ALBANY PARK — "Whose schools?" "Our schools!"
"Whose schools?" "Our schools!"
Fifteen-year-old Jamie Adams, a sophomore at Roosevelt High School, led the rallying cry at a town hall meeting last week held to mobilize the Albany Park community against charter schools.
The pow-wow was organized in response to Chicago Public Schools' request for charter school proposals in 10 "priority" neighborhoods, among them Albany Park.
"There is no reason for charters to come to Albany Park," said Adams, a founding member of Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools. The student group has allied itself with the Albany Park Neighborhood Council along with Communities United for Quality Education.
"Albany Park schools lost $5 million in budget cuts and still the mayor wants to open charters," she said. CPS has routinely asked for charter proposals in recent years, and a state law requires school districts to consider proposals from prospective charter schools.
Approximately 60 students, parents and Albany Park residents attended the town hall, led by Adams and Norma Rolden of Communities United for Quality Education, held at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3253 W. Wilson Ave.
Among the arguments presented by speakers against charter schools: Albany Park schools are not overcrowded as stated by CPS, and the lone charter school in Albany Park, ASPIRA Haugan Middle School, is the only neighborhood elementary with a Level 3 or "poor" performance ranking. (Just-released performance ratings have since bumped ASPIRA Haugan up to Level 2 or "good.")
Residents are wary of the precedent set by ASPIRA Haugan. Originally founded to relieve overcrowding at Haugan Elementary, the middle school doesn't automatically accept Haugan students, operating instead on a lottery basis that results in fewer special education and low-income students being accepted, Rolden said.
"We need to invest in schools that help all our students," she said.
The coalition group introduced an aldermanic pledge they intend to push with Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), Ald. Rey Colon (35th) and Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th).
An upcoming action — which organizers wouldn't divulge — will put pressure on the aldermen to commit to the group's demands.
The pledge asks the aldermen to oppose the request for charter proposals, testify to the detrimental nature of charters at Board of Education meetings and find solutions to invest in neighborhood schools.
The group is also continuing the call for the return of Tax Increment Finance surplus dollars to CPS, a move Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already rejected.
TIF surplus funds would help ease the effect of budget cuts on schools such as Roosevelt. Tim Meegan, a faculty member at the high school, said that making do with less has resulted in situations like a lone Spanish teacher conducting two different classes in the same room at the same time.
"Now the mayor announces $17 million to Walter Payton. It's time to end the inequality that CPS imposes on our children," Meegan said. "Our neighborhood school children are every bit as valuable."
Charters, with their lotteries, are not neighborhood schools, said Maria Elena Sifuentes, an Albany Park resident and CPS parent. And neighborhood schools have a value that go beyond academics.
"Our neighbors can keep an eye out on our children," Sifuentes said. "It used to be that way. Neighbors looking out for each other."