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Cabrini-Area Group Backs Ogden-Jenner Merger

By Ted Cox | May 17, 2017 6:09am | Updated on May 17, 2017 11:55am
 The Rev. Randall Blakey, pastor of the LaSalle Street Church and head of the Near North Unity Program, is also co-chairman of the Jenner Ogden Community Steering Committee.
The Rev. Randall Blakey, pastor of the LaSalle Street Church and head of the Near North Unity Program, is also co-chairman of the Jenner Ogden Community Steering Committee.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CABRINI-GREEN — A community group affiliated with Jenner Academy of the Arts on Tuesday strongly supported the decision by Chicago Public Schools the day before to move forward on a merger with Ogden International School.

The Rev. Randall Blakey, co-chairman of the Jenner Ogden Community Steering Committee, called it "the kind of moral courage and political will needed to bring about educational equity and excellence within the CPS system."

Blakey said students in integrated schools have higher average test scores, are less likely to drop out and are more likely to enroll in college, while the practice also reduces racial bias and counters stereotypes.

"This decision means that students from Jenner and Ogden alike are now placed in an intentional position to glean from the power of cross-cultural learning and all the other benefits of being in an integrated school," Blakey said.

Jenner is "underused," with an enrollment of 244 in a 15-year-old school with a capacity of 690 and, while it's made academic progress since being considered for closure four years ago, it's considered by CPS to require "extensive support." Ogden's two campuses, at 24 W. Walton St. and 1250 W. Erie St., make it difficult to compare them side by side, but Ogden's elementary East Campus, handling kindergartners through fifth-graders, has 820 students and is in good standing with CPS.

CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson insisted Monday that community meetings had shown "overwhelming support" for the merger.

"I think it's a great idea," Jackson said. "We have to get this done."

Yet some parents at Ogden cite that their school is already integrated, with less than half of the students white, and fear that the merger could muddle the school's top-to-bottom International Baccalaureate program. They say the Jenner Ogden Community Steering Committee had pushed for the merger, but Ogden parents aren't so enthusiastic.

The rival Jenner Ogden Concerned Communities group did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but it continues to circulate a letter online to CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool stating that the "requested merger could actually cause significant overcrowding and introduce many serious logistical, budgetary and academic challenges from the creation of a three-campus K-8 school."

It adds that "after years of revolving leadership and seemingly endless controversy, Ogden's top priority should be finding stability and a renewed focus on providing a rigorous IB-centered curriculum in a healthy, supportive environment."

The group's Facebook page also argues that a merged Ogden-Jenner would soon be overcrowded with the escalating development replacing the demolished Cabrini-Green CHA projects, citing the recent opening of the Clybourn 1200 development as the most recent example.

It claims that Ogden is not overcrowded, with a declining kindergarten class and two empty classrooms.

Blakey, however, touted large-scale economic and social benefits to integrated education, quoting Fredrick Douglass in saying, "It's far easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults."

CPS has to prepare a transition plan by the end of August and sell it at a series of required hearings and community meetings before the merger could potentially be approved by the Board of Education early next year for the 2018-19 school year.