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Chicago School Board Approves School Closings, Turnarounds

UPDATED 02/22/12 10:13 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago Board of Education has voted to close seven public schools next school year and "turn around" 10 other schools, despite vehement objections from many parents, teachers and community members.

As WBBM Newsradio's Bob Roberts reports, the board voted unanimously to approve the Chicago Public Schools plans to close or phase out four elementary schools and three high schools. They also approved "turnaround" plans for eight elementary schools and two high schools, meaning the entire staff at each of those schools will be fired and replaced, but the students will stay.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Bob Roberts reports


The following schools are set to close after the current school year ends:

• Simon Guggenheim Elementary School, 7141 S. Morgan St;
• Florence B. Price Elementary School, 4351 S. Drexel Blvd.;

The following schools are set to be phased out. All of their current students will be allowed to graduate, but they will not accept any new students:

• Richard Crane Technical Preparatory High School, 2245 W. Jackson Blvd.;
• Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St.;
• Julia Lathrop Elementary School, 1440 S. Christiana Ave.;
• Walter Reed Elementary School, 6350 S. Stewart Ave.;
• Best Practice High School, 2245 W. Jackson Blvd.

The schools set for turnarounds are:

• Amos Alonzo Stagg Elementary, 7424 S. Morgan St.;
• Wendell Smith Elementary School, 744 E. 103rd St.;
• Pablo Casals Elementary School, 3501 W. Potomac Ave.;
• Brian Piccolo Elementary Specialty School, 1040 N. Keeler Ave.;
• Theodore Herzl Elementary School, 3711 W. Douglas Blvd.;
• Carter G. Woodson South Elementary School, 4444 S. Evans Ave.;
• Melville W. Fuller Elementary School, 4214 S. St. Lawrence Ave.;
• Marquette Elementary School, 6550 S. Richmond St.;
• Edward Tilden Career Community Academy High School, 4747 S. Union Ave.;
• Chicago Vocational Career Academy High School, 2100 E. 87th St.

As CBS 2's Derrick Blakley reports, reaction from the Chicago Teachers Union and other protesters was furious.

Opponents of the plan insisted the targeted schools were set up to fail; starved of money and manpower, resources that favored charter schools will now receive.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Brandis Friedman reports


Dyett LSC member Jitu Brown said, "They're gonna say they're doing what's in best interests of children. I wouldd encourage you all to say 'What's the evidence that anything you all have since 2004 has helped education?'"

CTU President Karen Lewis said, "we are … disappointed that these board members lacked the moral courage to do the right thing."

But school members defended their action, saying the schools targeted showed too little progress.

Board member Mahalia Hines said, "We have created a climate where mediocricy is okay for our kids. It's not okay with me. And I don't care whether I was appointed or elected, as I said before, my constituents are the kids."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his board members are convinced the 10 schools facing "turnarounds" can do better as charter schools.

Board member Jesse Ruiz said, "There are better hopes for better prospects than what's been done and proven over years and years, of just not meeting the mark in terms of giving them the educational opportunities they need."

Wednesday's vote came after lengthy testimony from protesters opposed to the plans.

Andurthus McDowell, with the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization angrily asked board members, "Where is the accountability for these children? Where is the accountability for our children standing here?"

Board President David Vitale said "Ultimately, we have to make our decision based on what we believe is in the best interest of the children in these schools, and who will be going to these schools in the future."

Several protesters unleashed their ire over Mayor Rahm Emanuel's embracing of charter schools in his efforts to reform CPS.

Marquette Elementary School teacher Mary Haraloupas said, "our country is being turned over to the interests of businesses and banks."

As CBS 2's Susanna Song reports, parents, teachers and community leaders who opposed the closing plans picketed outside CPS Headquarters, at 125 S. Clark St., starting early Wednesday morning. After the meeting began at 10 a.m. the protesters took turns addressing the board.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's John Cody reports


Demonstrators opposed to those plans argued that underperforming schools targeted for closure or overhaul have been systematically underfunded, then asked why they didn't produce.

Dyett High School Local School Council member Jitu Brown said, CPS has treated Dyett "like the worst stepchild in the family. So, what has happened is when Dyett has had gains and growth, CPS response has been to lay off teachers. CPS response had been to remove vital resources from the school."

But backers of charter schools said it's all about performance.

Cyrstal Williams is a parent Wendell Phillips Academy High School, which is in the first year of a turnaround plan.

"The principal is very familiar with all the students. The staff is on task with all the kids and the curriculum. It's very rigorous," she said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is also speaking against the planned closings and turnarounds.

"I'm against all these the massive school closings," he said. "I think that we need to engage the people who are affected in a meaningful, correctional remedy process."

Jackson says the vote has deeper-rooted issues than just the schools that will be affected. He said the school board has been so unresponsive to pleas from the community that he plans to push for an elected school board in Chicago. Currently, the members of the Board of Education are appointed by the mayor.

"This is the only city in the state that has an appointed school board," he said. "We should democratize the process bottom-up."

RELATED: Study: School Turnarounds Don't Work

Protesters said they fear the board is making a rash decision without really understanding the specific needs of each school.

School Protest
Teachers protest plans for a "turnaround" at 10 Chicago Public Schools and the closure of seven more outside CPS Headquarters Wednesday morning. (Credit: Regine Schlesinger/WBBM Newsradio/CBS)

Marquette Elementary School, 6550 S. Richmond St., is among the schools that is now up for a turnaround. Outside CPS Headquarters Wednesday morning, Marquette teacher Angela Dillon questioned the priorities of the Academy for Urban School Leadership, the charter school operator that will take over in the turnaround.

"It's up for turnaround. They're planning on getting rid of all the teachers, bringing in a brand new staff, and what AUSL does – they have zero tolerance, so they can get rid of all the problem students. And those students need our help. We're their family. We have been with them. We have built relationships with these students," said Angela Dillon. "Turnaround isn't the solution. The school needs more teachers – the class sizes are huge – and we need more social workers."

Another teacher at Marquette, Marcy Hardaloupas, said before her school was slated to be subjected to a turnaround, the School Board was starving it of money.

"Our budget has been lowered every year. In the last two years, we've lost 30 teachers, either because they got up and left or they were fired. We have lost art, music, gym," Hardaloupas said.

By its actions, she said, the board has set up struggling schools for assured failure.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Regine Schlesinger reports


Tuesday night, CPS reached a deal with community leaders on the West Side to bring in a new neighborhood school to replace Crane Technical Preparatory High School, at 2245 W. Jackson Blvd. The school is expected to begin a three-year phase-out next fall. The new school would offer a health science focused curriculum.

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