Local man offers alternative plan for four Austin schools targered for closure

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An Austin resident has come up with a plan to save the four Austin schools that are targeted for closure this year.

Dwayne Truss, a Raise Your Hand board member and a West Side education activist, has crafted an alternative plan to deliver to Chicago Public Schools officials at an April 25th public hearing.

Truss is getting community input on the plan and revising it as other ideas emerge, he said.

“I want everyone to know this is just a draft,” said Truss. “This is not the final plan.”

Here’s the “Strengthening Our Neighborhood Schools” plan: 

The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) just announced the following school actions effective for the 2013-14 school year:

Horatio May (pre-K through 8) and Louis Armstrong schools (3 through 6) to be closed. George Leland (pre-K through 3) is proposed to be relocated to May’s building and the building will be renamed Leland. The entire staff of May and Armstrong will be fired and will have to be interviewed for teaching and support positions by the principal of Leland. Armstrong tenured teachers rated excellent or superior may follow their students to the proposed new Leland. Because of the relocation of Leland to May, it is unclear if tenured teachers at May rated excellent or superior will be allowed to stay.

Robert Emmet (pre-K through 8) and Francis Scott Key (pre-K through 8) schools to be closed. Emmet students (454) will be equally split between Oscar DePriest and Duke Ellington schools. All Key students (307) will be reassigned to Ellington. The administration and support staff of Emmet and Key will be fired. Tenured teachers with ratings of excellent or superior will have the opportunity to follow their students to Ellington.

Leslie Lewis is to be turned around by the Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL). The entire staff of Lewis will be fired. They can interview for positions at AUSL. Typically only 15 to 20 percent of the staff is rehired.

The basis for the above CPS proposed consolidations and turnaround is that CPS is facing a deficit of $1 billion for the next school year and that the CPS is facing a utilization crisis.

But both the budget and utilization crises have been debunked by the fact that CPS had a budget surplus of $322 million at the end of the 2012 school year, and that CPS only lost 28,289 (WBEZ) students from 2000 to 2013 while adding 120 charter/contract schools during the same period.

Continuing the Success

Of the schools in Austin 10 of the 17 are not on probation. Since 2009, six schools have moved off probation. Of the seven schools on probation, Armstrong is a level 2 school. Emmet (2012 composite ISAT 70.4 percent meets/exceeds, 66 percent utilized) has posted ISAT scores as competitive as the three charter schools in Austin. Somehow Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School (2012 Composite ISAT 70.3 percent meets/exceeds) is not on probation.

Austin schools have continuously collectively outperformed the three charter schools. Austin neighborhood schools collectively achieved the largest increase of ISAT scores of any school community from 2009 to 2012.

A Vision Forward

An alternative to the proposed school actions will continue to provide stable schools for the Austin community:

  • This plan proposes a co-location at May. May stays opens with the present staff intact. May primary grades are moved to the main building. Leland moves into the May Annex building and maintains its current attendance boundary. This will increase the utilization of May. CPS can save on the cost of operating Leland by closing the building and demolishing Leland.
  • Armstrong remains open and expands to pre-K. It is proposed that the Armstrong Annex house a small alternative middle school for at-risk students.

Nearly 32,000, or approximately one in eight (12 percent) of Chicago Public School students in kindergarten through eighth grade missed four or more weeks of class in 2011. Approximately 19 percent of  kindergarten students had nine or more unexcused absences. Austin is among the top five with respect to truancy. The Illinois State Board of Education has cut funding for the Truant Alternative and Option Education Program from $20 million (statewide) in 2009 to $12 million in 2012 (Chicago Tribune). If left unchecked, truancy leads to poor academic performance, dropout and juvenile delinquency. Chicago Public Schools no longer have truant officers, and local schools have very limited resources to address the issue.

  • Move Key into the same building with Frederick Douglass High School.  This would increase the utilization of Douglass. CPS is scheduled to spend $8 million to upgrade both Douglass’s electrical and mechanical systems. Per the Austin Community Action Plan, (CAC) both schools can vertically align their curriculum to foster a pre-K through 12 continuum. The high school and middle school staff can seamlessly collaborate together in ongoing professional development.

CPS can save on the operation costs of the two buildings Key is presently housed in. The savings can be invested into the already planned capital upgrades of Douglass. CPS is already proposing to co-locate a KIPP elementary school inside of Chicago Hope High School. Spry Community Links High School is an excellent example of a pre-K through 12 school which provides wrap around services. CPS can support the same for Key.

