Closing schools diaspora

Children scatter from closing schools to 287 schools in the system.

August 26, 2013

(WBEZ/Bill Healy)
Crown Elementary was not designated by the school district as a "welcoming" school, but it is getting over 83 students from four different closing schools. In all, students from closing schools are headed today to 287 different new schools.

Students from Chicago’s 47 shuttered elementary schools will head to new schools today. And while most will go to so-called “welcoming” schools the district has packed with resources, upgrades, and special safety provisions,  new data show that many will not. The students from shuttered schools are enrolled in a whopping 287 schools across Chicago, forming a diaspora throughout the school system.

For every school it closed, the district designated another school as a “welcoming school” that students could transfer to. In a handful of cases the children from a single closing school were offered two or three welcoming schools.

Chicago Public Schools insists that the majority of the nearly 12,000 students from the closed schools are signed up at the designated welcoming schools, where it did big fix-ups, from paint to iPads. The district made $155 million in building improvements at those schools, adding computer labs, science labs,  and installing air conditioning in every classroom.

It hosted hundreds of “cultural integration events” – from bowling parties to field days—to encourage social interaction between the two merging school communities and ease transitions between neighborhoods divided at times by longstanding tensions. And it has laid out careful security plans—including safe passage routes staffed by workers from the community to help students get safely to school.

But numbers obtained through an open records request show some 2,200 students from closed schools have not enrolled in welcoming schools, suggesting that the ripple effects of the largest school closure in recent American history could  go well beyond the communities where the closures took place. 

And while CPS says 78 percent of students have enrolled in designated welcoming schools, at individual schools, that percentage can be far lower. For instance, just 29 percent of students (42 kids in all)  from shuttered Pope Elementary on the West Side have enrolled at Johnson School of Excellence, the designated “welcoming” school.

Instead, many former Pope students are enrolled at Crown Elementary—which has neither safe passage routes, nor iPads for every student.  In some cases, schools that got major capital investments and programmatic improvements—to the tune of millions of dollars—will see fewer than 40 new children.

The scenario also puts at risk the district’s promise to send every student to a higher performing school. For instance, Beidler, which itself has been on the shortlist for closure in the past, now has to manage an influx of students from eight shuttered schools (Stockton, Ross, Pope, Marconi, Goldblatt, Garfield Park, Calhoun and Bethune).

Many closing schools are sending nearly all their children to the receiving schools. One example is Ryerson, in the Garfield Park area. CPS says 326 Kindergarten through seventh graders were enrolled in Ryerson in May, and 311 have enrolled in the receiving school, Laura Ward, which will now be in the Ryerson building.

But other school communities are being pulled apart. Students from Lafayette Elementary, whose student orchestra became a symbol of community loss, are enrolled in 26 different schools, though the bulk will head to designated receiving school Chopin.

Students from shuttered Henson Elementary in North Lawndale are going to 21 different schools—including Crown, Penn, Mason and Lawndale. Just 32 of Henson’s original 190 students are going to the designated receiving school, C. Hughes.

Tom Tyrrell, the former Marine Corps officer overseeing the shutdown of 50 schools and the transfer of 12,000 students to new schools, said Friday that Crown and other “de facto” welcoming schools would get what he called “welcoming school funds.” But he admitted that did not include building upgrades or iPads. The district has not said how much it has spent on Crown to help the school deal with an influx of students from closed schools, or how that amount compares to what designated welcoming schools received. A total of four closed schools are sending  between 83 and 99 students to Crown (some exact figures cannot be ascertained because of the way CPS reported the data). 

Other findings:

• 40 of the 47 closing schools still have a handful of students that have not enrolled anywhere yet.

• As of last Thursday, 118 students at King Elementary in the Tri-Taylor neighborhood still had not registered for school anywhere. During public hearings last spring the community raised concerns about safety and the long distance to the receiving school. Latino families said privately they would not attend Jensen, the receiving school, which is deep in an African American community. But King was an outlier. According to the district’s figures, all other closing schools had 10 or fewer students left to enroll.

• Handfuls of students at 36 of the 47 closed schools have left the district. At Jesse Owens, which used to be located at 125th and State Street, 10 students have left the district, the most of all the closing schools.

• More students from closing Paderewski Elemenatary are headed to a nearby charter school than to Padarewski’s designated receiving school. Twenty-eight students are slated to go to Catalyst-Howland charter campus, just blocks from Paderewski; 24 are enrolled at Cardenas, one of Paderewski’s receiving schools.