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Last day of school — ever — at 28 Chicago Public Schools

Christopher Griffith 9 standing outside his school West Pullman Elementary 11941 S. Parnell last day school year. | Chandler West~For

Christopher Griffith, 9, standing outside his school, West Pullman Elementary, 11941 S. Parnell, on the last day of of the school year. | Chandler West~For Sun-Times Media

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Final Bell: Live-blog of the last day
SPECIAL COVERAGE: The Final Bell
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Updated: July 20, 2013 6:31AM



“Good morning!”

The cheery greeting came from cafeteria ladies inside Yale Elementary early Wednesday morning to children arriving for the last day of class, and for Yale it’s the last day period.

Kameisha Ashford, 13, sat on the front steps waiting for the 7:45 a.m. bell feeling OK for now but anticipating tears in the afternoon.

“Girls are going to be crying when it’s time to go home,” she said.

She’ll miss her friends most of all.

Jaleel Carr, also 13, is going to eighth grade at Westcott Elementary. Not a bad choice, he said, and better than designated Harvard because Westcott has a basketball court out back. He won’t have to play anymore at the park “where gangs are,” he said.

“I’ll miss the school, period,” he said about Yale. “Us kids, we call each other brother and sister. Even the kids I don’t get along with, I hope they’ll still be safe.”

“I don’t want to cry,” said his mother and Yale volunteer, Diana Carr. Westcott, at 80th and Vincennes, is farther from her home but close to her mother. Jaleel will stay with his grandmother as much as he has to “to keep him safe.”

The bell sounded. Teachers hollered out the door, beckoning the latecomers in for the last day.

On Wednesday afternoon, the final bell will ring at Yale and 27 other Chicago Public Schools:

Altgeld, Louis Armstrong, Banneker, Bethune, Bontemps, Calhoun North, Delano, Emmet, Goldblatt, Henson, Herbert, Key, King, Kohn, Lafayette, May, Morgan, Overton, Paderewski, Parkman, Pope, Ryerson, Songhai, West Pullman, Williams Elementary and Middle, and Woods.

“It’s really a sad day,” West Pullman special education teacher Sheryl Campbell, who is now without a job, said Wednesday morning. “I just worry about the kids’ safety as far as going to a new school. ... Hopefully their needs will be met.”

Barring last-minute court intervention stemming from at least three lawsuits seeking to halt the closures, barring longshot legislation from Springfield, these elementary schools will close their doors for the last time.

Last day or not, Overton parents and students aren’t giving up the fight for their school.

Girls knew exactly where they’d go in the fall: right at Overton.

“I never dreamed this would happen to me,” Zakyra Dixon, 11, said. “I thought I would stay here forever.”

“I feel sad,” Aaliyah Wilson said. “I wanted to graduate from here.”

Her older sister Delvonna did just graduate on Thursday.

“I’m not the last class,” she insisted.

Longtime LSC member Darlene Johnson, an Overton grad herself whose kids finished long ago, said hope remains for Overton.

“I don’t care what the board says or the mayor. The only person judging this is God.”

Folded and handwritten on a piece of notebook paper, it looked to Veronica Vasquez like a classmate had written her daughter a note.

She found it while cleaning out the 12-year-old girl’s book bag about a month ago — weeks before the sixth-grader arrived Wednesday for the last day of classes ever at King Elementary School on the West Side.

Until then Vasquez said she had no idea her daughter, Paula, was upset to learn her school would be part of one of the largest mass school closings in the nation.

Then she learned the girl “wrote her feelings in secret.”

“I have one question to ask,” Paula’s letter begins. “Do you have any idea what you’re doing to us? Our school? Even to me? We all have tried and tried everything to keep our school open.

“How can people like you have no mercy on us?”

The girl wrote that she is heartbroken, and she called the decision to close King “cold-hearted” and “barbaric.”

“I’ve always wanted to be that kid who would graduate from King Elementary School and the one who would walk that stage proudly and hear the words … ‘Congratulations Class of 2015!’” Paula wrote.

She closed the letter by writing, “I just don’t get it. I don’t get it at all.”

Veronica Vasquez said she read that letter to Paula’s father, but she was afraid to tell the girl she’d found it. Instead, she eventually approached her daughter and said, “I know that you feel sad.”

“You’re going to succeed,” she told the girl. “In this school or in another school.”

