Small schools idea shut down with closings

March 24, 2011

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(Photo courtesy of John Chuckman's Chicago Nostalgia)
The district now wants to consolidate four small schools it started in 2002 inside Bowen High.

Chicago Public Schools wants to close nine schools. It also seems to be closing the book on an educational strategy - small schools. 

At one point, small schools were seen as a fix to the large, impersonal urban high school.

The district now wants to consolidate four small schools it started in 2002 inside Bowen High. The campus will once again house a single, general high school.

"All the ideas that were the foundation of the small schools movement--like personalization, like kids staying together with teachers a long time so teachers could get to know them and connect curriculum with kids' own experiences—all those ideas are kind of being washed away to save money," says Michael Klonsky, director of the Small Schools Workshop and a faculty member in DePaul University's School of Education.

Interim Chicago schools chief Terry Mazany says the decision to re-consolidate the schools into a single high school is about education.

"These schools have had a difficult time," Mazany said. "They’ve not performed up to the expectations, the promise of the small school movement."

The foundation Mazany leads, the Chicago Community Trust, supported the small schools effort. So did the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave some $2 billion to start small schools around the country, including at Bowen.

Mazany says he now believes Bowen was too academically troubled for the small schools idea to work there.

Klonsky says the experiment shows kids need more than good schools. Their living conditions and the state of their neighborhoods must be improved as well, he said.

The district is also getting rid of small schools at South Shore High School next fall and reconverting that campus to a single school.

The district faces a $720 million budget shortfall.