Chicago Public Schools: A New Round of School Closings
By Ed Hershey
Thursday, November 30th, Chicago Public Schools announced its intention to close all four neighborhood high schools in the Englewood Neighborhood: Harper, TEAM Englewood, Hope, and Robeson. Englewood is a poor, black, working class neighborhood on the city’s South Side.
As a “sweetener” on the deal, the Board promises to spend $85 million to build a new high school on Robeson’s grounds. But they do not plan to make it a neighborhood school – it will be a selective enrollment magnet, which will take only 35% of its students from the neighborhood. Moreover, the new school will only enroll 9th graders when it opens, while the current schools will close next year. That means the current students will be left out in the cold: they are being told to enroll at neighborhood schools that are two or more miles away. Many of these students attend their neighborhood school now because they have difficulty getting to a school further away. For these students, CPS’s “plan” amounts to denying them any education at all. The students themselves note, with bitterness, that the district is happy to spend $85 million to build a new building, but won’t put that money into the current schools.
The school board says these schools are underenrolled – that is true. Each of these buildings now enrolls 200 or fewer students. And it is also true that population in the neighborhood is dropping. But the Board is responsible! From 2006 to 2018, the total number of high school students in the neighborhood dropped from 3800 to about 3000. But over those same years, 2,500 students from Englewood started attending the seven new charter schools that opened in the neighborhood. Instead of investing in schools that needed the support, CPS opened privately run charter schools to take money and students out of the neighborhood high schools, which were left with the students the charters refused to take.
Harper High school has been repeatedly attacked: it was “reconstituted” in 1999, then “turned-around” in 2008, where all the teaching and support staff were fired. Student enrollment dropped 25% the next year – no surprise there, many students did not feel comfortable around the unfamiliar new adults. Englewood High School was closed in 2007, then re-opened as a new “small” school.
Hope College Prep and TEAM Englewood’s buildings are “co-locations”, that is, the buildings also house a charter school. Those privately run charters will now be able to take over the whole building. The school board is also proposing to allow a new charter school to “co-locate” inside Hirsch High School – a move that will clearly lead in to that public school being shut down as well.
This plan shows CPS – and the Chicago ruling class’s priorities on education. They continue to attack and steal from the students who have the least and need the most. The plan will drive more families from the neighborhood. Harper students staged a sit-in the day after CPS’s announcement. Students and others from the school communities spoke out at the Board meeting the following week.