EAST GARFIELD PARK — Hundreds of parents, teachers and activists filled a church gymnasium Tuesday night, making impassioned pleas to keep their children's schools open.
The meeting was the eighth "Community Engagement" meeting organized by Chicago Public Schools leadership last week to gather feedback from community members about possible school closures and consolidations, and the first of two meetings for schools in the Garfield-Humboldt Network.
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said no high schools or schools ranked in the top level of performance would close, leaving parents and teachers at Level 2 and Level 3 performance schools no less frustrated about looming closures.
"They're looking at numbers, and numbers don't equate to what really matters," said Amanda Dedecker, who teaches third grade at Cameron Elementary School in Humboldt Park. "What's the real criteria?"
Cameron Elementary School is operating in the "efficient" category, according to CPS, but at 80 percent sits right on the cusp of being considered underutilized. But, as a Level 2 school, it could still face the ax. Many people showed up Tuesday night to protest its possible closure.
"We don't have one office or one classroom that is empty right now," said Cameron's Local School Council president and parent Laura Coss.
Some of the most passionate speeches came from the aldermen present, including Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who called for a halt to charter schools expansions.
"No more charter schools till we get this resolved," he exclaimed, to cheers from the crowd.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said schools in poorer neighborhoods are at a disadvantage with CPS.
"We want the same thing in Garfield Park that they have in Lincoln Park," he said. "We want the same thing in Humboldt Park that they have in Rogers Park. We need resources for our kids."
After about an hour, smaller groups of people began leaving the gymnasium for "break-out sessions" taking place in smaller rooms in the church's basement. There, CPS representatives showed a presentation with data on utilization levels, while parents continued to talk about why their particular school should not close.
According to a press release from CPS about the meetings, feedback gathered in the first round of meetings will be used to lead "more school-specific discussion[s]" during the second round of meetings beginning Feb. 13.
“It is crucial that our school communities are active participants in this process and that they receive the respect they deserve by being involved on the front end of this process,” Byrd-Bennett said in a statement.
“I urge all members of our school communities to attend both meetings in their area so that their input and feedback can inform my team as we continue this important work.”