Chicagoans saw little democracy in closing hearings

Before the Chicago Public Schools voted to close 49 schools, the board conducted public hearings to allow parents, students, teachers, and other community members to address the school closings. But at least one Chicago resident says the board knew how things would turn out before the hearings occurred.

We join Irami Osei-Frimpong with his video on YouTube and echo his opinion that Chicago residents should be embarrassed at the process used by the school district at what should have been public hearings and a voice of democracy. Instead, the hearings were nothing more than venting sessions that CPS officials and police commanders had to sit through long enough to make an appearance for the record.

We are pleased to transcribe, for the sake of hearing-impaired readers or those who prefer a written format, the video Mr Osei-Frimpong posted on YouTube. We agree that the process was undemocratic.

By Irami Osei-Frimpong and others as cited

I’m a graduate student living in Hyde Park, so I went to the public meeting concerning the potential closing of my neighborhood middle school, Canter Middle School [4959 S Blackstone, Chicago]. I wanted to participate in the back-and-forth of deliberative democracy. And as soon as I walked through the metal detectors to my seat, it became obvious that this was a shakedown. I was being extorted. They had a guy with a gun, victims pleading for their livelihood, …

Us kids need … education as much as adults need money.

… and an […] executive.

[inaudible over applause]

RICK PERLSTEIN, a writer and resident of the Hyde Park neighborhood:
They addressed a panel of CPS bureaucrats and, by the way, a fourth member at the table who was a police commander for the division in case some 12-year-old decided he wanted to storm the stage.

No more words needed to be said. They were going to close the schools. They were going to close on their timeline, and if I had a problem with that, they had brought their solution [shows picture of the police commander].

JULIAN DeSHAZIER, pastor at University Church:
The town hall meetings are not dialogs; they are one person talking to another, and the other is protected by a police presence.

CPS administration has their solutions, and I have mine.

The things that we say about violence in the city, which we know is an epidemic at plague levels, right? The things that we say—that it’s sudden, that it’s jarring, that it disrupts a community, that it is traumatic, that it uproots and destabilizes—these are the same things that we can say about how these school closings are happening. These school closings are violent, and that’s the problem.

My wife and I spoke. We gathered up our infant and went to talk to some Hyde Parkers about the vices and virtues of Canter Middle School. I can’t do due diligence to all 50 schools on the closure list, but I can take a day to talk to people about Canter.

TOM PINELLAS, a parent of Canter Middle School graduates:
Look at the research that Raise Your Hand has done. They show in very concrete terms why Canter is not only a successful school but an exceptional school.

When I first heard about the mass of neighborhood school closings, I assumed that the Chicago local school councils had been involved in the decision-making process. Local school councils consist of parents, community members, teachers and the principal of the school. They seem like the obvious people to involve if you want to try to transform a neighborhood institution in a responsible way.

VICTORIA LONG, an LSC member for Chicago’s Kazminski Community Academy:
But the LSC was never asked, or never contacted, never involved.

LINA FRITZ, an LSC member for Chicago’s Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School:
We are a neighborhood and a community that is passionate about our schools. And we are willing to work for free. We are actually organizing ourselves so that we can keep our schools open so that we can lift up our neighborhood schools.

JANE AVERILL, a parent of Canter Middle School graduates:
If they had a plan, a long-term plan, which a lot of people have said they need …

I don’t think they did any research on the neighborhood to find out whether the neighborhood is growing or losing population.

IRA ABRAMS, teacher in Chicago Public Schools:
Intelligence is about recognizing the uniqueness of situations.

Instead of working with the local school councils and the people who practically inhabit the building, the central administration came up with a formula.

ANGELA PARANJAPE, child development coordinator; spouse of Canter M.S. teacher:
The formula is the “ideal” class size: the range between 24 and 36, with 30 being the midpoint.

My school is currently estimated at 70 percent.

It has to do with how many kids in each classroom.

Some students need to take exams. There was nowhere where I could put a student. There’s nowhere in my school where I could put a student. There wasn’t a single free space. But it’s 70 percent utilized.

Yeah, actually more than 26 desks don’t fit in his classroom. The classrooms are not large.

I went in and actually did a walkthrough of the school with my principal just to see what the utilization is. And they do have smaller class sizes, and it’s wonderful.

CARENEN OSEI-FRIMPONG, video director’s wife:
You know, they didn’t have 30 in a classroom; they had 20 in a classroom. That’s what these kids need.

PATRICK PAPCZUN, math teacher at Canter Middle School:
Kids that come into my classroom tell me things like they’ve lost family members, they saw somebody get shot and killed this weekend. They tell us stuff. These are the things that go on in their neighborhoods. Yet they can come to school: it’s a safe place in a safe neighborhood.

Canter is a successful school. I don’t care what they say.

When a group of seventh graders come to this school, they’re scoring on the ISAT scores in blue [shows double bar graph with blue being below a red bar in each pair].

I was in a horrible, horrible community, a horrible neighborhood. Last year in my schools, I had gotten all F’s in my classes. But this year, as I came to Canter, it actually changed me: I got better grades.

They don’t have to worry about being jumped after school. They don’t have to worry about getting involved in gangs. They know we have teachers that really care there, and they know they’re also mixing in with a lot of students, and a lot of group [inaudible], who are altogether doing great stuff.

That same group, when we look at them in eighth grade and we see the kinds of gains they’ve made in that one year at Canter [points to another double bar graph with red bars much higher than blues: assume the red bars represent the eighth-grade scores].

I love school, and I say, don’t close Canter down. It’s a wonderful school. And I know all the teachers and students that goes to Canter really, really love it, and plus the community, all these teachers and parents.

We went to the public hearings, and not only did we see that a formula had been derived, but it had been derived and applied to Canter Middle School without talking to members of the local community or the local school council.

What is the city saying when we say, “OK, we’re just going to uproot and suddenly destabilize all that this community is,” because schools are still at the center of communities? And that’s something that we don’t talk about enough.

Every Chicago citizen should be ethically embarrassed by the conversation leading up to the May 22nd CPS Board vote. —Irami Osei-Frimpong

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.