Cleveland Gidney-Clark has attended Francis Scott Key Elementary School in Austin since kindergarten.
Gidney-Clark, who’s now in the eighth grade, says he’s proud of his school, which is one of 129 the Chicago Public School is considering closing due to “under-utilization.”
“I love this school, and I’m not going to let you close my school,” the eighth-grader proclaimed at a CPS community meeting last month concerning the schools on the list.
Key, 517 N. Parkside, is “on the move” and should not close at the end of the current academic year this summer, Gidney-Clark said.
Six other Austin-area schools are under consideration by CPS, which will decide at the end of the month which schools will shutter. Those that are chosen will shut their doors for good in June.
Key, according to CPS, is 57 percent utilized. Enrollment totals 306 students as of September 2012, according to district data for the 2012-2013 school year. A capacity of 540 students is most ideal for Key, CPS officials maintain. At last month’s community meeting, Key supporters touted the school’s academic performance as one reason to keep it open.
“As a teacher in the classroom and also as a member of our instructional leadership team, I’ve seen this,” said Key teacher Richard Aszling. “I see it in the data. I see it in the classroom every day.”
The school’s academic performance rating—Level 2—ranks in the middle, and Key is not on probation. On last year’s Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT), Key had a composite score of 60 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards. That score was down slightly from 62.2 percent in 2011.
Aszling stressed that the school’s enrollment has increased to 320 kids since last September, putting it at about 59 percent utilized. CPS, however, considers an 80 percent enrollment capacity (defined by the number of homerooms multiplied by 30 students) to be ideal.
“We have students coming from other schools, saying they’ve heard about the good things that have been happening at Key and that they want to come and learn with us,” Aszling said at the Feb. 13 community meeting. Teachers and administration, Aszling added, are working hard to bring resources to the school.
Aszling, meanwhile, insisted that the school is garnering private financial support.
“We’ve got five long-term, sustainable grants that are bringing after-school programs like 21st Century and GEAR UP,” he said. “We are working hard, my colleagues and I, to build independent thinkers and leaders for the 21st Century.”
Other programs on campus, such as after-school tutoring and co-curricular activities, are run via the 21st Century Community Learning Center Program, a federally-funded initiative.
21st Century’s five-year grant is administered by the U.S. Department of Education. Key is slated to receive about $100,000 annually to run the program, which launched this academic year at the Austin school.
Creola Thomas, a parent of a first grader, said she’s not sure where her daughter will go if Key closes, because other surrounding Austin neighborhood schools are also on CPS’ 129-school list.
“My biggest concern would be getting her to school and on time,” Thomas said. “She would have to make new friends and meet the new teachers.”
CPS spokesperson Robyn Ziegler stressed the 129-school list is not final. The process, she adds, continues, and the district will continue to hear community members’ concerns.
The district is expected to make final school closing recommendations no later than March 31.
Student safety remains a No. 1 issue among West Side education activists, explained Joyce Edwards, a former Local School Council member at Key. Edwards, who lives in Austin, noted the school’s parent patrol that helps keep kids safe.
“We don’t need our babies going anywhere else but where they are safe—our schools,” Edwards said. “Two years ago, we had a student who was shot on Chicago Avenue and Central [Avenue]. Now they want our babies to go across Chicago Avenue to get to another school.”
All West Side schools should stay open, Edwards insists.
Key parent Thomas said she remains optimistic that the school won’t close.
“I think there is hope. I understand money needs to be saved, but (closing schools) isn’t the way.”
Neither Key Principal Margo Giannoulis-King nor Assistant Principal Pete Retsos responded to AustinTalks’ requests for comment.
Mario Lekovic contributed to this story. Read the rest of the series at AustinTalks.org. In next week’s paper: May School.