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Hundreds object to charter school plan at Northwest Middle School

LSC member Julio Cintrjoins opponents plan tear down connecting CPS-owned school during protest outside Northwest Middle School Tuesday December 13

LSC member Julio Cintron joins opponents of a plan to tear down a connecting CPS-owned school during a protest outside Northwest Middle School on Tuesday, December 13, 2011. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 15, 2012 8:21AM

More than 1,000 parents and Belmont-Cragin residents have signed petitions objecting to an unusual plan that would allow a social-service group to tear down part of Northwest Middle School and erect a charter school on the public property.

The Christopher House Charter School is one of 12 charter proposals up for a Chicago School Board vote Wednesday but stands out from the pack for several reasons.

The proposal follows a July 2009 CPS decision to allow Christopher House to rent part of the Northwest Middle School complex for $1 a year for the next 99 years, as long as the social service agency began to create a “state-of-the-art family resource center” within two years on the site.

To do so, CPS officials gave Christopher House the leeway to either demolish an existing Northwest Middle building and a second-story bridge that connects it to another part of Northwest Middle, or to renovate the site while still removing the bridge.

Julio Cintron, a parent and local school council member at Northwest Middle, said parents welcomed the idea of a family resource center next to their school with “open arms.’’ However, Cintron said, parents feel “betrayed” by Christopher House’s later decision to add the construction of a charter school to its proposed plans.

“Our neighborhood doesn’t need it,’’ Cintron said Tuesday as he prepared to join protesting parents in a candlelight vigil outside the school. “Belmont-Cragin has seven schools within walking distance. Our neighborhood is overcrowded with schools and not enough resources.”

Christopher House has been providing community services and preschool for more than 100 years but “how does that qualify you to open a charter school’’ for kindergarten through eighth graders? Cintron asked. “They have no qualifications there.’’

Plus, Cintron said, parents are angry that resources that could support their school and the six teachers and art program it lost this year could be going instead to pay Christopher House per-capita public dollars for every student it attracts.

The charter school plan has won the almost unanimous objection of Northwest Middle parents, Cintron said. More than 660 parents of just over 700 students signed petitions objecting to the plan that were delivered Tuesday to Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and School Board President David Vitale, Cintron said. An additional 400 community members also signed on, he said.

“The whole school is adamant,’’ Cintron said.

Chicago Teachers Union organizer Matthew Luskin said Northwest Middle supporters also are concerned that Christopher House could tear down an existing school building and never come through with the “state-of-the-art facility” as promised--at least not before current students graduate.

“I guess they don’t have to worry about it for 99 years because that’s how long they will have the property,’’ Luskin said.

Christopher House’s website indicates it’s seeking donations of up to $1 million now for a new family resource center on the Belmont-Cragin property, but the website gives no indication of how much has been collected. Even more money would be needed to additionally bankroll a charter school.

Under the proposal, Christopher House would “build a facility that will house both a family resource center and a charter school” on the property it currently leases for a dollar a year at 2250 N. Latrobe, board documents indicate. The charter school would open in the fall of 2013 with 120 students in grades kindergarten and first and expand to 540 students, K-8.

Christopher House CEO Lori Baas could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

The vigil outside Northwest Middle Tuesday occurred just before scores of teachers and others started a vigil outside Chicago Board of Education headquarters to protest a series of proposed school closings and “turnaround’’ scheduled for a February school board vote.

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