might be a useful tool for CPS to respond to parents’ concerns.

As I’m sure you are aware, Illinois is now using an evidence-based formula to provide funds to schools. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability’s analysis of the new funding formula identifies about 24 factors that have been shown to correlate with student academic achievement. One of those factors is class size. They note:

The district will receive funding for one core teacher for every 15 low-income students for grades K-3, and one core teacher for every 20 low-income students in grades 4-5; and the district will receive funding for one core teacher for every 20 non-low-income students in grades K-3, and one core teacher for every 25 non-low-income students in grades 4-5.

Since 77 percent of CPS students are designated as “economically disadvantaged,” if CPS could use the class-size numbers of 15 students per classroom for grades K-3 and 20 students per classroom for grades 4-5 in calculating utilization rates, this would greatly benefit our students. Such a change in measurement would likely significantly change the utilization rates of many of our schools.

In addition, the HPKCAC recognizes that while CPS athletic facilities are improving on the South Side, the west side of our Bronzeville/South Lakefront area lacks a lighted 8-lane, 400 meter track with an artificial turf field for varsity soccer and football games. We request that such a facility be placed at the northeast corner of Washington Park, at 51st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. Such a facility would serve students from Kenwood High School, Dyett High School, King High School, as well as several local elementary schools, community residents, and patients at Provident Hospital. Physical well-being is linked to good health and academic success, so we believe that such an investment would benefit our community in a multitude of ways.

And finally, a couple details: on page 31, it appears that the colors blue and red in the legend are mixed up. The way it reads now, there are many more charter and contract schools than district-run schools in CPS. Also, on page 41, the report states “The Englewood community has recognized the enrollment challenges that are taking place in four existing neighborhood schools: Hope, Harper, Robeson, and TEAM Englewood. Over the past ten years, each of these schools have seen declines in enrollment of 70-85%, with current enrollment between 90 and 135 students at each school. As a result, the Englewood Community Action Council (CAC) recommended that CPS create a state-of-the-art neighborhood high school in Englewood and consolidate existing neighborhood high schools in Englewood.” The coverage of CPS’s engagement with the Englewood community, as portrayed in the 2/24/2018 Sun-Times story, suggests that the narrative that the Englewood CAC recommended this course of action is leaving out some important parts of the story.

We would appreciate a response to this letter that addresses our requests, especially: 1) the lead-in-water test results, 2) a parent-input spot on CPS school websites to report facility issues, 3) possibilities for CPS using the best practices identified above to calculate school utilization rates, and 4) the installation of an 8-lane track at the corner of 51st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.

Thank you again for coming out to speak with us. Please don’t hesitate to follow up with the Hyde Park-Kenwood CAC if you have any additional questions/concerns.

Sincerely,

 

Katie Gruber,
on behalf of the HPKCAC
hydeparkcac@gmail.com