Chicago Public Schools leaves Smyth off upgrade plans

University Village residents continue seeking better option than failed school

11/24/2010 10:00 PM


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Smyth Elementary School, 1059 W. 13th Street

The Chicago Board of Education last week failed to address a last-minute recommendation by outgoing CEO Ron Huberman, seeking to expand an award winning K-8 magnet school to serve a growing population of kindergarten and early elementary-age children in University Village.

In the board’s Nov. 17 packet was a recommendation that Chicago Public Schools expand the Andrew Jackson Language Academy, 1340 W. Harrison, into a campus south of the Eisenhower Expressway, increasing the number of available magnet school seats in K-2 classrooms. The plan was listed on the agenda for action under Reports from the Chief Executive Officer.

A Chicago Public Schools spokesman said any future plans for the Jackson expansion recommended by Huberman are under review and would return to the board only if a recommendation was written for the board.

“The original item…was a staff recommendation that was pulled from the agenda prior to the meeting,” CPS spokesman Frank Shuftan said in an e-mail.

University Village Association Executive Director Dennis O’Neill said that a CPS representative introduced the wrong plan to the board, and that Ald. Danny Solis (25th) objected to it as one not previously agreed upon with Huberman. Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said that Solis has since made arrangements for the school expansion to return to the board in December.

Solis did not return a call seeking comment.

For more than a year, residents and local leaders have looked to solve a problem for University Village residents and others who believe neighborhood parents should have a better K-8 public school choice than John M. Smyth Elementary, a failed school and the only choice for neighborhood elementary children not accepted into higher-performing magnet schools.

On Aug. 26, Fioretti and Solis sent a letter to Huberman recommending the Jackson expansion with new neighborhood component boundaries and a Regional Gifted Program to be installed at Smyth — an entirely poor and nearly all African-American grade school that continues to see more than 50 percent of the student body fail state standards in reading and math.

Genita Robinson, former CPS employee and aldermanic candidate for the 2nd Ward, said several parents from the Jackson language academy spoke and expressed frustration about the overall process behind the recommendation to expand their school program to allow others.

People on both sides of the issue have touted more than a year of meetings and community input, including several with Huberman or another CPS representative, to create solutions.

Whatever decision is made about serving the needs of University Village should be a “thoughtful” one, Robinson said. Parents spoke of a desire for more transparency in the process, she said.

The original plan forwarded to Huberman from expansion proponents satisfied parents in the short term by giving them classes outside Smyth, and beginning to address educational inequity issues face by students at the lagging school. The Nov. 17 proposal, however, said nothing at all about Smyth.

Fioretti Saturday changed his previous stance, which attached Smyth to the Jackson expansion. Smyth was now a separate issue and the principal and parents needed to be included in the future discussions, he said.

In the months between the aldermanic letter to Huberman and the Nov. 17 board meeting, Smyth Principal Ronald Whitmore has refused Chicago Journal requests to discuss his school and its continued failure. And, several Smyth Local School Council members said they had never heard of Fioretti and Solis’ plan to get additional programs or resources for their school.

“The district continues to support Smyth and Principal Whitmore in the progress they have made in recent years,” Shuftan said.

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