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CPS Has Not Visited King to Verify Reason for Closure, Principal Says

By Chloe Riley | April 30, 2013 3:12pm

TRI-TAYLOR — Despite being one of 54 schools slated to close because of underutilization, no one from the Chicago Public Schools administration has visited William H. King Elementary to see if the school is being properly utilized, the school’s principal said Tuesday.

“CPS has not come out to see how the building is being utilized. They never commented on those issues, … never checked to see if that was the case,” Principal Sheldon Flowers said.

Flowers stressed that the utilization numbers are a reflection of the school’s lack of resources. King’s gym, which serves as both a lunchroom and auditorium, also doubles as a recess area for its 270 students when the weather is bad.

As a result, two classrooms had to be converted into lunchrooms.

CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said Flowers did not appeal the results of a classroom count and space-use survey that lead to the district finding that the school was underutilized. She said Flowers provided the numbers used in the determination.

"The principal had the right to appeal the classroom count if he thought our numbers were wrong," she said. "He did not file an appeal. We looked at the school and determined that they are underutilized."

If the school does close, students from King, which is at 740 S. Campbell Ave., would transfer to Jensen Elementary at 3000 W. Harrison St., almost a half-mile west.

Flowers said parents and faculty had safety concerns for those children who would have to walk to Jensen. 

Stephanie Tillman, a first-grade teacher at King, said she’s spoken with Hispanic parents at the school who are concerned their children’s race will make them targets of violence.

“There’s a lot more violence on that side of the street. And our Latino population will not go into that area for fear of being jumped on,” Tillman said. 

Earlier this month, faculty, parents and students from King Elementary were accompanied by Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) for the “Walk the Walk,” a march intended to demonstrate the safety issues children could face on their walk to Jensen.

Within a half-mile radius of Jensen Elementary, there are 65 registered adult and child sex offenders according to Chicago Police Department data. 

Fioretti said the walk would force children to cross significant gang lines, potentially endangering them.

“To close the school down would be a mistake all across the board,” Fioretti said. “It’s a Latino, African-American combination that has worked very well and it’s all due to the principal and faculty and staff.”

Quinn said the district is working with Chicago Police, parents and the community — as part of its Safe Passage program — to come up with routes the children can use to walk to school.

"When school starts, Safe Passage workers will stand post along safe routes that are specially designed by CPS and CPD," Quinn said in an email. " ... Safe Passage workers support students by not only being an extra set of eyes and ears to proactively identify and report safety risk, but by building relationships with students. They also de-escalate situations to prevent serious incidents from happening in the first place."

Quinn noted that since 2009, at the 35 high schools and four elementary schools that use the Safe Passage, "attendance has risen 7 percent; crime in the immediate vicinity of schools with Safe Passage went down 20 percent; and serious student incidents went down 27 percent."

Flowers, the principal, said he hopes CPS would reconsider King’s closure.

“Parents are fighting hard for this because they feel this school is a safe learning environment,” he said. “It’s a good place.”