Plans to consider the closure of three public elementary schools and the opening of a new one in the North Lawndale community have been put on hold as groups of residents with competing ideas for the revitalization of the neighborhood look to hammer out their differences in the coming months.
The two groups that submitted the proposal, the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and North Lawndale Community Action Council, withdrew the idea ahead of a Tuesday deadline that would have put the potential school consolidation up for consideration by the Board of Education. The groups said they want to engage their neighbors more thoughtfully before pushing forward with their proposal.
The plan faced heavy scrutiny from fellow residents, however, who have scars from years of disinvestment and underfunding. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s infamous and massive closure of 50 CPS schools citywide included two in North Lawndale. Most recently, the city’s school board voted to close Frazier Preparatory Academy Charter at the end of last school year.
First discussed this summer and formally submitted last month to Chicago Public Schools, the NLCCC and NLCAC’s idea was to merge three underfunded and underenrolled schools into a new North Lawndale STEAM Partnership Academy that would focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics education.
The new school would include a state-of-the-art building through a remodel of Sumner Elementary, but would close Sumner, Lawndale Community Academy and Crown Community Academy of Fine Arts, which have seen their combined student enrollment drop from 1,328 in 2010 to 620 this year, a 53% freefall. The drop was spurred in part by a cycle of underfunding causing families to move away or send their kids to schools outside the area, causing further underfunding.
The North Lawndale Parent and Community Coalition has provided the most forceful pushback to the plan with the support of the Chicago Teachers Union. Parents with that group said the proposed closures would further destabilize the community. About two dozen students, parents and teachers at the three schools told the school board at its November meeting that they would rather the schools be properly funded than closed.
The NLPCC said in a statement that it celebrates the withdrawal of the proposal and will “begin the process for a parent-led proposal that will address the root cause of under enrollment these schools face.”
“This proposal will stand in stark contrast to the initial plan put forth by North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council that would have closed three more community schools on the West Side without input and involvement from those most impacted,” the group said. “In the past month, NLPCC has knocked on hundreds of doors, gathered over 1,300 petition signatures, and had over 200 parents and teachers attend organizing meetings to ‘save our schools.’ This organizing work will be critical in developing a community proposal for further investments and ensuring the Black parents and students at these schools will have a voice in shaping their future.”
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton confirmed the withdrawal of the “thoughtful and comprehensive” proposal “in order to strengthen engagement and create additional opportunities for parent and community involvement.”
Bolton said the district vows to consider a proposal “only if it has significant support from community members and, most importantly, the families that currently attend the schools that may be involved.”
The school consolidation plan would follow an example set under schools chief Janice Jackson’s leadership in Englewood, where four high schools were shuttered to make way for the new Englewood STEM High School that opened this school year. Jackson said at that school’s unveiling in fall 2019 that she saw that formula as a viable one moving forward.