Chicago school debate comes to Capitol (VIDEO)


SPRINGFIELD -- Jose Dominguez came to the Capitol looking for answers.

He doesn’t understand why Pablo Casals Elementary School, the school in his community that he attended, is among those being singled out as “turn-around” schools, a dubious distinction that would have Chicago Public School officials replace all of the school’s teachers and administrators.

“They’re trying to take the whole staff our school currently has and put in untrained, first-time teachers” said Dominguez, now a senior at Lake View High School.  “Personally, all the teachers that are in Pablo Casals Elementary right now, I still have a relationship with.  If new teachers come in, we won’t have the same trust we have with the new teachers.”

Dominguez isn’t alone in his concerns. Dozens of students, parents and members of community groups traveled to the Capitol this week to testify before the Illinois Senate Education Committee in support of a plan that would slow down the closure and turn-around process

Jitu Brown, a school council member at Dyett High School council member also made the trip to tell Senators that the process underway now in Chicago is not real reform.

“We’ve seen the impacts of these decisions and they are destabilizing performing schools because these schools receive students from school closings,” said Brown, who is also an educational organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, a grassroots group fighting school closures.

Brown said his community has seen 15 school closings and one high school turn around in 12 years.  Another two schools in the area are proposed closures, while two more are proposed turn-arounds.  

 “It happens over and over again. This is not reform,” he said.

These lingering questions and issues led State Sen. Iris Y. Martinez to sponsor legislation that would put a one-year moratorium on CPS turn-arounds and closures.

“I want to work with CPS and I’m not against reform,” said Martinez. “I understand changes are needed, and I agree with some of the closings. But, in this case, and others, CPS simply hasn’t made the case to justify that it’s in the students’ best interests, and for some reason they won’t engage the community to discuss the issue.”

A new law signed in August requires CPS to be transparent and follow clear procedures, including involving the local community, when recommending closures and turn-arounds.

But students, parents, teachers, community groups and some lawmakers contend that CPS is not following these guidelines.  

“CPS keeps telling people what they’re going to do, but not talking to people about what they’re going to do,” said Martinez.  “The communities who are affected by these proposed closures need to be included in this process.  We need answers, we need transparency, information, and community involvement.  We can’t support decisions when the reasons are not shared with the community.”

For instance, Dominguez and many others don’t understand how Pablo Casals in Humboldt Park can be singled out for these extreme measures when many other schools in the district have lower test scores.

“Turn-arounds and closures are not a good proposal,” said Domingez.  “Let the people, the parents, and the students decide and have some say in school closure.”

The Senate Education Committee hearing continued for several hours as both opponents and supporters of the school closings testified about Martinez’s legislation.

CPS officials told Senators that a moratorium would simply force students to remain in failing schools another year. They defended the process they’ve used and said they’ve complied with the requirements needed to pursue the closures and turn-arounds.

No vote was taken by the committee. The plan remains pending for consideration in the Illinois Senate.


Pablo Casals Elementary in Humboldt Park School is one of several schools that have recently been targeted by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for the district’s controversial ‘turnaround’ process, which removes and replaces all administration and faculty.

In response, lawmakers are asking Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to take community input before performing ‘turnarounds’ or closing schools. Legislators have called to slow down or halt school closures and ‘turnarounds’ because CPS is closing or turning around schools that have higher test scores then others that will remain open.

Pablo Casals Elementary School has been slated by CPS as a turnaround candidate, despite the fact that over 61 percent of students at Casals have met the state standards for education. While this is still 12 percent below the district average, there are many other schools in the system that are performing worse. However, CPS has not closed or turned around other lower-performing schools.

Pablo Casals Elementary is located in the district of State Senator William Delgado (D – Chicago). Delgado is also founding member of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force. 

delgado75x75“In the beginning, CPS would reserve these turnaround actions for the lowest performing schools,” Senator Delgado said. “There are over 140 other schools doing worse than Pablo Casals, so I want to know why they are being singled out.” 

martinez-75x75“We’re not against closing underperforming schools, but there needs to be a process that involves community input and teacher input,” said Senator Iris Martinez. 

Senator Martinez, whose district is also impacted by turnarounds and closures, said she is considering filing legislation that would put a one year moratorium on CPS from closing any CPS school.

“If we move forward with the legislation, it would be to slow the process until CPS has a better understanding of what prior measure, Senate Bill 630 is calling for. There is a process that needs to be followed, and we want to make sure CPS follows that process.”

A new law signed this past August implemented the findings of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force. It requires CPS to be transparent and follow clear procedures when leaders make facility changes. Lawmakers contend that CPS is not following procedures set in place by the new law.

The Task Force, established in 2009, is comprised of 17 members. Its mission is ensuring that school facility-related decisions are made with the input of the community and reflect educationally sound and fiscally responsible criteria.

Since 2001, when CPS first announced it would close three underperforming schools, the school district has closed and consolidated 65 schools and performed ‘turnarounds’ at 15 schools. The 2011/2012 School Year will see another 4 closings along with another 9 ‘turnarounds’. These closures and ‘turnarounds’ have impacted mostly poor and minority communities on the West and South Sides of the city, along with Humboldt Park and the Near West Side. Many times, when a school shuts down, the building is taken over by charter, magnet or selective enrollment schools.

In December WBEZ featured a story mapping the 10 years of closures and turnarounds by CPS.

Members of the General Assembly are expected to take a look at this issue when they return to Springfield this spring.

Additional reading:

State task force to ask for school closing moratorium – Catalyst Chicago

"Enough is Enough," says Delgado