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Paderewski Elementary the 'Black Sheep' of CPS Closings, Principal Says

By Chloe Riley | March 27, 2013 8:54am | Updated on March 27, 2013 9:53am

SOUTH LAWNDALE — Paderewski Elementary Principal Alicia Lewis wants to know why her school is the only one in the entire Pilsen/Little Village network that’s closing.

“Out of 26 schools, we’re the only school that’s majority African-American,” she said. “We don’t have an ax to grind, but we felt like, no pun intended, the black sheep of the network.”

The school was one of three in the Pilsen-Little Village Network — joining Jungman and Pilsen Elementary, both with student bodies that are heavily Hispanic — up for closure in the final round of Chicago Public Schools closings discussions.

Even though the three schools are comparable in both performance and ISAT scores, Paderewski now is the only one facing a shutdown.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), who was working with the school to implement a pre-kindergarten program, said he was shocked at the closing announcement.

The program, if implemented, would have added students to the school, which CPS considered underutilized.

“I was taken aback by the announcement of Paderewski on the list,” Munoz said. “The Board of Ed still hasn’t been able to explain anything to me.”

After speaking with the board, Munoz said officials maintained underutilization as the main reason for the school’s closing. Munoz said he would continue fighting to keep the school open.

During the 2011-2012 school year, Pilsen Elementary had an almost 36 percent performance rating compared with Paderewski’s 45 percent. Paderewski's 2012 ISAT scores in math and reading have risen, compared with both Pilsen and Jungman, which trended down.

Paderewski has 171 students, while Pilsen has 498 and Jungman has 267, according to CPS data.

Stephen Zrike, who heads the Pilsen-Little Village Network for CPS, could not be reached for comment.

Structural costs alone at both Pilsen and Jungman were almost twice those at Paderewski. According to CPS data, updating Jungman and Pilsen would cost $13 million and $15 million respectively.

Paderewski, which just received updated security cameras, lights and a computer lab last year, would cost just under $7 million to fully update.

As of now, Lewis said, there are no further plans for Paderewski, at 2221 S. Lawndale Ave., other than to shut it down.

When Lewis arrived at Paderewski just under a year ago, the school had only nine working computers for its students to use to complete ISAT testing. The school still does not have air conditioning or a library.

More than 98 percent of the students at Paderewski are from low-income households.

“We have some kids who come here, you can tell they’ve been exposed to a lot of things, and just as in most CPS schools, we don’t get the social services to really address those issues, and then it plays itself out in the classroom,” Lewis said.

Darlene Williams, a parent who has four children at Paderewski, said she thinks CPS should give the school a shot at the pre-K program, thereby boosting its student population. 

Williams, a 52-year-old stay-at-home mom who’s been involved at Paderewski for nine years, said she was devastated by the announcement of the school’s closure.

“I just felt the need to stand strong. I didn’t show how much it affected me at that point that day. But I went home, and actually I broke down,” she said.