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North Side mom fights to save Trumbull Elementary School from closing by CPS

Ali Burke Local Schoool Council member stands outside Trumball Elementary School which is Chicago Public Schools' closing list. She disputes

Ali Burke, a Local Schoool Council member, stands outside Trumball Elementary School, which is on the Chicago Public Schools' closing list. She disputes CPS' characterization of the school as underutilized. | Jessica Koscielniak~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 16, 2013 6:19AM

“This is what a 54 percent utilized school looks like,” Ali Burke said Friday morning as she walked through the North Side’s Trumbull Elementary School, fated thus far for closing by summertime.

Onall four floors, children buzzed around in classrooms, several of which had posters teaching colors in Spanish and English. Middle schoolers filed into acomputer lab for writing class.

Other classes contained fewer than 10 children. That’s because they teach special-education studentsand must follow strict class size limits of seven or13 per room, Burke said, leading the Chicago Sun-Times through the school Friday. The school’s principal was not part of the impromptu tour.

As a Local School Council member, Burke has been fighting Chicago Public Schools’ characterization of herson’s elementary school as half empty; rather, she said, it’s at more than 80 percent capacity when you account for the special-ed kids. Months ago, CPS said it would not close schools that were at a capacity of 70 percent and higher.

By being “compliant with state and federal mandates, we’re being punished,” Burke said.

About 33 percent of Trumbull kids this year are special-education students, according to Chicago Public Schools, and Burke said more have arrived as recently as spring break. Thirty-six percent are English-language learners, according to the district. Usinga formula that allowed 30 kids per homeroom, CPS says the school should ideally have a minimum of 576 kids to fill its 24 homerooms and eight ancillary rooms.

District spokeswoman Becky Carroll says the 54 percent is accurate and that anything higher uses flawed math. Some of the homerooms are underenrolled. And at least a dozen of Trumbull’s classrooms house no students, such as rooms for case managers and resource rooms according to the district.

“Ancillary classrooms, which do not count toward the capacity calculation or the utilization of the school at all, can be used to support the special education population of any school,” she said.

Trumbull has just 389 students, according to CPS.

That’s partly why Trumbull is one of 54 schools CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett proposed closing in June. Byrd-Bennett has said that consolidating a district that has more space than kids will allow CPS to provide a better education for all. She’s promised perks like iPads for all third- to eighth-graders, libraries and other upgrades for the 55 schools identified to receive displaced children.

However, there’s already a science room at Trumbull, Burke said.

The school also has a library, which Burke said had no books until the current year. Requests to local bookstores, Rotary International and Roosevelt University resulted in book donations to fill its shelves. Computers line a table in the library. Trumbull, at Foster and Ashland, has two additional computer labs, one of which is used mostly for writing. The other is home to computer lessons taught by the computer teacher and on the school’s iPads. One teacher leads both art and music classes. The school has its own gym and full-time PE teacher.

Three classrooms don’t have kids and serve instead as a counselor’s office, a teachers’ resource room and a teacher’s lounge. A fourth room has been converted into a “sensory room” where the school’s autistic children can rock on padded chairs, bounce on trampolinesand dive into a portable ball pit.

If the board approves Byrd-Bennett’s recommendations, Trumbull children will be sent to one of three receiving schools: Chappell, McCutcheon and McPherson.

Only Chappell has CPS’ highest ranking, Level 1; the others are Level 2.

CPS is planning for a smooth transition for all students.

“Both McPherson and McCutcheon . . . will offer a continuum of services and will work diligently to provide inclusive environments for all students including providing extensive wraparound services to ensure educational success,” Craig Benes, chief of the Ravenswood-Ridge Elementary Network, said in an email.

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