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CPS School Closings: Crowded Courtenay a Surprise Target

By Patty Wetli | March 21, 2013 7:12pm

RAVENSWOOD — In the months leading up to Chicago Public Schools' closing list announcement, Courtenay Elementary Language Arts Center wasn't on the public radar: the school isn't "underutilized" — in fact it's pressed for space — and it's in good standing academically.

Yet in the packets sent home with students Thursday afternoon, parents received confirmation that Courtenay is indeed closing and relocating to and merging with Stockton Elementary in Uptown, with Courtenay's administration reportedly "in charge" of the new school.

Reaction from Courtenay was mixed.

"The building part is kind of exciting. We don't have a huge campus here," said Celeste Ward, of Albany Park and parent of a second-grader.

Courtenay's gym does double duty as the school's lunch room and beyond the school's playground, there's little space for sports or play.

But for others, bigger doesn't necessarily translate into better.

Courtenay, a lottery school that requires an application and draws its students from across the city, boasts a small class size and tight-knit community.

"I made lots of friends. I know everybody," said eighth-grader Eva Martinez.

The school is ranked Level 2 (good standing) according to CPS' performance standards and was honored by the district as a Rising Star and a School of Distinction. Stockon, by comparison, is ranked Level 3 (low academic standing) and is on probation, with 200 more students than Courtenay.

Though CPS had stated that "schools with a utilization rate of at least 70 percent in 2012-13" and/or "schools that are 'on the rise'" were exempt from closing, the district has worked around those qualifications by labeling Courtenay the "welcoming" school, despite the fact that Courtenay is being relocated to Stockton.

As late as summer 2012, CPS was still investing in Courtenay, building a new playground for the school and freshening up the building's paint.

"It's Bizarro-land," said Christine Clark, a parent of a Courtney kindergartner.

Another Courtenay parent, who asked not to be identified by name, said: "Basically they're taking a perfectly good lottery school ... a small, beautiful little community, and we're basically going to be Uptown's neighborhood school."

The parent, who lives in Andersonville, noted that "we applied to 20 different magnet and magnet cluster" schools prior to enrolling her child in kindergarten at Courtenay last fall, after being accepted off the school's waiting list.

"Now we have to start all over again."

Clark questioned how Courtenay's administration could be handed the reins at the merged school when Principal JoAnn Percel has been serving as a part-time consultant during the current school year, following her retirement from Courtenay in 2012.

"That was the first clue" all was not right at Courtenay, Clark said.

"Who is going to take over?"

Clark, who lives in Rogers Park, is now weighing her options, which in all likelihood won't include the newly-merged Courtenay.

"I'm not going to drive [my child] four-and-a-half miles to an experiment. We don't want to move to the suburbs, we're trying to stay in the city. But CPS doesn't make it easy," she said.