Parents: Smyth not good enough

Issues of poor performance at neighborhood school drive parents’ request for expanded choice

08/25/2010 10:00 PM


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A grumble is rising in certain areas of the University Village among parents with children assigned to the John M. Smyth Elementary School.

As families with school-age children continue to move into the redeveloped South Loop, school space is becoming scarce at nearby magnet schools. And, the space allotted at Smyth school is just not good enough to some who criticize Smyth as a non-racially diverse program that performs at the bottom of the charts and is full of poor kids.

“We are not willing to or in a position to send them to Smyth,” said University Village resident Paul Dravillas.

With one daughter starting kindergarten and another soon behind, Dravillas would rather move to the suburbs than send his girls to Smyth — a school that saw 1 percent of the students tested in 2008 exceed state standards and only 43 percent pass federally mandated progress testing and is composed almost entirely of poor African-American children.

With school’s first day just around the corner and recent word that his child did not win a lottery seat at a magnet school or qualify for gifted program elsewhere in the school system, Dravillas is frustrated.

But rather than move from their growing neighborhood, Dravillas joined other parents and the University Village Association in asking ward leaders and Chicago Public Schools to consider a proposed solution.

“We are asking for an Andrew Jackson expansion at Jefferson or to make Jefferson a neighborhood school,” Dravillas said. “We know it’s necessary for the community in the future.”

The Andrew Jackson Elementary Language Academy, a magnet school on West Harrison Street, is racially and economically balanced and carries a different set of performance numbers that Smyth. In 2008, 31 percent of students tested exceeded state standards and 98 percent passed federal progress testing — more than doubling Smyth’s scores.

A few weeks ago Ald. Danny Solis (25th) sponsored a meeting between parents in the affected neighborhoods and CPS Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman. In a time of budget crisis for all schools, Dravillas felt that he and others were heard by Huberman and CPS.

He said two committees have been formed to face the short-term issue of this year’s children with no option but Smyth and another to address the creation of a strong school for the future.

Neil Parekh is another concerned parent looking for answers. This year he will spend $36,000 to send his twins to kindergarten at a private school rather than Smyth’s pre-K through eighth-grade institution. Parekh said he knows of at least 80 other children facing the same issue.

Parekh is against his family suffering through while CPS fixes systemic problems at Smyth.

“Why should we have to build it up?” Parekh said. “We pay taxes.”

Leslie Recht handles schools issues for Ald. Bob Fioretti (25th), in whose ward Smyth School resides. Two magnet schools and one neighborhood school to serve the old Italian district, she said. Jackson and Galileo are both high-performing magnet schools and have accepted all of the neighborhood kids allotted; 70 percent of the seats go to others through a citywide lottery.

According to Recht, Fioretti is looking at a way to solve the concerns of University Village residents and save the Smyth school along the way. Under consideration is a plan to open the now-closed Jefferson School on Taylor Street as an expanded Jackson magnet program while keeping Smyth as the neighborhood school but with an additional “gifted program,” Recht said.

CPS estimates spending $5 million to reopen Jefferson School.

Neither Solis, nor Whitmore nor CPS returned several calls seeking comment for this story.

Trying to take the racial overtones away from issue, Recht called the problems at Smyth socioeconomic in nature. Noting that Smyth Principal Ronald Whitmore was a “fabulous” leader and educator, Recht said a lot of kids have problems stemming from life in poverty.

“It’s not summer camp,” she said.

Parents in the in the neighborhoods assigned to Smyth hope for their issues and desires to go before the Chicago Board of Education in September or October, but have no confirmation as of yet.

“Once the issue is before the board it moves past a conversation,” Dravillas said.

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By Belinda Moore from not relevant
Posted: 11/22/2012 1:08 PM

I have read all of the comments addressing Smyth School, its neighborhood, children, parents, academics, and principal. Needless to say, all of these factors affect the dynamics of the school. However, you must realize that inequity and inequality exist in our public schools and...all stakeholders have to come together to make effective changes and progress. In order to have an effective schoolwide learning community there has to be dedication and committment.

