ENGLEWOOD — Students from Betty Shabazz-Barbara A. Sizemore Elementary say closing the Englewood school would be like losing a home.
“I don’t want the school to close because this is my home,” said seventh-grader Terrance Dantzler, 13. “If you close my school, you’re closing my home.”
Seventh- and eighth-graders are working with local filmmaker and educator David Steiner to help share their story. “Saving Barbara Sizemore: The Movie” is still in production.
“The purpose of the movie is to give these guys a voice,” Steiner said. “If CPS isn’t going to come to the school, then we’re going to bring the school to them.”
In the unfinished documentary they started making in late October, students attempt to deliver a message directly to CPS CEO Forrest Claypool at CPS headquarters. But in the film, which is posted online, the students don’t get far. Security at the building tells them they can’t see Claypool without an appointment and that they’ll have to call the general CPS number.
Scenes from the film, including students' attempt to visit CPS boss Forrest Claypool (above), are posted at www.savingbarbarasizemoremovie.weebly.com.
CPS declined to comment on the project.
The public charter school is one of four slated to be closed in June, joining Amandla Charter High School, CICS–Larry Hawkins High School and Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter Elementary School.
“Closing a school is always a last resort, but after reviewing the performance of these four schools, it is clear our students need and deserve better options,” CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said in a prepared statement. “Our team is fully committed to working with families to find new options that will meet the individual needs of each student.”
The School Board has approved the school’s closure based on failure to meet performance standards. The "School Quality Rating Report" CPS released last year shows that the school failed to reach five of 10 identified goals, including attainment and growth goals in mathematics. [Click here to read the full report here.]
“This, in combination with the fact that the school earned a SY15-16 SQRP rating of Level 2 and a 2 year SQRP average of 2.3, leads to the conclusion that the charter school has failed to implement the plan of remediation,” the report states.
Shazbass-Sizemore Principal Danielle Robinson said news of the closure was “disheartening,” and students shared her sentiment.
Revealing her thoughts on the video, Robinson said: “All of this is new territory. They know that they care about the school, but I think for a lot of the students, I don’t think before this happened, they even realized why they liked being here.
“This is the first time I think they’ve been given the responsibility to fight for something, and so I think they are thriving with that responsibility, and kind of processing and learning at the same time.”
Each day that goes by for the students is like being “punched” by CPS, Steiner said.
“Their city is bullying them about their education," he said. "They all live with the threat of 'Where am I going to go to school next year?'"
Before Terrance came to the school three years ago, he was a different person and on the wrong path, he said.
He said speaking with the school’s dean of students and the principal caused him to self-reflect. His focus is now on getting into a good high school and then going to college.
“I was introduced to this gang stuff by my older cousin,” he said. “He was out there doing it, so I was like maybe it’s cool. I was running the streets with him. Being out in the streets and probably losing my life, or being in jail behind bars, I realized it’s not worth it."
Many of Terrance's peers said they feel the same way. They, too, want to graduate, but they’re also thinking of the students younger than them.
Kenan Reese will graduate from eighth grade in the spring.
“People be like, ‘Why do you care? You’re about to graduate,’ but it’s just the fact that I have friends here and where are they going to go?” he said.
Kenan said he likes the school because at his last one, he would get bullied. Now he has friends and he considers the teachers, staff and principal his second family.
The teachers are attentive to the students’ needs and they create a safe learning environment, students said.
“If you don’t understand [something], they reteach it, and they break it down even more,” said Hayah Rasul, a seventh-grader. “When they’re teaching, it’s like a conversation, more than just ‘Do this, and do that, and now take a quiz.’”
“The teachers at this school, they try to be more like your second parent,” said 12-year-old-seventh-grader Rashad Howze.
“When we’re in the classroom, it doesn’t feel like just a classroom,” said Kahmyra Morgan, also in seventh grade. “You can engage with your teacher. You feel like you’re talking to a family member, not just some stranger.”
Robinson called the school unique and said what sets it apart from other schools in the neighborhood is the focus on African culture and the family atmosphere. They are equipped with traits and skills that will help them get through life’s hurdles.
“We try to teach them persistence and perseverance because that is going to be key for them to overcome whatever challenges that come from within their community,” Robinson said. “We’re teaching them to speak for themselves.”
Students also said they feel safe in the school and feel comfortable enough to come to teachers and staff with their issues.
Closing the school and forcing the students to attend other schools in the neighborhood that aren’t doing much better doesn’t make sense to Robinson, she said.
“They’re not guaranteeing that our students are going to end up in a better environment, so what they’ve done is offered them the same neighborhood schools that they’ve already run from,” she said. “That, to me, is complete and total evidence that this is really about another agenda.”
The charter school is also one of the more than 300 schools a CPS report says isn’t fully using their space and has fewer students than they should. Sizemore is listed as underutilized.
Robinson disagrees with the categorization, saying that the school uses all of its space and it is almost at capacity.
She said she doesn’t want to see the school close, and neither do the students.
“I don’t have an issue as far as me fighting for my school on a personal level, or having a personal agenda,” Robinson said. “My agenda is always and still is about the students. That’s the frustrating piece, because the people who are making decisions really are not making decisions in the best interest of students.”
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