DePriest supporters laud academic awards, teachers in efforts to remove school from CPS’ potential closure list

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Oscar DePriest Elementary School and its teachers have earned numerous academic awards, and that’s one reason supporters say it shouldn’t close at the end of the year.

Students from as far as the South Side are coming to learn at the school, said Ald. Deborah Graham (29th).

“It is also under consideration to be an (International Baccalaureate) school,” Graham said at a West Side CPS meeting in February being held as the district considers which schools to close.

“We are really in high favor of them not closing our school and removing it from the list.”

DePriest is one of seven under-enrolled schools in Austin that could close in June.

The annual count of students recorded 549 students enrolled at DePriest on the 20th day of this school year. But CPS says the school can educate 900 students, making it 61 percent utilized.

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

The school’s academic performance rating – Level 2 – ranks in the middle, and DePriest is not on probation. Of the seven Austin schools, DePriest and Key Elementary are doing the best in this regard.

DePriest received the state’s Academic Improvement Award in 2006, 2011 and 2012.

The school won the awards for having an upward trend in test scores for at least three years. It also had a 7.5 point increase for the year or a 15-point increase in test scores over the past two years, according to the Illinois Interactive Report Card’s web site.

In 2012, DePriest’s Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) composite score of students meeting or exceeding standards was 68.8 percent, which is up from 65.1 percent in 2011 and 53.3 percent in 2010.

Students meeting or exceeding ISAT standards in math, reading and science have also increased each year from 2010 to 2012.

Last year, a first-grade instructor at DePriest, Monique Blakes, received the Golden Apple Award, which honors exceptional teaching.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a surprise visit (pictured) to the school to deliver the award to Blakes, as reported by AustinTalks.

Blakes was one of just three Chicago Public Schools teachers to receive last year’s award that recognizes outstanding educators. Seven other teachers throughout the state also received the 2012 award.

Anthony Coleman, a parent of a first and second grader, said the school has exceptional educators, and “it’s not right” and “it’s not fair” that DePriest is on CPS’ list of 129 schools citywide that could shut down in June.

The other Austin schools on the list are Armstrong, Emmet, Key, Lewis, May and McNair.

DePriest offers half-day preschool and full-day kindergarten.

It has crisis intervention outreach, a nutrition program and school-based dental services. DePriest also holds book and homework clubs, and Real Men Read and Young Authors programs.

Ald. Graham stood with DePriest supporters at the Feb. 13 CPS meeting and said the school has a beautiful music program.

“We are very proud of what Oscar DePriest has accomplished there,” she said. “The library program and all of the things they have, instruments that were donated, and the programs are growing steadily.”

Neither DePriest Principal Minnie Watson nor Assistant Principal Victoria Perry returned AustinTalks’ interview requests.

About 20 percent of the students at the school have special needs, and DePriest offers a primary, intermediate and upper-grade autistic program, among other services for students with disabilities.

About six classrooms at the school are dedicated to students with special needs, said West Side education activist Dwayne Truss with the Austin Community Action Council. Truss added that those classrooms are typically not filled to CPS’ ideal homeroom capacity of 30 students, which affects the school’s utilization number.

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said the district knows which schools have special education programs and students, and it’s taking a “much deeper look” at how those students and services impact school-space utilization.

“Kids come here from all over the city” for DePriest’s autism services, said parent Coleman.

He’s not sure where he will send his two children if DePriest closes.

“I might have to try to dig up the money to send (my children) to Providence St. Mel Catholic School,” he said, adding the East Garfield Park school accepts kindergarteners to 12th graders.

The district is expected to release final school-closing recommendations by March 31.
Reema Amin contributed to this story.

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