“When I first came to Canter I was a lost soul,” Regan Allen, a recent Canter graduate, told CPS officials. “Canter turned my educational career around. My teachers started to believe in me, I started to do my homework and show up to class.”
Allen was one of more than 60 Canter boosters to urge CPS to remove the 4959 S. Blackstone Ave. school from its list of schools up for closure.
Allen and the other speakers, each allotted two minutes to plead their case, were backed by more than 200 teachers, students, alumni and community members also against closing Hyde Park’s only middle school.
“This is merely a forum to make people come to beg for their schools,” said Beth Herring, a Local School Council member at Bret Harte Elementary, where some students would be sent if Canter closes. “These meetings have been dehumanizing for so many people involved.”
The panel of CPS officials sat quietly through the two-hour meeting, angering many in the crowd who said the process was supposed to be a dialog. John Barker, chief accountability officer for CPS; Denise Little, chief officer of networks; and John Price, chief of schools for the Burnham Park Elementary Network; said they would report residents’ concerns, but declined to respond directly to nearly all questions.
“This entire situation is surreal, we should be the ones listening to you beg, not the other way around,” said Lina Fritz, a Local School Council member at Shoesmith Elementary School.
Shoesmith students now attend upper grades at Canter, and CPS has not identified where those students will attend seventh and eighth grade. Ray and Bret Harte elementary schools would add seventh and eighth grades to accommodate students who otherwise would have attended Canter.
The three CPS officials appeared agitated after two hours of comments from the community, including Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th).
“I was elected to represent to the people of the 5th Ward, which includes the parents of Ray and Bret Harte,” Hairston said, adding that she was never consulted on closing Canter, which is in the 4th Ward. “I matter, my people matter and I will not allow you to disrespect us.”
Hairston said she met with Price as recently as Thursday and was never told by CPS that additional grades would be added to the two 5th Ward elementary schools or that CPS planned to remove the principal at Ray on Friday.
Teachers at Canter said they felt disrespected by the decision to close Canter, and said the atmosphere inside the school since the announcement has been demeaning.
“Today people came out from CPS to watch us for three days to make sure we don’t steal and to make sure we still teach,” said Patrick Papczun, a math teacher at Canter. “Did anyone come out before this? No, no one came out to the school before this.”
The most generous comments came from community members urging CPS to phase out the school over time if closure could not be avoided.
After two hours, the public was hustled out of the Kenwood Academy gymnasium before the Ross Elementary School meeting began. Outside, several Canter parents caught David Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education. They urged him to spare Canter and attend the second meeting on Canter at 5 p.m. Friday.
Vitale said he would try to make it.
Though CPS officials declined to comment at the hearing, a spokesman released a statement shortly after the meeting concluded.
“We know this isn’t easy for many members of our school communities, but this work will provide children in underutilized, under-resourced schools the investments that parents and teachers agree students need to be successful, including a library, AC in every classroom, engineering, media, science and computer labs, and school safety plans to create the safe, learning environment that they deserve,” CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said.