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Parents Face Tough Choices as CPS Attendance Boundaries Change

How does a community like Englewood adapt to changes that impact the education of the youth, the neighborhood, and the community? How are our local elementary schools handling changes in CPS policy and surviving the ripple impact?

Across the city, fewer students are attending their neighborhood elementary school—their families are choosing to send their children to another CPS school or a charter school. And many neighborhood schools have fewer students attending at all.

In Englewood, both these trends are happening at the neighborhood level—but each school has a unique situation. Englewood also has had several elementary schools close, and those students had to find a new school. In this series, we take a look at the data and the stories of three Englewood schools.

In the last decade Chicago Public Schools has under gone major changes, which included change of administration, budget cuts, a teacher’s strike that garnered national attention and the largest school closure in our nation’s history in 2013.

On September 8, all Chicago Public Schools resumed classes for the 2015-2016 school year; the administration and students are anticipating a successful school year. In July of this year Mayor Rahm Emmanuel announced $200 million in budget cuts and 1,400 job cuts from CPS after the district-borrowed money to make a $634 million pension plan agreement.

LISC Chicago collected data from CPS to analyze the attendance of schools in Englewood, and three schools stood out: Carrie Jacobs Bond Elementary School, Perkins Bass Elementary School and Nicholson Technology Academy. Our goal is to look at how the number of students in a neighborhood school’s attendance area impacts the quality of education at the school.

We know there has been a significant amount of changes within CPS, through the attendance data we see some schools lost a significant amount of neighborhood kids attending, some schools received a large influx of students, and some schools attendance of students living in the neighborhood remained stable over a course of six years. The most important thing is to understand why and how the remaining open schools in Englewood have managed throughout the years of changes in CPS.

History of CPS

The fact that CPS has a long history of its ups and downs has been well documented, plus a known fact that parents have not been fully engaged in CPS.

In 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike for the first time since 1987, garnering national attention. The strike had CPS and CTU debating on terms for a fair teacher contract, which included an increase in pay, increase in health care benefits, a new teacher evaluation system and hiring discretion for CPS principals.

At the end of eight days, both sides walked away with some of their terms met, and the students received longer school days, a shorter summer vacation and nearly two years of instruction time added to the school career of each student starting the following year.

In May of 2013, faced with a $1 billion budget deficit, CPS closed 47 elementary schools, including several community schools in the Greater Englewood community: Armstrong, Guggenheim, Altgeld, Banneker, Bontemps, Woods and King. CPS announced that schools with declined enrollment, low performance and underutilization would close.

CPS budget cuts are again in the news. According to a Chicago Tribune article in July, Jesse Sharkey, Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union announced that the recent budgets imposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel will do serious damage to neighborhood schools and would force principals to lay off staff in order to meet their new budget.

Three Schools, Three Stories

Englewood was once home to the second busiest shopping district in Chicago and the community thrived in aspects of homeownership, economic development and a large population of over 86,000 residents in the 1920s.

Fast forward to the present. Englewood is improving, despite the media headlines and reports of lack of economic development, high crime, poverty, lack of access to quality food, foreclosed homes and poor performing schools.

The new Kennedy-King College building was built in 2008 at 63rd Halsted, where the former shopping district existed and in 2009 the new 7th District Police Station was built. In 2013, the City of Chicago announced a new retail plan for the development of 63rd Halsted and the anchor business Whole Foods. By 2014, the groundbreaking for the Whole Foods and other retail businesses began.

Bass Elementary is an example of improvements in Englewood. With CPS’s major changes in schools in Englewood, we looked at data that measures where a school’s students live.

Not all Chicago Public School students go to the school that includes their address in its attendance area. They can apply to go to a charter school, a magnet, a special program, or even another neighborhood school (if that school has the capacity).

Citywide, the number of CPS elementary school students who don’t attend their neighborhood school has risen from 26% in 2000 to 38% in 2014. In CPS lingo, these are students who are “residing, not attending.”

In 2013 some 230 students were attending Bass but not living in the attendance boundaries. This is a huge increase from 2012, when only 60 students from outside the attendance boundaries were attending. Bass became the receiving school in 2013 for the students from the closed Woods Elementary.

Bass was known for its poor attendance and its struggling academic performance. For nearly 20 years Bass has been a Level Three school, which is a poor performance rating from CPS. By 2014 the school became a Level One, a good CPS rating, making Bass one of the top schools by rating in Englewood’s Network 11.

The school continues to show more improvement. Bass was also ranked as most improved in the area of attendance in 2014, according to Brenda Bell, CPS Family and Community Engagement Facilitator.

In a matter of two years it seemed that the narrative changed dramatically, with so much going on how was this possible? Bass has gone through a lot of changes in addition to the challenges within CPS. In 2012, the year the teacher strike occurred, Bass received a new principal. Sabrina Jackson, long time Parent Advocate and PAC (Parent Advisory Chair) of Bass Elementary says her school was able to survive because of a lot of hard work and dedication.

At Nicholson Elementary, from 2008-2013 at least 60% or more kids from its attendance area consistently attended the neighborhood school, which is relatively high among the three schools mentioned in this article.

The attendance boundary of Nicholson received almost twice the amount of students in 2013 as it did in 2012, because Nicholson became the receiving school for students of a closing school, Bontemps. The total amount of kids residing in 2012 was 608 and 2013 the number went 1067.

Now, with nearly twice as many students residing in the new attendance area but choosing to go to Nicholson, the interesting fact is that the number of students in the school’s attendance area but not choosing to go to the school rose almost tripled in 2013. We know that Bontemps parents chose not to send their kids to the school, but we don’t know why. However we also know that the students living in the original attendance boundaries remained consistent. The question is where did the students from Bontemps go to attend school?

Nicholson emphasizes in technology, has a rigorous math curriculum and has a reading curriculum that allows students to experience reading materials at their current levels. From the school academic ratings and the stable attendance, we see that Nicholson continued to thrive in the midst of the changes in CPS.

The numbers for Bond Elementary reveal data that reflects a decline in the amount of overall attendance and number of neighborhood students attending. Although Bond added more students from 2008 to 2012, the number dropped the next year. And CPS data shows a big decrease of neighborhood students attending from 2012 to 2013.

In 2012, 156 students residing in the area were not attending the school. In 2013, 513 youth lived in the area but were not attending.

Bond was the receiving school for Guggenheim in 2012. From 2012 to 2013 the total number of students residing in the school’s attendance area and going to the school decreased by more than half: More and more neighborhood kids are not attending schools in their neighborhood. Where did the students who left Guggenheim attend school?

What can be attributed to the decline of neighborhood kids attending their neighborhood school actually varies from school to school. For schools that have strong neighborhood attendance but academic ratings remain low, we can assume the administration is consistently keeping the students engaged and coming back each school year, but they struggle to improve performance.

In Part Two of our series, we will look at some of the changes at these schools in Englewood as CPS changes its attendance boundaries as schools close, and the impact that has had on the academic performance of the students.

Keywords: CPS, Englewood Schools, Grammar School, School Closures

Posted in Neighborhood News

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