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CPS School Closings: Disney II Expansion Criticized by Neighborhood Schools

By Patty Wetli | April 17, 2013 10:00am
 Northwest Side residents pleaded for more resources for neighborhood schools, rather than additional magnet schools.
Northwest Side residents pleaded for more resources for neighborhood schools, rather than additional magnet schools.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

IRVING PARK — As parents, students, teachers and community members across the city fight to save schools slated for closure by Chicago Public Schools, the Irving Park neighborhood grapples with the proposed opening of Disney II Magnet High School.

On paper, the plan put forth by the district — to locate Disney II grades 7-12 in the same building as Thurgood Marshall Middle School — sounds simple, but in execution it sets off a chain reaction that affects not only Marshall, but adjacent elementary schools and nearby Independence Park.

In December, the CPS board gave Disney II Elementary, at 3815 N. Kedvale Ave. permission to add grades 9-12. Marshall, at 3900 N. Lawndale, currently has 431 students in grades 7 and 8 and has room to accommodate the Disney II high schoolers, CPS says.

Approximately 100 community members turned out for a public hearing held Monday night at Schurz High School, the majority of them expressing opposition to the Disney II-Marshall co-location. Lachlan Tidmarsh, CPS chief information officer, and Peter Rogers, CPS chief financial officer, moderated the forum.

Speaking in support of the proposal, Rachel Crowl, chairwoman of Disney II's Local School Council, said, "Disney II does not make success proprietary. This can be a successful community endeavor."

Homeowners in the neighborhood surrounding Marshall remained dubious.

The influx of teenagers — and their cars — on quiet residential streets concerned some. Others noted that Marshall lacks adequate outdoor space for high school sports, which could shift the burden of athletics and physical education classes to Independence Park.

But chief among attendees' complaints: the diversion of resources away from neighborhood schools to magnet, charter and selective enrollment facilities.

"There's no question that Disney is a success," said Zach Davis, a teacher at Marshall. "But if those resources were given to neighborhood schools, where would those students be today?"

Though CPS has given "under utilization" as the reasoning behind the shuttering of 54 schools, by contrast Northwest Side residents spoke of overcrowding as a major issue.

"We are bursting at the seams," said Jennifer Bohrer, a member of the Local School Council at Belding Elementary. "Open some neighborhood schools. We do not need more selective schools. We do not need more high school space."

Belding's teachers painted a picture of students sharing textbooks and receiving instruction in bathrooms.

"If you have ever seen images from a factory farm, you have an idea," said Genie Albina, a third-grade teacher at Belding whose class roster numbers 37 students.

"There are days I pack up to go home and realize there are a handful of students I haven't spoken with all day," she said.

"No child should have to learn in a broom closet," said Katherine Smith, a teacher at Marshall. "We need more elementary seats."

As a magnet school, Disney II's seats are allocated via lottery to students from across the city, doing little to alleviate overcrowding at Irving Park's elementary schools or provide choice to Irving Park's families, according to residents.

Davor Engel, an "enthusiastic parent of two Disney students," spoke of the "animosity" that arises between neighbors who win a "golden ticket" to Disney II — where the student-to-teacher ratio is 25-to-1 — and those who don't.

"Create more quality facilities on the Northwest Side and the O'Hare [elementary] network," he asked of CPS.

Marshall actually serves as a relief valve for overcrowding, enrolling overflow middle schoolers from four elementary schools, including nearby Patrick Henry and Haugan, as well as Falconer and Barry from the Fullerton elementary network.

Many suggested that Marshall, which is not enrolled to capacity, would better serve the community as a neighborhood middle school or a new K-8 school.

"The community as a whole would gain more from using Thurgood Marshall to address the severe overcrowding problems at Belding, Reilly, Scammon and Murphy elementary schools," said Dee Barrett, a community member and mother of three young children.

"Kids in our community are losing their libraries, music rooms, computer labs and lunchrooms in order to accommodate students in overpopulated schools," she continued. "That is the most immediate need in this community."

Opponents of the plan to co-locate Disney II and Marshall urged CPS to put the brakes on the proposal and head back to the drawing board to craft a more detailed, amenable solution.

"My unit lesson plans are longer than what you've given us today," said Raymond Wohl, a teacher at Marshall, referring to CPS' single-sheet handout explaining the Disney II-Marshall transition.

Whether or not the Disney II expansion is a "done deal," as Barrett suggested, members of the community implored CPS to invest in neighborhood schools.

"I just am tired of all the priorities going to the bright and shiny, the razzle dazzle," said Katie Kozisek, whose children attended Belding.

"Take care of neighborhood schools," she told the CPS officials. "Frankly, that is your job."