THE LOOP — Proponents and opponents of charter schools battled back and forth Wednesday at hearings on seven proposed new schools.
As backers and opponents of a new Noble school on the Southwest Side massed and clashed outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters, other school representatives resisted sharing areas or even actual buildings with new charters during hearings going on inside.
Nicole Boardman, chief operations officer of KIPP Chicago Public Schools, said it has 400 students on a waiting list and seeks to add a "college-prep high school," aiming at areas of "underutilized schools."
Yet more than a dozen administrators, teachers and students from Orr Academy, 730 N. Pulaski Road in West Garfield Park, said they had no interest in sharing their school with KIPP.
"I don't believe in co-locating high schools," Orr Principal Tyese Sims said.
"There is no equality when you are adding a school that will aid in the shutdown of another," added Orr science teacher Nicole Lum.
"It requires a truly wicked hand to regard my children's futures as an opportunity to make money," said Amanda Hartpence, a special-education teacher at Orr.
KIPP Chicago's Director of Research and Analysis Chris Haid insisted, "We've never driven a school out," but that didn't soothe sometimes teary Orr students arguing for their school to be left alone.
Other schools, such as STARS Project Engineering, trying to open in Little Village, and Perseid Academy, in Pullman, had an easier time of it, as did Connected Futures, concentrating on African-American boys, and Youth Connection, offering a second chance to students at risk of dropping out and those who already have, at an earlier hearing.
Yet New Life Academy, like KIPP, ran into opposition over its proposal to co-locate with Hirsch Metropolitan High School in Grand Crossing.
"Charter schools tend to siphon off needed resources," said Maria Owens, a member of the Hirsch Local School Council. She said sharing the school would bring unwanted competition to Hirsch and its students.
While acknowledging that Hirsch has 168 students in a building with a capacity for 1,400, Hirsch Local School Council Chairwoman Jamaica Miller called it "a school worth fighting for."
Rob Heise, a union organizer of charter teachers, said the New Life proposal "doesn't include the entire community" and is too focused on the New Life Church that is sponsoring it. He also attacked its educational partner, Edison Learning, charging that it's out to "make money off the education of inner-city kids."
The main event in the conflict, however, was expected to be later, when CPS was to examine Noble Street Academy, the primary focus of debate on the issue at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting. The battle at the Noble hearing, the last of three scheduled for Wednesday, figured to be even more raucous, but actually proved to be quite tame, if dominated by Noble students who seized most of the speaking slots.
Noble proposals also drew flak over the summer at hearings on the Southwest Side.
During earlier hearings, Chicago Teachers Union organizer Martin Ritter cited a resolution recently submitted in the City Council calling for a statewide moratorium on charters and said it had the backing of 42 out of 50 aldermen, including Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), who backs the New Life proposal.
Hearing officer Margaret Fitzpatrick accepted the testimony, but offered no opinions. The Board of Education was expected to weigh the cases for the various charters in time to make a final vote Oct. 28.
By law, CPS is required to put out an annual request for proposals for charters.
According to the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, 60,000 Chicago parents send their children to charters. INCS boasts that Noble and LEARN both just received federal Department of Education grants to "support new campus openings."
INCS Policy Manager Pam Witmer cited that grant, announced just this week, in backing the charter proposals at Wednesday's hearings, and said it would be best to separate the process from "Chicago's political vortex."
Yet Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) just submitted the resolution immediately signed by 42 out of 50 members of the City Council calling for a statewide moratorium on new charters. Sawyer sought a statewide ban, because charter proposals that are rejected by local districts can appeal to the Illinois Charter School Commission. If a proposal is approved by that state board, the local district has to fund the school without oversight over its operations.
Charter opponents asked the Board of Education on Tuesday to join in lobbying the General Assembly to reform or eliminate the state charter commission. Yet board Vice President Jesse Ruiz, who recently served as the district's interim chief executive officer, admitted, "I don't know" what CPS' formal position is on whether to rein in the commission. Board President Frank Clark said only that he is committed to "quality" schools.
According to CPS, the public can also submit comments on the proposals by email at email@example.com, by fax at (773) 553-3225 or by calling (773) 553-1530.
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