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Rahm Emanuel, 'Where Are Ya?' Alderman Asks at School Closure Meeting

By Victoria Johnson | February 28, 2013 9:39am

EAST GARFIELD PARK — The list got shorter and the parents got louder.

At least that's how it seemed at the second community engagement meeting for the Chicago Public Schools' Garfield-Humboldt Network.

Though the list of schools being considered for closure was whittled from 33 to 14, the gymnasium of Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, 2622 W. Jackson Blvd., once again overflowed with parents, teachers, students and activists.

Clearly, the increased threat of closure brought out more supporters from each school, and swaths of people in their respective school colors made the crowd of hundreds look like a patchwork quilt.

Across the city, 129 schools are being considered for closure because CPS considers them to be underutilized.

Before the proceedings even got started, crowd chants of "Save our schools" and "Whose schools? Our schools" drowned out CPS officials making introductory remarks.

But soon enough the meeting was off and running, as supporters from one school after another made speeches about why their particular schools should remain open.

As at the first meeting, some of the most fiery speeches came from the alderman present, and much was made about concerns of safety for children walking to schools that are farther from home.

"All of these kids' parents feel safe when their kids are at these schools," said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th). "That's one thing they don't have to worry about. They don't have to worry about their baby being shot when they're at these schools."

Janice Norfleet, a parent and Local School Council President from Ryerson Elementary — which serves parts of West Humboldt Park and Garfield Park — also spoke of the dangers of longer walks to schools, while three other Ryerson supporters held up maps illustrating what those walks could mean for some children, including crossing into several different gang territories.

"They will be sent into a battlefield," she said, pausing and adding, "a war zone."

Back with the group of Ryerson supporters after speaking, Norfleet echoed many others parents' concerns — that CPS wasn't considering factors unique to her school.

"We were a Level 1 school, but we came a Level 2 because we were in transition with a new principal," she said. "I don't think we should be on the list."

CPS records show that Ryerson did have the top CPS performance rating in the 2011-2012 school year and was bumped down to Level 2 this year. It had the Level 2 rating in 2010-2011.

Though none of the schools in question fell in his ward, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said he just wanted to show his support, and noted the absence of a certain someone at the community engagement meetings.

"The one person who should be here tonight is Rahm Emanuel. He should be at every one of these meetings listening to people," he said. "That's all I've got to say is 'Where are ya?'"

CPS has until March 31 to decide which schools will be closed or consolidated.

The Garfield-Humboldt Network schools still being considered for closure are: Beidler, Bethune, Calhoun, Delano, Ericson, Garfield Park, Goldblatt, Marconi, Melody, Piccolo, Ryerson, Tilton, Ward and Webster.