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3 South Side Charter Schools Must Close, Board of Education Says

By Joe Ward | November 18, 2015 4:19pm
 CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool and Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said the closure of three charter schools will provide students with an overall better education.
CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool and Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said the closure of three charter schools will provide students with an overall better education.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

DOWNTOWN — After hearing the pleas of charter teachers, parents and students, the Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to close three charters that Chicago Public Schools considers to be chronically underperforming.

The schools slated for closure have failed to meet specific academic criteria, and were placed on a warning list before the board voted unanimously to close them at the end of the academic year.

The board's action comes just months into Forest Claypool's tenure as chief executive of the school system. The action is considered a diversion from previous school administrations, which kept tabs of charter performance but didn't enforce state laws allowing for the closure of schools, Board of Education President Frank Clark said at a board meeting Wednesday at CPS headquarters.

"This administration is treating all schools in the system the same," Clark said. "There's clearly going to be disruption and discomfort [for students]. This is about quality."

CPS had recommended the Board of Education close four charter schools. The fourth one, Larry Hawkins High School, will have its fate determined by the board in December.

Despite their placement on an academic warning list, supporters of the three charter schools said their academic progress had been overlooked by CPS. They said causing students to move schools would be traumatic and would put their safety at risk.

The schools now facing closure are:

• Amandla Charter High School, 6800 S. Stewart Ave. in Englewood

• Betty Shabazz-Barbara A. Sizemore Academy, 7822 S. Dobson Ave. in Greater Grand Crossing

• Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter, 8 W. Root St. in Bronzeville

CPS in 2014 notified six charters that they were failing to meet district standards. The Board of Education in October voted to approve an academic warning list for 10 charter schools, a move that put a formal face and name to a standards-enforcing procedure the school system had used for years, CPS officials said.

Those underperforming schools were made aware of their status and given a year to produce and implement a turnaround plan. The schools facing closure have failed to adequately implement their plans, CPS said.

According to CPS, Amandla failed to meet 10 of its 15 turnaround goals, while Shabazz-Sizemore only met half of its 10 goals. Bronzeville Lighthouse was not given a chance to participate in a turnaround plan.

Supporters of the charters slated for closure said CPS isn't taking into account the strides made at the schools.

Shabazz-Sizemore school has already moved from a level 3 school to a level 2, and is working on making further progress, said David Ireland, the school's chief executive officer. He said a recently graduated class had over 50 percent of students chosen for selective enrollment high schools.

"To me, that is reasonable progress," he said.

To some, keeping the charters open was a matter of student safety. Danielle Robinson, teacher at Shabazz-Sizemore, said her students don't want to go back to neighborhood schools where they have to worry about safety and gang influence.

"Our children are petrified of having to go back to these schools," she said. "The reality is, our school is safer."

One of the schools slated for closure, Bronzeville Lighthouse, did not go through the same process as the other three charters. That's because its charter contract is not being renewed, rather than it being revoked.

The school's contract with CPS is up at the end of the school year and will not be renewed at Wednesday's board action. The other schools had contracts that lasted beyond the 2015-2016 school year, and that's why they were revoked, CPS said.

Because of the difference in closing procedure, Bronzeville Lighthouse supporters said the school wasn't given the same chance to turn its performance around.

Not being able to pen and implement a turnaround plan of its own is evidence that Lighthouse was not given the same consideration as the other charters, Lighthouse supporters said.

"We were not given an opportunity to participate in a plan," said Essie Porch, a Lighthouse teacher. "We're doing everything we can. At least give us a fighting chance."

CPS said Bronzeville Lighthouse was operating as a Level 3 school for 5 years.

CPS has already begun helping families of the closing schools to transition into new ones for next year, said Janice Jackson, CPS's chief education officer.

The school district is sending letters to each family in the closed schools and is hosting open houses at the neighborhood schools near the closing charters.

Jackson said some students and families will be able to have one-on-one counseling sessions.

The transition process begins now because the application deadline for some magnet schools is in mid-December, Jackson said.

"We will be presenting higher quality options to these students," she said.

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