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North Side Parents Blast School Closings

By Adeshina Emmanuel | March 22, 2013 10:11am

UPTOWN — Parents in Uptown, Andersonville and Ravenswood found out Thursday what efforts to cut the Chicago Public Schools' budget could mean for their children.

Fifty-four schools would close and 11 would be merged with other schools under a citywide proposal released by the school system.

In Andersonville, Lyman Trumbull Elementary School is on the chopping block. The school would be closed, and its student body of about 400 kids would be divided between McPherson, McCutcheon and Chappell elementary schools.

"It's very heartbreaking and devastating. We tried so hard in every single way to get off the [closure] list. And to know we are still on it is infuriating," said Trumbull parent Sarah Lopez, 36, whose son is in pre-school.

This is his "introduction," to CPS, Lopez added, saying that "it's been quite a year," between the teachers strike in September and the looming school closings.

Local School Council member Ali Burke, who has children at the school, was “shocked” and “disgusted,” and said she “can’t believe,” Trumbull might close.

“We have 37 percent special education students at our school, and they’ve even added kids in the last week,” she said. “They sent us three more special education students!”

Burke said the CPS space-utilization formula to determine if schools are eligible for closure incorrectly placed Trumbull on the list without accounting for its special education program, which requires smaller class sizes than the 30-student average used in CPS calculations.

Graeme Stewart Elementary School in Uptown is closing and sending its children, about 260, to Joseph Brennemann Elementary School, another "underutilized" Uptown school that is being spared closing.

Quanzina Haynes, a 33-year-old mother of two Stewart children, said Stewart Principal Dawn Orlando told her Thursday afternoon that the school was closing.

"She said the school is going to close, and there will be 30 or 31 kids in every class in all the CPS schools,” said Haynes, who believes putting that many kids in every classroom will hurt instruction.

Haynes expressed frustration with CPS and complained that she might consider taking her children out of the school system and putting them in a Catholic school.

Joseph Stockton Elementary School Principal Jill Besenjak reportedly spent most of Thursday in meetings notifying teachers that their school will merge with Mary E. Courtenay Elementary School in Ravenswood.

Courtenay’s building will close and its students will be sent to Stockton’s building, with Courtenay officials and teachers in charge. The Stockton building, which recently underwent more than $12 million in improvements, will stay open and the children there can remain — but the same cannot be said for the current employees at the school.

Meg Collins, a retired CPS teacher whose has 7-year-old grandson, Gabe Pulliam, attends Stockton was “absolutely delighted,” to hear that the Stockton building would not close and that Gabe would not have to leave a school where she said he has “done beautiful.”

But she said she was “totally devastated to hear we are losing the teachers.”

“Teachers are the backbone of this school. So my feelings are very, very mixed,” she added.

Gabe agreed, sheepish but sure of his words.

“I like that it’s not closing but I don’t like that different teachers are coming,” he said.

Nellie Moreno, 35, is a Stockton parent and a former student who said, “The majority of the teachers here used to be my teachers.”

“I’m upset at the whole situation,” said Moreno, who has two children at the school. “All the teachers here will have to reapply, and that’s only if there’s positions available for them.”

One veteran teacher at the school said officials told her teachers at Stockton will be hired according to who has the most seniority and based on teacher ratings, with "superior" and "excellent" teachers preferred.

Feelings about the merger were also mixed at Courtenay in Ravenswood. Courtenay is a small school in good academic standing that is pressed for space.

Stockton, with about 500 students, is on academic probation, with lower ratings than Courtenay, which has about 300 students. Special education students make up about 30 percent of the enrollment at each school.

Some Courtenay parents are excited about moving into a bigger building. Others have concerns about uprooting the small, close-knit community and sending their kids to Uptown, while others had questions about who would lead the new school.

Courtenay’s principal retired in 2012. And teachers and local school countil members at Stockton said Principal Jill Besenjak notified her staff earlier this year that she would be retiring in 2013.

Besenjak could not be reached for comment, but had indicated in previous interviews that she is considering stepping down at the end of the school year.

DNAinfo Chicago reporter Patty Wetli contributed to this report.