By emanuel Parent from bjw
Posted: 11/30/2011 8:07 PM

parents should come togther and get more volved in smyth meetings and programs.i think smyth need more programs for the children to get in like socer and vollyball.

By emanuel Parent from bjw
Posted: 11/30/2011 8:06 PM

parents should come togther and get more volved in smyth meetings and programs.i think smyth need more programs for the children to get in like socer and vollyball.

By Peter
Posted: 10/26/2011 11:20 AM

Way to use all caps and punctuation teacher. My fifth grader doesn't type like that.

By concerned Parent from village
Posted: 10/25/2011 7:06 PM


By Philly teacher
Posted: 09/03/2010 12:33 PM

I am not from Chicago, but I am a teacher in Philadelphia who has been teaching in inner city schools for 7 years. Our city shares many of the same issues as Chicago (in fact, we got Paul Vallas after he left you guys!) This neighborhood should learn from what parents in my neighborhood are doing to address the issue of our poor performing neighborhood school.

By Adrienna Lee from Roosevelt Square
Posted: 09/02/2010 5:48 PM

I feel that this statement is incorrect...Who would think such a thing upon student..teachers..faculty...The principal...Dr.Ronald whitmore does nothing but tries to take up and do what is wright for his students..He give advise and for you to be someone who is basically telling him his school is NOTHING ....It basically explains your character and how you explicitly are... I AM A STUDENT AT SMYTH AND YOU GREG ARE WRONG.!

Posted: 09/02/2010 8:24 AM

This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read. Do you not think there are children who currently go to Smyth who need school improvement? Who want to learn and whose parents want a better life for them, but who are adversely affected by the poverty in which they live? The message that clearly comes across in this article is that wealthier children deserve a better *public* education than their less affluent peers. These are children we are talking about.

By in the know from south loop
Posted: 09/01/2010 7:29 PM

Principal Whitmore has served Smyth long enough with extra programs and funding and low enrollment to not have made more progress. Walk in sometime--it NEEDS a culture of clam first--for years! His new area boss has made no difference either there. It is time to turnaround this school with new leadership.

By Jer'Mia Harris from Oak Park
Posted: 08/31/2010 7:53 AM

I was a student of John.M Smyth every since I could remember, and I think that everyone in this school today would agree that before Dr. Ronald Whitmore came to this school it out of control. So, for a person who won't even tell their name put this on his behalf ,boy, you're so wrong. To me Dr. Whitmore is the best thing that ever happen to this school. p.s. Don't matter how you try to change the kids in the neighborhood , the nieghborhood will always be the same.

By J from UV
Posted: 08/30/2010 4:42 PM

The bottom line is this: is it fair to ask parents to send their children to a school that performs terribly in the name of lifting that school up? The answer is no. There isn't a single person in the neighborhood that wouldn't like to see Smyth turned into a really good school but the fact is right now it is a really bad school and parents aren't going to ruin their children's education just on the hope that CPS gets its act together.

By Kelly from My Village
Posted: 08/29/2010 1:41 PM

I have a child that attends Smyth school and I have to admit it isn't the best. But with no where to go, I send him there and prepare him to work 2-3 grade levels ahead. I don't really trust any school, which is why I am a HUGE advocate for homeschooling. I hope the principal and teachers there are doing the best they can. But the issues of the school super exceed the school as its the poverty and the socioeconomic conditions that plegue these childrens' lives.

By UV West from West Loop/UV
Posted: 08/28/2010 12:55 PM

Although the writer of this article used some poor choices of words to describe the kids at Smyth, as a resident of the area who supports this new school I can assure that its not an issue of racism. We chose to raise our families in an area of diversity and Smyth does not represent that in any way, in addition to the poor overall performance. CPS's outdated boundaries dictate Smyth as our "neighborhood" school but its not in our neighborhood. That is the core issue.

