LINCOLN SQUARE — A Chicago Board of Education member got an earful Monday night after he attended a community meeting over the planned closure of two North Side schools.
Activists have complained across the city that board members have not attended neighborhood meetings about the 54 schools slated for closure or consolidation by the Chicago Public Schools.
But board member Carlos Azcoitia turned up Amundsen High School in Ravenswood, which hosted back-to-back community meetings for Graeme Stewart and Joseph Stockton elementary schools. CPS plans to close the two "underutilized" schools as part of a district-wide attempt to save money and improve education.
Azcoitia, a former CPS principal who is now a professor of education at National Lewis University, said he was "gathering information" to use when he and other board members vote on the school plan in May.
"I am here, listening," he told DNAinfo Chicago in response to the widely-held belief that CPS has already decided to close the targeted schools.
"I don't know who they are talking about but I came here voluntarily to listen to their voices," said Azcoitia.
Only about 15 people attended the first meeting, which focused on a plan to close Stewart, 4525 N. Kenmore Ave., and send its children to Brennemann Elementary, 4251 N. Clarendon Ave.
Some worried about clashes when the student populations are blended: "I can tell you from personal experience, from student's mouths to my ears, that they are afraid to go," said Stewart music teacher Reggie Spears.
Others were concerned about larger class sizes, though Brennemann principal Sarah Abedelal promised her school has the capacity to service "an additional 300-plus students."
"Most teachers hold master's degrees, and we're absolutely ready to have this be a hugely successful welcoming school," she said, to little applause.
The crowd quadrupled for the hearing on a merger that will have Courtenay Elementary, 1726 W. Berteau Ave., moving to Stockton's building at 4420 N. Beacon St. and becoming Uptown's neighborhood school.
A few parents spoke positively about the merger, but objectors were particularly aggressive toward officials, deriding the unelected school board and accusing the city of trying to "privatize Chicago."
Hissing and jokes were made at the expense of district officials, including CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley and Ravenswood-Ridge district chief Craig Benes.
"Our students are not going to be sold out for an iPad, or for air conditioning" Stockton teacher Claudia Pesenti said, referring to the perks students at welcoming schools have been promised by CPS. "This is not a good idea. And you are hurting people. Real people."
Miriam Socoloff, a retired CPS teacher, said, CPS has not listened to "20,000 distraught parents, teachers, and most pointedly, children, crying for their schools to stay open."
Arguing that the school closings won't save the district money, she said, "What you are doing is wrong. The double speak is appalling. 'Welcoming schools.' 'World class city.'"
Socoloff said that students will "carry the iPad, in their backpacks, through the unsafe neighborhoods, to homes where they don't have Wi-Fi. I guess they could go to the public library, except the mayor already cut the hours for the public libraries."
Board member Azcoitia allowed that "some disruption is going to occur when you close a school."
"But we're going to do it with educational enhancements, better facilities, and having safe passage for students," he said.
Stewart parents plan to protest outside Stewart on April 27.
Karen Zaccor, a teacher at Uptown's Uplift Community High School, 900 W. Wilson, linked the school closings to gentrification.
"Why are so many of these schools under enrolled? It's because families who wanted their children to go to these schools could no longer afford to stay in the neighborhood," she said.