  • Phase Oscar DePriest into a full STEM Magnet school in which admission is based on completing an application and participating in a lottery. Emmet remains a neighborhood school and loses its World Language Magnet Cluster programming to support the magnet programming at DePriest. Emmet can be supported with external resources and grants to support its conversion into a community school. It can house a cluster of community services in which service providers like not-for-profit health centers and social services can be housed. The social services can be accessed by the entire community. Intervention services and GED programs can be housed at Emmet in order to provide ongoing training to adults.

CPS just recently renovated the chimney and the parking lot at Emmet.

  • Ellington continues its success. Implement the proposed IB Magnet program. It is recommended that Ellington and other Austin-based schools be given an advertising budget to market their schools.

Because Ellington is a level 1 performing school, the Network Chief should continue to share Ellington’s best practices with other schools. CPS should reach out to the families at Catalyst Circle Rock to inform them that Ellington is as much a quality option for their children. Ellington is currently providing summer school to Catalyst  students.

If Emmet and Key are consolidated with Ellington, parents are concerned about the distance, safety, overcrowded classrooms and school. The listed capacity is 780 based on CPS’ flawed 30 student per classroom. At least four classrooms were designed for a maximum of 15 special needs students. 30 students cannot fit into the four classrooms. Ellington’s revised capacity is 720. The projected total population proposed for Ellington is 895 students.

  • An alternative and cost-effective turnaround for Lewis would be an internal turnaround managed by the Austin/North Lawndale Network Chief. This turnaround would be similar to the hybrid turnaround that occurred at Woodson in 2012.
  • Strategic Learning Initiative costs less than an AUSL turnaround. An AUSL turnaround is estimated to cost CPS an additional $600,000 per year. AUSL is given $420 per pupil, an additional assistant principal and paid an administrative fee of $300,000.


CPS spends an additional $134,000 to $254,000 annually for ongoing support for magnet schools. White students make up 8.8 percent of CPS total pupil population, yet white students utilizes 40 percent of the seats in Magnet and Selective Enrollment Schools.

There is no “wall-to-wall” magnet school in the Austin community. CPS established two Level 3 performing charter schools in Austin, while the Ravenswood/Ridge Network has 15 gifted/selective enrollment/magnet schools.

To close neighborhood schools is unjust and discriminatory while poor performing and mediocre charter schools are allowed to operate. The decision makers are white males who know nothing of the challenges of the Austin community.

Our choices are simple. If charter schools (which are operated by white males) are so great, why are charter schools not in demand in places like Oak Park or Winnetka? None of the leadership at CPS have any of their children or grandchildren enrolled in a charter school.

Additional Observations

Please note that while CPS claims that its “resources are spread too thin,” CPS approved 14 new charter and contract schools with more schools to open in the near future. Why make this claim?

The consolidation of the Austin High School campus is an option that should be explored. There are three administrations (principals) and less than 1,000 students. The proposed Emmet/Ellington/Key consolidation will result in 895 students in a building with an ideal capacity of 720 once you subtract 60 seats for rooms built for special needs students. Why close a K through 8 school and allow three principals for a building with less than 1,000 students?

CPS has not released a detailed accounting of the savings for each school, nor has CPS proposed a budget for each school impacted. CPS is spending $233 million to implement the closings, yet CPS is still claiming a $1 billion deficit.

CPS allowed magnet schools like LaSalle II, STEM Magnet and Disney II to grow. Why not let DePriest and Ellington grow into full magnet schools?

Prepared by Dwayne Truss, vice-chair, Austin Community Action Council.  

Let AustinTalks know what you think of the CPS school closing list and the alternative plan drafted by Dwayne Truss.

3 thoughts on “Local man offers alternative plan for four Austin schools targered for closure

  1. To Mr. Truss it may be a only a draft ,what matter is that you need to have all (Stackholders) at the table when you so call, draft something up on there building and let them and there (LSC Members) know, that is call respect if you do not know that by now,i pray that you would do that from now on.

  2. What would you propose as an alternate for Key? If you do have an alternative proposal, please set up a meeting with all the stakeholders and present it. The proposal is related to all the schools impacted by CPS school actions. Please feel free to also comment on CPS proposed actions which excluded parents, community, and educators. I chose the venue of AustinTalks.org because it allowed the opportunity to reach a wider audience. Rather than you focusing on who I contacted please attempt to focus (I know it can be difficult for you since you peddle in negativity) on the feasibility of the proposal.

  3. Pingback: Emmet | Every Chicago Public School is My School

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