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A Study In Contrasts For CPS School Closings In Washington Heights Neighborhood

CHICAGO (CBS) -- They're less than five blocks apart; two Chicago public schools, each more empty than full. Now, one has been marked for closing, stirring controversy in the Washington Heights neighborhood.

CBS 2's Derrick Blakley reports Marcus Garvey Elementary School, at 10309 S. Morgan St., is one of dozens of schools targeted for closing by the Chicago Public Schools.

Less than three blocks away, Mount Vernon Elementary School, at 10540 S. Morgan St., will receive students from Garvey.

Garvey parent Christa Thomas said it's "an excellent school."

"Garvey is more than a school, it's a family," she said.

With CPS planning to close and consolidate many half-empty schools to help eliminate a projected $1 billion deficit, one of the two nearby schools had to go, and CPS brass targeted Garvey. In all, the district plans to close 53 schools and 61 buildings at the end of the school year.

Garvey parent Staci Goddard said parents realized either Garvey or Mount Vernon would likely have to close, since both are half empty, but she thinks the district picked the wrong school.

"They definitely closed the wrong school," she said.

Academic performance at the two schools shows little difference, but Mount Vernon has a larger building, which recently underwent a $7.5 million renovation, while Garvey needs $6.3 million for maintenance and repairs.

It might seem like a simple decision, but Goddard disagrees.

"We're on two different sides of town. Even though we're right down the street, they're on that side and we're on this side. It's always been like that. It's always been a division," she said.

The division is caused by two gangs that have been warring for generations.

Garvey parent Willie Thomas said, "My worry is the kids getting home safely, whether if it's gang activity or general violence. That's the overall concern."

CPS officials have promised improvements at "welcoming schools" like Mount Vernon, such as air conditioning for all classrooms. Mount Vernon is slated to get an upgraded computer lab.

But Garvey parents insisted that won't make up for they're losing.

CPS officials said they are committed to providing children with a better education, including the students at Garvey. They said consolidating underutilized schools and moving children to higher performing schools is one way to do that.

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