Public Comments to CPS Regarding the Proposed Closure of Bethune School April 25, 2013

My name is Valerie Leonard, the Co-Founder of the Lawndale Alliance. We are a group of residents who have come together to address issues of concern to the community, including education, TIF reform and mortgage foreclosure. We are also members of the Committee to Save North Lawndale Schools. We are here today to provide testimony against the proposed closure of Bethune Elementary School and merger into Hughes. The first rationale provided for CPS' decision to close Bethune is the fact that enrollment has declined by 36% over the last 10 years (589 to 377). It should be noted that These data do not account for the variation in enrollment over the years. The second rationale given for closing the school is the fact that the building is less than half full. It should be noted that the targeted class size for CPS is 30 students per class. This formula takes into account a number of arbitrary factors, including the limits outlined in teacher contracts. Bethune's average class size is 21.77 students per class, as compared to 24 students per class for the District, and 21.77 students per class for the state. Bethune is in an area of Lawndale with an increasingly significantly transient population, due to a number of factors, including family issues, a shortage of affordable housing and the mortgage foreclosure crisis. The student mobility rate has increased from 61.5% in 2003 to 31.3% in 2012. The average mobility rate for all Chicago Public Schools was 32.3% in 2003 and 20.8% in 2012. An Education Week article on student mobility has indicated that the potential impact of mobility on students' education is significant. Students who move often between schools may experience a range of problems such as: lower achievement levels due to discontinuity of curriculum between schools, behavioral problems, difficulty developing peer relationships, and a greater risk for dropping out. Although little research has been conducted on the impact of student mobility on nonmobile students, schools with significant incidences of student mobility also report an impact on their non-mobile students, teachers, and overall school climate. For example, a policy brief published in 1999 by Policy Analysis for California Education, found that California schools with high mobility rates (30 percent or higher), reported that test scores for non-mobile students were considerably lower than those of students in schools with lower mobility rates. The findings support claims that continual student turnover is disruptive and keeps non-mobile students from

moving ahead as teachers spend extra time helping newer students catch up. Some schools have attempted to alleviate this by keeping highly mobile students (i.e. children of migrant workers) segregated from other classes, so that the continual arrival and departure of mobile students does not disrupt the education of other non-mobile students (Hartman, 2002).(Education Week 2004) Bethune does not separate the highly mobile students from non-mobile students. Project STAR tested a scientifically-controlled experiment undertaken in rural, urban, suburban and inner-city settings found that 1) small classes are academically beneficial, particularly when the class size is reduced below 20 pupils; 2) Small classes are likely to be most beneficial in the early primary grades; and 3) Students from economically disadvantaged homes were likely to reap the twice the benefits from reducing class sizes than other students. These results were sustained year by year, regardless of the subject matter or locale, even after students were returned to regular sized classes. We respectfully request that CPS allow Bethune to continue to operate as a small school. The school is well managed, and provides an environment that is conducive to learning. We would like to see AUSL complete the turnaround work that they have begun 3 years ago. They are typically with schools for 4-5 years, or longer, depending on the circumstances. Bethune parents have expressed concerns regarding sending their children to Gregory given the distance and the dangers involved in crossing gang territories. (Bethune is situated in what is informally recognized as the Traveling Vice Lords Territory, and Gregory is situated in what is informally recognized as Unknown Vice Lords' Territory). A third reason CPS provides for closing Bethune is the fact that the building requires $10.5 million to maintain and update. It should be noted that the Excel spreadsheet provided by the Utilization Commission indicates that the cost of maintenance is $12.1 million, while the official capital plan for the school reveals an assessment of $3.04 million dollars. Nearly $1.7 million in improvements have been made to the school since AUSL took over the school in Bethune. There are no ongoing capital improvements for Bethune School at this time, and the school's physical plant is in excellent condition. The likelihood that they will need to spend $12.1 million to maintain the building in the near horizon appears extremely slim. CPS has provided space utilization standards to... help to ensure that all students have equal access to a learning environment that effectively supports strong instructional programs...Rather than narrowly prescribe the manner of classroom use, the standards were developed to promote flexibility and to ensure that the space can be programmed to fit student needs. Furthermore, the utilization formula provides that 24% of a school's classrooms be dedicated to ancillary classroom space, with 76% of the space being allocated to classrooms. Bethune currently uses the space in a manner prescribed by CPS. In fact, they have been more creative than most in terms of using the space in a manner that will provide maximum supports to children and their families.

Finally, we wish to express our deep concern that CPS has not shared a detailed safety plan or a plan for the building once it is closed. The change in attendance boundaries will mean that some children will have to cross unfamiliar territory, some of which is "controlled" by rival gang factions. No one wants to see an empty school building in the community, as empty buildings are magnets for all manner of illicit activities. As it is, North Lawndale has over 1,700 vacant buildings and lots. We do not need another. In closing, we respectfully request once more, that Bethune remain open.

Valerie F. Leonard Co-Founder, Lawndale Alliance

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful