Betty Shabazz-Sizemore is one of three small charter schools that opened on Tuesday after surviving one attempt to shut them down and in the shadow of other threats.
Chicago’s Board of Education voted to close the schools last year due to what the district deemed as poor academic outcomes, but the group of three were the first-ever charter schools to win an appeal of a closing to the state charter school commission.
But then the three had other problems. All of them were renting buildings from the school district and CPS officials kicked them out of the space.
Two of them wound up having to move far away from their original locations.
Amandla Charter went from Englewood all the way to Marquette Park, more than three miles away. And Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter went from Grand Boulevard to South Shore, more than five miles away.
Sizemore lucked out, finding an old vacant Catholic school just about two miles away. It moved from West Englewood to Englewood.
New locations were also a challenge because the commission stipulated the schools couldn’t open if they didn’t at least keep their enrollment steady.
Also, CPS immediately appealed the decision of the charter school commission and asked for an injunction to prevent them from opening.
This summer, a judge denied the injunction, but CPS appealed that denial of the injunction to the state Supreme Court and is still going forward with its general challenge to the commission decision in circuit court.
CPS officials are fighting hard against the commission’s decision because it sets a precedent. At the commission hearing, district officials said that CPS should keep the right to open and close charter schools based on the district’s own standards.
Furthermore, because these charters are funded directly through the state, it winds up costing the district more. District officials said these three charter being open under the state result in a $14 million loss.
In deciding to let the schools stay open, the state commission also imposed their own tough academic standards.
New Sizemore Principal Jocelyn Mills says she’s hopeful her students can meet all these bars. She says she believes the school has already exceeded the enrollment criteria.
“Sizemore was given a new start, but saving Sizemore is not over,” she said. “It is just the second leg of that journey.”
Sizemore is an Afrocentric school and virtually all the students are low-income. Mills says the pressure to succeed comes not just from the state and city, but from the children she sees every day.
“I have not only children to serve who need me to serve them well,” she said. “Because of the neighborhood they come from, they feel lost, they feel they have been left behind, that people have left them here. They understand that they don’t have opportunities that they might have somewhere else.”