Crane teachers, activists unveil turnaround plan

With clock ticking on phase-out vote, no indication CPS is listening

01/25/2012 10:00 PM

By BEN MEYERSON
Editor

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File 2010/Staff Crane Tech High School, 2245 W. Jackson Blvd.

A coalition of Crane teachers, students, parents and Near West Side community activists unveiled a plan Friday night to turn around the 109-year-old high school at 2245 W. Jackson Blvd., focusing on adding programming and services to the school.

The group talked to Chicago Public Schools officials in advance of the second public hearing and was granted time in the middle of CPS’ official public hearing at Malcolm X. Hundreds of people packed the school’s auditorium to weigh in on the school’s closing, including pro-closing protestors bussed in from other neighborhoods and allegedly paid.

After an hour of testimony in support of keeping the school open from neighbors, teachers and students (including the basketball team), the Crane coalition took the stage with a rap music video created by Crane students in an After School Matters program in 2010.

Then they showed off their plan. To improve Crane, they said, programs need to be added to make it more appealing. Add an International Baccalaureate program, add trade-focused classes like cosmetology and video game programming, and reach out more to Crane’s feeder schools.

In addition, since 26 percent of Crane’s students have special needs, and 87 percent of Crane students are from low-income households, more outreach programs are needed, they said. Solutions, they said, should include mentoring, tutoring and social services.

With a longer school day as well, they hope to spend more time focusing on reading and writing, tiering students based on individual needs.

The plan, they said, should be given two years to take hold.

Earnest Gates, executive director of the Near West Side Community Development Commission and one of the Crane coalition’s leaders, said after the meeting that he hopes the plan gets a chance to take hold.

“Crane has to commit to the plan, and if they haven’t done it in two or three years, then all bets are off,” he said.

When asked why it took the threat of closure from CPS to come up with a plan to turn around the school after 10 years on the district’s probation list, Gates said that it sometimes takes the threat of extinction to force change.

“If you’re a tenured teacher, there’s not always a reason to do something if you’re comfortable,” Gates said. “You’ve got to have a group of people willing to act to make changes.”

But soon after the coalition made their presentation, a protestor who had been bussed in to support the school’s closing got the best of a group of Crane students. Riling them up by telling them they knew their school was failing and that they should want better, he shouted “education by any means necessary!”

That was too much for a few kids, who got up and rushed at the man. A shoving match ensued and half of the auditorium was cleared out by security guards and police.

After the fight, the Crane coalition looked dejected; clearly, the actions shed a bad light on their school.

“It ruins the evening,” said Chicago Teachers Union organizer Martin Ritter. “They’re teenage boys. They have pride, and when you point in their face and tell them they’re failing, they’re going to respond.”

It’s still unclear just what, if any, impact any of this will have on the school staying open. When Jean-Claude Brizard first announced Crane’s closing, he sounded resolved that the school should be shut down. However, at both of the Malcolm X hearings, local elected politicians from aldermen to state senators to U.S. Rep. Danny Davis spoke out in favor of keeping the school open.

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