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Alderman Roderick T. Sawyer's Open Letter on School Closings

To Whom It May Concern,

My hope is to lower the volume on the arguments just a little bit.  As we approach the final school board meeting where the fate of up to 53 public schools with be in the hands of the school board, I want to be sure that my position on the issue is clear.  I think that this entire process is going on too fast.

My concern with closing schools because they are underutilized is that we don’t talk about why they are underutilized.  If a neighborhood has been decimated by the housing crisis, or has a large population of seniors, those neighborhood schools might have fewer children in direct proximity.  Yet, will this always be the case.  Is it our policy that we are giving up hope that areas with a large number of vacancies will come back, or will we just build schools when and if that happens?  If you have people around and attendance has dropped, is that due to the school or is it due to the drum beat that has labeled neighborhood schools “failure factories” despite performance, improvements or targeted efforts?  As we create “safe passage” plans, are we taking into considerations situations like Yale School in my ward where the walk is through long abandoned areas of the city that do not have workable sidewalks nor enough population that it has been seen as a reasonable investment for menu money? The basic point is what is the plan?

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?  Both goals may be noble but that is a policy discussion that should be held in public.  I was fortunate.  I was able to go to great schools that were private that gave me a love for learning and the opportunity to follow my dreams.  My goal is to ensure that the ability to follow ones greatest dreams never becomes the sole possession of those born to the powerful and well connected.

So let us know.  We had hearings before and after the list came out yet no criteria for what made an underutilized school worth saving.  Beyond treats like ipads and gardens how are these new schools going to provide a better education for our children?  How are they going to fill in the gaps for our parents?  How are they going to better engage in our community?

When people do not know what your vision of success is and whether it included people like them, they are unlikely to trust it.  If nothing else the protests and emotions deserve a recognition that this issue goes beyond some of the cynical motives of politics as usual that we too often ascribe to government disagreements.  People have protested, yelled, begged and cried to be heard.  The question they ask now is if anyone in power was listening.



Keywords: Alderman Roderick T. Sawyer, Chicago Public Schools

Posted in Education

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