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'Flawed' CPS Data Leads to Uncertainty for Schools, Activists Say

By Casey Cora | December 11, 2012 6:27am
 McClellan Elementary School, 3527 S. Wallace in Bridgeport, is considered underutliized by Chicago Public Schools.
McClellan Elementary School, 3527 S. Wallace in Bridgeport, is considered underutliized by Chicago Public Schools.
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DNAinfo/Casey Cora

BRIDGEPORT — Chicago Public Schools officials say 60 percent of schools in the Bridgeport and Chinatown neighborhoods are underutilized — a stat that's fueling lingering uncertainty as the district considers closing a number of underused facilities.

But education activists are calling the CPS methodology for compiling its data flawed.

“It doesn’t really give a real picture of what’s happening in a building,” said Wendy Katten, director of Raise Your Hand, a citizen education advocacy group. “We aren’t saying there’s not some buildings that have under-enrollment issues. But we believe their numbers are exaggerated.”

As defined by CPS, a student body that is below 80 percent of "Ideal Enrollment” is considered underutilized, while schools with enrollment of more than 120 percent of the ideal number are deemed overcrowded.

In the CPS data for schools in the Bridgeport and Chinatown neighborhoods, six of the area's 10 schools — Air Force High School, Alexander Graham Elementary School, Phillip Armour School, National Teachers Academy, George B. McClellan Elementary School and James Ward Elementary — are considered underutilized.

But in the Raise Your Hand analysis, laid out here by the group's statistician Jeanne Marie Olson, Ward escapes the underutilized designation, while two other schools, Robert Healy Elementary School and Mark Sheridan Math & Science Academy, are bumped into the “overcrowded” category.

A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

Because of a controversial change made to state law last month, CPS won’t release a list of schools targeted for closure until March 31.

For parents, students and faculty, that means a few more months of speculation.

Jennie Biggs, 40, of Bridgeport, has kids enrolled at Sheridan, a magnet school open to students across the city. She thinks healthy enrollment and good test scores will keep Sheridan’s doors open but believes nearby Armour, 950 W. 33rd Place, will be closed.

“Armour and Holden are very close to each other. If [CPS] is going to make underutilization [as a criteria], they’re going to combine them,” she said. “But I don’t think that makes much sense.”