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Residents react to two North Lawndale schools on CPS closing list

Alderman Michael D. Chandler (24th) announces that two schools instead of 12 will close in North Lawndale. (Photo by Priscilla Lopez)
Ald. Michael D. Chandler (24th) announces that two schools instead of 12 will close in North Lawndale. (Photo by Priscilla Lopez)

Two North Lawndale public schools will be closed this year, instead of the 12 that were initially listed as potential closing targets, officials announced Thursday morning.

Matthew Henson and Nathaniel Pope elementary schools in North Lawndale, as well as Ignance Paderewski Elementary in South Lawndale will be closed as part of a district-wide effort to save money by shuttering 61 Chicago Public School buildings before the start of the next school year. Most of the school closings were on the city’s south and west sides, including four in nearby Austin.

“Today we found out we narrowed it down to two schools,” said Ald. Michael D. Chandler (24th). “We are going to continue working together to give our kids the best education they can get.”

Chandler joined union leaders, community organization members, and concerned parents at a news conference to discuss the school closings of North Lawndale public schools. The school district had been looking at a preliminary list of 129 schools that could be closed to offset a $1 billion budget deficit.

Chandler said he wanted to send a clear message to Chicago Public Schools.

“Woking together, we want to send CPS a clear message, and tell them not to even attempt to balance their budget on the budget on the backs of our children,” he said.

Lemetria Johnson has four children, aged 3, 6, 11 and 13, who attend Matthew Henson Elementary school.

“I got a call this morning, they told me Henson is closing down,” she said. “I haven’t told my kids yet, I don’t know how to tell them but I have to.”

Unless she chooses to send her children to a school that is not a CPS neighborhood school, next year Johnson’s children will attend Charles Hughes Elementary School, about a half-mile west of Henson.

Chandler gave some simple advice on how Chicago Pubic School’s can balance their budget is to shut down their headquarters.

“Shut down 125 N. Clark, shut down your headquarters, and put the money in our class rooms,” Chandler said.

Margaret Davis, a north Lawndale resident agreed with Chandler.

“I feel there is enough money in the school system, but there is too much excess weight with the high-income administrators,” said Davis, member of Action Now organization

Action Now is a citywide organization against school closures.

Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele encouraged Chicago Public Schools to help the community of Lawndale provide a good education in their community.

“I encourage CPS to work with us to help give our kids the best education here in the community,” Steele said. “Where the families have history of their family members going to school in their neighborhood.”

Resident Rekisha Campbell, who attended Mason Elementary, which is not on the closing list, said she thinks CPS doesn’t understand the importance a school can have to a neighborhood.

“I graduated from Mason; my family graduated from there too,” Campbell said. “We have generations that have attended this school, my daughter is graduating this year and my son is going to fourth grade, I think its ridiculous to close down schools who have been a part of the family tradition.”

Steele said by closing schools in the community, CPS increases the risk of children dropping out of school or getting in trouble

“We don’t want to put our kids on the pathway to cook county jail,” he said.

Darren Tillis said safety is paramount for the kids of North Lawndale, and worried about students crossing gang lines,

“The invisible turf lines must be recognized,” said Tillis, a member of the community advisory committee.

Valerie Leonard, a community development consulant, said she has been working with the community advisory council to develop a plan for the North Lawndale schools to improve.

Johnson said she plans to home school her kids because that’s the only place where they will safe.

“My main concern is the gangs, other school gangs don’t like kids from Henson, they won’t be safe at another school,” she said.

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