WEST TOWN — Hugs, games of four square and proclamations of "I'll miss you!" dominated the conversation in front of a West Town school as parents dropped their children off for the last time Monday.
Educating students since 1885, Peabody School, at 1444 W. Augusta Blvd. in West Town, is one of 20 Chicago public schools that are ringing their final bells Monday as they close for good, part of a cost-savings plan that will ultimately shutter 50 schools.
Last week, 28 schools held their final classes.
"I am sad," Manuela Hernandez said through her son, a kindergartner, who translated for his mother before shuffling into the school.
The Chicago Board of Education voted to close the schools to help close Chicago Public Schools' $1 billion budget deficit. But as CPS officials have attempted to reassure parents — that their kids will be safe, that children will be going to better schools with better amenities — they've found an often unreceptive audience.
Peabody Principal Federico Flores described the last day of school, "as good as it's going to get."
"We've been preparing for this day for awhile now," Flores said.
Of the 18 teachers at Peabody, five non-tenured (all first and second year teachers) got pink slips. The other 13, including Flores, are not sure where they will be working next year. CPS is expected to let them know by July 15.
Flores said that all of the teachers made commemorative shirts that students will sign in their classrooms throughout the day.
Inside the school, parents looked over photos dating from 1977 that Flores and school clerk Maria Reyes unearthed from the school's archives, while a sign outside the school announced, "Adios Students, We love You. Peabody Staff 1895-2013."
Just before classes started, first-grade teacher Rhea Heggaton — one of 850 CPS teachers who received a layoff notice earlier this month — said she wasn't sure where she'd be next year, or if she'll even be back in teaching.
"I am looking at working on nonprofits, but I don't know at this point. Right now we're all trying to get through this," Heggaton said.
Fighting off tears, Heggaton said she "thought it would be OK but it's really sad."
"We had to pack up all the stuff in the classrooms already," she added.
Ashley McCall, a first-year second-grade teacher who is one of Peabody's five non-tenured teachers laid off, said students spent part of last week helping to carry boxes and pack up textbooks in their classroom.
"It felt like what little time we had left with students was not for students, it was for CPS," she said.
Lisa Lane, a special ed and general education teacher who's been teaching at Peabody School for seven years, was showered with hugs and cries of "I'll miss you!" from students as she walked into the school.
"It's emotional, it's overwhelming," Lane said.
Lane said she felt like her chances were "50-50" in terms of securing a job at Otis Elementary, 525 N. Armour St. — the "welcoming" school designated to receive Peabody next year — though she has "had no word" yet on her future. She said she expected to know by July 15.
Louis Quinones, or "Mr. Q" as kids called him, so far is the only Peabody School faculty to have a permanent job lined up for next year.
Quinones, who has worked security at the West Town school for 17 years, will join another full-time security worker at Otis.
"I am one of the lucky ones. I am very relieved but it is bittersweet, unfortunate for the others. It's all about family here and they are breaking up a family," he said.
While most, if not all of, the Peabody teachers surveyed were unsure of their jobs for next year, at least one educator said he had a plan.
Jessie Cobian, a first-year special education classroom assistant, said that he would be leaving education and has "something else lined up."
Cobian said he was headed to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and planned to be a bartender in the fall.