Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Overcrowding on the NWside

Last night, I attended the North/NWside Collaborative's community meeting at Taft High School. This was to provide feedback on the CPS Educational Facilities Master Plan. Todd Babbitz conducted the presentation and took feedback. His employee, Portfolio Manager Ben Felton, co-moderated. Ben spoke to the PTA Advisory Council last year.

Irritatingly, the drafters of the CPS Education Facilities 10-Year Draft Plan have divided the city's schools in yet a new way, using some of the city's 17 community areas rather than the FACE designation of Networks or the Areas previously established by our federal Secretary of Education. 

This makes an apples to apples comparison difficult. Does CPS deliberately slice and dice the data a new way each time? In February 2013, we discussed overcrowding in the O'Hare Network, which contains 44 elementary schools, of which 21 were deemed above ideal utilization rates by CPS itself. In the Facilities draft, the O'Hare, Ravenswood-Ridge, and Fulton Networks were combined and then subdivided again into Albany-Irving, Sauganash, Ravenswood, and other community areas. 

My comments here--and my comments last night--concern the Albany-Irving area specifically, as these students and their families are my neighbors and/or friends. Under the draft plan, Albany-Irving has 31 schools, 10 of which are overcrowded by CPS's 30-to-a-homeroom averaging formula. Tim Meegan, whose point often gets lost in his "everything is wrong with CPS" perspective, pointed out in his comments that the only school in the Albany-Irving area that is under-utilized is Aspira-Haugan Middle School--and this despite overcrowded conditions in the three schools nearest to the building. And yet, although CPS owns the building (or at least paid for it), it appears to have no plans to phase it out. (Perhaps as part of the "several" charters that CPS has closed, per Barbara Byrd-Bennett?) 

Presenter Babbitz asked for directed feedback to the plan, asking participants their opinions on the "guiding principles" outlined in the draft plan, priorities, and suggested solutions. Of course, since the BoE and CPS provide most parents with only two minutes of speaking time, most people use public forums like these to vent all of their frustrations with CPS on the poor, but highly paid, Central Office soul sitting on the stage, while Network managers hover in a cluster nearby. Last night was no exception. 

Ald. Smith droned on for nearly 15 minutes about the overcrowding at Lincoln Elementary, causing one parent in the back row to stand up with a "point of preference" that Smith had outrun even the most lenient timekeeping of a two-minute speaking allotment. Ald. Arena kept it briefer, highlighting three 45th ward schools with the worst overcrowding conditions (Hitch, Belding, and Prussing) and noting that 85 percent of 45th ward residential real estate are single-family houses. (And to his point: this neighborhood has enjoyed a steady, owner-occupied, mid-price range residency since 1942; contrast that with Census figures for Halsted and Fullerton for the same era. The data is available in the government records section of Harold Washington Library.)

Two speakers--Decatur's principal and a parent of a 13-year-old--advocated for more SE considerations. Three speakers advocated for more space/additions/improvements for Taft H.S. One, a teacher and parent, William Angel, pointed out that the feeder schools for Taft have mostly received additions without thought to where these students will go for high school and where they can put them within Taft. Six speakers alternately challenged and agreed with Ald. Smith about Lincoln Elementary, suggesting that a neighborhood with $1.2 million SFHs didn't need an addition/expansion just because they were rich and demanded it. Others suggested instead that CPS de-magnetize Newberry and/or LaSalle (because the rich people demanded it? Oy vey.) Two speakers from Wildwood Magnet (is this a magnet or a magnet cluster? CPS.edu lists it as a magnet) spoke about severe overcrowding at their school. Jill Wohl from Raise Your Hand live-tweeted it from the forum if you'd like more information from the forum.

I hadn't gone in to the forum intending to speak, but did want to provide feedback on on parts of the draft plan that I read:

My name is Caroline Bilicki, and I have three children at Disney II Magnet School. I have three comments on the draft plan. One--really more of a question: How can CPS promote a 21st century learning environment without a science lab, like Scammon or Murphy, or without a tech lab, like Belding or Henry?

Two it's not so much that I'd like to see you offer more programs, but sustain what you have. As Ben knows, I sit on the PTA Advisory Council, and every year, we are introduced to new heads of new initiatives that disappear 12 months later. 

And three, another question: Why does CPS want to pursue choice as a strategy? Is this a method to reduce costs? Is this something that parents want? Because I'm pretty sure that most NWside parents don't want charters as a choice. Another comment on choice: with open enrollment, neighborhood CPS schools become "schools of choice" in ways that belie the Census projections used by CPS in the Albany-Irving areas and/or within the O'Hare Network. 


Mayfair Dad said...

"Does CPS deliberately slice and dice the data a new way each time?" Yes, to make their massive failure to properly forecast population growth and manage their real estate assets appear less glaring. It's easier to bamboozle the sheeple when you keep moving the bullseye. The point made about Taft's overcrowding is valid. Most if not all of the Taft feeder schools are overcrowded, at capacity or recipients of new additions that will soon reach capacity. The NW side needs a new 2,500 student neighborhood high school that also offers magnet programs - think of the Lincoln Park H.S. model where close to 75% of the students are enrolled in highly coveted IB, DH or Performing Arts magnet programs. This will address both overcrowding and Tier 4 desires for college prep programs that compare favorably to SE high schools.

Haugan-Aspira Middle School was saved during the last round of actions because it is (for all intents and purposes) a Turnaround School. The administrative staff and most teachers are new. That being said, I think they are on a very short leash. It serves a high poverty, high crime population smack dab in the center of gang territory. It is understandable to covet their shiny new facilities but if you take over the building, you inherit the problems. Buyer beware.

Caroline Pollock Bilicki said...

MFD, I wonder if the popularity of schools like Disney II will convince CPS that it can retain families--if that is what it wants to do--by offering good, non-SE options for high schools? I'd also like to see what the enrollment rate (vs admissions offers and WL) is like for ALL schools because it would tell more of the story. Agassiz managed to call WL numbers in the 300s for K spots this year, but if they were calling into the 300s, the demand is clearly not as high as we had thought.

Mayfair Dad said...

The Disney II model is interesting because it mirrors what some Catholic schools have been doing for a while: K through 12. I spoke to a respected former principal about the challenges of opening CPS Junior High Schools as a means to address overcrowding at the elementary school level. Imagine blending kids from 5-6 different elementary schools at the peak of their hormonal squirrellyness and trying to introduce a new set of rules and a new set of expectations in a new setting as the Lord of the Flies social pecking order is being sorted out simultaneously. Recipe for chaos. K - 12 offers consistency and familiarity. Even new kids added to the mix at the Junior High level benefit from the stability. I can see Decatur and other successful elementary programs pursuing this.

Caroline Pollock Bilicki said...

MFD, true. You just described my suburban 1980s junior high experience perfec.....oh sorry, that was just me flinching....tly.

I think that is likely what caused some suburban school systems to adopt grade centers, although that is an impossible model for CPS and is not free from problems even within the smaller suburban districts operating under such a model.