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Brentano 1

Bryan Lowry/MEDILL

Henry Berman (left) and his friend Moses. Moses, 2, is the son of Kate Kindleberger, a Logan Square resident who delivered a petition to CPS to save Brentano Elementary in hopes that will get the chance to attend.

Logan Square community, aldermen rally to save elementary school

by Bryan Lowry
Feb 06, 2013

Brentano 2

Bryan Lowry/MEDILL

Alderman Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, spoke out against CPS' plans to close schools and criticized Mayor Emanuel for preventing a democratic approach to education.

Bryan Lowry/MEDILL

Alderman Waguespack argues there's a need for more democracy in Chicago's education system.

The Logan Square community sent a strong message to Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday after a group of parents delivered a petition with the signatures of over 1,000 Logan Square residents demanding that CPS spare Brentano Elementary from closing.

The signatures came from both parents with students currently at Brentano and the parents of toddlers, who hope to send their children to Brentano in the future. Those signatures were gathered during the past month. The diverse group of parents and children were joined by three aldermen as they delivered their petition to the district’s CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Alderman Scott Waguespack, 32nd, represents Logan Square. He argued that the current utilization crisis is the latest example of how Chicago’s mayoral control over education hampers community input.

“When we were first looking at trying to get the elected school board, which is a relevant issue to what’s happening here - having more parent input, having more leadership across the city getting involved here – the mayor’s office basically said they’ll never allow that to happen,” Waguespack said.

“They want full control of CPS.” Waguespack continued. “They don’t want parents, and they don’t want aldermen meddling in their business. And I think that’s wrong.”

Waguespack was joined by Alderman Robert Fioretti, 2nd, and Alderman John Arena, 45th. Alderman Joe Moreno, 1st, also sent a message of support.

“We’ve been trying to pull together on these issues,” Waguespack said. “We’re trying to ask the tough questions that CPS needs to answer, that the mayor’s office needs to answers. And a lot of those answers have not been forthcoming.”
The mayor’s office did not return a request for comment.

Even though the petition was to save a specific elementary school in Logan Square, the four aldermen from across the city stood united in their support for neighborhood schools and an increased community voice in education.

“Let’s make it really clear. This is a fight for neighborhood schools. This is fight for equality across the city,” Fioretti said. “You know what happens to our middle class? They’re leaving this city. They’re voting with their feet and they’re leaving this city when we don’t have the quality type neighborhood schools that are necessary in the South Loop, in Logan Square, on the West Side, {and} South Side.”

Rose Becerra had three daughters graduate from Brentano. Her son is a seventh-grader who has been at the school since kindergarten. When Becerra’s family moved from Logan Square to Pilsen, she continued to send her son to Brentano. She has since moved back to Logan Square and dreads the possibility that her son might have to go another school for his 8th grade year.

“It would devastate him because he put the investment in climbing the bus when was in 2nd and 3rd grade to go to Brentano from the South Side. He put his time in to graduate from the school he wanted to go to,” she said. “My son belongs to the chemistry club, he belongs to the science club, he’s in the afterschool programs, he’s there on weekends,” she said. “We choose to use our school as a community building.”

CPS responded to the Brentano parents’ demonstration with an emailed statement.

“It's our obligation to provide every child in every neighborhood with a well-rounded, high quality education, but the utilization crisis facing our District is stretching our limited resources much too thin and limits our ability to make investments in every school that support student learning.

"We can no longer wait to make the difficult decisions needed to address this crisis, but CEO Byrd-Bennett has committed CPS to rigorously engage school communities at the front end of this process and get their feedback before taking any action so their voices are heard," the email stated.

Many, including Fioretti, have pointed to the closings of neighborhood schools as an example of how charter schools drain resources from traditional public schools. However, one of the parents leading the fight to save Brentano is actually a charter school teacher.

Kate Kindleberger teaches at Carter G. Woodson Middle School, a charter run by the University of Chicago. She also serves on Brentano’s Local School Council, and hopes to send her 2-year-old son, Moses, there in the future.

“Together we are saying to CPS keep Brentano open and thriving. Invest in our school. Invest in our community. Invest in our city,” Kindleberger said in a prepared statement.

“We found that our neighbors want and demand a strong neighborhood school. And that school is Brentano,” she said of canvassing efforts to obtain signatures for the petition.

Kindleberger is one of several parents of students not yet school age fighting desperately to save Brentano. One reason is that she simply wants to be able to walk her son to school. Another is that she values diversity. Brentano’s student population is 86 percent Hispanic, according to the Illinois State Board of Education’s 2012 data.

“We’re not going to be satisfied until the closing list comes out and we’re not on it. And even then we’re not going to be satisfied until CPS reinvests in Brentano,” Kindleberger said. She would like to see gifted and language immersion programs added to the school, she said.

Kindleberger was disappointed that she did not get to hand the petition to Byrd-Bennett personally. The petitions and pages of signatures were instead left with the CEO’s clerk.

CPS will hold a community meeting for the Fullerton Network, of which Brentano is part, on February 11 at Armitage Baptist Church. Supporters of Brentano will hold a march before attending the 7 p.m. meeting.