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North Siders to CPS: 'Don't Close Our Schools'

Hundreds of people gathered at Horner Park Friday to ask a school closing committee to spare their schools.

No specific schools have been named for closure, officials told North Side parents and educators Friday when they gathered to show support for their neighborhood public schools.

The Commission on School Utilization held its fourth public hearing on Dec. 14 in the gymnasium of Horner Park's field house, 2741 W. Montrose Ave. The commission is an independent panel appointed by Chicago Public Schools to gather information and make recommendations on how to consolidate district resources, which will likely mean some school closures as a result of the process.

Hundreds of attendees packed the gym, and those who signed up to address the commission stepped up to the microphone one after another to ask questions about the process, share insights about their community schools and voice their opinions. 

Commission chair and former ComEd CEO Frank M. Clark started off the meeting by telling the crowd that there were not currently any schools marked for closure.

"There is no list existing today," Clark said. "There is none. I don't care what you hear; I don't care what people say. All that exists is an overall list of schools, and the utilization of the total school system. But there is no list of schools to be consolidated that exists today, and that will not be created until this process is completed and heard from the local communities."

Many of the evening's speakers criticized district phrasing that labels certain schools as "underutilized," arguing that smaller class sizes can create a more intimate learning environment and that some schools cannot physically accommodate the 30-student classes that the district deems optimal.

"We know that 20 and 30 years ago, when schools were overcrowded, that was perfectly fine," said CPS teacher Andres Hernandez. "And now that we have an optimal class size, that is not perfectly fine. The CEO of Public Schools likes to call this 'right-sizing.' I call it downsizing."

Some attendees also called for transparency from the commission, stating that they would like, at the very least, to understand how the commission of the district arrives at the decision to close a school.

"If this commission, at minimum, can come up with at least a process, so we understand—if you're not going to give us a list—how we get from A to B, how you decide who the winners and the losers are, which schools stay open and which schools stay closed, you'll at least have done something," said Matt Farmer, a local school council member at Philip Rogers Elementary School, 7345 N. Washtenaw Ave.

Certain schools had much more visible outpourings of support than others. Brentano Math and Science Academy, 2723 N. Fairfield Ave., had a large and vocal delegation of supporters in the audience, as did Stockton Elementary School, 4420 N. Beacon St. Parents, students and educators from these and other schools urged the commission to consider the importance of children attending schools in their own communities and denounced plans to build more charter schools.

Pauline Lipman, a member of Teachers for Social Justice and a professor of educational policy studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, turned to face the audience rather than the members of the commission when she spoke. She urged them to stand together against school closings and privatization.

"It is critical that we say not one school can be closed," Lipman said to a round of applause. "Not just Brentano, not just Stockton, but not one school can be closed. We need an alliance of parents and teachers and students from around this city. That's what will save us. We have to stand together. We can't stand only for our school. We have to stand for all schools."

As the meeting drew to a close and the commission announced that time was up, Chicago Teachers Union members began to chant "longer day, longer meeting," referring to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plans for a longer school day for CPS schools. 

The remaining meeting in the commission's initial round of public hearings is scheduled for Monday from 7-9 p.m. at Metropolitan Apostolic Church, 4100 S. King Drive.

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