The Chicago Public Schools took a beating Thursday at a hearing into plans to close Collins High School on the West Side.
Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart likened the district’s plan to attract the best teachers to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 2003 overnight raid on Meigs Field, saying one morning the union will wake up and find many of its teachers pushed out and replaced.
State Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago), assistant majority leader, threatened to use state funding for education as a leverage point to keep Collins open, referring to CPS Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan’s call for more dollars for the district.
“He’s not going to get a damn penny,” Hendon said at the hearing. “And his pension plan? He’s not going to get that either.”
The hearing, attended by more than 100 legislators, teachers, students, parents and community activists, took place at the Chicago Public Schools administration building, 125 S. Clark St. Students proudly wore their purple and yellow Collins lanyards and T-shirts proclaiming “Save our school.”
“Our standards in our schools have improved,” said Tatiana Coleman, a freshman. “You don’t tear down a school to put up a new one. You make it better.”
In late January, the district announced the next batch of school closures scheduled to start at the end of this school year, including the shuttering of Frazier Elementary, 4027 W. Grenshaw St., as well as Collins High School, 1313 S. Sacramento Ave.
Phase-outs will be completed for several South Side schools.
Jovaun Andrew, a senior at Collins, had to leave school early to attend the hearing. Andrew said the administration does not recognize the improvements made at the school.
“I have achieved every year in every subject, and it’s getting me ready for college,” said Andrew, who hopes to attend North Park University or Elmhurst College next year. “Our kids try really hard. They don’t give us anything to work with.”
Dan Prusaitis, a Spanish teacher and chair of the world languages department at Collins, said closing the school is the wrong way to fix an underperformance problem.
“There are small things that they could do that would have a positive impact, even just to have an assistant principal to walk around and check on the status of the school,” he said. “[The district] is just not looking at the school. Our kids have really tough lives and they’re not taking that into consideration.”
Prusaitis also said high schools Manley, 2935 W. Polk St., and Crane, 2245 W. Jackson Blvd., would receive students in the Collins attendance area, but are themselves already close to capacity.
“They’d be packed to the rafters, like sardines,” he said.
According to district guidelines, a high school is considered for closure due to underperformance if the average percentage of students meeting or exceeding the state standards overall on the Prairie State Achievement Exam falls below 10 percent over the last four years or the school has been on probation for at least one year.
Average attendance also is considered. The attendance rate at Collins last year was 80 percent. This means that the average student missed more than 35 days of school for the year.
But some community activists and legislators think the school is being targeted for other reasons.
“Many of my constituents believe that this is about gentrification, and I feel like they’re right this time,” Ald. Michael Chandler (24) said at the hearing. “It’s not common sense being acted out here.”
School closures, phase-outs and reconstitutions aren’t the only logs thrown in the fire. Teachers, administration and parents also complained about the times and location of the public hearings: too early and too far.
“There’s no public in public hearings when meetings are being held downtown when teachers and parents are working,” CTU spokeswoman Rosemaria Genova said last week. CPS spokesman Malon Edwards said the public hearing officer accepts faxed written testimony from anyone who cannot attend for up to 24 hours after a hearing.
Edwards also said the district conducts hearings in the board chambers of the Clark Street office because it’s close to public transportation and is easily accessible to everyone. In the past two years, no school slated for closure was kept open after the hearing, he said.
Lamborghini Syas, a senior at Collins, hopes the school will stay open next year even though she will have graduated.
“We’re the ones getting targeted, we’re the ones getting attacked,” she said. “I spend more time at school than at home. It’s a good school. It’s like family. It’s like home.”