Fewer Neighborhood Schools Exist in CPS | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Fewer Neighborhood Schools Exist in CPS

Throughout the city, many Chicago Public Schools are getting education makeovers. Failing or under-enrolled schools are being closed and new ones opened, sometimes even within the same building. The Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to vote tomorrow on where next fall's new schools will open up. But the whole process leaves some parents and education activists questioning the correlation between urban planning and school planning.

ambi: school

Tanya Dickens Whitehead is picking up her nine-year-old son Michael from Abbott Elementary School. He's a cute brown-skinned boy with a round face and thick hair. They live just across the street in Wentworth Gardens, a low-rise public housing development.

WHITEHEAD: We were relocated from the Ida B. Wells in 2007 and it was emergency relocation.

The Chicago Housing Authority razed Ida B. Wells. The site is now Oakwood Shores, a mixed-income community that Whitehead was not selected to move into. So therefore her son Michael has been playing musical chairs in the public school system.

WHITEHEAD: A year before that he was going to Donoghue. They closed Donoghue down. It got turned into a charter school. The district did give parents information about the new school. But Whitehead says...

WHITEHEAD: We wasn't given any information about how we could put our children into that charter school. So they automatically shifted us over to Doolittle. When the Whitehead family moved from Ida B. Wells, Michael transferred to Abbott. Mom and son are happy there.

MICHAEL: They teach me more.
WHITEHEAD: The class sizes were perfect because he got one-on-one attention from his teacher.
REPORTER: How big is his class?
WHITEHEAD: It's 14 children in his classroom and it's combined with a third grade and a fourth grade class.

All this moving around can have a negative impact on pupils, according to University of Chicago research. Other studies say smaller classrooms foster better leaning, so that 14-1 ratio in Michael's class should be a good thing. Still, the district is closing Abbott for low enrollment. So Michael will now be sent to Hendricks Elementary, an underperforming school several blocks away.

Jim Dispensa is head of demographics and planning for Chicago Public Schools.

DISPENSA: The direction that we go in depends on a lot of things including where we are budgetarily and the outcomes of this continuing discussions with community groups. It's premature to say where we are with transition plans.

But Andrea Lee doesn't buy that argument. Lee is with the Grand Boulevard Federation, a neighborhood nonprofit. The group argues closing Abbott is short-sighted. That's because Abbott's enrollment would have gone up, Lee says, as soon as families started moving back into nearby Wentworth Gardens. The recently rehabbed development is only 63 percent occupied right now.

LEE: One of the most concerning things is that CPS isn't doing any balanced facilities and community planning. Meaning as the public housing and they close schools that are under-enrolled or low performing they are giving their school facilities away.

Lee and others have been fighting to get the district to create a task force that would examine how families like Tanya Whitehead's are impacted by the lack of coordination between school closings and urban development. There's a bill currently in Springfield that would do just that.

LEE: What's happened now we have this imbalance of schools. Where from 43rd street all the way north to 26th they're all lottery and selective enrollment along the State Street corridor.

CPS officials say no decision has been made on establishing a task force. But Alderman Pat Dowell is for it. She represents the Third Ward, home to many of these school changes.

DOWELL: The city and school system probably should more closely discuss the impact that new housing development is going to have on the need for new schools. And that has not been done to my understanding.

If the closure of Abbott Elementary goes through, Tanya Whitehead says she's going to have to figure out a way to get her son Michael into private school…because counting on her neighborhood public school just isn't an option anymore.

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