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Brown: Along with ‘Learning Gardens’ and iPads, CPS should give disrupted kids a little understanding

Updated: April 28, 2013 7:11AM



Lucky for me, I never had to uproot my family to chase a new job or to find a new home, but I’m familiar with the way parents sometimes try to sell that pending disruption to their kids.

“In the new house, you’ll have your own bedroom,” the parent might say, or “In the new house, we’ll be able to have a swingset in the backyard, and maybe we can even get a dog.”

In their latest rendition of “in the new house,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel and schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett told us Tuesday that up to 50 of the “welcoming schools” in their massive school closing plan will receive “Learning Gardens.”

Learning Gardens, we are told, “bring together parents, teachers and community organizations to support student learning and provide students with hands-on nutrition and science education opportunities.”

Sounds swell. Just the thing to go along with the promised new air conditioning, libraries and science labs. And don’t forget all the new iPads for third through eighth graders.

All anybody has to do to get their new bedroom, er Learning Garden, is dry their eyes and get on with the move as CPS closes 54 schools and 61 school buildings, in the process disrupting the lives of 30,000 students and running off more than 1,000 teachers.

For the sake of those kids, I hope the reconfigured schools turn out to be an improvement and that the students do receive a better education, even if that’s all conjecture at this point.

I’m sure that many good people will invest great efforts into making it so.

But in the meantime, could someone in authority set aside the public relations baloney and the “new house” bargaining just long enough to acknowledge the obvious?

That being, no matter how it turns out in the long run, the closing of all these schools is a difficult and painful occasion in the here and now for all those who are affected — students, parents, teachers and neighborhoods.

Every good parent moving the family to that new house would know that the first step in that process has to be acknowledging the child’s pain, the sense of loss, the fear of the unknown.

The closing of any school is sad, even if that school is a “failing” or “underutilized” school in the terminology of the times. Each of those schools opened in a spirit of hope and optimism. Each of those schools helped somebody.

Every closed school building will leave a hole in the neighborhood that it vacates, a hole could reverberate for years to come.

What do young people want to know when they’re choosing a new home? They want to know what the local school is like. When the neighborhood school is closed, that’s not much of a selling point.

And don’t forget the disruption that is coming to the welcoming schools as well, which is another reason CPS has to sell the proposed changes.

The welcoming schools, of course, were formally referred to in this process as the “receiving schools,” but I’m sure some public relations expert figured out that only reminded folks at those schools that they were on the “receiving end” of the problem, which isn’t necessarily a happier place than being at a closed school.

On Wednesday, we can expect to see the first large outward display of the city’s pain as teachers, parent groups and labor organizations converge on Daley Plaza to protest the closings.

Obviously, this protest is being stoked by the Chicago Teachers Union, whose own propaganda offensive is as intent on exploiting that pain as CPS officials are in denying it.

The union countered the mayor’s Learning Garden announcement Tuesday with its own silly missive about CPS sending a “secret memo” to principals to be on the alert for possible civil disobedience in response to the school closings.

The memo only sounded like good planning to me. Just as there’s nothing wrong with protesting, there’s nothing wrong with preparing to be on the receiving end of one.

Also misguided was a statement from CTU President Karen Lewis that: “The bottom line is the schools targeted for closure are based on the racial makeup of those schools and their ZIP code.”

While the closings do have a disproportionate impact on predominately African-American communities, where the population loss has been greatest, there’s a way to fight these closings without divisive racial rhetoric.

We all know that when families do decide to move to that new home, everyone has to pull together to make it work.



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