Seventh part AustinTalks’ series on the Austin schools facing closure this summer by Chicago Public Schools. The other schools are: Armstrong, DePriest, Emmet, Key, Lewis, and McNair.
Austin YMCA’s member’s center shut down in October 2012, but it continues to provide various community and youth programs at Horatio May Community Academy.
The YMCA’s services are too valuable to lose, some West Side residents say. That’s also one of the reasons why they wanted May removed from the recently-released list of “under-enrolled schools citywide that CPS will shutter in June.
“May Community Academy is a community school with emphasis on the word community,”
Gerald Walton, a YMCA resource coordinator at May, said at a West Side CPS hearing in February.
The YMCA offers after school, summer and weekend programs at the school, 512 S. Lavergne. And it offers family-support services, job-readiness classes and career-development workshops for parents, Walton said.
May and the YMCA also have a relationship through the Community School’s Initiative. That program brings after-school programming and outside resources into six public schools across the West and South sides.
The Westside Health Authority and Fathers Who Care, among other service providers, also work at May, according to Walton.
“May Community Academy is the wrong school to think about closing,” Walton told CPS officials in February.
“If you ask anyone who knows about the Austin area, they will bear witness to the drastic improvements that have occurred at May Community Academy under Principal [Roger] Lewis.”
Neither May Principal Roger Lewis nor Assistant Principal Ruthanne Tolliver returned AustinTalks’ interview requests.
About 460 students attend May, according to mid-September 2012 enrollment data from CPS. But CPS officials have determined the school’s ideal capacity is about 1,020 students, which makes it about 45 percent utilized, according to the district’s calculations.
Schools are considered effectively used when they are at least 80 percent utilized, district officials have said.
May also has the lowest of three academic ratings — Level 3 — and is on probation.
But May’s Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) composite scores are on the rise.
In 2012, 60.6 percent of students met or exceeded standards, up from 58.8 percent in 2011 and 51.3 percent in 2010.
West Side education activist Dwayne Truss said he’s more concerned CPS could decide to turn around the school, replacing its staff instead of closing it.
He explained that there are no receiving schools anywhere near May that’s able to accept students if it closes.
“Where are those kids going to go?” said Truss, a member of the Austin Community Action Council.
Valerie Betts, a teacher at May who serves on the school’s Local School Council, expressed her frustration about CPS’ school-closing process. She said at the February meeting that she wasn’t going to bring up May’s rising test scores again, because they can be found online.
“Why do I have to keep repeating myself?” Betts said to CPS representatives at the meeting. “They tell me somebody’s listening. I want to know who is if I have to keep repeating myself over and over and over again. Who is listening to me? Who?”
The district, however, says it has too many empty seats and needs to shut down some underutilized neighborhood schools to close its looming $1 billion deficit. Byrd-Bennett has said high schools and high-performing schools are off the table.
CPS officials also announced they will not shut down schools with more than 600 students, schools that recently experienced a school action or are in the process of adding grades, among other criteria.
Mario Lekovic contributed to this story.