Residents denied entry to Southwest Side charter school proposal hearing
A NAC member addresses community residents who were refused entry into a CPS hearing on two new charter school proposals for the Southwest Side held Monday, Aug. 10 at Daley College. Photo by Marcos Ceniceros.
After over 100 neighborhood residents were locked out of a community hearing on proposals for new charter schools on Monday, members of CPS’s Neighborhood Advisory Council announced that a second hearing would be held on Tuesday, Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. at Kelly High School.
Following a press conference prior to the beginning of the hearing, held at Daley Community College, 7500 S. Pulaski, members of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council were blocked from entering the hearing by security staff who said the room was full.
Inside the small auditorium there were still some empty seats, but nearly all of the seating was occupied by supporters of Noble Charter Schools, which submitted one of two proposals considered at the hearing.
Whenever the doors of the auditorium were opened, the people outside could be heard chanting “Let us in!”
CPS should have found a larger meeting site after 1,000 residents turned out for a community meeting on the proposed charter expansion held last month in Brighton Park, said Patrick Brosnan, executive director of BPNC.
In the meeting, representatives of Noble and Stars Project Engineering Academy presented their proposals, members of the NAC gave their preliminary evaluations of the proposals, and questions from audience members were taken.
Angelica Alfaro of Noble emphasized the system’s academic record, including high college acceptance and graduation rates, and the “supportive and safe learning environments” of its charter schools. Noble is proposing to build a new high school for 1,100 students at the former site of the RC bottling plant at 47th and California.
Noble operates 16 high schools with 11,000 students in Chicago. Alfaro said over 2,000 of those students come from the Southwest Side. Earlier this year, Noble withdrew a proposal for a new high school in Rogers Park in the face of opposition from aldermen, residents, and local schools.
Stars Project Engineering Academy is focused on preparing minority youth for careers in science, technology, and engineering, said President Yolanda Sanchez, a former teacher at Juarez High School. The proposed school would be the group’s first.
Sanchez said the school’s design team includes engineers, architects, educators and business leaders, with The Resurrection Project on board for facility planning. The school would employ the Project Lead The Way engineering curriculum as part of a “holistic education” fostering healthy lifestyles, she said.
At the press conference before the hearing, Kelly High School students praised their school and called for an end to budget cuts that have created facility problems and cost the school staff and programs.
“Why is CPS bringing in another school when our existing schools are in dire need?” said Tykira Taylor.
Stephanie De Leon said “this school has helped me grow as a person and as a leader.” De Leon is president of the Kelly Student Council and also of the Chicago District Association of Student Councils. She said Kelly teachers “don’t deserve to lose their jobs because dollars are being diverted to unnecessary new schools.”
Simon Mancines called Kelly teachers “unsung heroes” who support students after school with programs ranging from sports to debate, from martial arts to flamenco dance.
Kelly’s budget was cut by $830,000 this year, on top of millions of dollars lost in recent years. That’s meant a loss of 50 staff members and of school programs including Advanced Placement Geography, Asian Studies and woodshop, said Eric Skalinder, a music teacher at the school.
Kelly “serves all students in the community, not just those who can jump through the hoops of a complicated application process,” Skalinder said, adding that charter schools serve much lower rates of English-learning and special-needs students.
While enrollment at charter and neighborhood schools is increasing at comparable rates, charter schools are getting a 9 percent increase this year while spending on neighborhood schools is being reduced by 7 percent, Skalinder said. “Our students see that and ask, are we 16 percent less valuable?” he said.
BPNC leader Sylvia Estrada, the mother of a Kelly student, said 20 area local school councils have gone on record opposing the charter expansion, as have elected officials including House Speaker Michael Madigan, County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, State Representative Silvana Tabares (21st District), and Aldermen Marty Quinn (13th), Raymond Lopez (15th), Derrick Curtis (18th) and Michael Zalewski (23rd).