Valerie F. Leonard, Lawndale Alliance

CPS has just restructured its networks to better align its academic goals and the geography of existing neighborhoods. Though the restructuring brought potential benefits, it puts North Lawndale schools in a more precarious position.The reorganization reduced the number of networks from 19, with separate networks for elementary schools and high schools, to 13 networks, each with a pre-k through 12th-grade structure. CPS hopes the new structure will allow for a more “coherent, continuous delivery of instruction for students starting in Pre-Kindergarten through the 12th grade.”

Some types of schools will operate under their own organizational structure. The Alternative Schools Network has been renamed the Department of Option Schools, and will report to the Office of Innovation and Incubation. Service Leadership Academies (military schools) will be counted in the new structure, but will operate as a separate unit within the district. Lastly, Academy for Urban School Leadership schools will no longer be included the networks and will instead be organized under the chief officer of network supports. To date, AUSL operates 4 schools in North Lawndale: Chalmers, Collins, Johnson and Herzl.

The Lawndale Alliance really likes the idea of creating networks that address education from pre-k through 12th grade. For too long, there has been a huge disconnect between early childhood education, elementary education and high school education. Many of the issues that affect education in elementary and high school have their foundation in a child’s formative years. We believe the new approach could help to better align curricula throughout children’s school years.

We look forward to more information about the new structure, including staff names, so that we can get a better understanding for how this will work from an operational standpoint.

Concerns about polarization

However, we are deeply concerned that this new structure could potentially cause more division within a system that is already dangerously polarized and divided.

This restructuring will allow many silos within single communities and result in less transparency for CPS stakeholders. Even worse, communities like North Lawndale don’t have a traditional neighborhood high school to fit within the new structure. With AUSL, charter and alternative schools ostensibly serving the same community but reporting to different network chiefs, the alignment that the new structure seeks to achieve could be undermined.

There is also the potential for traditional neighborhood schools to continue to be under-resourced while other schools continue to get more resources at their expense. With different types of schools all part of different networks, who at the community level would know about the disparity?

North Lawndale is in an especially precarious position. In our community, this new structure has separated our neighborhood high schools from the elementary schools. Collins High School is an AUSL school, and so will only be reaching out to AUSL elementary schools. For all intents and purposes, AUSL will be operating as an island unto itself in and around Douglas Park (with the exception of Herzl).

In addition, North Lawndale College Prep and other charters will be isolated into their own network, creating alignment among charter elementary schools and North Lawndale College Preparatory Charter High School.

Guess what? There is no traditional high school in North Lawndale with which the remaining traditional elementary schools can be aligned. What is the plan to prepare children from traditional elementary schools in North Lawndale for high school? With what high school does CPS propose to align them?

It’s bad enough that CPS closed 50 schools and developed a master facilities plan that does not adequately align capital resources with a strategic education plan that lifts ALL boats. Now, we have to live with a structure that compounds segregation in a hopelessly segregated system–this time, segregated by school type. How does this improve education for all?

A school system is only as strong as its weakest link. This structure weakens the majority of its members, and cannot be sustained.

Valerie F. Leonard is co-founder of the Lawndale Alliance.

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