CPS closings: Barbara Byrd-Bennett oversees difficult plan - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

CPS closings: Barbara Byrd-Bennett oversees difficult plan

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

It's almost D-day for Chicago public grammar schools on the list of schools the district intends to close. By the end of March, 129 schools will get the thumbs up or shut down.

The school's chief told FOX 32's Robin Robinson that consolidating is the only way to give students a fighting chance.

"How can we leave children in under performing, underutilized buildings, when we know that we have a process by which we can absolutely get more resources to those children?" CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says.

Byrd-Bennett's first assignment could not be more painful: oversee a plan that may close more schools in one year than CPS has shut down over a decade, due to a decline in city population.

At Cather Elementary School on the city's West Side, there's a lot of wasted space.

"When I tour a school or look at a building where there are so many classrooms not being utilized and I begin to dream about 'oh my gosh, this could be an art room, oh my gosh, this could be a science lab,'" Byrd-Bennett says.

An entire floor of empty classrooms at Cather are obviously under-utilized, but it's not on the endangered list.

"In 2007, we were the most improved school in CPS (really!)" Hattie King, principal of Cather says. "And we've gone from being considered a low-performing school to a high-performing school."


King's school is not only protected, but expanded.

"Yup, they're safe," Byrd-Bennett says of Cather Elementary. "They may be a school that welcomes children.

"No child will move from a lower performing school, into a lower performing school," Byrd-Bennett explains of the process. "It will be a higher performing school."

"Well, past experience has said that six percent of the students, whose schools get closed, wind up going to a school that performs better," CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey says. "The vast majority of students wind up going to a school that performs worse, or equally, at the same level."

The Chicago Teachers Union doesn't trust any of the promised outcomes from school consolidations. In fact, they're lobbying Springfield and predict thousands will to hit the streets as they did in 2010.

"What we're hearing is, take every available, take any and all peaceful means, in defending our schools," Sharkey says.

Union spokesman Jessie Sharkey says the district should improve all the schools, not close them.

"Yeah, and that's a great proposition if I had a charge card where I could do that, but I don't," Byrd-Bennett says in response to Sharkey. "And our finances, as you know, are also dwindling and we're still facing a deficit."

Byrd-Bennett says the district can save millions by consolidating schools. Cather Elementary could double its student population to 500 or more,

"We feel that with those additional monies, we could broaden the experiences for our students," Cather principal Hattie King says.

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