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Feisty crowd fights to save West Side elementary schools

Isaiah McNulty 13 an eighth-grader May Academy prepares speak Thursday night during public hearing Chicago Public Schools closings Friendship Baptist

Isaiah McNulty, 13, an eighth-grader at May Academy, prepares to speak Thursday night during a public hearing on Chicago Public Schools closings at Friendship Baptist Church in Chicago. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 2, 2013 12:15PM



“My name is Trevon Granville, and I believe that my school should be open,” a proud eighth-grader at May Academy said Thursday night at the latest public hearing on Chicago Public Schools closings.

Trevon was one of about 1,000 people and several aldermen packed into Friendship Baptist Church in the South Austin neighborhood — in the main church sanctuary, the choir risers and then sent to the basement overflow room — to testify to CPS officials with voices raised and thunderous applause: Leave our schools alone. We will fight to keep these community pillars open.

Signs read “SAVE CHALMERS” — and Armstrong and Pope and McNair and May — and all the community elementary schools in Austin and North Lawndale.

“Penn is more than square footage; it is our home,” read the T-shirt worn by Anthony Patton, chairman of William Penn Elementary’s Local School Council at the feisty hearing.

Austin and North Lawndale may have reason to fight. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she will make school closing decisions based on “utilization” or school capacity. According to district calculations, these neighborhoods have lost lots of residents over the last decade.

But these schools aren’t empty, supporters said.

LSC member David Wolf said Chalmers Elementary’s principal appealed its utilization rate to account for the north wing, which is used by an alternative high school.

Pope uses several classrooms to provide counseling services with community partners, said Tracy Gilmore from JPA Counseling.

“This is a community school,” LSC Chair Earlean Green said of Ella Flagg Young.

“At Young, we’re open six days a week to service our students and the community,” she said. “We’re not just about the students.”

Byrd-Bennett also said she will not rush to judgment. She established an independent commission to hold hearings, which have been completed.

She has agreed with some of the commission’s preliminary advice not to close high schools or high-performing schools. The commission will make its final report by the beginning of March. Byrd-Bennett has until March 31 to notify the state specific schools she intends to close or consolidate. She said the district has 100,000 more seats than children.

The schools chief insists she does not yet have a specific number in mind of buildings to close. Sources close to the independent commission told the Chicago Sun-Times this week that they will recommend that the district close no more than 20 schools, citing safety concerns and the district’s capacity to take care of the children whose schools will close.

CPS is holding its own meetings across the city, 14 before Feb. 13, when the district will publish the names of schools that are not safe from closure, and 14 afterward, when supporters can lobby to save specifically targeted schools.

The breakout sessions led by Loran Marketing were canceled Thursday because the public speaking line was so long, according to a CPS spokeswoman. The professional facilitators have been paid by a grant by the Walton Family Foundation, the charity started by the founder of Wal-Mart stores that doles out millions of dollars every year for charter schools.

Anyone who wants to attend one of the small sessions not open to the press may do so at a future meeting, according to CPS.



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