All but one of nine charter school proposals is on the Chicago Board of Education agenda for consideration with CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett not indicating which ones she thinks should get the go-ahead.

This is a break from the past when district officials recommended proposals for approval or denial, not just consideration, and the board always followed the lead of district officials. If all the charter proposals are approved, it would set the stage for an additional 20 schools to open over the next five years.

Also on the board’s agenda for Wednesday is a controversial proposal to require 150 minutes a week of physical education for elementary students, not counting recess, and for high school students to take it as a core class. Currently, most CPS elementary school students only have physical education classes a few days a week and high school student only take two years.

In addition to the 20 charter schools in consideration for this year, six others that won approval last year are set to open in fall of 2014. UNO got approval to open another four campuses this spring, but leaders said they will not open any of them, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The idea that CPS would open as many as 26 charter schools just a year after closing 50 neighborhood schools has riled many parents and activists. Also, questions are being raised by plans in the proposals to rent space from landlords who have connections to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, including one with a pastor planning to put a mega-church development in Chatham.

Passages Charter School’s proposal to expand their elementary to a high school is the only one not on the agenda. Passages Principal Nicole Feinberg says she has no idea why their proposal is not on the agenda and is waiting for CPS to call her and tell her. (Updated 1/21)

Others proposing charter schools say they are in the dark as to what is going on with their proposal. “I have no clue,” said Ron Giles, who is the design team leader for Connected Futures Academies.

Connected Futures wants to open five 160-student alternative high schools with the first two or three starting up this Fall. Giles says Connected Futures alternative schools will connect students with the wraparound services provided by churches and with career development programs offered by City Colleges of Chicago.

Like Giles, Deborah Um’rani, who is design team leader at Curtis Sharif STEM Charter School, says she has heard little from CPS officials. She has only been told she will be allowed to make a presentation at Wednesday’s board meeting.

Um’rani, who has been praised as the director of the Early Outreach Program of the University of Illinois at Chicago, wants approval to open four campuses over the next few year, with only one opening in fall of 2014. Like other operators proposing multiple campuses, each school is its own agenda item.

Many of the charter school proposals for this year are newcomers. Mike Rogers, who is executive director of the Chicago Educational Partnership, which wants to open one campus in Austin, says he had no idea what to expect from the process. Waiting til the day of the board meeting to find out the fate of the proposal is difficult.

“We put a lot into what we think is an outstanding proposal,” he says. “We are hopeful.”

New physical education policy

The other big agenda item—the one requiring physical education daily for all students—would result in a big change for CPS students. The lack of physical education has long been criticized by parents and advocacy organizations, but it is unclear how the school district will pay for it.

Schools will have to submit a three-year plan for how they will implement it. Also CPS got a $750,000 Carol M. White Physical Education Program grant, but that is likely way less than the needed additional teachers would cost.

“We like the idea of daily P.E., but it will have to come with funding,” says Wendy Katten, director of the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand. “I haven’t crunched the numbers, but the current levels are not sufficient for providing what schools are wanting ad needing to provide, prior to (this mandate)… With a lot of schools, it is going to require hiring a whole new teacher. There is nothing schools can cut to make this happen.”

Guillermo Gomez, vice president for urban affairs of Healthy Schools Campaign, said his organization turned in more than 7,000 petition signatures asking for the change.

“What you have now is that a majority of schools only have PE once a week (for 30 minutes). Over the last 14 or 15 years, for the high schools, there have also been waivers for junior and senior years,” Gomez says.

He says that ideally, elementary students will now get an hour of physical activity each day, comprising 30 minutes of physical education, 20 minutes of recess, and 10 minutes of movement in their core classes.

Though Gomez is a supporter, he thinks that facilities and teachers will pose challenges.

“You have to phase it in,” he says. “I would think that like anything else, you can’t expect it to be passed today and be done tomorrow. We are looking at a phase-in over a 3-year period to work out any of the challenges that may be there. It definitely will cost some money, but the overall benefit in terms of student health is a major consideration.”

The charter schools up for consideration are:

  • Noble Street Charter School is proposing two campuses, one campus at 5321 W. Grand Ave. and another at 17 N. State St. This will be Noble Street’s second downtown campus with the Muchin Campus at 1 N. State.
  • Be The Change proposing one charter school to go into the McKinley Park
  • Chicago Education Partnership one school in Austin.  
  • Concept Schools is proposing two schools, one in Chatham and the other in Chicago Lawn.
  • Connected Futures is proposing five charter schools and all the locations to be determined.
  • Curtis Sharif is proposing four campuses. One would open this coming fall and it would serve the Chicago Lawn and Ashburn areas.
  • Great Lakes Charter is proposing one campus with the location to be determined
  • Intrinsic School is proposing four additional charter schools. One of them is to be located on the Northwest Side and the other three are to be determined.

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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