The Myths of School Closings

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.

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Comments (3)

  1. Cliff Wagner

    Violence on the basketball court. What do you expect when coaches aren’t teachers. They’re security guards, street coaches, wannabe coaches, friends of the administration, educators they are not. Years ago I questioned JW Smith as to why he would not support Jr and Sr Physical Education classes in the HS. Why didn’t he question the PE waiver when we were losing so may coaches, I never received an answer. We need quality educators in the schools to coach our athletes, not part time coaches who never see the athletes during the day. My athletes understood that their education came first, I didn’t win many championships but I had champion student athletes.

  2. Cliff Wagner

    The Board of Education says there are to many unfilled seats in CPS.
    Take a look at some of the buildings that children are housed in. Hancock is in disrepair, it is shameful that students attend an old Catholic school that the Board has dumped millions of dollars into inadequate repairs. How can CPS ever say “Children First” when they have inferior facilities?

  3. Kori Milroy

    “Transformation fatigue.” I like the way you put that. A colleague recently joked that we need another “innovation” like we need our heads sewn to the carpet. Our school system is in a constant state of upheaval – and does anything positive come out of it? How about trying some stability for a change?

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