School Closings in Chicago

School doors are closing and opening in Chicago, and with them, a window for parental involvement may be boarded up.

Under Mayor Daley’s ambitious Renaissance 2010 plan, failing, crumbling schools serving inner city communities are to be closed and replaced with new schools. 70 schools are to be closed – and replaced with 100 new ones.

Sounds great. So why are some parents upset?

The plan also calls for eliminating some Local School Councils (LSCs), parent dominated groups which oversee individual schools. LSCs are not required in each school, and roughly two thirds of the new schools planned will not utilize LSCs. Watchdog groups are launching a citywide campaign to recruit candidates for LSCs, and the elections will be held in April.

A study last year by Designs for Change, a 28 year old multi racial resource and reform organization which seeks to serve as a catalyst for positive change in urban schools, found that 144 inner city elementary schools were quietly improving, showing steady and consistent increases in test scores from 1990 to 2005. “These good schools can be a major resource for schools that are failing,” said Don Moore of Designs for Change.

This week 4 elementary schools were identified for closure, and the eventual phase-out of Collins High is planned. 8th graders who would have attended Collins are being placed among 8 schools on the West Side. Reaction to the news of the closings has been emotional and tearful. Some have raised questions as to why these four schools are closing, and not others with equally low test scores. Also, there are concerns for student safety as Collins students are placed in other West Side high schools, because of historic rivalries.

Change may be necessary, but it is never easy. Despite the protest, the ultimate outcome may be much better for all. Chicago’s citizens have the right to see that the replacement schools are truly better for students and achieve better results over a reasonable length of time. They also have the obligation to ensure that in addition to no child being left behind, no child is hurt in the transition. There is no substitute for parents being involved in schools, and every step must be taken to continue to offer them an effective voice.