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CPS Closings: Peabody School in West Town to Shutter, Board Votes

By Alisa Hauser | May 22, 2013 3:40pm | Updated on May 22, 2013 4:40pm
 Staff, students and parents at Peabody School at 1444 W. Augusta Blvd. in West Town learned Wednesday that their school would be closing as part of CPS' plan to consolidate and close underutilized schools.
Peabody School in West Town
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WEST TOWN — A West Town school that's been educating students since 1895 won't be saved, the Chicago Board of Education board ruled on Wednesday.

The board voted to shutter 50 schools, including Peabody Elementary School at 1444 W. Augusta Blvd. in West Town.

"It broke my heart," said parent Maria Rubio, who waited outside the school to pick up her son, Ishmael.

"I graduated from here in 1996, my daughter who is 15 graduated from here and he was supposed to have graduated from here," she said, gesturing to her son, Ishmael Oliver, a sixth grader. Oliver has another son, a third grader, Xavier, also at Peabody.

The historic decision comes after months of debate and meetings, an effort led by the six-person board appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Citywide, the closures will impact tens of thousands of schoolchildren, including 266 at Peabody School, which has a student population that's three-quarters Hispanic, with 97 percent of students low-income and 43 percent described as "limited English learners," according to CPS.

Despite their best efforts, Peabody supporters learned the fate of their schools hours before the vote, with media reporting that only four schools on the district's target list would be spared — and Peabody was not one of them.

Rosalva Nalva, a community organizer and peer trainer at Peabody School, said before the vote that closing Peabody "would be heartbreaking for a lot of people."

At a Chicago Teacher's Union march that kicked off at the school Monday, Nalva said students came outside during recess as protesters chanted, "Look up, look down, Peabody needs to stay around."

"...The system is cheapening them on an education. This place is where they have a stable emotional center. The closings are telling them that education is less and money is first," Nalva said.

Nalva said some parents have told her they are planning to enroll their children at Otis Elementary, 525 N. Armour, the school designated as the "welcoming" institution for Peabody students for the 2013-2014 school year. 

Otis is about three-quarters of a mile away from Peabody but some students could have a longer commute.

"The biggest concern for parents is transportation. Peabody has majority low income, minority parents, they are working. Chicago has severe, below-zero winters," Nalva said.

Manuela Hernandez, whose son Jonathan Rocha is a first grader, said she plans to enroll her son in Otis but is worried about "the far distance, the gangs in the area and how my boys will be treated at new school."

"I'm not sure of the environment. Peabody always feels like home, treats us like we are a family," said Hernandez.

Nalva said she took a tour of Otis Elementary last week and said that the school has 17 kids per classroom, and at Peabody there are 32 or 35 kids in a classroom.

"If they had separated the kids into smaller classes they would have utilized the classrooms more [at Peabody]," Nalva said.

Jaime Sanchez, principal of Otis, did not return a call inquiring about average class size at Otis.

CPS says that Peabody's "enrollment efficiency range" is between 456 and 684 students and that the school's enrollment of 266 designates it as underutilized.

Otis Elementary currently enrolls 480 students.

In a hearing report, Patrick Payne, a portfolio manager for CPS, testified that "the combined aggregate of the Peabody and Otis students would fall within the lower end of the enrollment efficiency range."

Even if the numbers appear to fit, the psychological toll is harder to quantify.

At an emotionally-charged public hearing in February, an eighth grade student testified that he would be walking 7 and a half blocks to the nearest school if Peabody were to close. At a rally in March, parents expressed concerns over sex offenders and CTA fares.

A report prepared by CPS hearing officer Thomas P. Durkin described the testimonies from over 30 people, including Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), students, teachers, administrators and parents, as "poignant and emotional."

Durkin wrote, "The golden thread which connected their testimony was a love of Peabody and a strong belief in the beneficial effect Peabody has on its students. Many expressed fear of the distance and route to walk to Otis, because of traffic, gangs, lack of sidewalks and abandoned buildings."

Durkin opined, "Their fear unknown would touch the heart of even the most hardened listener."

An administrative assistant at Peabody School told DNAinfo Chicago that all Peabody students were sent home with a letter Tuesday indicating that in the event Peabody is scheduled to close, the school will be open until 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday as well as Monday through Friday of next week to assist parents with completing paperwork for applying to other schools.