One Chicago school closing sets off domino effect

The closure of Fermi Elementary touches five other schools.

April 30, 2013

WBEZ/Becky Vevea
Fermi Elementary closes and current students go to South Shore Fine Arts Academy, which is in the same building. Incoming students are reassigned to Wadsworth Elementary at the Dumas building.

(Updated 5/02/13 5 pm)

You’ve likely heard about Chicago’s plan to close 54 public schools this year.  But you might not realize it’s part of a much bigger restructuring effort— one that will affect more than 47,000 students and 132 schools.

To get a glimpse of the scope and complexity of what’s going on, WBEZ narrowed in on a single closure, and the domino effect it creates in one South Side community.

On paper, the closure of Fermi Elementary looks pretty straightforward.

“They're supposed to be closing it down and then they're supposed to go to South Shore,” Desiree Borders said outside the school at 70th Street and Dorchester Avenue.

Fermi and South Shore Fine Arts Academy share a building, so it’s pretty simple. Except it’s not.

Borders and her children are actually caught up in one of Chicago Public Schools more complicated closures.

That’s because South Shore Fine Arts Academy doens't have an attendance boundary that would guarantee neighborhood students a spot.  That could exclude Borders' younger children, who aren't yet in school. 

“If they don’t get accepted to South Shore, I have to walk them all the way to Dumas,” Borders said.

But Dumas Elementary School isn’t going to be Dumas anymore. A group of Dumas 8th graders tried to explain the changes at Dumas.

“Uh, well, all I heard was that the school was getting shut down because of the scores,” said one student, before being interrupted by a friend.

“No, no, no, no, the staff is getting changed, to Wadsworth,” the friend said. “They're keeping the building, moving our staff out and changing our name.”

Confused yet? Let’s recap.

“The children that are in Fermi, they get a chance to go to South Shore Fine Arts Academy,” Borders said. “Then, the ones that move into the neighborhood or the ones that are just coming in to the school... they have to go to Dumas slash Wadsworth. Now the reason why they say that is because they’re closing Dumas and changing the name of that school to Wadsworth. You know, this is confusing! You know? Crazy!”

I took the walk from Fermi-South Shore to Dumas-Wadsworth with Desiree Borders last week. It was a mile long walk and she kept telling me how unfair she thought it was to make children walk that far just to get to their neighborhood school.

Especially because they have to pass another elementary—Woodlawn Community School. That school also accepts kids via a lottery and has what CPS considers the right amount of kids.

It’s considered a “small school,” a designation CPS only gives in name now. (Schools used to be given extra funding with “small school” status.)

I asked Borders, if Woodlawn was the reroute school would she be more willing to walk her kids here?

“No, because it’s still too far from my house,” Borders said. “It’s still too far. What part of community, what part of neighborhood is this?”

There’s another school Borders leaves out of the equation—the University of Chicago-Woodlawn Charter School.

It’s a high school that currently shares a building with Wadsworth. Next year, it will be the only school at that campus.

But that might not be a long term thing, says Shayne Evans, director of the University of Chicago Charter Schools.

They’re looking to build new, since the Wadsworth building is designed to be an elementary school.

Desiree Borders says the whole thing is just too complicated.

“If my children do not get selected, I’m taking all my children out the Chicago Public School system,” Borders said. “I’m going to homeschool them.”

And she says she wouldn’t be surprised if other parents also throw their hands up and leave CPS. 

 

South  Shore Fine Arts Academy accepts students city wide and does not guarantee seats for students in the neighborhood. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified South Shore as a CPS magnet school.