School Closure Fight Continues as Parents Deliver Petition to CPS

By Victoria Johnson on February 6, 2013 1:06pm 

CHICAGO — Supporters of Brentano Elementary School in Logan Square delivered a petition to Chicago Public Schools executives Wednesday morning in hopes of taking their school out of consideration for closure.

Parents and future parents of Brentano students canvassed the neighborhood around the school, located at 2723 N. Fairfield Ave., gathering 1,041 signatures in support of the school. They gathered in the lobby of CPS headquarters downtown to talk to media and deliver the signatures.

The school is on academic probation and, according to CPS, is underutilized with half of "ideal" enrollment. But Brentano supporters said those numbers don't tell the whole picture.

"The data gives a different perception and this is really a battle of perception," said Brentano Local School Council member Chris Hewitt. "We want to get people in the door to see what's really going on."

Hewitt said Brentano teachers, parents and volunteers have helped create art and music programs that other schools don't offer.

"It took years of work to get that," he said.

The 35-year-old father of a 1-year-old also points out that more middle class families are moving into the neighborhood, meaning the under enrollment problem may be short lived.

"Logan Square has really changed a lot since the 2010 census, and we really think there are more babies in the neighborhood since 2010," he said. "So we think there is potential for enrollment to boost the school."

Among the 1,041 signatures were 239 who are parents of future Brentano students, organizers noted.

Kate Kindleberger is another LSC member and mother of a 2-year-old son she plans to send to Brentano.

She, too, said the school's Level 3 academic status does not tell the whole story and points to higher-than-average test scores in reading and science, as well as an "organized" rating from the University of Chicago's 5Essentials survey, indicating the school is well-organized for improvement.

"Those are the things that tell me it's on the right track," Kindleberger said.

Last year's ward remap put Brentano Elementary in Ald. Scott Waguepack's (32nd ) ward, so the alderman was on hand to voice his support for the school, noting that aldermen are who parents reach out to in the absence of firm information from CPS.

"We're the one answering the questions for the parents," he said. "We're the ones responsible when the CPS body doesn't answer the questions."

Waguespack said he thought part of the problem was that the CPS board is appointed by the mayor and seemingly act on his behest.

Though he didn't go as far as to endorse a fully elected board, he said a "hybrid" board with some appointed members and some elected members may be a better alternative.

As Brentano supporters, members of the media, and politicians continued to mill around the CPS lobby Wednesday morning, Kindleberger was given the go-ahead to take the petition upstairs to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

She later said she only got as far as a clerk outside Byrd-Bennett's office, but is still hopeful their actions could make a difference.

"We'll only know when the closing list comes out and we're not on it, and hopefully no schools are on it," she said. "But they'll know that Logan Square is united and we want to keep our neighborhood school."

CPS released a statement Wednesday afternoon in response to the demonstration.

“It's our obligation to provide every child in every neighborhood with a well-rounded, high quality education, but the utilization crisis facing our District is stretching our limited resources much too thin and limits our ability to make investments in every school that support student learning," the statement reads. "We can no longer wait to make the difficult decisions needed to address this crisis, but CEO Byrd-Bennett has committed CPS to rigorously engage school communities at the front end of this process and get their feedback before taking any action so their voices are heard."

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