By Paul Matylonek from University Village
Posted: 08/28/2010 7:53 AM

Many students coming from homes bearing socioeconomic hardships do not come to school with a frame of mind to learn. They come bitter, maladjusted and even a bit rebellious toward anyone who has a better life--even teachers. Thus, classrooms appear to be "summer camps" or day care centers rather than learning centers. Smyth needs to work with the new community that does not fit this description, and develop a program that parents can allow, so that possible future integration can occur.

By j dilla from chatham
Posted: 08/28/2010 7:31 AM

Schools have closed because of low enrollment, not because of standards! When communities change, those who are new to the communities analyze the present day amenities. One of those amenities are the public schools. Let's be honest, middle - class families want their children to sit next to students who have middle - class values. The Smyth and the Charter School, UIC Prep, do not represent that population, but Andrew Jackson and Gailieo do. Jefferson is located in the right area!

By West Loop from WEST LOOP
Posted: 08/27/2010 11:02 PM

The proposed model for the Andrew Jackson expansion at Jefferson is a magnet school so all families would have the right to enter the lottery for admittance including those that currently attend Smyth. This is a positive development for the community and everyone should unite to make this become a reality. Call your alderman's office and tell them that you support this initiative. We can not solve the issues of the past. We can only work for better schools for our children for the future.

By cps parent from 2nd ward
Posted: 08/27/2010 8:48 PM

I am NOT a displaced teacher. I just know what I am talking about in this case. Smyth school has flat lined and none of the parents have bought into the IB program. I have talked to parents at Smyth and so many want out but do not have an option. I am a stake holder and parent in Chicago and I want to see the schools do well . It is also unfortunate that so many schools have closed in the area such as Medill, Gladstone, Jefferson and Riis. There are simply not enough schools in the area.

By Rich from West Loop
Posted: 08/27/2010 3:01 PM

The changing demographics of an area make for some tough issues. Without assigning blame, high-poverty areas do not tend to permit the existence of good public school with high achievement, safety, and involved parents. So much of education happens in the home, and for too many children in a high-poverty area things at home are awful. When gentrification occurs, the public schools often improve, and CPS needs to find a way to have that benefit everyone in the neighborhood.

By MLR from East Garfield Park
Posted: 08/27/2010 10:42 AM

@ David--You hit the most valid points. Why weren\'t any Smyth parents interviewed? @ Parent from 2nd Ward, you sound biased... almost like a displaced teacher. Let\'s face the facts, 10 years ago, most of the schools in the area were troubled. The \"condo\" parents in the area need to realize that intergration is the key to change. The community needs to unite, and not divide themselves.

By lindy
Posted: 08/27/2010 10:40 AM

What kind of remark is "It's not summer camp." ... socio economic problems affects all aspects of life. What bugs me is that this problem has been around for years but only around election time do our elected officials talk about doing anything about it.

By j dilla from chatham
Posted: 08/26/2010 3:13 PM

Simple socio - economics... with a little racism on top. This is a tough sell, because these families did not move to 14th and Halsted thinking the 'Village' will still be there! The recession put a stop on complete 'urban gentrification.'

By CPS parent from 2nd ward!
Posted: 08/26/2010 10:46 AM

I have heard terrible things about the leadership of Ronald Whitmore. He does not support his teachers. Where is this IB program they are supposed to have? I do not think the kids are getting a " world perspective" at Smyth. I think the school needs new progressive leadership which is not coming from Ronald Whitmore! Please Leslie he is not good for the school! I was thrilled 5 or so years back to hear that an IB program was going in at Smyth. From what I can see now it is non existent.

By David Askew from Near West
Posted: 08/26/2010 9:39 AM

This is an incredible story and sad on so many levels. Once again, those with political and economic might get what so many less-privileged miss out on for generations. Greg, did you have an opportunity to interview any Smyth parents? Sad on so many levels but most disappointing is the continued segregation of Chicago.

By Paul from University Village
Posted: 08/26/2010 8:01 AM

I feel for the parents here in University Village that must bear the brunt of change in this area. The issues involved at Smyth, in fact, is socio-economic in nature. However, Smyth cannot change its demographic without this fresh perspective coming in to change it. All the kids in all socio-economic levels would benefit with parents who watch this progress.