Board of Ed nixes charter expansion

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • March 27, 2008 @ 7:16 AM
The Chicago Board of Education shot down a plan today
that would have allowed L.E.A.R.N. Charter school to open a second campus at Gregory Elementary in East Garfield Park.

L.E.A.R.N., a rapidly growing school whose students have excelled on state standardized tests, already has Chicago Public Schools approval for two new campuses.

But the charter school hasn't actually purchased buildings or properties for those schools. It had sought permission to share the building at Gregory, which has seen declining enrollments.

CPS officials said the one-year proposal would not have hurt either school.

But community members spoke against the proposed move-in by L.E.A.R.N., and it was the one-year restriction that ultimately led to its defeat at the end of a 10-hour day.

"This one is really troubling to me," says Rufus Williams, Board of Education chair. "I just can't see how it won't negatively impact for that one year."

The motion failed, 4-2.

It was not immediately known whether today's decision delays the L.E.A.R.N. expansion to 2009, or if the school would seek another building to use for a year.

The board approved another school-sharing agreement despite vocal opposition from community members. By unanimous vote, Burroughs Elementary will open a satellite school on the Pope Elementary campus for two years. By fall 2010, Burroughs II is expected to have its own building, perhaps combined with Burroughs I.

The Burroughs and L.E.A.R.N. cases are results of a school district struggling with crowded schools in some areas of the city and partially empty school buildings in other areas of the city.

"This is the best option. I don't think there's a good fallback position," says Arne Duncan, CPS chief.

The success of the L.E.A.R.N. Charter, located in the North Lawndale area, has been so quick that 1,000 applied for 200 spots this past fall. The board has approved expansions that will create two additional campuses by fall 2009, enough space for 1,600 students. L.E.A.R.N. currently has fewer than 500 students, but scores are among the city's highest. More than 80 percent of its students meet or exceed state standards.

"There's such a demand for what we do," says Robin Johnson, L.E.A.R.N. principal. "What we're attempting to do is provide to as many children as we can for the North Lawndale community."

Gregory, a neighborhood school, also has done well in state tests, just not at the level of L.E.A.R.N. Declining enrollments, from 590 to 430 in the last three years, has created more space in a school that has a capacity of 1,200, CPS officials say.

"We have met the test scores. I don't understand why we would have a school coming into our territory," says Leshawn James, a Gregory grad.

Declining enrollment, CPS officials say, has also created space at Pope Elementary, 1852 S. Albany. The school is at 21 percent of capacity.

CPS officials say it is one of the most under-utilized schools in the city, with a dozen empty classrooms. Duncan says even with the addition of 400-plus students from Burroughs II, the school would still be at less than 50 percent capacity.

That doesn't mean people at Pope, 14 blocks away, hung a welcome sign.

"This is nothing against Burroughs," says Kevin Cunningham, an eighth-grade teacher at Pope, "but it will damage the culture and fabric of our educational progress, which took a long time to establish."

Once one of the lowest-performing schools in the city, Pope has nearly tripled its ISAT scores while at the same time school officials have beefed up security measures within the school.

Opposers to the shared-school concept at Pope raised the issue of cultural differences to the board. The majority of Pope students are African-American; the majority of Burroughs students are Hispanic.

"You're going to bring a bunch of white kids into a black neighborhood," says Larry Barnett, a Pope graduate who now has a granddaughter attending the school.

The board also approved the creation of five magnet schools, mostly funded by a grant of $10.1 million from the U.S. Department of Education's Magnet Schools Assistance Program.

Applications for the new magnet schools will be accepted beginning today. The deadline for application is April 25. The application forms will be on the CPS website,

New magnet schools

Miles Davis Magnet Academy

Address: 6730 S. Paulina Ave.

Focus: Engineering.

Grades: Pre-k through grade 8.

Admission: Open to all current Miles Davis Academy and Johns Middle Academy students; remainder of slots to be filled by citywide lottery.

Disney II Magnet School

Address: 3815 N. Kedvale Ave., location of current Irving Park Middle School.

Focus: : Fine and performing arts, and technology integration.

Grades: Pre-k through grade 2, adding one grade each year until it becomes pre-k through grade 8.

Admission: By application; citywide lottery.

LaSalle II Magnet School

Address: 1148 N. Honore St., location of current Anderson Elementary.

Focus: World language, including communication, cultures and communities.

Grades: Pre-k through grade 2, adding one grade each year until it becomes pre-k through grade 8.

Admission: By application; citywide lottery.

Kershaw Magnet School

Address: 6450 S. Lowe Ave., location of current Kershaw Elementary.

Focus: International Baccalaureate (IB), stressing physical, emotional, cultural and academic needs.

Grades: Pre-k through grade 8.

Admission: By application; citywide lottery.

Oscar Mayer Magnet School

Address: 2250 N. Clifton Ave., location of Mayer Elementary.

Focus: Montessori for pre-k through grade 5 and IB for grades 6 through 8.

Grades: Pre-k through grade 8.

Admission: by application; lottery, with a priority to those students residing in the school's proximity.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.