For the past week—ever since the school board took its final vote to close 50 Chicago schools—the district has been trying to get parents from closing schools to say where they’ll send their children next year.
But getting parents to register for new schools has been a tough sell in many corners of the city.
That is me. I’m at a district administrative building on the Far South Side, at what is supposed to be a school enrollment fair.
LUTTON: Hello? Hello? I’m up by the front!
Forty-seven elementary schools are permanently closing their doors in just a few weeks. Parents at those schools can come here to pick out a new school.
LUTTON: I was looking for this, here.
MAN: Right, but nobody’s here. There haven’t been any parents.
The district passed out about 600 flyers announcing this enrollment fair. Still, turnout was zero.
Jerryelyn Jones, a retired principal who’s now helping CPS manage the closings, says it’s not as bad as it seems.
JONES: We’ve been having fairs at the schools. Our goal is to make sure every single student is accounted for.
That’s around 12,000 students. All need to be situated in new schools. The district started its registration campaign less than 24 hours after the board voted to close the schools.
If it seems like the district is in a big rush… it is. Officials need to know where students are going so they can redirect money and teachers there, before budgets are drawn up.
But as of Thursday, only about half the kids at closing schools had enrolled anywhere else. I asked Jones if parents know that CPS set today as the enrollment deadline.
JONES: We sent flyers not only from the network but from the schools as well, and the marquees at all the schools have that date. And the robo calls have been going out to the homes. And the letter from Barbara Byrd Bennett also went out. So that message is clear, precise, concise. So they know, yes.
They know… and if you hang around closing schools, talk to parents, it’s obvious many of them are sending their own message right back to the school district. I met parent Antoine Dobine walking across the playground at West Pullman Elementary this week. He admits some parents are complacent, but he says there’s a fundamental reason many haven’t registered for new schools.
DOBINE: They got the hope in the back of their mind that our school is not gonna close.
When I talked to Dobine, he hadn’t registered his children. He was waiting. On purpose.
DOBINE: I don’t like the way they were so gung ho and, ‘Register your child now! Register your child now!’ Register my child? You just closed the school! You ain’t gonna let us mourn? Can’t we mourn? I mean, this is a big loss.
Dobine gestures up toward the huge school, where three generations of his family have attended. Like the district, he’s also worried about tracking every student. In past closings, CPS has not been able to explain where all kids end up. Dobine says gang lines make it impossible for some kids to go to their designated receiving school.
DOBINE: You think the high school dropout rate was high? Give it about three or four years and see what the grammar school rate will be. They’re gonna drop out.
Dobine says some people simply cannot believe the schools are closing. They might not believe it until they see the doors padlocked shut, he says.
You don't have to look hard for folks in this camp. On a porch across the street from Kohn Elementary—also closing— Tammy Brown doesn’t care that the board voted last week. It’s not over until it’s over, she says. And parents shouldn't register, she adds.
BROWN: No, they should not do that. They should stay at their school. Say ‘No! Don’t close our school.’ Protest. If they protest out here and get enough people to sign, I guarantee they’ll keep that school open. It’s never too late.
Many parents are finding it hard to shift gears, from fighting for their school to remain open to enrolling their children somewhere else. At Parkman Elementary, parents like Jalainea Leslie say they do not want to attend the receiving school CPS has named. And they say a week is not enough time to find a better option---a higher performing school, on a safe route. A school that can accommodate a whole family.
LESLIE: Why should we rush into something that we’re not sure about in the first place? I’m gonna find the best school, like they suggested us to do, and that’s what I’m gonna do.
At one closing school, as of yesterday, just five out of 200 kids had registered for school next year.
But a handful of schools had nearly all their students register. At Louis Armstrong on the West Side, 83 percent of students had enrolled in new schools as of yesterday. Part of the reason? The principal there, Demetrius Juanita Bunch, held a raffle for a 22-inch flat-screen color TV. Only parents who registered their kids in another school could participate.
BUNCH: We wanted to make sure that every parent realized the importance of having their child ready and prepared the first day.
In some ways, getting kids to register for new schools is the district’s first test; it’s just a taste of what might be ahead as it closes 50 schools. Yesterday, a group of South Side parents put a larger face on the registration push-back evident at some neighborhoods. They showed up at a high performing school on the North Side, A.N. Pritzker.
They said they wanted to register their children at that school.
Here’s community organizer Jitu Brown:
JITU: We want our children to have stable schools in their own neighborhoods. If you’re not, then guess who’s coming to dinner. 'Cause we’re coming up north. And we’re gonna enroll our children in these top ten schools. And you’re gonna treat them as good as you treat these white babies up north. And the problem is not those white babies up north—they’re not the problem. They deserve a world-class education. But so do our babies, so do our babies.
Parents were told there’s a waiting list hundreds of students long at Pritzker —and CPS says kids from closing schools won’t be given any special priority. They had the same opportunity as everyone else to apply to top schools, the district says.
