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Independent Review Finds Three Bronzeville Schools Should Not Close

By Sam Cholke | May 8, 2013 8:32am
 Overton Elementary School is one of three Bronzeville schools that Chicago Public Schools decided should remain open after a review.
Overton Elementary School is one of three Bronzeville schools that Chicago Public Schools decided should remain open after a review.
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DNAInfo/Sam Cholke

CHICAGO — Hearing officers reviewing plans for Chicago Public Schools called into question proposals to close three Bronzeville schools Tuesday.

The ex-judges evaluating whether to close Overton and Mayo Elementary schools and Williams elementary and middle schools found CPS did not comply with state law and concluded that in one instance students would not be relocated to a better school.

Hearing officer Carl McCormick questioned whether CPS would meet its obligation to send to Overton students to a better performing school by moving them from 221 E. 49th St. to Mollison Elementary School at 4415 S. King Drive.

Both schools are in the lowest academic ranking and on probation.

“Is it relevant or significant that the higher-performing school is rated in the lowest academic level and is on probation?” McCormick asked in his report. “This is tantamount, using a food metaphor, to the promise of an omelet with a crisp waffle. Then what is delivered are broken eggs, whose contents are oozing out and a burnt pancake.”

James Bebley, general counsel for CPS, responded that he disagreed with McCormick’s assessment and Mollison does perform higher on four metrics of student performance.

“If the concept of a higher-performing school is to have substantive meaning, the mere fact of a mathematical variance between two schools with low academic performance and on probation is insufficient to be deemed a higher-performing school for the purpose of the school action,” McCormick wrote in his report.

In her review of a proposal to close Mayo, hearing officer Paddy McNamara referenced a 2009 University of Chicago study that found that the receiving school should have a significantly higher academic standing if a closure is to be successful.

McNamara found the plan to close Mayo, 249 E. 37th St., did not provide parents of special needs students with enough information about facilities at Wells Preparatory Academy to make an informed decision.

“Unless the transition plan actually addresses the specified circumstances in the proposed, closed or relocated schools, the information is meaningless,” McNamara said of the notice that went out to Mayo parents. “The information transmitted to the parents can be only regarded as aspirational.”

Bebley disagreed with McNamara’s findings, saying in his response that she went beyond her authority in the report and her role was to determine the legality of closing Mayo.

Hearing officer Patrick McGann wrote that CPS failed to properly notify parents, students and school administrators of changes to a plan to consolidate Williams elementary and middle schools with Drake Elementary School and Urban Prep Academy for Young Men.

He said there were discrepancies between what was presented for review and at public meetings about which schools would be combined and operate at the current Drake building at 2722 S. King Drive and which would move to the current Williams building at 2710 S. Dearborn Ave.

“If the opportunity for public comment is anything more than a ‘cooling off’ exercise, the notice requirement must be strictly enforced,” McGann says in his report. “It is interesting to note that no person connected with Drake appeared at any public forum.”

McGann also said the proposal does not address whether the plan complies with the current lease agreement with Urban Prep.

Bebley responded that McGann confused closing a school with closing a building.

“The hearing officer misapplies the definition of ‘school closure,’” he says in his response. “The potential closure of the 2722 S. King Drive building is not a school closure under the statute or guidelines and therefore does not need to be noticed as such.

“It is my view that the hearing officer’s reported conclusion is incorrect,” Bebley said.

The hearing officers found that about a dozen schools of the 54 proposed for closure should be reconsidered.