Teachers, faculty, community brainstorm how to save Crane High School
From the ground up
12/14/2011 10:00 PM
In a dimly lit but brightly painted basement on the Near West Side, they brooded.
Hunched over round tables in the basement of St. Malachy School at 2252 W. Washington Blvd., the 50-some teachers, union members, politicians and community leaders sat and raptly watched the front of the room last Thursday night.
They were there to save a school, Richard T. Crane Tech. Chicago Public Schools announced earlier this month that they planned to close one grade at a time over the next four years. Moving into the building in Crane’s stead would be Talent Development, a charter high school that’s currently crammed into a much smaller building further west.
Standing next to a large pad of paper at the front of the room, Chicago Teachers Union leader Martin Ritter, who is also a political volunteer for Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), rallied the crowd. As good as the meeting’s turnout was, they needed more people on their side if Crane was to have a fighting chance.
“Who is a person and organization who gives a darn about Crane, who gives a darn about its history?” Ritter said. “Everybody knows somebody, whether they’re an alumni, a friend, they live next door to the building, or if they just have an interest in seeing it stabilize and improve. We’re going to build a coalition.”
Handing out worksheets to the attendees, Ritter asked them to write in the names of anyone they thought would care about Crane — churches, community organizations, service clubs, Freemason lodges.
“If we knock on these people in the community’s door three or four times, they’re going to get the point that they’re going to take away your neighborhood school,” Ritter said. “They’re going to take it away and you’re not going to have it any more. Talent Development, no disrespect to them, but that’s not Crane.”
As they dished out pizza to the tables, one by one, people began to stand up and testify for the school. Among them was Jason Cooper, the high school’s math department chair, decked out in a red baseball jersey with Crane Cougars in script across his chest.
On the day his students found out the school was closing, they got up and supported him, Cooper said.
“One of them stood up and said, ‘Mr. Cooper, I’m not gonna let them take your job,’” he recalled. “That put a smile on my face.”
But several in the room said simple cheerleading wouldn’t cut it. CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard made it clear in an interview with Chicago Journal on the day of the closing’s announcement that while there’s a bit of flexibility in his overall school closing plan, he’s set on shutting down Crane. These are the plans they’re expecting to enact and the schools they’re intending to close.
Ernest Gates, head of the Near West Side Community Development Commission, said that if they really want to save the school, they need to have a concrete plan for turnaround — not just a bunch of people shouting “save our school.”
“We need to figure out, collectively, how we can turn Crane around,” Gates said. “If we’re not making a plan, we’re wasting our time. If they hear that the teachers have a plan, then you can step up and change the conversation.”
One Crane teacher, Jessica Lafrenz, latched onto that and said she’d been to a meeting the night before at Chicago Teachers Union headquarters where she’d heard about a new plan that had worked at other failing schools.
“We need to reframe the conversation; we need to rephrase this conversation. Save our school because we love it just doesn’t cut it,” Lafrenz said. “We need to say, ‘Here’s our restructuring plan, here’s what we’re going to do and here’s the resources we’re going to use.’ … It’s worked at other schools in Chicago, and it can work here.”
The union is planning to hold meetings with its members and the community at St. Malachy every Thursday night going forward, Ritter said. CPS is also holding two community meetings on Crane’s future in the next month, one on Friday, Jan. 6 and another on Friday, Jan. 20. Both are from 6 to 9 p.m. at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren St.
A public hearing on the closings will be held Jan. 24 at CPS school board chambers, 125 S. Clark St., from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
This article has been corrected from the version that first appeared in print and online to reflect that Martin Ritter is a volunteer for Ald. Fioretti, not a staff member.