No issue has divided Chicago as deeply in the past year as education. From last September’s Chicago Teachers Union strike, which left the city’s 350,000 students homebound, to the closure this year of fourty-nine Chicago Public Schools, the city’s South Side aldermen have had ample opportunities to sound off about how recent events affect their communities. These eight comments encapsulate the stakes the South Side holds in the city’s various education debates.
“I don’t need [Emanuel’s] permission to run my ward. [The mayor and CPS] were suggesting sites for the school without talking to me first…I was never opposed to having an alternative school in my ward because South Shore needs one.”
—On her opposition to the proposed opening of a Magic Johnson Bridgescape School in Chicago’s South Shore due to an alleged lack of appropriate permits and the opposition of residents in the school’s immediate vicinity, September 6, 2013 (DNAinfo)
The decision by Bridgescape to open instead in Roseland, in the 34th Ward, rankled area parents. This past February, Hairston was one of thirty-five aldermen to sign a City Council resolution calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion for the 2014-2015 school year. The ward’s Enrico Fermi Elementary School has closed.
“I am not attempting to demonize the Mayor. I am certain that he believes that he is doing what is in the best interest for our children. The problem is that I do not know enough about his vision to agree or disagree. Is the goal of the upheaval that a student in a poor neighborhood can get the type of education that can send him to the Ivy League or is the goal that he is trained for a job?
—From an open letter on school closings, May 21, 2013 (6thwardchicago.com)
Sawyer was another signatory to the charter school moratorium resolution. The ward’s Elihu Yale Elementary School has closed.
“It’s going to be a fight in Englewood. No doubt. Those people are not gonna sit back and be rolled over.”
—On reports of the recommendation of eighty CPS schools for closure, March 11, 2013 (ABC 7)
Foulkes was another signatory to the charter school moratorium resolution. The Ward’s Elaine O. Goodlow Elementary Magnet School has closed.
“They are going to feud. The children are already the Hatfields and the McCoys. They are not going to stop.”
—On the closing of Songhai Elementary Learning Institute and the merging of its student population with its bitter rival, Curtis Elementary School, May 22, 2013 (Chicago Tribune)
In addition to Songhai, two other schools have closed in the 34th Ward: Alfred David Kohn Elementary School and West Pullman Elementary School. Austin was another signatory to the charter school moratorium resolution.
“It is just unfortunate they don’t show more respect for the alderman in any of the decisions that they make. There should have been briefings before it became public.”
—On the lack of communication between Mayor Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools, and city aldermen in the lead up to the release of the school closing plan, March 21, 2013 (Chicago Tribune)
Cochran was one of four co-sponsors of the charter school moratorium resolution. In October 2012, Cochran founded the 20th Ward Education Task Force, a group of school staff and community residents that meets monthly to discuss education in the ward. The Ward’s Betsy Ross and Austin Sexton Elementary Schools have closed.
“It’s obvious that the Board of Education here is playing with the numbers to their advantage, saying that they’ll be saving millions and millions and millions of dollars. There’s no real rhyme or reason as to how they’re gonna be saving this much money.”
—On the admission by CPS that it had overestimated the resulting savings for its school closure plan by $122 million dollars, May 6, 2013 (WBEZ)
Muñoz was another co-sponsor of the charter school moratorium resolution. He is a member of the City Council’s Progressive Reform Coalition which, according to its statement of principles, supports high-quality public education that focuses on providing fair and equal resources for neighborhood schools with wrap-around services, funding for early childhood development, and strong youth programs.
“I just thought they should have stayed in the classroom, and just give negotiations a little more time, instead of this gamesmanship going on that I see…It’s not about money. It just seems that way.”
—On his opposition to last year’s eight day Chicago Teachers’ Union strike, September 10, 2012 (CBS 2)
Cardenas has faced heavy community opposition over the past year for his support for the opening of a new school run by Concept Charter Schools in McKinley Park, owing to a perceived lack of local involvement and questions about the proposed site’s environmental safety.
“My community doesn’t have as many children as we had twenty-five years ago, when working families were raising children. I have a lot of retired people living within my boundaries. It’s a reality of the world we live in. It’s all about the numbers. The numbers don’t lie.”
—On her general support for the CPS closure plans, March 21, 2013 (Chicago Sun-Times)
Harris has argued that shifting population centers necessitate the closure of some schools in predominantly black neighborhoods.
Illustrations by Hanna Petroski