The proposal to close 54 Chicago public schools and completely re-staff 6 others has parents and school officials on edge.
That was evident at Dewey Elementary school yesterday. When parent Matthew Johnson got there in the afternoon, he says he saw a slew of unfamiliar people outside.
“Thirty-two Caucasians, at the basketball court, in a group, huddled,” Johnson said. “You’d think [it was] the police—I thought somebody got shot on the basketball court. But they were coming in to do inventory.”
CPS is paying a logistics firm $14.2 million to inventory everything from student records to textbooks in all schools set to be closed, turned around, or “co-located” with other schools. Johnson, who opposes the turnaround, said Dewey students have been told for two days they aren’t allowed to take home textbooks for homework because they’re being inventoried.
The school district’s proposal calls for management of Dewey to be turned over to the private nonprofit Academy for Urban School Leadership, which currently manages 25 schools in Chicago. Dewey is among six schools the district has proposed re-staffing and turning over to AUSL at the end of this school year.
But seeing people inventory the school’s assets before Chicago’s board of education officially votes to turn Dewey around didn’t sit right with Johnson, who chairs the local school council.
“When I saw them out there, I called parents and I asked, ‘How many are willing to stay in the school with me?’ And we said, ‘We ain’t leaving this building until they leave.’”
Rumors began to fly that Dewey School was being occupied. By evening, the inventory team was long gone, and most parents had gone home. But the head of CPS security was at the school. So were teachers union organizers, state Rep. Esther Golar, and 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell.
“It’s especially troubling to me because the vote hasn’t even been taken yet,” Dowell said. “The decision hasn’t been finally made.”
Dowell says she put a call out as soon as she heard about Dewey.
“I spoke to Barbara Byrd-Bennett this afternoon, after I found out that the transition team was in Dewey,” Dowell said. “[Byrd-Bennett] acknowledges that this is, in her words, unconscionable, and that these individuals from CPS should not be in the school now, disrupting the education of young people.”
Dowell opposes handing Dewey over to AUSL. She wants CPS to figure out how to improve the school with existing staff. Johnson says the principal and many teachers are new, and the school is on an upswing.
Last year another school slated for turnaround, Piccolo, was briefly taken over by protesters. CPS gave principals a guide this year with instructions on what to do if their schools are “occupied.”
CPS says it has been conducting inventories in schools slated for closure, turnaround or co-location for the past two weeks. A spokeswoman said in an email that nothing is being removed from schools, and that schools are only inventoried after regular hours. She said if the turnaround is not approved, Dewey school will still have a good accounting of all its assets.
Linda Lutton is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her at @WBEZeducation