Southwest Side Parents, Students and Community Members Fight Against Noble Charter Schools Expansion Proposal... Noble Cancels Its Board Meeting for Rosh Hashonah...

Southwest Side community activists arrived at what was supposed to be the meeting of the Noble charter school network's "Board of Directors" to discover that the meeting had been cancelled because of Rosh Hoshanah. Substance photo by Sandra Stone.The CORE convention took place Friday and Saturday (September 25 and 26, 2015) at Columbia Explorers Academy at 46th and Kedzie - only half a mile from the Noble Street charter schools' proposed site for their proposed Southwest Side "campus" (47th and California). Parents, students, teachers have waged a strong fight against this new school. Everyone involved in public education in Chicago sees that the fight against charter schools is a fight for the continued existence of public schools in this city.

Noble originally proposed one campus for Uptown and two for the Southwest side. But they withdrew the Northside proposal in the face of strong opposition from the community. The principals of the local high schools, as well as four of the local alderman, and other politicians came out against a new charter school.

Kelly High School, which sits less than a mile from Nobles proposed Southwest site, has been the center of the opposition. Kelly has already suffered massive budget cuts -millions of dollars and dozens of teachers over the last two years. Several UNO campuses sited near Kelly have cut into Kellys enrollment, leading to the budget cuts. The practice set up by the board, a kind of Hunger Games among schools, creates a downwards spiral for neighborhood schools, where cuts drive out students, leading to more cuts. Kelly has enrollment has gone from over 3,000 to something over 2,250 students in the last decade. Gage Park High school, also on the Southwest side in a grand building, now enrolls fewer than 400 students. Nonetheless, one of Nobles talking points was that Southwest High Schools are overcrowded.

A July 23rd event against the Noble proposal at Kelly packed their auditorium. The Board organized its first public Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) hearing at Daley College August 10th. Neighborhood Advisory Councils are the Board-constructed organizations to try to give a veneer of community support for its charter school expansion program.

Daley, at 75th and Pulaski, is several miles from the neighborhood in question. Noble packed the NAC hearing with principals, current and former students and teachers. There were teachers from a number of Southwest High Schools, including a dozen from Kelly, as well as some from Solorio, Kennedy, Lindblom, and others.

Over a hundred people who came with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council were left outside the door. They made a ruckus, pointing out that the Board knew they would need a bigger venue, given the size of the prior event at Kelly. The NAC council itself actually got up and left the hearing in order to speak with the Brighton Park group. The NAC agreed to hold a follow up event at Kelly to allow those people participate in the hearing process. CPS officials initially agreed to attend that meeting, but then canceled their participation. Without CPSs official support, the Noble Street refused to attend, and so then the NAC itself pulled out. The meeting went on despite CPS and Noble Street withdrawal again drawing hundreds in support of Kelly and other neighborhood schools.

The next morning, Wednesday August 19th, dozens of Brighton Park residents packed Alderman Ed Burkes office to ask him to pull his support of Noble St expansion and support neighborhood schools.

The second public NAC hearing at Daley was held in the gymnasium, again at Daley college Wednesday, September 2nd. Several hundred from each side were in attendance. Public school supporters (Brighton Park Neighborhood Council in Green, CTU members in Red, Kelly students) packed the middle section of the bleachers.

The Noble crowd had the wings in their navy blue uniforms. (Curiously, Noble president Michael Milkie attended both NAC hearings in shorts and flip-flops in stark contrast to the corporate appearance of his staffers). There were perhaps 500 in attendance. With over 200 signed up to speak speakers went from 6:30 all the way to 9:00 PM.

Several Kelly High students spoke to all the programs at their school. Some had attended Noble for a time they pointed out that the rigid conduct and disciplinary policies there have very negative effects on many students. Many pointed out that the schools were being set up to fight for scarce resources.

George Szkapiak, the principal at Kennedy, spoke in favor of Kennedy. Szkapiak had sponsored a bus which took several dozen Kennedy students to the July Board of Education meeting downtown to support Kennedy against the Noble assault.

The community is clearly saying we dont want a Noble charter school on the Southwest Side, am I correct? CTU organizer Rebecca Martinez asked the crowd. Thousands of people have said no to Noble but you continue to disrespect the community and you continue to press on with your proposal. You did not do that to the North Side parents. . . . Why do you choose to do that do that to our community which is a working-class community of color?

Though Noble supporters seemed to outnumber the public school supporters, many more of the public schools supporters spoke, they got the crowd going, and, as a rule, they spoke with more passion.

On Saturday, September 12th the NAC vote against the Noble proposal Noble was now on the defensive.

Monday, September 14th Noble was supposed to hold its board meeting at a prominent law office downtown. Several critics of the Noble proposal arrived to find out the meeting had been canceled. Apparently, that Monday was Rosh Hashonah - it appears that the Noble Board did not check their calendar before setting their meeting - or perhaps they wanted to avoid additional bad press.

The final hearing on the Noble proposal will take place on Wednesday, September 30th at CPS headquarters:

The hearings will begin at 4 p.m. Wednesday at CPS headquarters, 42 W. Madison.

Here is the schedule CPS provided for the times different school proposals will be discussed:

4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.: Connected Futures Academy, Youth Connection Charter Schools, New Life Academy.

5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.: KIPP Charter School, STARS Project Engineering, Perseid Academy.

7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.: Noble Street Charter School


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