Barbara Byrd-Bennett: It’s not ‘racist’ to close schools
March 26, 2013 7:46PM
Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett | Sun-Times files
Updated: March 27, 2013 2:26AM
As a mother and lifelong educator, I have lived my life putting our children first. There have been ups and downs, celebrations and defeats, but I have never considered either of these roles a job but rather a resolute commitment.
Last week, in my role as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, I made what many see as a tough decision. But as CEO of the third-largest school district of the country, what many may not realize is that I am an educator first. I believe that every child in every neighborhood in Chicago must have access to a high-quality education. This has not been the case in Chicago. So the decision to consolidate schools and redirect resources to our children is the right thing to do.
I am recommending that we close 54 schools because I believe, and I know that the Mayor believes, that we should not invest in buildings; we should invest in our children’s education. This is not about numbers on a spreadsheet for me. This is far more personal and close to the heart. This is about our children. This is about ensuring that they have a chance to succeed.
While some have called my recommendations racist, the true crime would be to continue to allow our children to attend schools not equipped to help them reach their God-given potential.
For too long, children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated. They have been denied the resources they need to succeed in the classroom. And in far too many cases, these children are black and brown. They are trapped in underutilized, under-resourced schools. They are stuck because no one took the decisive, responsible and progressive action necessary to better their education. We cannot, and I will not, bury my head in the sand and pretend that there is a level playing field for all our children.
If we are to decry inequality, if we are to teach our children tolerance and humanity; if we are to teach our children the principles of equity and democracy, how can we stand by while thousands of children are deprived of the resources they need to have a fighting chance?
As a former teacher and a principal, I have lived through school closings. I know that we have a difficult road ahead. I know that this is painful, but in my 40 years as an educator, I have never felt more certain that we need to take this action now.
What I have proposed to the Board of Education will give Chicago’s children opportunities that they simply did not have previously. Each “welcoming school” will have the things that parents, teachers and community agree students need: a library, air conditioned classrooms, access to IPads and laptops, science technology upgrades, counseling and social work supports.
I would never seek to improve education at the expense of our students’ safety. Each welcoming school will have a dedicated safety plan tailored for its specific needs. By consolidating schools we will focus on getting every child safely to a better-performing school close to their home.
We are ending false choices for our children and focusing our efforts on a better education for all of our children. No matter where they live.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett is CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.