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Flurry of new debate before school closings vote

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Chicago’s school board is set to vote Wednesday on shutting down or completely re-staffing 17 schools.

There’s been a flurry of additional debate on the issue in the last 24 hours. Chicago aldermen interrogated school officials for hours Tuesday about their plans to close or turn around the schools, just a day before the board votes on the proposals.

Ninth Ward Ald. Anthony Beale told school officials they’d been summoned by the aldermen because of “lack of communication,” which he said was a historic problem with CPS.

“When you guys make these decisions, you make the decisions and then you come down to the community and say, ‘This is what we’re about to do,’” said Beale.

He also had this critique, which has become a refrain in this year’s debate over school closings:

“It almost seems like CPS does not give the schools the resources when they see schools are struggling. It’s almost like they wait till they’re failing before they come in with the resources,” said Beale.

In recent years, public input has convinced the district to pull schools from its closings list. But after some 30 public hearings, the district is sticking by its original proposals. Alderman Latasha Thomas (17) criticized the district for failing to heed recommendations of community action councils it helped create.

CPS did reach a deal with parents and community members late Tuesday at storied Crane High School to start a new neighborhood school with a focus on medical careers. It would open in fall 2013.

Also Tuesday, a group of ministers showed up at City Hall with 15,000 petitions saying CPS should get more aggressive with failing schools, not less.

“We’re supporting the board making courageous and bold actions because we believe that it’s imperative that something is done,” said Rev. Ira Acree, who spoke outside the City Council chambers flanked by two dozen other pastors.

And a new study was released on turnaround schools, where all staff is fired. The board is scheduled to vote on 10 turnaround schools Wednesday; six of those would be turned over to the nonprofit Academy for Urban School Leadership to manage.

The study, by Don Moore of the school reform group Designs for Change, says schools that have been totally re-staffed don’t do as well as AUSL originally promised. And it finds dozens of high-poverty schools “governed by active Local School Councils” are doing better than schools with dramatic interventions.

“If these schools are going to be given this extraordinary level of resources and additional authority, they should meet the standards that they have publicly announced they were going to meet,” said Moore.

More than 450 teachers will have to look for new jobs if the actions go through. The district says education will improve for more than 7,000 students.

A Chicago Teachers Union blog encouraged teachers to pack Wednesday’s board meeting. Some parents, teachers and activists were planning to be at CPS headquarters as early as 4 a.m.

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