More than a thousand students will be displaced and some 70 teacherswill be job hunting come June, as the Chicago Public Schools announced plans Thursday to shutter three under-performing elementary schools and begin the phase-out of a subpar high school next year.
“This is not a step we take lightly,” said Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan. “There are still too many schools that are not giving our children the education they need.”
The schools were targeted in the same week that a looming $328 million budget deficit for the Chicago Public Schools was outlined, but Duncan said there’s no relationship between the closings and budget shortfall.
Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart agrees that the two are not linked, but she said the public will assume a relationship due to the minimal time gap between the announcements.
The three elementary schools to be closed for underperformance and a failure to increase composite scores on state tests for the last four years are: Frazier, 4027 W. Grenshaw; Morse, 620 N. Sawyer; and Farren, 5055 S. State. In addition, Collins High School, 1313 S. Sacramento, also will not accept freshman next year and begin a four-year phase-out of the school.
CPS Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins said plans are in the works to build a new high school in the Collins area through tax incremental financing, but a site has not yet been identified.
“You just don’t know where the hatchet is going to fall next,” said Jacqueline Leavy, executive director of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, a coalition of community-based organizations and education reform groups.
“This flailing around in the dark does not give the public confidence that these children are actually moving on to better educational opportunities and options.”
The schools are among 185 Chicago public schools classified as in need of restructuring under the federal No Child Left Behind guidelines due to failure to meet state benchmarks in reading and math test scores for five years. Under the restructuring guidelines, schools are required to implement one of five options, including curriculum and administration changes or closure.
But CTU’s Stewart said closures are not the answer to underperformance.
“Friendships have been forged with their relationships and faculty, and now they’re going to crush all that,” she said. “It’s one thing to be moved around because your family is dysfunctional. It’s another thing if you’re moved around because your school is dysfunctional.”
School officials waited until early Thursday morning to inform staff and students about the closures. Chicago Teachers Union representatives attended the meetings.
“These people had no idea,” said Sandy Schultz, education issues coordinator with CTU. “They were crying. Even the principals weren’t informed.”
Irma Martin, assistant principal at Morse, said the school had heard rumors of the school being reconstituted, not closed.
“There is just a down mood in the school,” she said, adding that many students were tearful after the announcement.
Martin said school officials tried to address teacher concerns about job security at the meeting, but that the underlying message was essentially, “you’re on your own after June.”
Students and staff from Farren will be moved to Beethoven Elementary School, 25 W. 47th St., in Fuller Park, and students from Morse and Frazier will be reassigned to nearby schools. But it is unclear what will happen to the more than 70 teachers from Frazier, Morse and Collins.
School officials said teachers are fired in May and put back into the teaching pool. They receive 10 months of full salary and benefits, and have one year to find a replacement position. They also serve as a substitute teacher three days a week.
If the teachers don’t find a position at the end of that period, they are “honorably terminated.”
School officials said 77 percent of teachers affected by school closings since July 2004 have been rehired. Schultz, however, said those figures were inaccurate.
“If you’re not a tenured teacher, you’re pretty much gone,” she said.
Stewart also said that if the Chicago Public Schools see teachers as part of
the problem of underperformance, they shouldn’t be making such a big deal
about the rehiring percentages..
“Are they blaming the teachers for the failure?” she said. “And if they are, why are they bragging that they’re hiring them back into the system again?”
Final decisions on school closures will be made after public hearings are held in February. The meetings will take place on the 5th floor of the CPS headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. and are scheduled as follows:
Farren – Mon., Feb. 6, 3 to 6 p.m.
Frazier – Mon., Feb. 6, 7 to 10 p.m.
Sherman – Tues., Feb. 7, 3 to 6 p.m.
Morse – Tues., Feb. 7, 7 to 10 p.m.
KIPP/CYVA – Wed., Feb. 8, 7 to 10 p.m.
Arai – Sat., Feb. 11, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Collins – Thurs., Feb. 9, 3 to 6 p.m.
?”Max Follmer contributed to this report.