Backtracking from their previous denials of having shuttered Montefiore and Marine Academy, Chicago Public Schools officials now say they will consider officially closing schools with zero students.
In addition, CPS will consider consolidations at schools where principals, parents or community members have formally requested one. There has been expressed interest in consolidations from the Ogden-Jenner, Morton-Dodge and Austin communities.
Closures and consolidations now appear on the district’s revised “draft guidelines for school actions” – a legally required document issued on Tuesday that outlines the district’s plans for next school year. In an earlier version of this document issued last month, CPS said it was only considering co-locations and attendance boundary changes.
“Community input has played an important role in drafting CPS’s school action guidelines and we will continue to seek input as we work to finalize the guidelines,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement.
This summer Catalyst wrote about how CPS effectively shut down Montefiore – a specialty school for students with severe emotional and behavioral disorders — when it laid off all the teachers and enrolled students elsewhere. And last month Catalyst reported that CPS had quietly allowed a privately run alternative school to consolidate its three campuses and move into the building. But CPS officials have insisted that Montefiore and Marine Academy — another school which also has zero students – remain open and that they have not violated their own five-year moratorium on closures or a state law governing so-called “school actions.”
CPS is asking for public input on the revised school actions guidelines through Nov. 24.
Community support for consolidations
In recent weeks there has been a lot of public attention around the possible consolidation of Ogden International School and Jenner Academy of the Arts, two Near North Side elementary schools that serve vastly different populations.
On Monday night Ogden’s local school council approved what DNAinfo called a “vague measure” asking the district to start a community-driven process exploring the possibility of a merger with Jenner, which serves students who mostly poor and black. Ogden is a more affluent and diverse school.
Less has been reported on the move to consolidate three Austin high schools that were once part of Chicago’s “small schools” movement but are now starving for students. Together, Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy, Austin Polytechnical Academy, and VOISE Academy have just 419 students – about a third as many as there were just five years ago.
Community activist Dwayne Truss, a member of Austin’s Community Action Council (CAC), says breaking up what used to be Austin Community High School a decade ago was “a disaster and kids are not getting the education they deserve or the full high school experience.”
Truss says neighborhood students don’t enroll in the three smaller high schools, which don’t have attendance boundaries. In addition, he blames “the proliferation of new charter high schools as well as the policy of student-based budgeting” for the dwindling students and resources at the schools. “It just wasn’t happening for our kids in terms of resources,” he says.
The CAC recently voted in support of a consolidation at the three schools into a single neighborhood school. Truss says the schools were already sharing resources – including classes – but that it still wasn’t enough.
Meanwhile, Morton and Dodge elementary schools have been operating out of Morton’s building since 2013, when the School Board approved their co-location in addition to a historic number of school closures. The two schools are managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) organization. This year Morton has 340 students, up slightly from 2010. Dodge has just 122 – nearly a quarter the number it had just five years ago. CPS data show that there 10 or fewer children in four grade levels.
A message to an AUSL spokeswoman was not immediately returned Tuesday evening. But a teacher at one of the schools says the past two years have been challenging, in part because of differences in school climate and disciplinary policies. Earlier this year, administrators at the two schools allowed some small classes to combine in order to share resources and teachers.
That commingling of students was abruptly halted a few weeks into the semester, and Dodge, which has lost staff due to dwindling enrollment and budget cuts, now has a few tiny split classes. The teacher said administrators at the schools have told parents and teachers about the proposal to consolidate next year, a plan that some Dodge teachers and families resent.
Dodge is one of the first schools managed by AUSL and the site where in 2008 then-President-elect Barack Obama named then-CPS CEO Arne Duncan to the post of U.S. secretary of education.