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West Side’s Tilton School Escapes Consolidation

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Empty Classroom

(Credit: Adam Jan/AFP/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS/WBBM) – Community input has helped save a Chicago public school from consolidation.

The Chicago Board of Education decided on Friday that George W. Tilton Elementary School at 223 N. Keeler Ave., would not be closed and merged with two other schools as Chicago Public Schools officials had proposed.

The board decided to keep Tilton open because four rival street gangs are active nearby, and combining students from Tilton and another school could pose a safety risk.

There are an estimated 70 to one hundred gangs in the Chicago metropolitan area. Some of them operate in and around schools.

As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, sometimes the mere presence of gangs in a neighborhood can cause Chicago Public Schools officials to change their management plans.

The plan had been to close Tilton and send its students to nearby Guglielmo Marconi Elementary Community Academy, 230 N. Kolmar Ave., and Laura Ward Year-Round Elementary School, 410 N. Monticello Ave.

But the board scrapped those plans amid concerns from parents that gang problems would have been exacerbated by sending kids from Tilton to those schools.

Vonzetta Williams, a grandmother of students at Tilton, said the board’s decision was a victory for her and other Local School Council members opposed to the plan to gradually close Tilton and convert it to a charter high school

“This is a victory for the parents and the children,” she said.

Tilton parents said that, had CPS officials gone ahead with their plan to close Tilton and move its students to Marconi and Ward, their children’s lives could have been endangered. They said the move would have put more rival gang members together in the same schools.

Parent Elizabeth Howard said if school officials had put more than one gang in one school, “It’s gonna be trouble. Come on, now, anybody know that.”

Parents also said the CPS consolidation plan for Tilton would have eventually brought members of four different gangs together in one high school – the charter school they had planned to place at Tilton.

The boundary changes for the schools also would have forced many younger kids to walk through and into an opposing gang’s turf.

Chicago Teachers Union representative Kristine Mayle said that type of situation was a factor in the beating death of Fenger High School honor student Derrion Albert in 2009.

Albert was killed in the midst of a brawl between Fenger students who lived in “The Ville” neighborhood near the school, and students who lived more than four miles south in the Altgeld Gardens public housing development.

CPS officials had closed a neighborhood school in Altgeld Gardens and sent the students there to Fenger.

“I think it had a lot to do with the turf,” Mayle said of the brawl that killed Albert. “When you’re forcing students from different turfs into one building that’s what’s going to happen.”

Gang graffiti already mars the sidewalk outside Tilton, but now parents at least believe the problem won’t be getting any worse.

They were quick to praise the school board for abandoning its plan to close Tilton and move its students to other schools.

“I think that’s a good thing,” Howard said. “Because

CBS 2 asked for interviews from the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Crime Commission, but all declined to go on camera for this story.

Despite Friday’s decision to scrap the Tilton consolidation plan, the Sun-Times reported officials said the three schools combined only use 37 percent of their total capacity, and a consolidation plan is still possible in the future.

The original CPS school consolidation plan for next year called for eight schools to close and be consolidated into six others. If the rest of the plan is approved, hundreds of students would be moved to new schools next year.

The board could vote as early as April 27.

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