We might have a genuine opportunity here in Chicago to learn from our decades-long effort to raise the floor in our public schools by “closing” tens of schools and replacing them, often in the same building with the same kids, with “new schools.” The Commission on School Utilization gives all of us an opportunity to deepen the understanding about what happens to students, teachers and a neighborhood when a school is “closed,
What we have here is a failure to genuinely communicate and a chance to change that. In my personal experience everyone new in the building means you have lost years of experience and knowledge and social capital, people who know how to handle the minutiae and the mundane of running a complex ship. We spent that first year reinventing every wheel you could possibly think of: testing protocols, how to manage advisory, bell schedules, how to handle truancy, how to program students, how to manage security, how to handle discipline, how to handle tardies, how to handle parents, how to handle the students who are pregnant and parenting, how to handle 18 year old students who have 2 credits, how to handle the students who just got out of jail, how to handle 30% plus special education population, how to handle angry kids and angry parents, how to handle depressed and hungry and homeless kids, how to handle staff meetings, how to handle professional development, how to handle external and community partnerships, how to handle service learning, as well as the pressures of the Chicago Board of Education and visitors and Principal for a Day.
CPS loses students because we push out kids instead of instituting indispensable programs such as Restorative Justice and wraparound services that these students need to help them build skills.
You want parental involvement? Study the schools that have parent resource centers and successful models of welcoming, supportive culture
for parents, and spend time on making that happen system wide.
The fact is, it’s not an exaggeration that in some Chicago neighborhoods, schools are the main community asset. We have to build on that asset if we are going to begin to address the other challenges facing these neighborhoods and their residents. Instead of “closing” and “opening” schools year in and year out, we need to take a broader, longer term approach to making sure we are making all schools work. Study what works! Make it happen in every school, not piecemeal and only if a school is lucky and has a high functioning administration. Make parents feeling welcome and a part of the school a highly valued metric, especially in high school.
The Commission on School Utilization may be our last chance to get this right. There’s a lot of “transformation” fatigue out here. Let’s not waste this chance.
The author teaches art in the Chicago Public Schools.