Hitch Elementary School speaks out against overcrowding nightmare on Northwest Side

How far will Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the members of his appointed school board go to sabotage the city's remaining real public schools so that the resulting chaos forced families to "choose" charter schools or to leave the city? As the budget and facilities policies of the seven appointed members of the Chicago Board of Education and their CEO show up in the 2013 - 2014 school year, the only word is "Sabotage"!

Less than a week after the drama of school overcrowding became one of the many items the members of the Chicago Board of Education tried hard to ignore or doubletalk around (again), another Northwest Side elementary school weighed in with a major tale of how the Board's policies are resulting in the kids being cheated. The school this time is Hitch Elementary School, but the story is the same.

Here are some of the reasons:

-- the Board's infantile policy on "underutilization" (which resulted in the closing of buildings the school system needed) ignored all other facilities planning during the 2013 - 2014 school year, while the administration of Barbara Byrd Bennett fulfilled Rahm Emanuel's wish that it close 50 of the city's real public schools, just as the year before the administration of Jean-Claude Brizard had to foist a "Longer School Day" on the city's real public schools no matter what the facts;

-- the Board's has eliminated any internal facilities planning departments. CPS once had a department that keeps track of school attendance boundaries on a regular basis and recommends adjustments when things change. Today, Board members now pontificate about the fact that they have "demographics hirelings" while most of their top administrators, hired from out of town, can't find their way from Gale to Gallistel or Bowen to Bogan without a GPS. The privatization of such intimate planning by corporate school reform is adding additional chose and costs to the city's public education budget.

-- and the anti-public schools policies of Mayor Rahm Emanuel is behind the entire mess. After claiming for a year that his school board was facing a "billion dollar deficit," Emenual announced he would build new schools with money three months earlier he claimed did not exist. A week before the October 23 Board meeting, Emanuel stated four publicity stunts across Chicago, announcing more than $40 million in school construction without having put any of the projects through the Board or out to public review.

Together, these facts are resulting in greater and greater chaos as the school year goes on.


Students at Overcrowded N.W. Side Elementary Study in Bathrooms, Hallways

By Heather Cherone on October 27, 2013 8:41am | Updated on October 27, 2013 8:41am



Pleas to Relieve Overcrowding at Hitch Unanswered by CPS, Officials Say

GLADSTONE PARK Hitch Elementary School Principal Debby Reese points out students learning in every nook and cranny as she tours the top-rated school on the Far Northwest Side.

A class studies in what was once a mens bathroom.

The defunct projectors booth in the schools auditorium has been converted into a room for the schools speech therapist to work with students.

And the schools hallways are dotted with cubicles that serve as classrooms despite the hubbub caused by students passing from one subject to the next.

We use our space as creatively as possible, said Reese, who has been at Hitch for 10 years.

Hitch is among the most overcrowded public schools in Chicago, but pleas to build an annex or simply set up extra classrooms in mobile buildings have fallen on deaf ears at Chicago Public Schools headquarters, parents, school officials and Ald. John Arena (45th) said.

The school, at 5625 N. McVicker Ave., has 585 students in a building that has an ideal capacity of 450 students, Reese said.

That would give the school an utilization rate of 130 percent, which is among the highest on the Far Northwest Side, an area where most schools are bursting with students because of an influx of families looking for affordable homes in a relatively safe area of the city.

CPS is exploring options to relieve overcrowding at Hitch, but no decisions have been made, according to a statement it released.

Although Reese said she she used to worry about CPS officials closing Hitch because it was once underenrolled, she now has the opposite problem, with 45 more students attending Hitch this year than last.

The school first requested a four-classroom mobile annex five years ago to cope with the population boom, Arena said.

There has been no response, said the alderman, who testified at a recent public hearing held by CPS to discuss the needs of schools on the Far Northwest Side. We can only hope that our voices are being heard.

Arena was one of several community members who volunteered recently to demolish the marble fixtures of an unused mens room so it could be turned into a classroom.

The marble was salvaged and may be used in a future public art project in the 45th Ward, Arena said.

Arena said he was especially frustrated that Hitch was not included in a spate of announcements made by Mayor Rahm Emanuel last month that detailed more than $90 million to be spent on new science labs and playgrounds, a new school on the Southeast Side and annexes to lessen overcrowding.

Among the schools that will get new annexes are Wildwood Elementary School in Edgebrook and Water Payton College Prep.

CPS capital spending has been politicized, Arena said, adding that the annexes planned for Wildwood and Payton benefit parts of the city the mayor hopes to win in his 2015 re-election campaign.

Coupled with a call for more charter schools on the Far Northwest Side, the CPS approach to capital funding is fundamentally flawed, he said.

Overcrowding is especially acute in the lower grades, especially in kindergarten and first grade, where each class has more than 30 students, Reese said.

Thats just way too many, Reese said, especially since the school, given CPS' highest level 1 ranking, emphasizes group work and collaboration.

Hitch Local School Council member John Garrido, a police officer and lawyer who is considering challenging Arena in the 2015 aldermanic election, said every other school that is 30 percent to 33 percent overcrowded has gotten an annex or a mobile classroom.

It really is frustrating, Garrido said. For whatever reason, we are at the bottom of the list, if were even on the list.

Hitchs official enrollment is 546 students, according to data provided by CPS. That does not include the students who attend prekindergarten at the Gladstone Park school.

CPS officials have encouraged Reese to stop offering prekindergarten because of the space crunch, she said.

We might have to do it next year, Reese said, adding that it would be a shame for a neighborhood school. [CPS officials] might make that decision for me.

CPS officials also have suggested the school turn its lunchroom and library into classrooms in response to complaints about overcrowding.

I told them I wouldnt do that, Reese said. My students deserve a break from the classroom.

CPS officials expected 559 students in kindergarten through eighth grade to attend Hitch this year. Because fewer students enrolled at the school this fall, Hitch stood to lose an additional $54,400 under the new student-based budgeting system.

Reese said she was relieved CPS officials decided to delay implementing the system for schools that would have lost funding, since she already had to severely cut the schools budget in the spring in the first round of budget cuts.

However, Hitch lost nearly $30,000 in money designated for low-income students and as part of the federal No Child Left Behind act.

Im still trying to shave down the budget, Reese said.

Despite the cuts, the school did not lose any teachers.

We have no money for things, Reese said. As a school community, we decided that without the people, the things are worthless.


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