Magnet school parents blast CPS plan

Parents at a North Side academic magnet school are angrily protesting a Chicago Public Schools proposal allowing neighborhood kids to enroll without meeting stringent admission requirements.

A group of about 15 parents from Skinner Classical School took their case to the Chicago Board of Education at its monthly meeting yesterday.

“We don’t want a neighborhood component. Period,” says Kathryn Wordlaw-Bailey, a parent.

Because Skinner is a magnet school, all students must take an entrance test to gain admission. Students in grades 5-8 must score in the 80th percentile or higher in math and reading. More than 90 percent of the school’s students met or exceeded state standards in the 2007 Illinois Standard Achievement Test.

Skinner is temporarily located at the former Sojourner Truth Elementary School, 1443 N. Ogden Ave. A new Skinner building is under construction at 1260 W. Adams.

Due to overcrowding on other campuses, CPS wants to allow some neighborhood students to attend when Skinner's new building opens in for the 2009-2010 school year. 

The plan would begin with neighborhood kindergartners, and add one grade each year.

Up to 300 neighborhood students could eventually attend the school. Officials say they would be taught, at least initially, in separate classrooms.

The attendance boundaries, located along the West Loop, would be Lake Street on the north, Ashland on the west, the Chicago River on the east and Eisenhower Expressway on the south.

The board was not scheduled to vote on the proposal Wednesday, but may do so in October, says Malon Edwards, a CPS spokesman.

Adding students from the neighborhood would upset Skinner's diversity balance, parents say.

According to 2007 statistics, the student population is 51 percent African-Americans, 19 percent Asian, 10 percent Hispanic  and 12 percent white. 

“Skinner will become a completely neighborhood school, primarily white,“ if the proposal is approved by the board, Wordlaw-Bailey says.

The plan would also cut resources and classroom space available to the magnet program, parents say.

More than 600 students in kindergarten through grade 8 attend Skinner. The school also runs a pre-kindgergarten program. 

The new Skinner building funded through city tax increment financing district money, will house 900 students, the same capacity as the current building.

Gaute Grindheim, a parent and vice president of HOK, an architecture and engineering firm in Chicago says the inclusion of neighborhood kids will put the school 26 over capacity.

“It looks like we’ll lose a room dedicated to foreign language,“ Grindheim says.

Board president Rufus Williams, asked the parents to consider the children living in the attendance area who would attend the school next year.

“Just appreciate those parents who live across the street from Skinner and what they want for their children, as you do for yours,“ he said.

Parents say they were led to believe the new building would belong exclusively to Skinner. The fact that the school is already under construction, Grindheim says, means it can‘t suddenly be expanded now.

“We were promised a new school,“ Wordlaw-Bailey says.

In addition to hearing from Skinner parents, the board:

  • Approved a campus expansion for United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) School Charter Network. In fall 2009, UNO will open a new elementary school at the intersection of South Homan and 51st. In 2010, it will add a high school at the same location.
  • Awarded more than $21 million in school renovation construction contracts.