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Torrence Shorter

Bryan Lowry/MEDILL

Torrence Shorter, who has children in Ryerson Elementary, expressed his worry that his daughter wouldn't be able to graduate from a school his family has attended for two generations.


Angry parents knock on mayor’s door in push to save schools

by Bryan Lowry
Jan 22, 2013


Gale Raise

Bryan Lowry/MEDILL

Parents of students at Gale Elementary School including Michelle Slater (center) came out in force to express their objection to the school's potential closing.


Bryan Lowry/MEDILL

Michelle Slater, a parent with a fourth-grader at Gale Elementary, explains the ways a change in schools might negatively affect students.


Taking their anger to the mayor’s door, Chicago parents gathered at City Hall on Tuesday to insist that closing schools should be more than a numbers game.

Raise Your Hand, a coalition of Chicago parents, brought together a diverse set of speakers that included North and South Side parents, a Baptist minister and a university professor, all of whom called upon Chicago Public Schools to rethink its decision to close an estimated 100 schools for next school year. Most vulnerable to closure are schools that CPS has deemed underutilized.

“I can’t see it at all how our school is underutilized at any point. Fifty-eight percent utilized capacity?” said Torrence Shorter in prepared remarks. “We use the whole entire school building. We have a health clinic inside our school building that we use not only for our children inside our school building, but our whole community uses that health center,” said the parent with two children at Ryerson Elementary School in Humboldt Park.

Josh Hartwell, a member of the Local Schools Council whose two children attend Gale Elementary School, noted in his speech that the school serves high numbers of English language learners and special education students, two populations that require smaller class sizes by law.

“This service is not measured on some mathematical formula, it is qualitative not quantitative.”

Raise Your Hand contends that CPS did not take into account the percentage of these student groups into its calculations. CPS officials said Tuesday that the presence of these two groups “will be carefully considered as part of” the school closing decisions.

Gale’s parental community was the best represented at the event. Dozens of parents donned bright yellow t-shirts bearing the school’s name and erupted into applause as Hartwell listed ways the school was using its facility to provide after-school tutoring, parental outreach and a community garden. As mayoral aides walked by, they chanted “Save our schools!”

“He loves it. It’s the only school he knows,” Michelle Slater, another Gale parent, said of her fourth-grader’s experience at the school after the press conference concluded. “When a child is comfortable, the child learns. They have to be comfortable with the teacher, with the students, with the school.”

Slater worries what the effect will be on her son if Gale closes and he has to go somewhere else. Gale currently has 513 students enrolled, but the district lists 990 as its ideal capacity in its school utilization report.

CPS has calculated that 328 of the district’s schools are underutilized, but Raise Your Hand disputes this number. The organization claims CPS' figure is based on larger class sizes than its own guidelines recommend. They say the CPS figure uses a cap of 36 students per homeroom despite the district’s own recommendations of 28 students per K-3rd grade classroom and 31 students per 4th-8th grade classroom.

Raise Your Hand’s independent analysis, which uses 30 students per classroom as its cap, found only 253 schools to be underutilized and as many as 198 schools to be over-crowded.

Becky Carroll, chief communications officer of CPS, responded to Raise Your Hand's claims about the district's data with an email statement:

"This is simply inaccurate. Our formula is based on the Board's class size policy whose average is 30 students per class. The fact is that we have space for 511,000 students, but only have 403,000 enrolled in our schools, and nearly 140 schools are half-empty. The utilization crisis facing our District was created in large part by the loss of 145,000 school-age children in Chicago since 2000, primarily from the South and West sides.

"This is stretching our limited resources much too thin and we can no longer put off making the difficult decisions needed to right-size our District. Once these steps are taken, we can redirect resources and invest them in all schools to provide our children with the supports they need to be successful in the classroom, such as new technology, playgrounds, libraries, counselors, art and music," Carroll said.

Stephanie Farmer, an assistant professor of sociology at Roosevelt University and member of Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education, said research of past school closings in Chicago resulted in students changing from one underperforming school to another 82 percent of the time.

“There is little evidence that school closures will improve public education in Chicago. And furthermore, CPS’ rush to close 100 schools at one time while limiting parent and community participation in the process does not inspire confidence that this time will be any different,” Farmer said.

Wendy Katten, a board member for Raise Your Hand, said that the decision to hold the press conference outside the mayor’s office was based on mayoral oversight of the school system in Chicago. The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.