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Mayor says he’s ‘100 percent hand-in-glove’ with schools chief’s views on closing schools

CPS CEO BarbarByrd-Bennett Mayor Rahm Emanuel press conference. On Saturday Emanuel will hold press conference during which he will likely

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a press conference. On Saturday, Emanuel will hold a press conference during which he will likely address the announced list of CPS school closings for the first time since the list was made public on

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Updated: May 6, 2013 6:35AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday he is “100 percent hand-in-glove” with Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who “spoke eloquently” in rejecting the notion that it’s racist to close 54 mostly-black elementary schools.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has denounced the closings as “racist” and “classist” because most of the 30,000 displaced students are African-American and most of the Chicago Public Schools on the hit list are on the predominantly-black South and West Sides.

At a school board meeting earlier this week, Byrd-Bennett said those suggestions insult her “as a woman of color.” She also turned the tables on Lewis by saying what’s racist is to refuse to challenge a status quo that’s failing African-American students.

On Thursday, Emanuel praised his handpicked schools chief for speaking “eloquently” on the sensitive subject. The word “racist” never passed his lips.

“I support the thrust of what Barbara said. We’re 100 percent hand-in-glove…..The status quo is unacceptable. The status quo is failing too many kids. And it can’t not only be met with silence. It has to be met with action,” the mayor said.

The mayor also ridiculed Stacy Davis Gates, political activities director for the Chicago Teachers Union, for being dead silent when an aldermen asked her what concessions the union was willing to make in order to keep some of the 54 schools open.

“What I won’t accept is when people are asked, what’s your alternative, what’s your idea and there’s silence. The status quo cannot handle silence. It is unacceptable a drop-out rate of 56 percent [for black males] when everybody else graduating has a door open to them…..The status-quo — given those drop-out rates and given the opportunity of education — the answer cannot be silence,” he said.

Emanuel also explained his decision to order CPS to funnel through the Public Building Commission he chairs all of the construction projects that must be completed by fall to ready, what he calls the “welcoming” schools for new students.

CPS has set aside $155 million for an array of enticing physical and educational improvements at 55 schools designated to receive students.

“I want the Chicago Public Schools to be focused on making sure that the schools that are receiving are fully ready academically. They have done well. They need to continue that high-quality of education and improve. I want them to be singularly focused on that,” the mayor said.

“It’s making sure that all the resources of the city are focused on their core capacities and nobody’s distracted. I don’t want the public schools distracted by what kind of paint do we want to order. I don’t need them focused on that. I want the Public Building Commission focused on that.”

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