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CPS not offering same benefits to all kids in areas with closed schools

A boy plays outside Paderewski school after class Tuesday June 4 2013. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

A boy plays outside Paderewski school after class Tuesday, June 4, 2013. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

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 GRAPHIC: Switching schools

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Updated: July 8, 2013 6:34AM

As she made her case for closing dozens of Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett promised that each child whose school disappeared would be saved a place in a higher-performing school.

The CPS CEO also guaranteed new science or arts programs in 19 of the schools taking in those displaced children and great investments in all the receiving schools: air conditioning, libraries and iPads.

But after the dust settles, and many school boundaries are redrawn, not all children living in the shadow of a closing school will reap these benefits.

Boundaries are being redrawn for 12 of the 48 schools closing this month, so some children new to the neighborhood will not be sent to the receiving school, but to another nearby neighborhood school. In three of those cases, that neighborhood option is academically worse than what CPS calls the “designated welcoming school.”

Children already enrolled in Paderewski Elementary Learning Academy in the Little Village neighborhood, Henson Elementary School in the Lawndale neighborhood or West Pullman Elementary School on the Far South Side will be sent to the better receiving schools. Some children currently too young for school or who move into those areas will instead be sent to schools worse than the receiving schools ­— and without the guarantees of the extra investments.

“This is just messed up, it’s really upsetting,” said Laronda Smith, 30, who has two children at West Pullman and smaller kids at home. The family lives on the north side of 119th Street, a borderline determining where her children could be sent. “I don’t know where my kids are going to go.”

With West Pullman, families who move south of 119th Street will send their children not to Alex Haley Elementary School, which has a good rating, but to Metcalfe Elementary Community Academy, which is on probation with the worst rating.

Around Henson, preschoolers living east of Pulaski Road will not follow older neighbors to Charles Hughes Elementary School, which has a good rating; rather, they will be directed to Herzl Elementary school, which has the lowest rating and is on probation.

And near Paderewski, students living north of Cermak Road will go to Penn Elementary School or Crown Community Academy of Fine Arts Center, which both currently have CPS’ worst rating and are on probation. Only the children south of Cermak will call Cardenas, which has CPS’ best rating, or Castellanos, which has a good rating, their neighborhood school. The child’s year in school will determine which one.

All the proposed 2013-14 boundaries are on CPS’ website, though community members interviewed for this story said the new borders were not adequately publicized.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz, whose 22nd Ward encompasses Paderewski, Castellanos and Cardenas, had harsh words for CPS:

“They lied.”

“What happens to the other neighborhood students that could have been Paderewski students [who] could have been going to a better performing school but now have to go somewhere else? That’s just not right.”

“In this case, for anybody who lives in north of Cermak, the Board of Ed lied to them.” Those children are “being forced to attend under performing schools,” he said, adding. “The unintended consequences is you’re continuing the pattern of segregation.”

CPS says the boundary changes, along with other details of the closings, were decided with community input.

“We heard from communities that they might have wanted a certain school to be accessible to the school community,” but under CPS guidelines it wasn’t good enough to be a welcoming school, said Adam Anderson, district head of portfolio, planning and strategy.

West Pullman folks called 119th street a major divide, and said children living south of West Pullman were closer to Metcalfe than Haley, he said, adding, “Ald. [Carrie] Austin wanted it to be an option for those schools.”

CPS won’t guarantee the same investments as the receiving schools for these other schools, but may send extra help to these struggling schools if enough new children show up, Anderson said, though he couldn’t specify how much support or how many children would trigger some extra support.

And though children too young for school now won’t be guaranteed a place in any of the schools initially designated “welcoming” schools, younger siblings will be given preference to follow their older brothers and sisters, he said: “We don’t separate families.”

Community member Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance worries that the Cermak divide will further segregate students who were blended at Paderewski, about 80 percent African American and 18 percent Hispanic, since most families north of Cermak are black and most south are Latino. Castellanos and Cardenas have very few black students.

And she said Penn, with about a third of its students characterized as special education, is alreadychallenged.

“They’re going to be struggling even more. They’re diluting the support those children are going to have. It’s not a good situation.”

The Chicago Teachers Union has called for a moratorium on all closings, saying the district can’t hatch a proper plan going forward until it completes a long-term master facilities plan.

The disparity between schools where children are being sent is another example of the chaos that ensues without such a plan in place, CTU researcher Carol Caref said

“I suppose the district could make the argument, ‘The school they were going to, if we hadn’t closed it, wasn’t a high performing school anyway,’ Caref said. “But that’s such a low level argument instead of what we need to do to help students.”

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