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Brizard: Some Schools Are Too ‘Far Gone’ To Save

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Jean-Claude Brizard

Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard discusses plans to close two elementary schools and phase out two high schools. (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 12/1/11 – 5:35 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard says the system has no choice but to close some schools because they “are so far gone that you cannot save them.”

CPS officials announced Wednesday that they plan to close two elementary schools next fall, and phase out two high schools.

Brizard has asked the Chicago Board of Education to close Simon Guggenheim Elementary School, at 7141 S. Morgan St. in the Englewood neighborhood, and Florence B. Price Elementary School, at 4351 S. Drexel Blvd. in the North Kenwood neighborhood.

Targeted for phase-outs are Dyett High School, at 555 E. 51st St. in the Washington Park neighborhood, and Richard T. Crane Technical Preparatory High School, at 2245 W. Jackson Blvd., on the Near West Side. Phase-outs mean the schools would not admit any new freshmen and the school would shut down once the last class of existing students graduates.

Parents on Thursday took to City Hall to protest the CPS plan, saying it will disrupt neighborhood schools. They also expressed concern about the safety of their children, who would be forced to travel out of their home neighborhoods to get to schools.

Some parents said that, in 2006, when Englewood High School closed, violent incidents jumped 10 percent at the students new schools in Kenwood. While CPS officials wouldn’t comment on that figure, they did say that since last year, violent incidents are down 22 percent across the system.

But the parents said they still want to be heard.

Parents of kids at Price and Dyett were among the protesters outside the mayor’s office on Thursday. Under CPS’s plan, students who graduate from Price next year would have to travel a couple miles to Wendell Phillips Academy High School, rather than going a couple blocks to attend Dyett.

“There are gangs at Phillips High School. I don’t want my daughter caught up over there,” Betty Dancy said. “If Chicago want a bloodbath, that’s what they’re asking for. You put these children in other schools, you will have a bloodbath.”

Accusations of a bloodbath stem from the 2009 beating death of Derrion Albert outside Fenger High School. Many have blamed the violence on conflicts between new students arriving at Fenger from another neighborhood school.

Students at Dyett said they fear similar conflicts for those going to Phillips.

“People come from different schools and going to another school, they probably have a rival gang there, and so that’s kind of bad,” said Dyett student Derrick Majors.

But Phillips principal Devon Horton said, “We have a pretty good relationship with the Chicago Police Department. They are pretty much here at the beginning of the school day, after school.”

And next year, because of incoming freshman from Dyett Horton said Phillips will have more Chicago police, more school security guards and other safety changes that have helped decrease violent incidents at the school.

“We get them to the bus stops. We get them to the train, Horton said. “And lately the Police Department’s done a pretty good job of cleaning up this area with the incidents that have occurred, I guess, in the past. But we haven’t had any concerns with gangs in our school since I’ve been here. … a little bit over a year.”

Horton invited the parents to visit the school and take a look at the safety precautions. Parents have demanded a meeting with school officials and the mayor.

Rather that shut down schools, the parents say the city could invest more money in them, WBBM Newsradio’s Craig Dellimore reports.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore Reports

Speaking on the CBS 2 Morning News Thursday, Brizard said the goal of his administration is changing schools to make them better, and looking to place children in better schools. He adds that he prefers turnarounds rather than closures.

But simply replacing the teachers and principals at an existing school is not always an option, Brizard said.

“At the vast majority of schools, we are doing that. But there are some schools that are so far gone that you cannot save them,” Brizard said. “There’s got to be some hope left in the building for you to be able to turn a school around.”

At Guggenheim, Brizard says, there is no hope left. He says the school has been failing thousands of children for 14 years, and the system has no choice but to close it.

Brizard said CPS has been considering concerns about the mingling of rival gang members, which is a frequent concern whenever schools are consolidated.

“We’ve done a lot of work on safety and security,” Brizard said. He said CPS wanted to “take action” on more schools than the four that are slated for closing, but the organization decided to forgo those plans because of safety concerns.

When asked if the school closings will leave the children far behind, Brizard says CPS will take action to ensure all students are caught up. Academic support for students at Guggenheim and Price will begin in the spring, and will continue in the coming two years, he said.

Guggenheim was targeted for closure because three out of five students test below standards. Price is in the bottom 8 percent of all district schools.

At Dyett, two out of three of students don’t graduate – far worse than the district average. And Crane has been on academic probation for 10 consecutive years.

The Chicago Teachers Union is slamming CPS and Brizard for the school closure plan.

“Today’s ‘school actions’ are the same old, ineffective policies couched in new and exciting public relations-boosting language,” CTU president Karen Lewis said in a Wednesday statement. “However, the outcomes will remain the same.”

The proposed closings and phase-outs are not a done deal, yet. The school board has to vote on those, as well as a plan for “turnarounds” at 10 other schools that would result in hundreds of teacher layoffs. That vote is expected to happen in February.

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