One parent's take on the plan to close her child's Chicago public school

Mrs. Harris says parents will fight the plan to shut Manierre school down, but she does not feel good about the odds.

March 25, 2013

(WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)
Many students at Manierre live across the street at the Marshall Field Garden Apartments.

All over the city, people are reacting to the news that 53 Chicago elementary schools could go away.

One of those schools is George Manierre, in what used to be Cabrini-Green.That housing project is largely gone, and the school district says Manierre is under-enrolled and should be closed. It says kids will get a better education at a consolidated school, with more students, and more resources.

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I was the first person to tell Karlyn Harris that her daughter’s school is slated to close.

HARRIS: Oh, my God.  I knew it was on the list but I didn’t know it was gonna be the bam—in my face today. Oh, wow.

I met Mrs. Harris last week. Just about every school has a Mrs. Harris. She volunteers here every day. She helps out wherever she’s needed. Ushers kids in and out of the lunchroom.

HARRIS: Right now we’re having our spring dance. We have it every year. And I collect donations. That’s what I’m doing now, this morning.

Directly across from Manierre are the historic Marshall Field Garden Apartments. For nearly seven decades, kids have walked across the street from those apartments to school.

HARRIS: It’s like, when you step out of your house you're right into this school. So it’s like you're stepping out of your bed and you’re going into the dining room somewhere.

Mrs. Harris tells me, the plan to shut Manierre…
 
HARRIS: It’s gonna tear the community down. Not only the students, it’s gonna be the parents. It’s like a mother’s kids being taken from her, that’s the way I feel.

Manierre has 350 students. CPS says it needs twice that many to operate efficiently and says it can give kids a better education somewhere else. Mrs. Harris says parents will fight that thinking, but she does not feel good about the odds. That has to do with a lot of things, things that go far beyond enrollment numbers.

HARRIS: We’ve been going to the meetings they have, but, it’s like they give you so many minutes to speak, and the panel sit up there and,  you know, look at you. The people’s that on the panel up there, when you go to these meetings, they don’t have kids in these kinds of schools, these schools that they’re tyring to close. These are blacks and Latino schools they’re closing.

Mostly black. Eighty percent of kids affected by closings and the other school shakeups CPS announced last week are black, though African Americans are just 40 percent of all CPS students.

Manierre is an interesting case, because it’s surrounded by higher performing schools, some of them magnets, among the best in the city. But  instead of combining Manierre kids with them, and looking for a home where everyone could fit, the district is sending Manierre students to Jenner, another Cabrini Green school: 98 percent black. Jenner has slightly lower test scores than Manierre. 

People say Manierre and Jenner have been on opposite sides of gang lines for at least four decades.

HARRIS: It’s not gonna work, because they fight now. It’s like a boundary. You step over this line, the cowboys get you, over here it's the Indians. So it’s gonna be a mess.

CPS is doubling what it spends on safe passage programs. And receiving schools will get $233 million—money for air conditioning, social workers, counselors, tutors. Third through eighth graders will get iPads. Schools will have libraries and new books.

HARRIS: That’s just talk. I ...you were gonna give it to them all that, why you couldn't give it to them now, before all this happened?

Something else…

HARRIS: I think the reason they really wanna close this school here is because of the land. I don’t know how much these homes cost, over here, or condos. Two hundred-something thousand? You got all this area, and this school is here.

In other, more impoverished neighborhoods, people have a different worry: schools becoming abandoned and dangerous.

HARRIS: Shame on you guys, serious, it’s sad. Close schools, they gonna build prisons.

Of course, these are just the opinions of one parent volunteer, at one school.

But as the district gears up for more than 150 hearings on its schools plan, Chicago is going to hear from a lot more Mrs. Harrises.