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Community Groups Unite Against Coming School Closings

A week before Chicago Public Schools is set to announce its list of school closings and consolidations this year, nine neighborhood groups said they are uniting to fight shutdowns of poor-performing schools in their communities.

At a news conference Tuesday, members of Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Enlace Chicago, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Organization of the Northeast, Southwest Organizing Project and TARGET Area Development Corporation said they want CPS to focus on improving neighborhood schools rather than closing them down.

"CPS policies have destabilized schools in our community," said Jeanette Taylor, a parent leader with the Kenwood group whose children attend Mollison and Robinson schools, both of which have been on academic probation for several years. "We're all fighting together. They aren't closing any more schools until they do right by us."

On Dec. 1, CPS plans to announce a series of moves, including closings of schools, consolidations of schools or moving two schools into one building. Every year, the announcements are met with community angst as parents protest against potential violence from children crossing gang boundaries for newly assigned schools.

Community activists see the closings as a way for the district to bring in more charter schools, which the activists say do not enroll many neighborhood students.

"We do not need new schools," said Leticia Barrera, an education organizer for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. "Let's try to fix those schools that are in the neighborhood."

CPS officials said they welcomed the input from community groups. "We are excited and encouraged that community organizations are engaging with CPS to demand quality schools in their communities," said district spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus.

The district says about 42 percent of district schools are on probation for low academic performance. With a new online tool that allows Chicagoans to read school reports for each school, district officials hope a more comprehensive look at a school's performance will lead some parents to demand better academic options, which would mean grass-roots support for closing failing schools.

Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, which has developed its own blueprint to improve failing schools in Bronzeville, said he and members of other local organizations met with schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and other officials this week. They tried to get him to agree to a one-year moratorium on closing schools in Bronzeville, Brown said.

While Brizard did not agree to a one-year stay, he asked the community groups to submit written proposals for improving schools in their neighborhoods, Brown said.

"On the positive side, they are reaching out to us. But it's more about them telling us what to do as opposed to listening and exchanging ideas," Brown said. "What they want is a buy into what they want to do."

 

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