School expansion passed over by CPS
10/27/2010 10:00 PM
The Chicago Board of Education Wednesday held its regular monthly meeting without reviewing a request for more and better K-8 school choice by University Village residents.
The board meeting was the second chance since two aldermen and a neighborhood association asked Chicago Public School’s CEO Ron Huberman to expand the successful Andrew Jackson Language Academy program on W. Harrison St. into the now closed Thomas Jefferson School on W. Fillmore and provide more access to better education than currently available in the neighborhood.
That formal request followed a year in which parents and local leaders worked to find an alternative school choice for the middle to upper class families living in University Village who want more for their children than the education that Smyth can offer. Their recommendation was sent on August 26 and followed several meetings held to work out solutions to their current single-choice of John M. Smyth Elementary School at 1059 W. 13th St.
That letter to Huberman from Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Daniel Solis (25th) explained the idea to expand Jackson’s successful program came from CPS after at least two meetings with parents and neighborhood leaders. They asked for the issue to be heard by the board in September or October. They also asked for a Regional Gifted Program to be installed at Smyth as a way to change the student demographic and lift the school.
“If and when a proposal is to be brought before the board that will be noted as part of the public posting that occurs before a board meeting,” was the response from CPS spokes person Frank Shuftan said when asked if the board would hear the issue this month.
Most of the effected residents live in the 25th Ward, while the failed Smyth School is in the 2d Ward. CPS estimates that 1,000 K-8 students live in the Smyth School Boundary. About 500 attend Smyth, the rest go to private schools or magnet programs elsewhere in the city. Of those, an estimated 300 children live in Circle Park Apartments, of which about 30 go to Smyth. At 98 percent African-America the school full of poor children fails the diversity test and with parents. Both Aldermen agree, saying Smyth fails to serve the community.
Last year was Smyth’s seventh straight in failing to meet federal education standards. And thought leaders describe Smyth Principal Ronald Whitmore as talented and hard working, after a decade on the job, more than half of Smyth students tested failed to meet state standards in reading and math in 2009 – something CPS touts as a success compared to 2005 when 70 percent failed reading and 81 percent failed math.
Fioretti said this month he met with Whitmore to talk about a “Regional Gifted Program” for Smyth. Whitmore will not speak to the press regarding his school or its continued poor performance, but Smyth LSC president said he’d never heard of the Aldermanic attempts to gain a gifted program for the children.
University Village Association executive director Dennis O’Neil said Huberman made promises regarding school choice and he should keep them. Residents in his neighborhood choose to send their kids to private schools rather than Smyth some have threatened to move to the suburbs and take their middle to high incomes with them rather than send their children to a school they say is sub par.
CPS would neither confirm nor deny that promises were made.
Huberman Monday announced a last-minute plan to speak before the board Wednesday regarding his plans for the Whittier Field House in Pilsen after parents conducted a weeks-long sit in to keep the building from the wrecking ball.
Two weeks ago Fioretti emphatically said the Smyth school issue needed to get before the board. CPS administration needs to get a firm handle on the neighborhood schools, which they don’t understand, he said.
Solis has not returned calls seeking comments on the issue, but sources and supporters say he’s working the issue behind closed doors to get something done.
Fioretti’s education liaison Leslie Recht reiterated that the issue needed to be on the Oct. agenda in order to be a reality in 2011.
Though his team said the issue must go before the board, Fioretti For Chicago spokesperson Chris Foltz Tuesday said Fioretti was working with Solis to get a solution. A solution could be found that does not need board approval and could get done for the 2011 school year without a need to go before the board, Foltz said.
With Solis running for reelection and Fioretti running for mayor, O’Neil said the ability to get the school issue solved for hundreds of residents in both wards will reflect on both Fioretti and Solis’ political abilities.
Fioretti recently described Huberman as “not competent” and said the schools CEO was brought into the higher echelons of CPS for the sole purpose of cutting costs and expenses.
Estimates for the Jackson expansion hover around the $5 million mark. A price that O’Neil saw was small compared to the district’s overall budget. The money would return to the CPS budget through property tax emanating from a healthy neighborhood.
Beyond what the current parents’ want for more choice is a growing concern for the future tenants of Roosevelt Square. O’Neil said the 2,400-unit mixed-income Chicago Housing Authority development overall success is dependent on a better neighborhood school options.