By law, CPS must announce any school actions for the following school year by December 1. On November 27, CPS announced the 2020 school actions. One district run school, Hope HS, will close at the end of this school year. Hope HS is one of the high schools in Englewood that CPS is phasing out (Robeson HS closed in June 2018; TEAM Englewood closed in June 2019; Harper HS is phasing out with a scheduled closure date of June 2021.) CPS opened one new high school, Englewood STEM HS, in September 2019.
RYH Executive Director, Jianan Shi, shares his reflection below on this news in context of the public education landscape in Chicago. You can find a list of further reading at the very bottom of this post.
Yesterday was the 1 year anniversary of CPS dropping its attempt to close National Teachers Academy, a successful, whole student centered, majority black elementary school. This win was made possible by two years of active organizing by parents, youth, teachers and community members. NTA had “NTA Day” yesterday, a day of activities that uplifts what they love about their school, documents their journey, and celebrates the community. NTA was on Facebook Live periodically throughout the day; one of the clips I caught was a group of youth interviewing NTA parents about their fight. The youth are prepared, engaged and genuinely curious about the journey. The parents reflected on how exhausting it was to keep fighting everyday but they knew their north star was equity and keeping this community together. Parents shared how close the school community is now and how much stronger they are.
I can’t help but think about how precious this moment was and how easily it could have been erased. I can’t help but connect this story to the closure of Hope College Prep HS, the fight to keep Harper HS open, and the significant decline in enrollment in Pilsen elementary schools.
When school districts don’t see themselves as powerful positive forces in the community and instead see themselves as absent of influence, they perpetuate white supremacy and other systems of oppression. The gentrification in Pilsen and the disinvestment in Englewood impact a school’s success as much as or more than factors in a district’s school ratings system. We need problem solvers in a school district that listen to the community, recognize the harm that city institutions have done, and design long term solutions that include factors outside of the school.
When school districts limit our imagination to a future that can’t serve strong public education to all students, models of competition are created that are grounded in scarcity versus equity. Student based budgeting (SBB) operates as an efficient self fulfilling prophecy where the rich get richer and those who were already set up to fail slowly suffocate. SBB needs to be abolished.
Schools are anchors in the community. Neighborhood schools inform, engage and strengthen communities. I think about how at my previous school, we were able to host community events around immigration, culture and parent support. What happens to the health of a community when a school is no longer there? Ms. Irene Robinson of KOCO has always believed that closing schools is a hate crime. We at RYH agree - closing public goods is structural violence.
The CPS Equity Office recently released their Equity Framework, which includes a section on resource equity with the caveat that “high impact solutions” will be released later in 2020. While we are hopeful that the Equity Office will work with stakeholders to create change, more needs to be done. There needs to be continued investment in community control through local school councils and other parent bodies. There needs to be an equity based funding model that protects neighborhood public schools. There needs to be a living educational facilities master plan that provides transparent decision making and informs long term planning.
If Chicago isn't bolder, we can expect the same stories, the same people being harmed, and the same results next year.
To read about Harper HS and the Equity Bus Tour by Journey for Justice (J4J) and Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), read this article from the Sun-Times: Keep 2 high schools open in Englewood, residents say.
To read about Pilsen’s gentrification impacts on its neighborhood schools, read this article from the Sun-Times: Pilsen schools hollow out as neighborhood gentrifies.
To read about what once was Hope College Prep Academy, read or listen to this article from WBEZ: Dashed Hope: How A Once Proud Chicago High School Hollowed Out.
To read about the injunction to halt the closure of NTA, read this article from Chalkbeat Chicago: Chicago’s popular National Teachers Academy fends off closure.
To read about the harm of Student Based Budgeting (SBB), read this report from Stephanie Farmer, PhD of Roosevelt University, and Ashley Baber of Loyola University Chicago: Student Based Budgeting Concentrates Low Budget Schools in Chicago’s Black Neighborhoods
To read the recently released draft CPS Equity Framework, go here.