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Editorial: Why close my school?

Asean Johnsthird-grader Garvey Elementary School Addresses Chicago Board EducatiWednesday April 24 2013 about proposed closing his school. | JessicKoscielniak ~

Asean Johnson, a third-grader at Garvey Elementary School Addresses the Chicago Board of Education Wednesday April 24, 2013 about the proposed closing of his school. | Jessica Koscielniak ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: May 28, 2013 7:53PM

The 9-year-old in the dashing red tie and navy suit could barely see over the podium at the Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, but no one missed his message about his beloved school, which is on the chopping block:

“Why are you closing Garvey when it has everything you say you want a school to have?” Asean Johnson said with poise and confidence beyond his years.

He held up a recent Sun-Times editorial, which noted that Garvey already has all the extras — including a well-stocked library and computer lab — that CPS has promised students at Mount Vernon, Garvey’s “welcoming school.”

Garvey also has higher test scores than Mount Vernon, though that school has shown more growth than Garvey recently. And Garvey appeared anything but under-used when we visited in early April.

CPS wants to close 54 schools this summer that it says are under enrolled. We support closings, but this is too many all at once.

Asean, who grabbed the board’s attention like none other during a two-hour public comment session, noted that Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the Board President David Vitale had visited his school this month. Byrd-Bennett beamed as he spoke, even wiping a tear after he dropped a funny one-liner.

But Asean, like thousands of others who have pleaded for their schools at community meetings and hearings in the last three weeks, many laying out powerful cases, got no response.

It’s time.

The CPS board is set to vote on the 54 closures on May 22. The last public hearing is May 2. After that, Byrd-Bennett or the board should drop schools from the closure list that have made a compelling case, starting with Garvey. We’ve identified a few others, with more to come, as have many others. The parent group Raise Your Hand, which has visited about 20 affected schools, on Wednesday produced a list of 40 questionable choices.

There is far too much at stake for these communities — and not enough to be gained financially or academically with several proposed consolidations — to make even one mistake.

Byrd-Bennett has been visiting welcoming schools and board members are focusing on closing schools, including Garvey and other controversial choices, including Trumbull and Henson.

Two of Byrd-Bennett’s goals are to ensure genuine input in these decisions and to rebuild severely broken trust — and we believe she means it. The CEO tells us that she and the board are still listening as a months-long community engagement process draws to a close, telling us that the board is “being very deliberative” and “taking a final look at these 54 schools.”

It appears unlikely she’ll recommend any changes, that she is leaving the final decisions up to the board.

Regardless of who takes the lead, the moment is upon us. It’s time to drop some schools from the list.

Do it for Asean, do it for all the dashing nine-year-olds out there.

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