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A child’s view of CPS’s historic school closings: ‘I just don’t get it, I don’t get it at all’

Before walking inYale Elementary School an emotional Jaleel Carr 13 wipes his face before enter building last day school -

Before walking into Yale Elementary School, an emotional Jaleel Carr, 13 wipes his face, before enter the building on the last day of school - ever - at Yale. Carr will attend Westcott next year. ÒIÕll miss the school, period,Ó Carr said. Jessica Koscielniak ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: July 22, 2013 6:19PM

Folded and handwritten on a piece of lined notebook paper, it looked to Veronica Vasquez like a typical note a kid writes to a classmate.

But the sheet of paper proved to be the first indication to Vasquez just how much it upset her 12-year-old daughter, Paula, that King Elementary School would soon close. The emotional note would describe how one child felt to be swept up in one of the nation’s largest mass school closings, starting Wednesday with King and 27 other Chicago Public Schools.

Vasquez had no idea how Paula was feeling until she stumbled upon her daughter’s letter a few weeks ago while cleaning the 6th-grader’s book bag.

“I have one question to ask,” it begins, in Paula’s girlish printing.

“Do you have any idea what your 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?”

Paula wrote that she is heartbroken. She called CPS decision-makers “cold hearted,” and their decision “barbaric.” And she closed the letter by writing, “I just don’t get it, I don’t get it at all.”

Outside King Wednesday afternoon, Paula said she wrote that letter in anger — and “for myself.” She said it made her feel better, made her happy to share her feelings.

Fighting tears, she, like many other children Wednesday, called her school a second home.

That pained the adults around Paula — and parents, teachers and children across the city.

West Pullman special education teacher Sheryl Campbell is now without a job but her worries are for her kids’ safety in getting to their new school: “Hopefully their needs will be met.”

And at Calhoun on the West Side, crossing guard Mona Conway watched as students headed to class for the last time Wednesday.

“When you hurt, they hurt,” said Conway, herself a Calhoun grad. “When the school hurts, I hurt.”

These other schools shut their doors for the last time Wednesday afternoon: Altgeld, Louis Armstrong, Banneker, Bethune, Bontemps, Delano, Emmet, Goldblatt, Henson, Herbert, Key, Kohn, Lafayette, May, Morgan, Overton, Paderewski, Parkman, Pope, Ryerson, Songhai, Williams Elementary and Middle, Woods and Yale.

The remaining 20 that will not reopen in August will close on Monday because they are on a different yearly schedule.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett notified 129 schools in February they could be closed, then whittled it to 54 in March. Fifty found out for sure on May 22 when the Board of Education approved their historic closure, though two were delayed. Rather than shutter schools for poor academic performance, Byrd-Bennett based the closings on how empty or full a a building was. The schools chief has said she wanted to be able to better distribute the district’s limited resources by closing buildings.

“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,” said Byrd-Bennett, whose whereabouts Wednesday CPS would not confirm.

Some 1,067 veteran lunchroom staffers also were notified Wednesday they could take a buyout if they were over 50 or had 10 years of service, in a plan CPS said could save up to $18 million starting in the 2014-15 school year.

Some parents, especially at Kohn Elementary, were not sorry to see their school close.

Renita Logan is happy her children will go to Langston Hughes in Roseland.

“I’m loving it. This school needs to be closed,” Logan said. “The academics are OK, 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.”

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

Girls knew exactly where they’d go in the fall: Back to Overton.

“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.

Eleven-year-old future scholar Isaiah Walker-Batteast was angry, too. “It’s not fair that only black schools are being closed,” he said, a spelling medal around his neck.

Diana Carr’s son, Jaleel, was one of the inconsolable children exiting Yale Elementary in Englewood. He hugged his mother, as 4th grader Beyonce Littleton’s friend comforted her: “We’ll all see each other again.”

Carr, a longtime Yale volunteer, turned her attention to other students crying “I’ll miss you,” to her.

“I’ll miss you too,” Carr told the girls since her son won’t join them at the designated receiving school. She finds its neighborhood unsafe and found another spot for him.

“Do me a favor, whatever school you go to, make the best out of it, ok? You make me proud!”

Contributing: Nausheen Husain, Stefano Esposito, Mitch Dudek

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