Utilization in the O’Hare Network

As I wrote earlier, I attended the second round utilization meeting in the O’Hare network yesterday. There were a lot more people in the audience on this round, although Wright College’s Events Auditorium was not completely full. A panel of six sat at a table on the stage in this round, giving some weight to the idea that people were listening. A stenographer and camera person also recorded the proceedings.

Anna Alvarado, O’Hare network chief, began the meeting by introducing the panel on the stage: Craig Benes (Ravenswood Ridge network chief), Leslie Boozer (North-Northwest high school collaborative network chief), Grace Rapp (Office of Facilities), Patrick Payne (Transition office), and Shane Smith (O’Hare deputy chief). She also identified other CPS personnel by name: Luis Garcia of Office of LSC Relations, MahRukh Mian of FACE in O’Hare, and John Arena, alderman for the 45th ward. In addition, she identified 38th ward alderman Tim Cullerton and 41st ward alderman Mary O’Connor, both of whom addressed the panel.

Tim Cullerton mentioned a few schools in his ward by name–Portage Park, Smyser, Reinberg, Belding–noting that they are vastly overcrowded and asking the panel what CPS plans are pending to address overcrowding and school maintenance. He also asked for clarification on tier system boundaries. And concluded by saying that his ward gave CPS almost nine acres of space by Wright College nine years ago and the District has done nothing to develop the land.

Mary O’Connor read a prepared statement about the similarities (good) among the 12 schools in her ward and the similarities (bad) among them. School communities are frustrated with space utilization and unfair minimum funding.

Mr. Payne then reviewed the format for the meeting, in which every school gets a fair chance to air their comments for six minutes. He offered to answer questions about District policies informally after the meeting. Each school was invited to come on stage to use a podium to address the crowd and the panel.

Wildwood spoke next. As its principal and several parents approached the stage, the entire right side of the auditorium stood in solidarity, holding colorful Ws on sticks. Mary Beth Cunat, the principal, spoke about how the school has been short on classrooms every year since she became principal. Students have class on the stage, in the hallways, and in rooms with 36 other students. They have been looking earnestly for rental space for several years, but there isn’t any. She asked CPS to start the planning and design process this year so that when the District gets its funding, Wildwood is “shovel-ready.”

Wildwood’s AP also spoke, sharing that her daughter graduated from the school in 1999, and even then there were 37 kids in a classroom. She said that the school complies so well with the IB program, and function at an even higher level if they could improve the physical space. A parent also spoke briefly before the clock ran out, saying that when he daughter started K, there were 39 kids in her class. When her son started K several years later, he had 51 kids in his class. She asked CPS to be strategic in solving its problems, rather than ignoring timing and solving them piecemeal.

Belding spoke next, sharing a similar story of overcrowding and limited resources, and asking the District to alleviate these at the elementary level rather than adding high school seats. Scott Merrill, a National Board-certified teacher at Belding, said his school is 38 percent overcrowded, and needs CPS to help alleviate the issue. Scott Olsen, a 19-year CPS teacher whose children attend Belding, said that all of the schools around Belding are overcrowded save two–Aspira Haugan and TMMS. He proposed that the District convert one of these buildings to another elementary school and redraw the attendance boundaries for controlled enrollment at Belding, which, he said, has already lost a teacher lounge, closets, and basement storage space. The school’s four PK classrooms are run at a satellite storefront facility. Belding’s LSC chair spoke next, saying quite clearly that she doesn’t think our area needs high schools and the District should focus its resources on adding more elementary buildings within the O’Hare network. [Where does she think those elementary students are going to go in a few years?]

The LSC chair from Steinmetz high school followed, stating that he had just three questions for CPS. Unfortunately, he spent so much time complaining about how no one from various network and central offices responded to him that I couldn’t quite understand what all of his questions were. One was whether Steinmetz would become a receiving school and if so, if it would become overcrowded from all the surrounding schools closing. The other question that I understood concerned an ADA grant that Steinmetz had received–where was the money, how would it be spent, when would it be spent, etc.?

