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Providence Englewood doesn’t have a principal, but an “Administrator in Charge”... Highly touted privatizer locks neighborhood children out of charter school playlot

Can a world famous private school — which claims to promote Christian values, discipline, and hard work — lock an entire community out of public space after it gets the power to run a Chicago public charter school?

That is one question today about the “Providence Englewood Charter School” at 6515 S. Ashland Ave. in Chicago. Two years after the Chicago Board of Education ignored community pleas (and evidence) and first closed the Ralph Bunche Elementary School (at 6515 S. Ashland) for “academic failure,” the charter school, rooted in the Catholic Church, has locked its grounds to all but its own students. The Ralph Bunche elementary school building, which served children in the Englewood community for 40 years, has been turned over to Paul Adams and the Providence St. Mel’s school to operate as a charter school. It is now the “Providence Englewood Charter School.”

On April 14, 2007, a Substance reporter noted that the “new” Bunche school had a padlocked gate barring community children from playing in the school’s playlot. [See photo to the right].

According to Board of Education spokesman Malon Edwards, the principal had the right to do that. “If the principal decides for a safety issue, he can lock the gates,” Edwards told Substance by phone message in answer to a question that had been left for him at the Board’s Office of Communications. In mid-April.

Attempts to reach the principal of the new Bunche charter school proved more difficult than are usual with public schools. For one thing, the school’s real phone number is not listed in the CPS “Directory”. The Chicago Board of Education gives the public an incorrect phone number for the Ashland Ave. charter school. According to the Board’s “Chicago Public Schools Calendar & Directory, 2006-2007”, the phone number of the “Providence Englewood” charter school, on Chicago’s south side at 6515 S. Ashland, is 773-722-4600. But a call to that number gets the caller through to Providence St. Mel’s, which is located about eight miles away, at 119 S. Central Park, on the city’s west side.

A call to Providence St. Mel’s will get the caller a number for Providence Englewood, but nobody at the Providence Englewood number will get a caller in contact with a principal. According to a “Mr. Taylor” who answered the phone when Substance called on April 20, Angela Johnson Williams.

Ms. Johnson Williams told Substance the following week that she had ordered the gates of the school locked because undesirables from the community were a threat to her school’s children. After Substance raised questions about the padlocking with the Board’s Office of Communications, the padlocks were removed, Johnson Williams told Substance. She said that as a result, the playground equipment at the school had been “vandalized” by the community. When asked to clarify what she meant, she said that gang graffiti had been put on the equipment.

Johnson Williams also said that she did not see why her school should allow a Substance reporter to visit, since Substance published critical stories about charter schools.

An irony of capital expenditures

The “Providence Englewood” charter school is located on the site of what had been the Ralph Bunche (public) elementary school.

The Bunche school was closed by a vote of the Chicago Board of Education at the end of the 2004-2005 school year. In November 2005, according to Board Report 05-1116-EX19, the Chicago Board of Education voted to establish the “Providence Englewood Elementary School”. That charter school was supposed to serve 200 students in grades K-5 for the first year (2006-2007), the current school year. Also, according to the Board Report, the new charter school was supposed to admit students who had formerly attended the public school in the building.

At the time the Bunche school was closed, however, Chicago Board of Education records showed that the Bunche school had 480 students in graders K-8.

Closing a school that was serving nearly 500 students and then opening a school to serve 200 students in the lower grades only — after a year when the building sat empty — was not what CPS had promised the people of the Bunche community when the school was closed after a public hearing on February 8, 2005. By the time the Board had given the school to Providence St. Mel’s however, the majority of Bunche families had been forced to find other schools for their children.

Hundreds of parents, teachers, and children from the Bunche school and the surrounding community protested against the closing in 2005. One of the most dramatic protests took place outside Mayor Daley’s office on the 5th Floor of Chicago’s City Hall. The protestors pointed out, among other things, that a drop in the school’s test scores had been caused by the fact that the rehabilitation of the Bunche building had been taking place while classes were in session.

Once the building rehabilitation had been completed, the school was no longer open for the children who had been attending it. Community members felt that the rehabilitation may have sabotaged the Bunche school’s test scores. It also improved the playlot and the building, to the tune of more than $4 million. Now most of the community is excluded from Bunche, either because of enrollment requirements or because there are padlocks on the gates. 



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