Fight for Crane begins
CPS wants to close school, but the community is pushing back
12/07/2011 10:00 PM
Over the years, Earnest Gates has put a lot of work into Richard T. Crane Technical Preparatory High School.
As head of the Near West Side Community Development Commission, Gates’ goal is to make the neighborhood a more appealing place to live and for businesses to thrive. To do that, local schools need to thrive, he said.
“What we’ve tried to do was have Crane not be an island in the community, and be a viable institution,” Gates said. “We’ve invested a lot of time, energy and money in Crane, and we want to see that continue. We want it to become a focal point in the community.”
But Chicago Public Schools officials announced on Nov. 30 that they want to close the Near West Side’s Crane High School, 2245 W. Jackson Blvd., by phasing it out bit by bit. It’s a decision that Gates, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and the Chicago Teachers Union say they’re determined to fight.
Crane was one of two high schools that the district announced plans to phase out, eliminating one grade level at a time for each of the next four school years.
Crane has been on CPS’ probation list for the last 10 years; 19 of every 20 Crane students don’t meet state testing standards in their junior year, and more than 50 percent of Crane students don’t graduate, according to data given out by CPS.
Most of Crane’s incoming students will be reassigned to Wells High School, while the remainder will go to Marshall, Manley and Farragut.
As Crane is moved out, a new school is being moved in — Talent Development, a charter high school currently located at 4319 W. Washington Blvd. Talent Development currently serves 200 students, but would expand to 600 next year if it was moved to Crane.
Crane’s building has 74 classrooms but is only anticipated to need 28 next year; Talent Development would use 32.
Gates said he’s not sure what would become of Near West’s programs at the school if Talent Development took over the building.
“In theory, it would be under the leadership of someone else,” he said. “We don’t know how they would feel about the building being used by non-charter personnel.”
Gates said that their efforts at Crane’s campus have slowly been improving the school. Extracurricular programs, like a boxing club, dance classes and a Spring Olympics were helping to improve the school’s image. With that, better students would follow instead of fleeing to charters and magnets, he said.
“The first step is changing the perception,” Gates said. “For the Spring Olympics, we had kids from all over the city. There was a time where if you said the destination was Crane High School, people wouldn’t have allowed their kids to go.”
Fioretti, too, said he thought Crane was moving in the right direction and lamented the possible loss of a local high school.
“We need quality educational options for all our kids on the Near West Side,” Fioretti said. “I’ve got a lot of concerns about the way the schools are being closed and where the kids are going to go.”
In an interview with Chicago Journal’s editorial board last Wednesday afternoon, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso explained the decision to close Crane and move in Talent Development to the extra space.
“The overall culture and climate is something we look at all of these schools, and unfortunately, I think the data shows that there are very low expectations for students at Crane,” Donoso said. “It’s not the kind of culture and climate that you know these students need to graduate. You’re talking about less than half of the students graduating, and graduation is just a minimum bar.”
Brizard said he hadn’t been to the school himself, but that the numbers spoke for themselves.
“You look at the data and you see that for years, the school has not done well, and that many kids are failing or dropping out every single year, and you ask yourself, by looking at the leadership and the team of educators in that building and on the ground, is this school positioned to get better?” Brizard said. “And if you can’t say yes, and you see the same apathy continue year after year, you have to do something.”
Moving Talent Development into the school was an option that worked because their old building was bursting at the seams, while Crane’s building already had a lot of space available.
Another reason Crane was prime for closure, Brizard and Donoso said, is because only 17 percent of eligible students choose to go to the school.
But Joseph McDermott, a representative for the Chicago Teachers Union who previously worked at Crane for 12 years as a history teacher, said it’s because of the way CPS has structured its high schools in the area.
“What you’ve done is you’ve put in five new schools with new resources and new names into that community, and you’ve created artificial competition,” McDermott said. “You’ve got a new charter school in the neighborhood that has ‘Chicago Bulls’ in the name [Chicago Bulls College Prep at 2040 W. Adams St.]. You’re telling me that didn’t draw kids away from Crane? You don’t open schools like that and tell me it doesn’t have an effect on the neighborhood schools who’ll take anyone who walks through their door.”
McDermott said that when he went to visit teachers at the school on the day of the announcement, they were dismayed.
“I walked in there, and when I walked in there I felt like they had been beaten up,” he said. “The first thing I wanted to tell them is that this has nothing to do with what the teachers did, but that’s the message the board has sent, is that you failed. And because you failed, we’re going to fire you.”
Brizard said that not every teacher will be fired. When asked how he saw the statistic that 70 percent of teachers at shuttered or restructured schools find jobs elsewhere in the district, he said it just went to show that sometimes it’s about the scenario more than the teacher.
“We found that very often it’s not the individual, it’s the collective. With the right kind of support and the right kind of team around them, they can excel,” Brizard said. “For me everything is upside for kids, it really is. There may not be an upside for all the adults, but there’s all upside for kids.”
Crane’s phase-out isn’t a done deal yet. CPS is planning a minimum of one to two community meetings over the course of the next two months with each school that’s slated for phase-out, shutdown or turnaround.
Gates and Fioretti both separately said they’re in negotiations right now regarding Crane’s future, but wouldn’t elaborate.
“They’re ongoing discussions … there’s still a lot of negotiation here,” Fioretti said. “I want to see it stay open, but I’m not opposed to seeing a charter go in, too.”
The Chicago Teachers Union is hosting a community meeting of its own Thursday, Dec. 8 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at St. Malachy Church, 2248 W. Washington St. That meeting is being organized by Martin Ritter, a union organizer who also happens to work with Ald. Fioretti.
A formal hearing will be held sometime between Jan. 1 and Feb. 10, and the formal vote by the Chicago Board of Education is slated for Feb. 22.