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School turmoil not on the menu

Rousemary Vegcenter two unidentified men occupy classroom Jean de Lafayette Elementary School protest closing school final day school Wednesday June

Rousemary Vega, center, and two unidentified men occupy a classroom at the Jean de Lafayette Elementary School and protest the closing of the school, on the final day of school Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Chicago. Lafayette is one of 50 schools scheduled to close as a cost cutting and consolidation measure by the Chicago Board of Education. (AP Photo/Scott Eisen) ORG XMIT: ILSE105

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Updated: December 28, 2013 6:25AM

Here’s something Chicagoans can be thankful for this year:

The Chicago Public Schools is exactly one year removed from the start of a bruising and damaging months-long process that culminated in a May vote to close an unprecedented 50 schools for low enrollment. This year, as CPS approached its Dec. 1 deadline for announcing school “actions” (a euphemism for a school closure or another radical overhaul), the news is a mere ripple in the pond.

If things go as CPS hopes, the school action proposals to be announced on Wednesday include some positive developments for CPS families. Seven schools, several of which are currently sharing multiple buildings, will be shifted around.

No schools will close. That’s per a five-year moratorium on building closure for low enrollment that began after the vote to close 50 schools. CPS’ chief executive and the mayor announced the moratorium exactly one year ago as they geared up to begin the school-closure process.

Time will tell if there are serious flaws in Wednesday’s proposed school changes — hearings will be held in January — but the bigger school action news is yet to come. In January, the Board of Education is expected to consider another round of charter school openings for next fall, largely meant to relieve overcrowding. That’s on top of as many as 10 previously approved charters that could open next fall.

This page is generally supportive of quality public charter schools, but evidence is mounting that poorly planned charter expansions have negative consequences for traditional public schools. These include how charters spread thin already tight resources for traditional schools and the reality that the migration of students to charters often leave traditional schools with a more difficult student population. The bar for charter approval must be set exceedingly high.

CPS also in the next month likely will announce next year’s round of “turnarounds.” These are low-performing schools that get an academic overhaul over the summer, complete with an almost wholesale change in faculty and administrators. Only the students remain. This page also generally supports turnarounds, with promising preliminary evidence on their performance reported by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Just seven schools are affected by Wednesday’s announcement, with about half clearly benefitting. The upcoming public hearings will reveal the impact on the other schools.

The biggest potential winner is Frazier International Magnet, a small, top-performing school in North Lawndale. Frazier currently shares a building with a charter school that is slated to move, giving Frazier the capacity to more than triple its student population. This is good news for a community in need of more quality school options.

Drake Elementary in Bronzeville also will get its own building after Urban Prep-Bronzeville, a charter high school, moves to a new location. Also, Chicago High School for the Arts is slated to get its own building, possibly Lafayette Elementary, which closed in June.

Consider Wednesday’s announcement, then, the first course of a meal that we expect will go down much more easily than last year’s. After the 2012-13 closing earthquake, CPS is in desperate need of this down time to focus on the basics — improved teaching and learning.

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