So I went to this press conference on Tuesday morning. A group of about 20 or 30 folks plus another ten or so from the press, parked outside the mayor's office on the 5th floor of City Hall. Several parent speakers, a couple of university researchers, and representatives from the scattered quilt of groups working on behalf of schools. Lights, camera, action.
I have never: a) been to the 5th floor of City Hall; b) been inside City Hall at all; c) been at a press conference; or d) seen one old dude manage to disrupt an entire event all by himself. ("He's been coming up here for 19 years," said the kindly police officer I spoke to about maybe escorting him out for a brief time, as the speakers were inaudible over the crashing din his enthusiasm for self-expression was creating. "We can't remove him, he has equal rights to be here expressing himself too," she told me. I feel certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that if by chance Mayor Emanuel chose to hold a press conference just outside his office, Old Agitated Yelling Dude would not be allowed to express his constitutionally-guarded opinions at his God-given volume. I have to add that he was so disruptive that I thought maybe he was an employee of the Mayor's Office.)
So it was all very exciting for South Side CPS Mom. This press conference, it was the effort of a few groups--Raise Your Hand, Blocks Together, CReATE. They wanted to bring parents and community members of closing schools right there to the mayor's office; they wanted to bring university research on the real results of school closings right to the mayor's door. I heard more of what's already been said at the pointless community forums that happened in February: parents passionately explaining why their school should not be shut down. I heard the great data that's been gathered by the researchers of CReATE, which I've read before. And I heard something new.
This web, this quilt, this network of school support groups has a plan they're calling Walk the Walk.
Walk the Walk.
Every Tuesday afternoon, parents will gather at a closed school and walk to the new "welcoming" school. The mayor has been invited to join in.
He has been invited to join in and actually go--for the first time-to each of these schools. You know, neither he nor Barbara Byrd Bennett ever visited these schools, these 54 schools scheduled to be closed. Their underutilization metrics don't apply especially well to many of them. They don't actually know what assets some of these schools have, how their buildings are not actually "half empty," the critical role they occupy as safe havens in dangerous communities.
And I don't expect he'll come along on these walks. In fact I know he won't. He won't and neither will his school-closing CPS CEO. But I wish they would.
If they did they might learn more about, for instance, Lafayette Elementary School.
Lafayette is in Humboldt Park; 97% of its families are in poverty. It is an autism cluster, which means they have several autism classrooms with between 8 and 13 kids per room. (Oops, there's the first glaring statistical problem with the CPS underutilization formula, which posits every "rightsize" class at between 30 and 36.) I spoke to Lafayette parent and energetic LSC member Valerie Nelson. She told me of Lafayette's three-tiered program for autism, special education, and general education. As students are able, they move up to the next level. Many students are able. Nevertheless all those autistic kids are sure a big drag on the test scores! (Glaring statistical problem #2.)
There's something else about Lafayette. They have music there. I don't mean a music class where the kids get an egg shaker and sing Old McDonald (although that certainly has its charms.) I mean a music program where the kids do this:
Valerie told me that the music program includes many of Lafayette's special education kids.
Three years ago, before they were scheduled to be shuttered, the music program successfully raised over $25,000 in an online fundraiser to keep the kids in music. Here's the video from that fundraiser, in case you want to hear more from these kids. Just make sure you don't get carried away and donate at the end of the video because the fundraiser's over and the school's shutting down!
I don't know. What do you think, reader? Do you think the CPS formula adequately assessed Lafayette Elementary School? Is this what failure looks like?
Please. Consider joining us--and the mayor!--as we walk the walk every Tuesday. I'll post more about that soon.
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