Parents, Teachers: CPS Must Address Overcrowding At Northwest Side Schools

By Heather Cherone on February 24, 2013 8:14am 

DUNNING — Parents, teachers and students packed an auditorium Saturday morning at Wright City College to plead with Chicago Public School officials to ease overcrowding at schools throughout the Northwest Side.

While CPS officials are weighing plans to close 129 schools that the district contends are underutilized and underperforming, no schools in the O'Hare Network, which stretches from the Old Irving Park neighborhood through Jefferson Park, Portage Park, Sauganash, Wildwood and Dunning to the city's northwest border, are at risk of closing.

However, a half-dozen CPS officials, including Anna Alvarado, the chief of elementary schools in the O'Hare Network, heard repeated, impassioned pleas from parents and teachers to do something to ease the space crunch that has forced special education students to hold class on an auditorium stage and forced other students to eat lunch in hallways.

"CPS should be so proud of these schools, but our children sit in broom closets, in corridors," said Aine O'Brien, the chairwoman of the Local School Council at Prussing Elementary School in Jefferson Park. "It's disgraceful."

Of the 41 elementary schools in the O'Hare Network, CPS has classified 20 schools as overcrowded. Of its 10 high schools, four are overcrowded.

However, Illinois Raise Your Hand, a parent-run group, has criticized the district, saying its calculations underestimate overcrowding.

"Our students are learning on our stage, in our hallways, in every nook and cranny of our school," said Wildwood Elementary School Principal Mary Beth Cunat, as parents and supporters waved blue Ws adorned with stickers to show their support.

Cunat pleaded with the officials to begin drawing up plans for an addition to the school, so it can be built as soon as money is identified.

Seventy-two percent of the elementary schools in the O'Hare Network are Level 1, the top tier for academic success, as compared with 28 percent of schools citywide.

Other speakers urged the district to simply begin building new schools as soon as possible to cope with the baby boom of growth from parents moving to the Northwest Side to purchase homes close to high-performing schools.

Erika Wozniak said her fifth grade class at Oriole Park Elementary School has 35 students. The district's utilization calculations are based on 30 students per class.

"That is asking too much of these students," Wozniak said to applause. "That is asking too much of these teachers. That is asking too much of these parents."

The lack of facilities and teachers mean special education students are treated as "second-class citizens" who have to attend class in a hallway.

Dever Elementary School Principal Rita Ortiz said she was concerned about the impact overcrowding was having on her school's culture.

"Everyone needs their personal space," Ortiz said. "We have none."

That makes it impossible to create a calm culture for learning. Ortiz said.

"They are literally on top of each other," Ortiz said. 

Representatives from other schools said their students have nowhere to play during recess, because mobile classrooms sit where playgrouds once stood.

Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th), Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st) and Ald. John Arena (45th) attended the forum.

O'Connor said she was frustrated that parents at schools in her ward, which includes parts of Sauganash and Edgebrook, have to fundraise to buy basic equipment for their children's schools.

"We want nothing more than is fair," O'Connor said.

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