A 5th grade teacher from Oriole Park spoke next, saying directly that the District is asking too much of students, teachers, and parents. It’s too much for 35 individual learners. Co-teachers work at Oriole Park, but cannot cover all the minutes required in the day. SpEd students are in the hallways. The teacher also gave voice to a sentiment commonly expressed since the release of the list on 2/13: why is the District considering closing schools that were turned around just last year??

Murphy followed, with 23 supporters on the stage, asking to be a part of decision-making concerning TMMS, and proposing that the District uses the TMMS space for a Murphy high school. More about that in my previous post. [Someone send them the link for the new schools and replications RFQ when it’s posted next July.]

Dever’s principal spoke next, declaring, “Everyone needs personal space. Our kids don’t have any.” She added that this lack of personal space can create, escalate, and exacerbate tensions among students that probably wouldn’t be there if people had more space.

Ebinger’s principal said she was almost embarrassed by how easy her school has it, comparatively speaking. But, she said, she’d like to see better equity in funding and management across the District. Her school has SmartBoards and iPads, funded almost completely through parent fundraising and support. But they can’t use this technology because Ebinger lacks network capacity. She also noted a safety concern of having children move between the school’s building and its mobile units, and learning concerns in buildings without air conditioning.

A parent who lives in the Scammon attendance boundary, but whose daughter does not attend the school spoke about Scammon’s overcrowding. Mobile units, she said, are not a school, expressing frustration with the District’s policy of school utilization in the O’Hare network. Seven of the 11 schools within a 1.5-mile radius from her house, she said, are overcrowded. “We need more [elementary] schools.”

Hitch brought about 10 people onto the stage, making several salient points about overcrowding in schools. Principal Debbie Reese said, “Until prisons don’t have to offer lunchrooms and libraries, our school’s shouldn’t have to” do without them. Michelle Tregeaux from the LSC asked, “Why do bars have maximum capacity codes, but schools do not?”

The last O’Hare network school to speak was Dirksen. Principal Dan Lucas thanked the aldermen and the network chief and her deputy for hosting the event, and said that he has been to many of the previous schools and can testify that they are not exaggerating about their facilities and space issues. Dirksen also has space issues, with a number of demountable buildings that are 30 years out of date. The building engineers are called regularly to pry open the doors on these units so kids can change classes. The longer school day has exacerbated Dirksen’s lack of a playground. The closest park with a playground is over two miles away. The school was constructed to hold 500 students, but currently has 800. It takes two hours to move 740 students through lunch. No art room, three prep teachers (of six) have to teach from a cart.

Two parents from a school in the Fullerton network, Mary Lyons, then spoke. Anna Riviera, PAC chair, asked CPS what happened to the school’s drawn attendance boundaries? She noted that living the problem is a far different story than hearing about it. Where are the actions? Where are the funds? The other parent said that she and Anna were there to be part of the solution, but that their school has no playground or security and there is sometimes trouble.

Helen Ramirez, a retired neighborhood resident, came to the podium to speak in support of public schools. She expressed her fear that the city will solve its overcrowding through charter schools, which she doesn’t support. “I believe in public education,” she said.

At this point in the meeting, Patrick Payne opened the mic up to individuals who wished to speak, giving each speaker a two-minute limit. Nine people were able to take advantage, mostly from school listed above, but a few new voices were added to the mix:
(1) Andrew Thomas whose children went to Gray Elementary, spoke of need to get buy in and participation on strategic planning, and how he’d like to see more forums for parents.
(2) Danny Yaniver from Taft H.S. said he had 1400 students at Taft in 1993 and 1300+ now with District plans to grow the school even further through IB program
(3) Dave Ralston, a graduate of Roosevelt H.S. and current grandparent, said CPS cannot split monies off to charter schools
(4) Jim Secora from Smyser LSC spoke about how it needs more space and asked CPS to put mobile units in Smyser’s parking lot. The longer school day is making overcrowding worse.
(5) Barbara Reardon from Palmer Elementary told CPS simply, “We need more people.”

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