Race, Class Become Focus As Plan For Some Far South Side Schools Emerges

Illinois Senator Bill Cunningham
Illinois Senator Bill Cunningham Christian K. Lee/AP
Illinois Senator Bill Cunningham
Illinois Senator Bill Cunningham Christian K. Lee/AP

Race, Class Become Focus As Plan For Some Far South Side Schools Emerges

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Mount Greenwood on the Southwestern edge Chicago is a mostly middle-class white neighborhood that has long attracted police officers and city workers required to live inside the city.

Next door is Beverly, also a middle-class community, but one that historically has prided itself on being racially integrated.

And to the east and north of these neighborhoods are mostly poorer, all-black or Latino communities.

The distinct differences among the neighborhoods is being highlighted as parents and others start assessing a plan to reorganize the schools in Beverly and Mt. Greenwood. A public forum is scheduled tonight (Monday) at the Beverly Arts Center.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) and State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th District) say their proposal is attempting to address an enrollment imbalance. Mt. Greenwood Elementary School has a new annex, six mobile units and is still slightly overcrowded.

The two politicians say they were told by City Hall and Chicago Public Schools that they could get a $20 million annex for Mt. Greenwood. Originally, they were going to build a seventh and eighth-grade center on the nearby campus of Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.

But O’Shea says he wanted to use capital money for other schools in his ward that need help. So he came up with this plan: Two schools in Beverly—Kellogg and Sutherland—would merge. Keller Regional Gifted School would move into Kellogg’s building, which would be renovated. And Mt. Greenwood Elementary would get Keller’s building, which is just three blocks away.

The bulk of the $20 million would be used to fix up Esmond, a school that serves almost all poor, black students, also in O’Shea’s 19th District.

“Esmond is falling apart,” he says. “We had a fire there two years ago. We have the air conditioning out repeatedly. We have the heat out repeatedly. We have water getting through the windows.”

But O’Shea and Cunningham’s plan is being fought by parents from at least one of the schools. Moms from Kellogg admit that many families in their middle-class neighborhood of Beverly don’t send their children to the small school. But that leaves space for the school to take students from outside the community.

Parent Maggie LaRaviere says it presents a wonderful opportunity for children from poorer neighborhoods to go to a good school in a safe neighborhood.

“It is a life changer,” says LaRaviere. “Some of the kids come back and say going to Kellogg allowed me to get into Whitney Young or get a graduate degree. So CPS says it embraces economic diversity as a way to support academic excellence and that is what we do at Kellogg.”

Though O’Shea says Kellogg would merge with Sutherland, they would become one school, which would likely mean that Kellogg would be shut down.

LaRaviere and other moms are also upset that the school likely being shut down under this plan is the one in the area that is mostly black and with the most low-income students. And the one experiencing the least upheaval would be Mt. Greenwood Elementary, which is 84 percent white.

But O’Shea notes that Sutherland also is racially diverse and the two schools would stay integrated.

O’Shea and CPS officials say that this plan is just being introduced to the communities to get feedback and may never be implemented.

Sarah Karp is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @sskedreporter or @WBEZeducation.