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Public vs. Charters Debate Rages in Rogers Park

By Calvin Hahn
@RedLineProject

PostedThursday, March 14, 2013

When Ari Frede, founder of the Orange Charter School proposed to open up his school in Rogers Park in 2012, many people in the community opposed it, including teachers at nearby Gale Math and Science Academy.

“I have nothing against charter schools, but I don’t like it when they open up in communities where there are a lot of CPS schools,” said Luz Gomez, a kindergarten and bilingual teacher at Gale.

“We have Jordan, Field, New Field, all in the area. We don’t need charter schools to come and take away our kids.”

Gale, a pre-kindergarten through 8th-grade school with an enrollment of 492, fought and succeeded to stay off the list of the 129 CPS Schools faced with being shut down. With that in mind, the ramifications of school closures still have a profound impact on Chicago as a whole.

Turf battles between Chicago Public Schools and rival charter schools have been well documented. CPS schools argue that charter schools take funding away from public institutions, and some charter schools can institute selective enrollment. Charter schools also have the right to hire non-certified teachers.

“As a public school, of course charter schools are competition for us,” said Cassandra Washington,principal of Gale Academy. “Parents should have a choice of where their kids want to go, however I think that the playing field needs to be leveled a bit. What I am opposed to is charter schools opening up in public school buildings that have closed; does it really make sense to do that?”

But it happened in Rogers Park in the summer of 2012. According to Rogers Park News, St. Scholastica Academy, which opened its doors in 1906, closed when it lacked sufficient funds.

United Neighborhood Organization Charter Schools, which opened in 1984 to serve the needs of the Hispanic immigrant community, leased the building and opened in the fall of 2012.

Most of the CPS schools on the proposed closings list are in areas of low socioeconomic status. African-Americans and Hispanics make up a majority of the students attending these schools.

According to a March 6 article in the Chicago Sun-Times, schools that are at least 90 percent black have accounted for 103 of the 129 schools listed for closure. Nine other schools listed for closure are a majority Hispanic.

“I feel like those are the schools that need the most resources, they need support to help strengthen the schools, not close them,” said Tamika Graham, a kindergarten teacher at Gale. “Where are you going to put all these kids? They’re going to be displaced in different territories with the threat of gang violence hanging over them.”

Of Gale’s 492 enrolled students, 94.5 percent are low-income students. 60 percent are African-American and 27 percent are Hispanic.

Other CPS schools near Gale figure similarly in these statistics, according to demographics on CPS.edu.

Gale Academy Wall Painting (Photo/ Calvin Hahn)

“I can speak for where I work,” Gomez said. “These kids have trouble affording lunch even with the reduced fees. They say these schools are underutilized but there are after school programs taking place in these buildings all over Chicago. There is no such thing as an underutilized school.”

Compared to charter schools like UNO, CPS schools have difficulty finding money to enhance a better environment for students.

In 2009, UNO Chief Executive Juan Rangel secured a $98 million state grant with the help of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“If you look at our city, it’s very racially segregated,” Graham said. “You have large amounts of African-Americans on one side with white on the other. You shouldn’t have to go all the way up north to get a good education or have to live in an affluent neighborhood. These kids want the same opportunity that other kids have, they should be able to get a world class education in their own neighborhoods.”

As of March 2013, CPS adopted the Charter School method of receiving funding based on a per-pupil basis, according to a story in Catalyst Chicago.

Opening up Charter schools in areas where there are CPS schools could cause competition and neighborhood strife.

Many charter schools are not part of the union, so they have the option to instill unconventional curriculums and hire non-union teachers.

Maxine Gladney, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Gale, questions their capability to teach effectively.

 “I think that charter schools are not what they say they are,” she said. “I don’t feel like their teachers have been totally trained. Everything is so diverse and upgraded these days, you have to be trained in all of that to be effective with the children.”

According to a story in Chicago Reader, none of the top 40 schools in ISAT testing in 2011 was a charter school. Chicago International Charter Schools in Irving Park came in at 41. The highest UNO charter school, Marquez, came in at 99.

“Our schools in Rogers Park serve as hubs of the community,” Washington said. “There are so many things that go on within our buildings. It’s the place for students and families to go. If they closed any of these schools, it would be a real shame."

Note: The Orange School did not return repeated calls for comment. 

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