New charter school approved for Austin

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One of the seven charter schools approved last week by the Chicago Board of Education will be in Austin.

The Chicago Education Partnership, in collaboration with the non-profit organization By The Hand Club for Kids, plans to open its doors to K-1 grades in fall 2015, with the goal of ultimately educating 810 students in grades K-8.

The approval, which came with contingencies, surprised some community members, including Dwayne Truss, a West Side advocate and assistant director of Raise Your Hand.

Truss said it makes no sense for Mayor Emanuel to have closed four elementary schools in Austin last summer, then the Board of Education approve this one to open.

“It’s just hypocrisy,” Truss said.

He said this maneuver by CPS is just another ploy to promote the privatization of the school system in America.

“Neighborhood schools will lose money, because they’ll lose students,” Truss said. “The board is ignoring parents and not giving the schools the resources they need.”

Though the Chicago Education Partnership, which operates no other schools, has been approved to open the charter, the board is still requiring it to provide further curriculum and academic information before full approval is given later this year.

Truss said the biggest insult is the lack of experience the Chicago Education Partnership has in developing and running charter schools.

But in a press release issued by the Chicago Education Partnership, Michael Rogers, executive director and principal, said the school is unique and will benefit the community in large part because of its collaboration with By The Hand Club for Kids.

“By The Hand is a dynamic after-school program that has been in existence in Chicago’s most under-resourced neighborhoods for 12 years,” Rogers said in the press release.

Donnita Travis, founder and executive director of By The Hand Club, said the collaboration will enable her group to reach more students in Austin. The location for this shared facility will be 415 N. Laramie Ave.

“We’ll be able to serve more students right there,” Travis said.

Travis told AustinTalks she believes the charter school will have a great academic impact on the students who attend. She cited a a poll done by the education partnership that found 92 percent of the 221 registered voters surveyed in the Austin neighborhood thought it would be beneficial to have a school that would provide a character and values-driven curriculum for students.

“There are 12,000 students who leave the neighborhood every day,” Travis said.

Taking note of the bitterly cold weather, she said students wouldn’t have to travel as far in bad weather to get to school.

Travis said neighborhoods like Austin have been hurt by budget cuts and school closings.

“It’s a destabilized neighborhood, and it would be beneficial to the children because they could stay in their own neighborhood,” Travis said.

Though the board approved just seven of the 17 proposed charter schools at its Jan. 22 meeting, advocates such as Truss are disappointed that 50 district schools were closed last year and $10 million in budget cuts have b een made to this year’s budget.

There are 126 charter schools operating citywide, and Andrew Broy, president of The Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said his group is still on track to meet the goal of opening 60 new charters.

Public school advocates camped out overnight in front of the Board of Education’s headquarters the night before the charter vote to protest CPS approving more of these schools.

Truss, who participated in the Jan. 21-22 vigil, said he and others participated to show board members they cannot continue to ignore CPS families and to underscore the importance of an elected board. CPS is the only board out of 868 school districts in Illinois that’s not elected.

“Through democracy, we could come up with a better solution,” Truss said. “With an elected school board, we would have someone from our community representing us and looking out for our children.”

Travis said there are only two character schools now operating in Austin, and this new school already has 220 intent-to-attend letters from families interested in sending their children to the charter.

“The parents in the community are excited about the new charter,” she said.

But Truss believes such excitement is due to lack of information and knowledge about the educational system in Chicago.

“All we can do is keep trying to educate residents,” he said.

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