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CPS Board Meeting

Colette Luke/MEDILL

Jitu Brown of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, parents of CPS students, and members of the Parents 4 Teachers speak to the school board members about their concerns.

Parents, community members press CPS board on school closings

by Colette Luke
Oct 24, 2012

Campuzano talking CPS

Colette Luke/MEDILL

Jesus Campuzano talks to CPS school board about his concerns with the recent school closings.


Colette Luke/MEDILL

Jesus Campuzano looks at the list of names of those providing public comment and tries to find his.

Jesus Campuzano, of Southside Together Organizing for Power, had waited in line since 5 a.m. to speak at the Chicago Public Schools board meeting Wednesday. His reason for being there: He wants CPS to stop closing schools. Seven schools have been closed or are being phased out so far this year, with a new list expected by Dec. 1.

“It they are underperforming, CPS should be able to fix these schools,” Campuzano said, as he waited to enter the boardroom.

Campuzano said that Chicago Public Schools is not willing to put money toward schools that are not doing well. Instead, he charged, they want to shut down the schools and put in charter schools.

When he had a chance to address the board, he said. “You say you are going to close down underperforming schools. You need to invest in those schools and see why they are underperforming.

“I hear so many rumors that they are going to be closing schools [on the] South Side and West Side, it’s not even funny,” Campuzano said.

Members of Parents 4 Teachers and the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization were there to say the process of informing the community about schools being closed or turned around was “inadequate” and “caused a greater level of distress.” They asked the board to provide better communication with the community.

“We feel that the parents, community members and teachers can provide you with the most valuable insight into the barriers of student learning and achievement, “ Rhoda Rue Gutierrez of Parents 4 Teachers told the board. “We hope that you are sincere about your desire to create that trust [and that you will] do so by setting up a respectful process.”

They asked the school board to put a two-year moratorium on all school closings. New schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, attending her first meeting, responded by saying she would schedule an opportunity to hear more about this issue.

Camille Mathis, a school council president whose son attends Mollison Elementary School, represented the Kenwood Oakland Organization. She said she felt there was not enough support from CPS for South Side schools.

In January 2009, Mathis said after the meeting, the principal of Mollison Elementary School told her the school would be closing. Mathis said she and the community rallied together and spoke at a school board meeting, asking that the school not be closed down. The board decided a few months later to take the school off the closing list. Mathis said their school budget, however, was cut and teachers were removed. Mollison has about 275 students and has capacity for 500, she said.

Mathis said after the meeting she felt that what she said had no impact on the school board members.

“I think everything we said went in one ear and out the other,” Mathis said. “Their agenda is already set. They know what they are going to do and this is just a formality.”

At the start of the meeting, Byrd-Bennett addressed the packed room of teachers, parents and community organizers.

“Last week I said, and I continue to say, I am a teacher who happens to be the CEO,” Byrd-Bennett said as she addressed the packed room of teachers, parents and community organizers. “There is absolutely nothing, nothing more important than our children and their academic achievement.”

Byrd-Bennett said in order to help children succeed, there must be a rebuilding of “trust and reciprocal respect for teachers” and “transparency and respect for parents and the community.”

Campuzano said he thought the meeting went “all right.” He still hopes that CPS will put more money towards improving schools, which would allow kids to stay in their neighborhoods.