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Charter School Expansion Plans Draw Support, Ire

Chicago Public Schools

(Credit: CBS)

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Updated 01/26/11 – 6:21 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS/WBBM) – The Chicago Board of Education has approved plans to build at least three new charter schools and expand four others, after hundreds of charter school supporters and opponents rallied at Wednesday’s board meeting.

Close to 1,000 charter school supporters rallied outside CPS headquarters downtown on Wednesday, as did several hundred charter school opponents.

As CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports, Chicago already has 70 charter schools. Most of their teachers are not members of a union, so they’re not bound by union rules.

Each charter school has its own curriculum, schedule and admissions process that may differ from traditional public schools.

As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Debra Dale reports, opponents and supporters of charter schools came for a school board vote on plans to expand the number of charter schools in Chicago.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Debra Dale reports

Among the opponents was Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, who said she is happy so many people showed up to show their support for education.

But Lewis says it’s how they want to change the system that she disagrees with.

The CTU-backed community activists want more resources put into neighborhood schools.

Charter school supporters say they are also for neighborhood schools, but they want to give students more options.

Nereida Sanchez has two children in charter schools and says they’re doing much better after leaving an overcrowded neighborhood school.

“Their grades have increased. My son is a straight A, honor roll student thanks to UNO charter schools,” said Sanchez. “He was able to be a success story.”

Parents like Sanchez insist they should be able to choose where to send their children.

But April Whitaker, a mother of five, believes charter schools keep out other kids who deserve a good education.

“Charter schools don’t represent choice,” said Whitaker. “They represent exclusion.”

At the meeting, board members approved plans from two charter school operators to expand four existing charter schools, as well as plans to create three new charter schools.

One, the Legal Prep Charter School, would be a high school offering college preparatory curriculum incorporating legal affairs. It would open in the West Town neighborhood, the education news source Catalyst said.

The school day at Legal Prep would be longer, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and an earlier end to the day on Friday. No student would be allowed to graduate without being admitted to college, Catalyst reported.

Legal Prep Charter Academies is its own private company, and the Northwestern, Loyola, DePaul and John Marshall law schools are offering support, Catalyst reported.

Another, the Montessori School of Englewood, would be the sixth Montessori school to open in the CPS system. Stagg Elementary School, 7424 S. Morgan St., already has a Montessori program, but not enough to meet the needs of parents in the neighborhood, Catalyst reported.

The third, Kwame Nkrumah Academy, is currently a contract school in the Pullman neighborhood with an Afro-centric curriculum, and wants to become a charter school, the Chicago Tribune reported.