A fifth public high school serving students from Chicago’s South Side Englewood community is slated to close in June. This one is a charter school. News of the closing comes as Chicago Public Schools has proposed shuttering every open enrollment high school in Englewood this summer.
Amandla Charter School is voluntarily shutting its doors. Chicago’s Board of Education had revoked the school’s charter in November 2015 for what it argued was poor performance, but the publicly funded, privately run school appealed that decision to the Illinois State Charter School Commission and was given another lease on life.
Now, principal and CEO Jennifer Kirmes said the school decided it can’t make it — neither test scores nor enrollment numbers are good enough. So the school decided not to ask the commission, which oversees the school, for a renewal of its charter. Amandla will graduate its third and final high school class in June.
That’s the same month the school district wants to close four other high schools in the Englewood community for low enrollment — Harper High School, Robeson High School, TEAM Englewood, and Hope College Preparatory High School. The district says only a fraction of the children in Englewood are choosing those schools. It plans to replace the schools with a new state-of-the-art high school for the community, slated to open in fall 2019. The Board of Education is expected to vote on the plan later this month.
WBEZ’s Linda Lutton spoke with Kirmes.
On five Englewood high school closures expected in June
Jennifer Kirmes: Honestly, it’s heartbreaking, and deeply concerning, that so many school options are being taken away from the same group of people.
On Amandla’s fight in 2015 to stay alive and how it relates to Amandla’s closing now
Kirmes: The whole process of fighting for our survival took a year of our life as a school. There are a lot of things we learned and took away from that process. In some ways, it made us a stronger and more connected community. And certainly, kids learned a lot of lessons about activism and about creating change and about fighting for what’s yours and what you believe in. So there were great things about that whole struggle to stay open, but it also was a huge distraction and incredibly destabilizing to the organization — it was a crisis.
We also had to endure a number of other changes and challenges, including the relocation. [Amandla had to leave the CPS school where it had been located since 2008; its new location is three miles west, in Marquette Park.]
[We also had to] make pretty dramatic cuts because of low enrollment and restructuring. ... That meant not always getting the academic results that we would want.
On the limits of judging school quality and on ‘normalizing’ school closures
Kirmes: Each school and each community is really unique and you have to sort of get in there and really deeply understand what a place is about and how they do the work in order to measure and judge them appropriately. … Because we don't have nuanced enough ways to understand schools, and because in Chicago anyway we have more seats than we have children — which makes sustaining all the schools impossible — I think those two things together are what gets us to this point of normalizing something as traumatic as a school closure.
On what’s next for Amandla’s students
Kirmes: We communicated with families and with everyone in our community early [in November 2017] so that we’d have the greatest amount of time to help parents and families find … ‘next best’ placement schools. … We have faith in the other good public schools and we’ll just beg and borrow and bang down doors until we have seats for all our kids.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear an audio version.
Linda Lutton covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation.