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Parents Warm To School Merger Plan But Want More Details, Money

By Linze Rice | September 1, 2016 6:22am | Updated on September 2, 2016 10:47am
 Ald. Joe Moore (49th) takes the microphone back from parent Rebecca Weinberg after speaking at Tuesday night's meeting.
Ald. Joe Moore (49th) takes the microphone back from parent Rebecca Weinberg after speaking at Tuesday night's meeting.
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DNAinfo/Linze Rice

ROGERS PARK — A plan to merge two Far North Side schools and move another into one of the buildings being vacated would have to be presented to the Chicago Board of Education by the end of October, Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said.

That means the community has less than two months to weigh in on the proposal that would see Field Elementary combine with Kilmer in Rogers Park and allow long overcrowded Decatur Classical in West Ridge move into Field's unused building.

The date was announced Tuesday night at the first community meeting since Moore unveiled his proposal in August. Residents at the meeting appeared generally supportive — though they wondered why Moore couldn't provide more details on the plan if it needed approval so quickly. 

"This proposal is I think a huge step in the right direction, but it's part of the puzzle," Moore said. "I never said at the beginning of the meeting that this was a cure-all for everything. I'll continue to be an advocate ... but I'm not going to make any promises tonight of a grander plan because the fact of the matter is, I don't have one."

Moore said if parents want to make the merger and expansion of Decatur into Rogers Park happen, the plan must be presented to the board by its Oct. 26 meeting. In order to begin transition by next fall, the board would need to approve the plan in December.

During the nearly three-hour meeting at Sullivan High School, Moore was joined by Kilmer Principal Jean Papagianis, New Field Principal Carlos Patiño, Sullivan Principal Chad Adams and Decatur Principal Susan Kukielka to garner feedback on his plan to close, consolidate and move local schools. 

Noticeably absent was Field Principal Adrian Dobbins, who was "not invited" according to Gladys Reynolds, chairwoman of Field's Local School Council. Moore said Dobbins had "indicated she was not interested in coming."

Dobbins could not be reached for comment.

Many parents sung the praises of Papagianis and said they had confidence in the recent turnaround at Kilmer. Some also expressed sympathy for Decatur — a top-rated CPS selective-enrollment school that is bursting at the seams and needs a bigger, and better, building to alleviate overcrowding and other issues at the school. 

Though the school communities largely agreed to be open-minded and work together to find a solution that would work for all students, many questions regarding the plan were not answered.

Most of Moore's most vocal critics were left to speak toward the end of the meeting after many community members had left.

"The most important thing that the residents of Rogers Park can do is to be vocal," parent Rebecca Weinberg said. "And we need to keep pressure on the alderman to do more than just merge these two schools and think his job is done."

Weinberg said one option she would like to hear discussed more was allowing Field and Decatur to co-exist within the Field building.

Several speakers, including Papagianis, said before signing off on the plan, they wanted to get a promise that there would be substantial improvements at Kilmer, including adding an international baccalaureate program, adding green space with playground equipment and updating its media center. They also want to see a detailed plan on how students from Field would be transitioned to Kilmer.

Parents also wanted to know how Moore planned to pay for long-term improvements at the schools, which would likely need more money beyond any increases in per-pupil funding they would get from an increase in students.

"I do believe that under Principal Papagianis' leadership Kilmer can continue with upward trajectory — but not without significant additional resources and support beyond the increase in per-pupil budgeting that would come with an increase in enrollment. ... Those additional resources are not outlined in this presentation, they're not part of what you're saying what you want to do here," said Annie Gill-Bloyer, a parent and Local School Council chairwoman.

"I think what we need to see here from you, Joe, is how are you going to very simply outline for us, what kind of additional resources, additional support you're going to put behind Kilmer in a very real and specific way."

Moore responded that he would "pledge to continue to be an advocate and ... get the attention of CPS" as well as "use my influence to secure the resources schools need." He also said he could use aldermanic funds that residents vote on through participatory budgeting.

While Field and Kilmer are neighborhood schools, and Decatur draws from families all over the city, parents at the classical school rejected claims the school's population — with more white students than Kilmer and Field — was getting better treatment because its population was more "affluent."

Decatur parents said the communities shared more similarities than differences and should work together to make sure all schools were treated fairly.

"We're not a neighborhood school, but we are good neighbors," said Tim McCaffrey, parent to two Decatur boys and chairman of the school's local school council.

Not wanting to turn the dialog into a "contentious" discussion, parent Kandie Alter said the groups shouldn't be pitted against each other in a fight for resources but should make sure CPS and Moore commit to improving Far North Side schools over the long term.

"We love your kids, we love our kids ... our goal really should be to work together to put some pressure on elected officials, the people who have access to TIF funds and lots of things other aldermen are doing right now to really build K-12 in the city," Alter said. "That's really our best goal right now, let's drop the contention and really focus the energy on what it should be right now."

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