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West Garfield Park Parents, Religious Leaders Protest School Closures

By Quinn Ford | March 30, 2013 10:08am

WEST GARFIELD PARK — A West Side pastor led concerned community members, parents and children Friday on a march to protest the closing of an elementary school in their neighborhood.

Marconi Elementary School, 230 North Kolmar Avenue, is one of 54 schools Chicago Public Schools has announced it plans to shutter. Students at Marconi will be transferred to Tilton Elementary School, 223 North Keeler Avenue, which is about a half mile away.

On Friday, Rev. Marshall Hatch, of the nearby New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, led more than 30 parents and community members on a march from one school to the other to call attention to the safety challenges that will come with the closure of Marconi.

Marchers passed by vacant buildings and street corners that communtiy members say are not safe for children.

"Can you see what the kids have to walk through?" Hatch asked as the group stood outside Tilton school Friday.

Hatch, who recently joined other pastors this week at City Hall to urge Mayor Rahm Emanuel to change course, said closing schools is not the best way to help the neighborhood's children.

"The bottom line is all of our schools need help, and we're making the case that both of these schools are needed in this neighborhood," Hatch said.

The march comes after Emanuel suggested the closures are all but a done deal.

Both schools are on probation, according to CPS data. Tilton has a level two performance rating, while Marconi has a level three rating, the lowest possible. CPS also stated Marconi has had a 55 percent decrease in enrollment over the past decade. CPS officials have also promised new computer and science labs and air conditioning in every classroom at Tilton once Marconi is closed.

But Marconi's Local School Council President, Danielle Horton, said she will believe it when she sees it.

"My problem is that people will tell you anything with their lips and their mouths, but get it in writing," Horton said.

Horton, like other parents at the march Friday, said new computer labs will not address her biggest concern.

"My whole issue is the safety of our children," she said. "Think about the children."

Horton and others said children who now attend Marconi will have a longer walk to school if they attend Tilton, and that longer walk could require passing by some unfriendly corners.

Reginald Akkeem Berry, founder of the Saving Our Sons ministry organization, said the program that is meant to solve the issue, the Safe Passage program, falls short.

"In theory, that's a good program," Berry said, but he added the program does not allow people from the community to get involved.

Safe Passage, which CPS officials say will now receive increased funding, employs a parent patrol to monitor kids as they walk to and from school. Barry said those monitors must be members of the community who troublemakers will respect.

"You could send a Harvard PhD out on that corner, who never had a [criminal] case [against him], and let him try to tell the guys to keep it moving," Barry said. "What's gonna happen? They're gonna run him off that corner."