Community confronts CPS reps

By Hamid Bendaas

Community members expressed their grievances regarding the decision to close Miriam G. Canter Middle School, one of the 54 schools in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system set to close at the end of this school year, before CPS representatives at a forum held in Kenwood Academy’s gymnasium yesterday evening.

Canter Middle School, which serves seventh and eighth graders, is located at East 50th Street and South Blackstone Avenue. In order to accommodate the closure, CPS plans to expand two Hyde Park elementary schools, Ray Elementary, at East 56th Street  and South Kimbark Avenue, and Bret Harte Elementary, at East 56th Street and South Stony Island Avenue, into K–8 schools next year.

The school was targeted to close based on its low 58 percent utilization rate. By CPS’s school utilization formula, the middle school is expected to educate 390 students, but currently there are only 223 students enrolled.

Though the school is classified as a “Level 3” school by CPS, the lowest score on CPS’s scale of student performance, the school was separately classified as “Well-Organized for Improvement,” the highest possible rating in the 5Essentials survey system developed by the U of C’s Urban Education Institute (UEI).  The 5Essentials survey tool also rated Canter as “strong” for having effective leaders, involved parents, and a collaborative teacher culture.

“Canter is a good school,” said Reagan Allen, a current student who credits his time at Canter for motivating him to become academically successful after he struggled in elementary school. Several students began to openly sob while describing their experience at Canter and expressing their hope for it to remain open.

Parents, students, and concerned community members passionately argued against the closing, pointing to the school’s committed teachers and administrators, as well as the special attention students are able to receive because of its small size and focus on a narrow age range.

Janak Paranjape, a long-time teacher at Canter, spoke to the feeling of community in the school.

“Take a look,” he said, pointing to the audience in the bleachers. “This is the Canter community. If you close Canter, you’re going to divide this community. It’s my community.”

Isabelle Badili, mother of a former Canter student, also asked the CPS representatives to consider the people who will be affected by the closing.

“We’re talking dollars, we’re talking statistics, talk about numbers. Did we forget we’re talking about human beings?” she asked.

Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston expressed her frustration and offense to what she perceived as “disrespect” of her position by CPS.

“I was elected to represent the people… I matter, my people matter… We will not allow you to disrespect us,” she said at the microphone to the CPS representatives, drawing loud cheers from many in attendance.

According to Hairston, whose ward includes both Ray and Harte, she was neither consulted nor informed about the removal of Ray Elementary’s two principals nor about yesterday’s meeting to discuss the transition.

“It’s indicative of [Emanuel’s] administration,” she said in an interview with the Maroon.

Fourth Ward Alderman Will Burns (A.B. ’95, A.M. ’98), whose ward includes Canter, was also in attendance, though he did not sign up to speak in front of the microphone.