Antonio Bedolla, the father of two boys at King elementary school on the West Side, said he’s optimistic their school can be saved “right before the trade deadline.”

But not too optimistic.

“I’m not really being too hopeful,” he said after dropping his children off for their last day at King.

He said the school was convenient for his family because they live nearby. He’s not sure yet what they’ll be doing next year.

“We’re going to try to scramble,” Bedolla said.

Many King students hung around the playground before class began Wednesday, climbing on a jungle-gym and visiting with favorite teachers.

One teacher appeared to walk away with tears in her eyes after receiving a card from her students.

Ashanti Foster, a fifth-grader, said the school means a lot to her.

“I’m going to remember all the teachers,” she said.

At West Pullman, Alexander Jackson has two sons, including fourth-grader Amarion Jackson, who said he’s going to miss “everything” about his soon-to-be-shuttered school.

“And my teacher — well, all the teachers and the stuff we be doing, like the dances,” Amarion said.

Amarion’s dad said he has no plans to send his kids to Alex Haley, the welcoming school for West Pullman kids.

“They don’t want to go to Alex Haley,” Jackson said. “Because they say the guys down there are going to jump on them or whatever.”

Jackson said he’s sending his kids to an elementary school that’s a little farther away but, in his mind, safer.

Keisha Davis also has two children at West Pullman. They’ll be attending Alex Haley next year — but that doesn’t mean Davis is happy about it.

“My baby has been here since preschool,” Davis said of her 7-year-old daughter, Syriah Gipson. “Then for her to have to go to another school and make new friends all over again. It’s ridiculous. Will my kids be safe traveling from one school to the next? Is there going to be any protection while they’re there?”

One parent, though, Renita Logan, standing outside Kohn Elementary, said she’s happy the school is closing. Her children will go to Langston Hughes.

“I’m loving it. This school needs to be closed,” Logan said. “The academics areOK, the teachers are wonderful, but this spot right here is not where kids need to be at. It’s a war zone, I’m glad they’re moving to different places.”

The closings have been a long time planned. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett asked in October for more time to consider which schools to close than the usual Dec. 1 state-mandated deadline. Instead of closing schools for poor performance as the district has done in the past, she wanted to consider each school building’s capacity. She appointed an independent commission to conduct research and listen to community concerns. By February, she had a list of 129 schools that fit her criteria, by March she had 54 and on May 22, the Board of Education voted to close 50 total - 48 of them by Monday. Byrd-Bennett said she wanted to be able to better redistribute the district’s limited resources by shuttering buildings.

Byrd-Bennett also made two significant promises: If she got more time to plan these closings, she’d impose a five-year moratorium on any more. And if she closed a school building, a new school — charter or otherwise — would not take its place. There was no point, she said, in shuttering a building and removing it from CPS’ books only to fill it again with children.

Parents at many of the schools, which are predominantly on the South and West sides, howled about the safety of sending their children farther from home to school, prompting CPS to expand its Safe Passage program around the schools receiving displaced children.

Many of the schools with the loudest protests close Wednesday. Parents at King didn’t want their kids walking past numerous sex offenders to Jensen, even if Jensen had higher academics. Trumbull Elementary supporters argued they had too many special education students to be considered under capacity since state law mandates smaller class sizes for special education.

And Lafayette Elementary School families fought hard to keep the Humboldt Park school open, citing a large and extensive autism program that did not exist in neighboring schools, and its inclusive student orchestra.

In a statement released Wednesday, Byrd-Bennett called for cooperation to create a “deep and lasting change in our schools to ensure a better life for our children.”

West Pullman parent parent Lamonte Simmons said he’s “very disappointed” that his son’s school is closing.

“I guess they did what they had to do to save the city money,” said Simmons, whose son, Christopher Griffith, is a third-grader at West Pullman. “They mostly targeted African-American and Latino communities. That’s kind of unfair.”

“Everyone has a shared responsibility to ensure students have a safe and smooth transition to their new school in the fall and are on a path to a bright future. We owe them our very best,” Byrd-Bennett said. CPS couldn’t immediately say where the school chief was Wednesday.

At Calhoun, crossing guard Mona Conway watched as students headed to class for the last time Wednesday.

“When you hurt, they hurt,” said Conway, who went to Calhoun herself. “When the school hurts, I hurt.”

Contributing: Jon Seidel, Nausheen Husain



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