ANDERSONVILLE — Sending their children to John T. McCutcheon Elementary School is out of the question for some Lyman Trumbull Elementary School parents whose kids are assigned McCutcheon as their “welcoming school."
The Chicago Board of Education voted last week to shutter Trumbull and divide its attendance boundaries and student body between McPherson, Chappell and McCutcheon elementary schools. All three schools are higher performing academically than Trumbull, a school with about 400 students located at 5200 N. Ashland Ave.
But one of them, McCutcheon — where about 100 students are to be reassigned under the CPS plan — happens to be in a part of Uptown some parents consider a rough stretch.
Andersonville resident Ali Burke, one of the most vocal combatants in the fight to save her school, was outraged this week speaking about how her 3-year-old son, who will be entering kindergarten, had been assigned to McCutcheon, 4865 N. Sheridan Road.
“I have been professional and I have fought for my school because I love this school and believe it was the right thing to do. But now it’s personal. We’re not going to McCutcheon; it’s too far from my neighborhood — and I really don’t think it’s a safe neighborhood.”
Burke said she knew the neighborhood was not all bad, but said there were "pockets" of gang and drug activity near the school, which has about 360 children.
“We have a lot of families in Trumbull that come from that area. The reason they come from that area is they don’t feel safe having their kids in school there," Burke said.
Dennis Weisgard, an Uptown resident for more than 10 years, said he avoided sending his children to schools in the neighborhood, including McCutcheon. His 5 and 6-year-old sons were assigned there but he expected to seek other options.
“My wife is saying ‘absolutely no' [to McCutcheon] she doesn’t want our kids to go there at all,” Weisgard said. He added: “It’s in a bad neighborhood. We live in Uptown and we purposely take our kids out of Uptown to go to school.”
CPS announced Thursday that out of 11,800 students attending "sending schools in grades K-7," almost 5,800 have enrolled in a new school, with 86 percent of that number choosing to attend the school assigned to them.
Students affected by closure or relocation of their school can apply at any other neighborhood school or magnet cluster school with available seats, officials said.
One parent of a McCutcheon student acknowledged gang activity in the area and said Trumbull parents’ concerns were not completely unfounded. But she also said “[Uptown] was nothing like out west or south,” citing concerns about students crossing gang lines in other parts of the city.
“It ain’t like this is Roseland,” she said. “But it ain’t Lincoln Park, either.”
McCutcheon parents, staff and security have spoken out in support of the school, saying at community meetings that concerns about safety and security at the school are overblown.
McCutcheon Principal Jennifer Ann Farrell would not comment on the controversy, but said at an April community meeting that her school was respected in the community and provided a safe environment for students.
At the same meeting, Assistant Principal Joel Piotrowski said the school closing process was one where “community schools tend to be pitted against each other" and said McCutcheon should not be "a negative target in this process.”
A CPS spokeswoman said McCutcheon's principal has held multiple open house events for the Trumbull community to visit the school and help ease the transition, and added that CPS has "a vibrant cultural integration and transition plan in place to ease the transition and help the two school communities get to know each other."
CPS officials also confirmed that McCutcheon's annex building, currently used as storage, would be utilized as classroom space to accommodate the addition of Trumbull students. Trumbull parents said the prospect of their children being taught in the annex, which some consider "dilapidated," was another reason they were unhappy about sending their kids to McCutcheon.