Cassandra Parks, who has two children at Morgan Elementary, says she is not planning to enroll her kids anywhere.
PARKS: Right now I’m just gonna wait, and they’re not gonna go to the first day of school. They’re gonna stay at home. Maye they’ll hear us then, if we keep our kids at home. Since we’re not being heard too much now.
Chicago Public Schools says it will continue to call and send letters to parents like Parks. The district will keep enrolling students over the summer, and into September if necessary.
Number/percent of students at closing schools registered at other CPS schools for fall 2013, as of May 30, 11am
|School Name||Network||Student Population||Registered||Percent Registered ˆ||Type*|
|STOCKTON||ES Network - Ravenswood-Ridge||295||294||99.66||Closing Staying|
|SEXTON||ES Network - Burnham Park||308||301||97.73||Closing Staying|
|OWENS||ES Network - Lake Calumet||252||246||97.62||Closing|
|STEWART||ES Network - Ravenswood-Ridge||196||173||88.27||Closing|
|PEABODY||ES Network - Fulton||211||186||88.15||Closing|
|EMMET||ES Network - Austin-North Lawndale||316||271||85.76||Closing|
|ARMSTRONG, L||ES Network - Austin-North Lawndale||92||76||82.61||Closing|
|WILIAMS MIDDLE||ES Network - Burnham Park||80||62||77.5||Closing Staying|
|WILLIAMS ES||ES Network - Burnham Park||212||153||72.17||Closing Staying|
|TRUMBULL||ES Network - Ravenswood-Ridge||206||148||71.84||Closing|
|KEY||ES Network - Austin-North Lawndale||283||203||71.73||Closing|
|PERSHING MIDDLE||ES Network - Burnham Park||175||125||71.43||Closing Staying|
|FERMI||ES Network - Burnham Park||190||130||68.42||Closing|
|LAFAYETTE||ES Network - Fulton||303||199||65.68||Closing|
|HERBERT||ES Network - Fulton||201||127||63.18||Closing Staying|
|VON HUMBOLDT||ES Network - Fulton||265||162||61.13||Closing|
|HENSON||ES Network - Austin-North Lawndale||196||107||54.59||Closing|
|POPE||ES Network - Austin-North Lawndale||143||71||49.65||Closing|
|RYERSON||ES Network - Garfield-Humboldt||326||161||49.39||Closing Staying|
|WEST PULLMAN||ES Network - Lake Calumet||235||105||44.68||Closing|
|WOODS||ES Network - Englewood-Gresham||274||114||41.61||Closing|
|KOHN||ES Network - Rock Island||327||130||39.76||Closing|
|DUMAS TECH ACAD||ES Network - Burnham Park||241||93||38.59||Closing Staying|
|LAWRENCE||ES Network - Lake Calumet||319||123||38.56||Closing Staying|
|MAY||ES Network - Austin-North Lawndale||386||145||37.56||Closing Staying|
|BANNEKER||ES Network - Englewood-Gresham||261||90||34.48||Closing Staying|
|ALTGELD||ES Network - Englewood-Gresham||336||114||33.93||Closing Staying|
|MARCONI||ES Network - Garfield-Humboldt||177||59||33.33||Closing|
|SONGHAI||ES Network - Lake Calumet||258||85||32.95||Closing|
|DELANO||ES Network - Garfield-Humboldt||260||81||31.15||Closing Staying|
|MAYO||ES Network - Burnham Park||326||98||30.06||Closing Staying|
|PADEREWSKI||ES Network - Pilsen-Little Village||150||41||27.33||Closing|
|GARFIELD PARK||ES Network - Garfield-Humboldt||133||35||26.32||Closing|
|YALE||ES Network - Skyway||157||41||26.11||Closing|
|ROSS||ES Network - Burnham Park||272||65||23.9||Closing|
|MORGAN||ES Network - Englewood-Gresham||157||32||20.38||Closing|
|OVERTON||ES Network - Burnham Park||286||50||17.48||Closing|
|GOLDBLATT||ES Network - Garfield-Humboldt||212||36||16.98||Closing|
|CALHOUN||ES Network - Garfield-Humboldt||236||40||16.95||Closing|
|BETHUNE||Network - AUSL||318||53||16.67||Closing|
|GOODLOW||ES Network - Englewood-Gresham||287||46||16.03||Closing Staying|
|DUPREY||ES Network - Fulton||92||14||15.22||Closing|
|BONTEMPS||ES Network - Englewood-Gresham||239||23||9.62||Closing|
|PARKMAN||ES Network - Pershing||153||12||7.84||Closing|
|KING||ES Network - Fulton||204||5||2.45||Closing|
|Buckingham & Near North||95|
|Special Education Cluster Programs||487|
Source: Chicago Public Schools
*"Closing Staying"refers to a situation in which the school will be closed (ie. all staff dismissed, school name retired) and the designated receiving school will relocate to the closed school's building. (For instance, Stockton closes. Courtenay, the receiving school, will relocate to the Stockton building).