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W. Side parents, aldermen: Closing school puts kids on risky path

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Updated: May 11, 2013 6:29AM



King Elementary parents have been telling Chicago Public Schools how dangerous it would be for their children to trek to Jensen Elementary next year.

On Tuesday, a bunch of King supporters, including Aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Jason Ervin (28th), braved vacant lots, a pockmarked garbage-strewn viaduct, homeless shelters, a halfway house and several boarded-up homes on the roughly eight-block walk from King, which is on the CPS closing list, to Jensen. The march was the first in a series called “Walk the Walk” in which school communities are showing community members and the media the paths children might take if their current schools close.

This trek began with a prayer.

“As we go on our path, we pray that the angels will encamp around us,” Carol Johnson prayed, leading the moms and others from the parent room inside King, 740 S. Campbell.

“We’re not doing this so we can be seen,” she said. “We want people to understand the hearts of our children and the path that they will have to go through every day on their way to school.”

If the Board of Education approves CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s recommendation to close 54 schools, children who attend King will leave their mosaic-covered school and go to Jensen Elementary Scholastic Academy, 3030 W. Harrison, about eight blocks away.

Academically, Jensen is stronger, earning CPS’ highest rating, while King has the lowest. CPS’ policy is to send displaced students to better schools, and CPS’ security chief says she’s working closely with police to develop safe routes for them.

Parents of King students don’t want to hear about it. They’re trying to keep King open. They love the principal, and they say the school is well-integrated.

Rain drenched the group as they walked west on Polk Street under a viaduct dotted with potholes and liquor bottles, passing abandoned couches and a long empty field. The raw weather kept the usual drug dealers and homeless folks out of sight, Ervin said — not the case on a sunny day.

At the busy intersection of Polk and California, kids would cross at a four-way stop, not a streetlight. Off the northwest corner sat a deep hole — one that might draw curious young eyes.

Turning north onto Sacramento, another major thoroughfare, the parents passed Bethune School of Excellence, a grade school also proposed for closing and Kellman Corporate Community Elementary School, which CPS considers excellent but running at 101 percent capacity.

“This is a school kids will have to pass to get here,” Ervin said, pointing to Kellman. “So you have to walk past schools to get to another school.”

Jensen sits on the northwest corner of Sacramento and Harrison. The southeast corner features a 24-hour hot-dog stand frequented at all hours of the day and night by folks with drug problems, Ervin said.

“I don’t want my boys to walk through violence. I don’t want them to walk through the gangs,” mother Lakecha Green said. “My son is 11 —11 is when they start their gang initiations. I don’t want my son to endure that. I walk them to school now, and I live across the street.”

Housing projects stretch eastward on Harrison from the northeast corner, Ervin pointed out. Next comes vacant industrial spaces surrounded by barbed wire, boarded-up houses stickered with campaign posters and a large emergency homeless shelter that’s the registered home of at least seven sex offenders convicted of crimes against adults, according to the Illinois Sex Offender Registry.

Cigarette in hand, a man sang to himself under the shelter of a church vestibule at Harrison and California.

Nancy Pina said her daughter, a sixth-grader at King, is afraid of the area around Jensen. She’s almost 13 and still walks to King with her mother and brothers.

“Everybody knows each other,” said Pina, who graduated from King the same year as a few other parents on the walk. “They look out for each other.”

Pina is looking at Catholic schools, hesitant to pay tuition for three children but loath to send them along either path to Jensen.

“Look at this,” Pina said, gesturing around her. “Imagine you by yourself. Imagine my daughter with two brothers.”



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