A CPS commitment to prioritize neighborhood schools sparked roiling debate. Among parents and educators, questions abound.

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webnexttech | A CPS commitment to prioritize neighborhood schools sparked roiling debate. Among parents and educators, questions abound.
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At Pierce Elementary School in Edgewater on Tuesday, Chicago Public Schools officials again addressed fears of school closures swirling among some district families since the Chicago Board of Education voted late last year to transition away from policies that “drive student enrollment away from neighborhood schools” and ensure neighborhood schools are “fully-resourced.” It’s not clear yet, and won’t be until June, what “fully-resourced” means.That’s when the district is scheduled to release a strategic plan guiding school district investments over the next five years.
The new emphasis on neighborhood schools is making charter and selective enrollment parents nervous.
“This is not about closing your schools,” CPS Chief Portfolio Officer Alfonso Carmona told the crowd of around 50 parents and educators gathered at Pierce on Tuesday to participate in one of a series of community engagement events the district said will help shape the strategic plan.
At the board’s December and January meetings, officials reiterated that school closures aren’t on the table.
“This is again about prioritizing neighborhood schools, creating pathways from K to 12 in schools and neighborhoods farthest from opportunity, in a way so that we are not sorting our children and favoring those born with more means,” Board President Jianan Shi said Jan.
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“This resolution is not directing us to close selective enrollment schools.” Unconvinced by the board’s assurances, charter and selective enrollment school parents have taken to City Hall and board meetings in recent weeks to decry the board’s planned emphasis on neighborhood schools.
Misinformation about the possibility of school closures and the reality of cuts to bus service for thousands of selective enrollment students has prompted pushback from parents who fear the lack of transportation will effectively starve those schools of students.
Meanwhile, parents and educators of students attending neighborhood schools in Rogers Park, Edgewater and Uptown expressed both skepticism and high hopes at this week’s community roundtable.
Transparency in how spending priorities are determined has been lacking, a group including administrators, teachers and parents said.
They also questioned the district’s ability to tackle a litany of issues they claim CPS has long neglected.
A decade after the district closed nearly 50 neighborhood schools on the South Side and West Side, CPShas provided scarce details on what supporting neighborhood schools includes.
One approach will be expanding Sustainable Community Schools — a model operated in partnership by CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union, in which community organizations provide wraparound academic, health and social support beyond the traditional school day will be part of the plan..
A report released by Johnson’s transition team in July includes a “near-term” goal of increasing Sustainable Community Schools to 50 and a “long-term” goal of expanding the model to 200 schools.
According to the board’s December resolution, the strategic plan will move CPS “toward becoming a Sustainable Community Schools district.” The model is one of three approaches in the district to operating community schools, involving different management models and funding, at 225 schools.
But just over half of those schools will lose grant funding next school year, according to CPS.
In an emailed statement Wednesday, district spokesperson Mary Fergus said, “CPS is committed to expanding partnerships and investments that strengthen CPS schools as community hubs.
We are looking forward to planning the expansion of high quality and equitable school improvement models, including the Sustainable Community Schools model, as part of our work on a new five-year-strategic plan.” Asked why the Sustainable Community Schools partnership with CTU was singled out in the December board resolution, CPS said the model is “rooted in the belief that schools are anchors of communities” and tailors its approach to “individual site needs, assets and priorities.” At Uplift Community High School, one of 20 Sustainable Community Schools in the district, nearby families haven’t been aware the school is an option because it’s not been assigned attendance boundaries, principal Tyrese Graham said at the meeting Tuesday.
According to CPS data from September, 161 students attend Uplift.
Graham said the school’s capacity is 600.
“CPS has invested a ton of money and Uplift is a beautiful facility.
But because we don’t have attendance boundaries, we don’t show up on the map and people don’t know we exist,” Graham said.
“All of those programmatic investments, all of those facilities and resource investments that the district has poured into the school, are being underutilized.
It’s very problematic.” Uplift parent Regina Jones, a member of the Local School Council, said she’s hopeful that the community engagement sessions signal a new era.
“It’s refreshing to see them trying to engage us, see what the issues are,” said Jones,whose seven kids have attended CPS, with only her youngest still in school.
Her youngest struggled upon entering Senn High School’s student population of more than 1,400, but after transferring to Uplift, he excelled in the school’s small class sizes, said Jones, who lives near the school in Uptown.
Families need access to options that meet their student’s needs, but they shouldn’t have to leave their community to get it, she said.
“You go out of your neighborhood for something that’s customized, like an art school.
But you should have everything you need to be successful, to be able to go to the next level, in your neighborhood,” Jones said.
Jones added that supporting neighborhood schools and school choice in CPS need not be counterposed.
“I believe there will be more than enough students to go around if we fix attendance boundaries, if we create affordable housing that helps people stay (in Chicago),” she said.
Erin Schubert, who has one child attending James Monroe Elementary, a neighborhood school, and another attending Skinner North, a selective enrollment school, also believes the district can do both — but only if CPS either recommences bus transportation or provides financial assistance to help the families of low-income students attending magnet and selective enrollment schools cover transportation costs.
“You might say, ‘We’re not denying anyone choice,’” Schubert said at a board meeting Jan.
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“But that is exactly what you’re doing to everyone when you cut busing and refuse financial relief to families.” Not providing transportation to students attending magnet and selective enrollment schools is contrary to the definition of educational equity, she said.
Withouttransportation, selective enrollment schools will lose what makes them great, according to Schubert.
“A diverse body of students coming from all over the city to reach their full potential.” At the Tuesday meeting, a parent walked out after citing disappointment with the district’s handling of transportation cuts.
Chief Operating Officer Charles Mayfield said CPS would use input gathered at the meetings to shape the strategic plan.
Afterward, he said the district will launch a second phase of community events.
“I think there’s another level of engagement that we need to be able to bring more people to the table to have some candid conversation,” Mayfield said.
In the district’s statement Wednesday, CPS said it will host more sessions this spring before the district finalizes the strategic plan for the board’s approval this summer.

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