Parents: Smyth not good enough
Issues of poor performance at neighborhood school drive parents’ request for expanded choice
08/25/2010 10:00 PM
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.