Chicago parents organize fair to promote neighborhood schools

Parents say with the expansion of school choices, neighborhood schools are overlooked.

November 14, 2013

(Screenshot: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Neighborhood-Schools-Fair/677023878993512)

The traditional Chicago public school down the block is getting some marketing help this weekend.

Some Chicago parents are organizing a “Neighborhood Schools Fair” to promote schools that in some cases have been around for decades—but that parents say are endangered. Many of those organizing the fair met last school year when the district targeted their schools for possible closure.

Parent Rousemary Vega is among them. Vega fought unsuccessfully for months to save her children’s neighborhood school, Lafayette Elementary. It was closed in June, part of Chicago’s historic closing of 50 schools.

Vega says neighborhood schools are unfairly overlooked in an era of charters, magnets, and gifted schools.

“We tend to skip our neighborhood school because we don’t know what it has in it,” says Vega, whose children participated in the orchestra program at Lafayette.  “There is no magic school. The good school is created by community, by parent involvement, by staff, by unity.”

Neighborhood schools accept all students within a defined attendance boundary. Performance varies widely at the schools.

Saturday, more than 60 neighborhood elementary and high schools from across the city will showcase everything from beekeeping clubs to culinary programs at the fair, which will be held at Roberto Clemente Community Academy.

Parent Cassie Creswell says the fair is for prospective parents, but also for current neighborhood school parents to share ideas and resources.

“There’s a lot of programs to learn about that you might not have at your school, and you can go there and say, ‘Hey, they have this awesome chess program or hip-hop dance after school! How could we get that to come to our school too?’”

Creswell, who has two daughters at Goethe Elementary in Logan Square, says with the district cutting budgets and shuttering schools, it’s up to parents to promote neighborhood schools.

“We just want to make sure that Chicago knows what it has and what we are in the process of dismantling—if we don’t celebrate what is strong about neighborhood schools right now,” says Creswell.

In the past, Chicago Public Schools has held annual school fairs to showcase magnet and gifted schools. And the city and school district support an annual New Schools Expo, which features mostly charter schools.

CPS spokeswoman Keiana Barrett wrote in an e-mailed statement that “as a district that promotes parental choice, we encourage families to take every opportunity to learn about the options available for their children in order to make the best selections based upon their individual needs and interests.”  Barrett says the district is working to “better market neighborhood schools to parents” through a recently announced realignment of its administrative structure.