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'Whose Schools? Our Schools!' Gage Park Neighbors Rally Against Charters

By Joe Ward | September 23, 2015 6:33am | Updated on September 23, 2015 4:49pm
 Claudinae Hurt, Gage Park High School student, passes out information pamphlets after a rally against charter school expansion in Gage Park Tuesday.
Claudinae Hurt, Gage Park High School student, passes out information pamphlets after a rally against charter school expansion in Gage Park Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

GAGE PARK — While taking the bus from Illinois Institute of Technology back to his home in Gage Park, Uzziel Fernandez said he notices more and more kids in his neighborhood going to charter schools.

So when he heard that a rally against a proposal to add another charter school to the Southwest side would be held at his alma mater, Gage Park High School, Fernandez said he wanted to speak up.

"I don't want these schools just to take our kids because of [Gage Park High School's] reputation," said Fernandez, who graduated last year. "Gage Park is not the school people think it is."

Concerned parents, neighbors, school officials and students rallied at Gage Park Tuesday night against a proposal by Noble charter school system to open a charter high school on an empty lot near 47th Street and California Avenue.

Noble's original plan was to build three high schools, but the plan was scaled back after parents successfully railed against a North Side campuses proposal. The plan was then reduced to one new school in early August, according to Matt McCabe, director of government affairs for Noble.

The charter plan has been met with some opposition in the area, with multiple schools having held rallies against the proposal they say would starve established schools of precious resources.

The group said Noble's plan, which will be considered by the Board of Education in October, would negatively impact the progress that has been made at schools like Gage Park.

Chicago Public Schools are financed on a per-pupil basis, so the higher the enrollment, the higher the funding. So allowing for neighborhood kids to go to other schools would possibly cause a big financial impact on Gage Park and other community schools, parents and school officials said.

"What we need is more involvement in community schools, not charter schools, which takes away money from schools like Gage Park," said Jose Mancilla, senior at Gage Park.

Opening charter schools in the area would hurt Gage Park at an especially pivotal time in its history, when the school is making strides in academics, student engagement and safety, Gage Park Principal Brian Metcalf said.

Metcalf said the school has just recorded its highest ACT scores in school history. Daily attendance is up 8 percent, he said, and "incidents" and suspensions have decreased by 35 percent, he said.

"Gage Park is on the move," he said to roaring applause from over 100 neighbors who came out Tuesday.

The rally was held about a month before the Board of Education is to rule on whether Noble can open the two schools. Rally organizers asked supporters to show up to the Oct. 28 board meeting and voice their disapproval. Gage Park students were seen after the rally handing out postcards for residents to fill out and send to Chicago Public Schools leaders.

Fernandez spoke about his time at Gage Park, saying it has given him the basis to move on to college and achieve his goals. He said an academic team he was on placed first in a citywide science, technology, engineering and mathematics competition. The team went on to place nationally, he said.

"Look at what we've done with the resources we have," Fernandez said from the podium in the school's auditorium. "Imagine what we can achieve if we get the money the charters are getting."

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