HIT LIST 2013: 'Fullerton Network' hearing February 28 continues protest against 'underutilization' claims for closing schools in the face of complex race, class and gentrification dynamics
Approximately 400 people were in attendance at the Armitage Baptist Church in Logan Square when their “Pastor Bob” Burns opened the second closing hearing for the "Fullerton Network" on Thursday night, February 28, 2013. Much like the previous hearing at the church, held on February 11th, the pastor opened the proceedings with a request for a “civilized dialogue”, reminding everyone that we were in a “house of prayer”. However, the atmosphere was quite different at this final hearing than at the previous one. At the last hearing, the crowd basically shouted down the one CPS official who tried to speak. Tonight, the audience politely applauded the CPS officials on stage, as each one was introduced.
Alderman Scott Waguespack from the 32nd Ward was the first to speak about the proposed school closings. He suggested to the many students in the crowd that they “tell these people up here why your schools should stay open”, and wrapped up by saying that “We’re going to save every one of these schools!”
Next came Nancy Schiavone, Democratic Committeeman for the 35th Ward. She urged that the Chicago Public Schools understand that “our teachers are engaged in a noble profession…and they deserve our respect”.
These two representatives stayed on after their speeches to speak to people in the crowd and listen to the subsequent school testimonials. Interestingly, far fewer politicians came around for this hearing than the first one for the Fullerton network. Noticeably absent were State Senator Iris Martinez, and State Representative Maria “Toni” Berrios, and the alderman from the 1st Ward, “Skateboard” Joe Moreno.
Once the politicians left the stage, the schools on the Hit List were then given 10 minutes each to beg for their respective schools to be saved.
Representatives from Brentano Elementary testified to the improvements that have been going on at their school. Much of their presentation detailed how their test scores had gone up, with specific examples of students making great “gains” on standardized assessments. When the CPS officials told them they were “at time”, the Brentano folks politely left the stage.
The representatives from Jenner Elementary came next. Jenner is just about the "last school standing" from the five elementary schools that once served children inside the Cabrini-Green CTA homes. CPS has systematically closed down the four others -- giving one to the Catholic Church, another to a charter school, and a third to a selective enrollment public school. Every change in the Cabrini area schools was traumatic for the remaining number of children from the old community, as their schools were closed despite reminders to CPS of the problems that would result.
The Jenner speakers mentioned that they have been the “receiving school” twice for schools closed in their area, most recently when Schiller Elementary was closed. They detailed the violence that followed those closings, their efforts at Jenner to help all students through the transition, and they emphasized safety concerns, should this neighborhood lose yet another neighborhood school. They implored CPS to not close down one of the last remnants of the Cabrini Green housing project community.
At this point, about 45 minutes into the hearing, the crowd had swelled to approximately 750 and people were starting to feel their collective power. The Jenner representatives ignored CPS officials’ warnings that they were “at time” and continued to make their case to keep their school open. When CPS security came onstage to usher the Jenner folks off, the crowd erupted into chants of “Save our schools!” and then “No school closings!”
Once the crowd quieted down and the Jenner folks had left the stage, representatives from the sister schools of Manierre Elementary and Ferguson Child Parent Center were allowed time to speak. They emphasized the need for preschool, with one member of their community urging, “We either pay for preschools, or we pay for prison! It’s one or the other.”
After the community members finished their presentations, the crowd again broke into chants of “No school closings!” and then “Save our schools!”
Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. of the 27th Ward came to the stage after the chants died down. He mentioned that he “grew up in this neighborhood…this is my family”, referring to the neighborhood of Jenner, Manierre, and Ferguson. He said that “We need more schools in the ‘hood so people can go to work” and “We don’t need to balance our budget by putting folks in danger.”
Alderman Burnett was not at the first hearing for these schools, and made a few comments that puzzled me. Considering the fact that Jenner and Manierre folks were acting in solidarity at this hearing, it was odd that Alderman Burnett spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the gang feud between their respective schools. Also, the alderman said that “thousands of public housing units will be built in this neighborhood”, seeming to promise that the CHA had immediate plans for construction in the area that was previously home to Cabrini Green.
After the alderman left the stage, more community members were allowed onstage to testify.
An interesting dynamic was present at this hearing, especially if examined through the lenses of race or class. The folks from Brentano largely presented polite, rational arguments for their school. They acknowledged the gentrification taking place in Logan Square, and essentially made a case that their school was perfectly situated and suited to educate the children of incoming residents, who tend to be whiter and more affluent than the residents of the neighborhood ten years ago. One of their LSC representatives passed around a 13-page document entitled “Logan Square Needs Brentano”.
The folks from Jenner, however, brought a militant, mostly Black crowd with them. They spoke of the violence in their neighborhood, and the need for their children’s safety. They weren’t so worried about being polite, and were clearly ready to fight for their school.
Both schools deserve to stay open, to be fully staffed and funded to address the needs of the kids in their neighborhoods. Both schools showed up to both closing hearings with a huge number of loyal community members, who called for “no school closings”. It will be interesting to see how the people who pull the strings for the Chicago Public Schools make their school closing decisions for this network. If race and class enter into the decision making process, I worry for Jenner, Manierre, and Ferguson, while the Brentano community should have little to worry about.