May Community Academy after-school and community programs too valuable to lose, advocates for keeping school open say

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Austin’s YMCA member center shut down in October, but it continues to provide various community and youth programs at Horatio May Community Academy.

The YMCA’s services are too valuable to lose, some West Side residents say, and that’s one reason why they want May removed from the recently released list of 129 under-enrolled schools citywide that CPS could shutter in June.

“May Community Academy is a community school with emphasis on the word community,” Gerald Walton, a YMCA resource coordinator at May, said at a West Side CPS hearing earlier this month.

May is one of seven Austin schools considered by CPS to be underutilized that could be closed at the end of the academic year. The other schools are Armstrong, DePriest, Emmet, Key, Lewis and McNair.

The YMCA offers after-school, summer and weekend programs at the school, 512 S. Lavergne Ave. And it offers family-support services, job-readiness classes and career-development workshops for parents, Walton said.

May and the YMCA also have a relationship through the Community School’s Initiative, which brings after-school programming and outside resources into six public schools across Chicago’s West and South sides, as reported by AustinTalks last year.

The Westside Health Authority and Fathers Who Care, among other service providers, also work at May, Walton said.

“May Community Academy is the wrong school to think about closing,” Walton told CPS officials at the Feb. 13 meeting. “If you ask anyone who knows about the Austin area, they will bear witness to the drastic improvements that have occurred at May Community Academy under Principal [Roger] Lewis.”

Neither May Principal Roger Lewis nor Assistant Principal Ruthanne Tolliver returned AustinTalks’ interview requests.

The annual count of students recorded 463 students enrolled at May on the 20th day of this school year. But CPS officials have determined the school’s ideal capacity is about 1,020 students, which makes it about 45 percent utilized, according to district calculations.

Schools are considered effectively used when they are at least 80 percent utilized, district officials have said.

The school also has the lowest of three academic ratings – Level 3 – and is on probation.

But May’s Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) composite scores are on the rise.

In 2012, 60.6 percent of students met or exceeded standards on the test. That’s up from 58.8 percent in 2011 and 51.3 percent in 2010.

West Side education activist Dwayne Truss said he’s more concerned CPS could decide to turn around the school, replacing its staff instead of closing it. He said there are no receiving schools anywhere near May that would be able to accept students if it closes.

“Where are those kids going to go?” said Truss, a member of the Austin Community Action Council.

Valerie Betts, a teacher at May who serves on the school’s Local School Council, expressed her frustration about CPS’ school-closing process at the second of two West Side meetings.

She said at the February meeting she wasn’t going to bring up May’s rising test scores again, because they can be found online.

“Why do I have to keep repeating myself?” Betts said to CPS representatives at the meeting. “They tell me somebody’s listening. I want to know who is if I have to keep repeating myself over and over and over again. Who is listening to me? Who?”

All public comments at the February and Jan. 31 meeting were recorded and will be complied in a report for CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, according to CPS.

The district says it has too many empty seats and needs to shut down some underutilized neighborhood schools to close its looming $1 billion deficit. Byrd-Bennett recently announced high schools and high-performing schools are off the table.

CPS officials also announced they will not shut down schools with more than 600 students, schools that recently experienced a school action or are in the process of adding grades, among other criteria.

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said the 129 schools on the list are under consideration to close, but the process is far from over. There are other factors Byrd-Bennett will take into account before making final recommendations, and community members should continue to express their needs and concerns to the district, she said.

The district is expected to make final school closing recommendations no later than March 31.

One May teacher took CPS officials to task over its reported budget and school-utilization crisis.

“The officials at CPS have claimed that 100,000 of our students have left the city,” said Asif Wilson at the February meeting. “That is a complete and utter lie, people – 28,289 students have left.”

Wilson raised concerns about CPS’ Commission on School Utilization  that formed earlier this year and released a preliminary report on school actions in January.

He said the in-depth report on school utilization was conducted by charter school proponents, and he called on CPS officials to produce another analysis.

The commission has also come under fire from the Chicago Teachers Union and others.

CTU said in a statement last year that the commission could be a front for charter proponents as it shares shares the same office and has ties to the charter supporters Civic Consulting Alliance, New Schools for Chicago and the Renaissance Schools Fund.

“With strong ties to the charter operators and school reform leaders, taxpayers should ask the mayor if his new commission is just a front group for further school privatization,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey in a December press release. “Why didn’t the commission disclose conflicts of interest up front? How can we trust the commission to be fair when its chairman and key advisers have such a clear agenda? Taxpayers, parents and the public school educators of Chicago deserve clear answers.”

Wilson added, “I want you to do a full audit of the budget, which last year showed a $344 million surplus and over the last four years has shown a surplus of $920 million.”

“Last year, you budgeted $350 million, but yet you give us the rhetoric that we’re at a billion-dollar shortfall. What are you here to do for us, I ask you,” Wilson said.

CPS representatives did not address specific questions during public comment at both Austin-North Lawndale Network meetings, but all testimony was recorded, CPS officials said.
Mario Lekovic contributed to this story.

2 thoughts on “May Community Academy after-school and community programs too valuable to lose, advocates for keeping school open say

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