KENWOOD — Parents and teachers from Hyde Park schools are struggling to understand why Chicago Public Schools chose Canter Middle School to close and trying to find, if any, public officials would support keeping the school open.
About 25 teachers and parents from Canter, Ray, Shoesmith and Bret Harte elementary schools picked apart the gossip and rumors about CPS’ plans to move Canter students to Bret Harte and Ray at a Wednesday night meeting of the Hyde Park Community Area Residents Empowering Schools.
“CPS really has not thought through this whole process,” said Vicky Long, a member of the group who has been reaching out to elected officials.
Long said she hoped a meeting with Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) convinced the Hyde Park rep to consider state action.
“We basically wanted her to support a moratorium on school closings,” Long said. “I think she was surprised about some of the information we brought to her.”
After meeting with eight members of the group, Currie released a statement last week questioning CPS’ rationale, but has not yet supported a moratorium on school closings.
“[Students] left their home school for a year, they’ve had one year at Canter, most will find themselves in yet a third school before they embark upon a fourth school, the high school they will enter after the next academic year,” Currie said. “This isn’t good for continuity, and I can’t believe that this much disruption will provide these youngsters with the best education our public schools have to offer.
“I have urged the Chicago Board of Education to keep Canter open at least for the next academic year — and to reconsider the decision to close Canter at all,” she said.
The group is also reaching out to local aldermen before making its case to keep Canter, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., open at the first community meeting at 5 p.m. Monday at Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) has publicly supported a moratorium on school closings, but has not met with the group yet or made specific comments about Canter, which is in the 4th Ward.
Ald. Will Burns (4th) has not yet taken a position on Canter and was unavailable for comment on Thursday. His office referred a reporter to a March 22 written statement, in which Burns said he actively negotiated on behalf of schools in Bronzeville. The release, though, makes several inaccurate statements about CPS’ plans for Canter, but Burns’ office declined to clarify the alderman’s position.
On Monday, Burns joined a group of 10 aldermen in encouraging the Board of Education to carefully weigh the arguments for each closing and to listen to the community.
Patrick Papczun, a math teacher at Canter, met with Burns and said he thought the alderman was beginning now to weigh the arguments for and against closing Canter.
“I got the impression that he hasn’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about Canter, and we’re just a convenient school to close,” Papczun said, adding that he was encouraged that Burns was receptive to hearing from a teacher at Canter. “I don’t think the meeting was productive because he hasn’t given Canter much thought at all.”
The group continued to struggle with how best to make its case for Canter at the community meetings.
Many in the group were worried that the community meetings would be used by CPS officials as a chance to get a preview of residents’ arguments and prepare a rebuttal before the final hearing with the Board of Education.
“They’ll come up with that wacky data they come up with,” said Joy Clendenning, a member of the group with twin daughters at Ray.
The public hearing for Canter will be from 5:30-7 p.m. April 17 at the CPS Central Office, 125 S. Clark St.