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Protesters Stage Sit-In At CPS Ahead Of Meeting On School Closures

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Protesters staged a rally outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters on Dec. 13, 2011, a day ahead of a school board meeting to discuss plans to close, consolidate or make other drastic changes at 18 schools next year. Some protesters planned to stay overnight to be first in line to get into the board meeting. (Credit: CBS)

Protesters staged a rally outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters on Dec. 13, 2011, a day ahead of a school board meeting to discuss plans to close, consolidate or make other drastic changes at 18 schools next year. Some protesters planned to stay overnight to be first in line to get into the board meeting. (Credit: CBS)

roberts250 Bob Roberts
Bob Roberts is a native of Wilmette who has worked in Chicago media...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – More than 500 people jammed the sidewalk in front of the Chicago Public Schools’ downtown headquarters for a 90-minute rally Tuesday night and a handful were determined to stay the night to be first in line for Wednesday’s school board meeting.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports, proposals by system staff to close 18 schools – phase them out, consolidate them or put them into a top-to-bottom housecleaning it calls a turnaround – were the object of their wrath.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

Price Elementary teacher Margot Murray said that first, the board stripped Price of most of its resources. Now, she said, it wants to close the school.

“It’s a sin and a shame and we cannot allow this to happen,” she told the crowd.

In a statement Tuesday evening, CPS officials said, “We have a deep respect for those who choose to exercise their right to free speech, but we make no excuses for taking action on some of the worst performing schools in the district. We can no longer accept a status quo that has allowed so many schools to fail our students year after year.”

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said success is a moving target.

“The bar keeps being pushed backwards and upwards and sideways,” she said. “You look at a school like Casals. They don’t understand why they’re on the list.”

Maria Guerrero has taught at the Casals School for 22 years and faces loss of her job if the board votes to go through with the top-to-bottom housecleaning it calls a “turnaround.” She is not happy.

“I consider this like they’re stealing it from us and the neighborhood,” she said.

Guerrero said putting Casals into a turnaround program makes no sense, because at least 100 public elementary schools in the city have lower test scores and some charter schools do, as well. And she said the decision was made without one visit from top administrators.

“We really feel in our hearts that this is wrong,” she said. “Teachers have a lot of heart for their schools and their children. We’re very connected. We feel bonded to them. and for them to do this to us is just morally wrong.”

But CPS officials have said the turnaround plan is a proven one.

“We will take whatever steps are available to ensure our students can access higher quality school options in their community immediately – that includes creating new turnaround schools, which have proven track records on boosting student achievement in the district’s lowest performing schools, and, in very few cases, close schools where we can safely send students to neighboring schools that are higher performing,” CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said in a prepared statement. “We must make necessary but difficult choices if we are to do the right thing for our students and get them on a path for college and career readiness.”

Lewis had expected a crowd of about 200 for Tuesday night’s protest. More than 500 people took part in the rally, and a few said they intended to spend the night in sleeping bags to be the first in line for Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting.

Asked if anyone in a position of authority was really listening, Lewis said she hoped so and has to believe they did.

She repeated her belief that the board’s strategies are blueprints for failure and says schools would improve if they had adequate resources and more input from teachers and parents.

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