by La Risa Lynch
Emotions ran high at a public hearing held January 20th by Chicago Public Schools regarding the proposed closure of Crane High School on the city’s Near West Side.
The inclement weather that dump nearly six inches of snow on the city during rush hour traffic did not stop scores of students, parents, teachers and those favoring the school’s closure from packing an auditorium at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren.
Students chanted "Save our school" and booed any speakers who support closing Crane High School, 2245 W. Jackson Blvd. The Chicago Public Schools proposed phasing out Crane over the next few years as part of a massive school action plan to reform chronically failing schools.
And adding insult to injuries, students and parents were upset over CPS’s decision to have the charter school Chicago Talent Development High School, 4319 W. Washington, share facilities with Crane.
But students’ passions nearly turned into a skirmish. A throng of students angrily surrounded a speaker supporting CPS actions to close poor performing schools, including Crane. Security dispersed a crowd of teens — some who jumped over seats to confront the man. Chicago Police were called and remained for the rest of the hearing.
Freshman Kejuan Carr doesn’t want Crane to close. He described Crane as a good school with good teachers who understand the student population. He said the teachers would go the extra mile to help students.
Carr, 15, should know. When he missed school for fighting, his teachers, he said, gave him extra work, which got him back on track and back on the freshman basketball team.
"They keep me on track. They stayed on my back. Now all my grades are up to a C average," said Carr who admitted his grades weren’t the best to begin with.
But Carr expressed concern about co-mingling Crane and Chicago Talent students. He said "bullstuff" similar to the altercation at the public hearing could occur in the school hallways.
"They’re not really from our neighborhood," he said.
At the hearing, CPS officials presented its case for closing Crane. They noted that Crane has been on probation for 10 years, half of the students don’t graduate and 10 out of 20 students are not meeting state standards on the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE.)
CPS’s head Jean Claude Brizard echoed those same concerns during a roundtable discussion with members of the Black media a day before Friday’s meeting. He said Crane’s achievement is one of the worst in the city and 85 percent of students who attend Crane don’t live in the school's enrollment zone. Brizard contends that Crane is not a neighborhood school and its graduation rates are "abysmal."
"If you multiply the number of kids who are dropping out of that school over the ten years it’s been on probation … we lost thousands of kids over the last ten years. Honestly, shame on the system for allowing that to happen," Brizard said.
Crane teacher Jessica Lafrenz disagreed with Brizard’s assessment of the school she began her career at ten years ago. She blames gentrification for a decline of neighborhood students attending Crane. The community lost population with the demolition of Henry Horner, Rockwell Gardens and the ABLA Homes -- all public housing developments.
"Those children who were in our boundary areas were moved out," Lafrenz said.
Lafrenz criticized CPS options for students who want to attend Crane. Crane will not accept new freshmen for the 2012-13 school year. Those students' neighborhood school will now be Farragut, Marshall, Manley or Wells high schools, which Lafrenz said have been on probation longer than Crane. She said these schools could possibly be next for closure.
"They are going to be shifting kids from school to school every year they take school action," she said.
Community leaders, parents and teachers have come up with a school improvement plan that fits Crane students’ needs. Their plan calls for partnering with school improvement organization Strategic Learning Initiative, which Lafrenz said has had great success in turning around CPS schools in the past.
Former CPS Chief Arne Duncan used them in 2006 to turnaround ten low performing schools. However, Crane needs to secure funding for the four-year program, Lafrenz noted.
The plan also calls for more academic programs to make the school competitive. Programs include an International Baccalaureate program, more careers to education programs and establishing partnerships with trade unions because Crane has "a great automotive program," Lafrenz noted.
Crane also wants more special education service. Lafrenz said 26 percent of the school’s students are special education students -- higher than the city average of 14 percent.
"We have not received extra services, resources, people for these students so we want to expand the services we provide for our special needs students," she said. "Obviously, we need CPS help on that."
However, help is not what Crane has been getting from CPS, Lafrenz said, noting that CPS has not been receptive to parents ‘and students’ concerns. She said there has not been an official meeting with CPS or the Chicago Board of Education to discuss the school’s own improvement plan. However, Crane officials were expected to present its plan at an education board meeting on January 24th.
"We want them to help us provide an equitable education," Lafrenz said. "We have schools down the street from us in both directions—Phoenix Military Academy and Whitney Young — that are so up to date and we are like the middle school that’s got nothing."