Hoping to learn more about new charter school proposals in Chicago, several hundred parents, teachers and activists crowded into a South Side community center this morning for a contentious, sometimes theatrical, meeting about education in the city.
The forum at the Doolittle Parent Resource Center was meant to be sober, where people could learn more about the seven proposals being considered by the Chicago Public School Board as a way to supplement its sometimes overwhelmed public schools.
But, with emotions running high, the meeting sounded more like a rally, and sometimes reached surreal proportions.
One parent showed up in a Superman costume, chanting, “We want choice!” Meanwhile, a mariachi band played before one proposal was delivered, with strumming guitars harmonizing before the standing-room only crowd.
After receiving some resistance to the various plans, the CPS board is scheduled to take up the proposals again during its Jan. 26 meeting.
On the table are applications that include one school’s desire for a technology-based curriculum and another one that hopes to focus on teaching students about law.
The Kwame Nkrumah Academy in Pullman offers an African-centered curriculum for kindergartners through third-graders. Through becoming a charter school, it wants to expand up to the eighth grade, according to its application.
The United Neighborhood Organization Charter School Network, a powerhouse in charter school construction with nine campuses in the city, brought four busloads of parents to rally support for its proposal to open three more campuses by 2012.
“Parents should have options, especially in neighborhoods like ours,” said Juan Rangel, UNO’s executive director.
Paulette Lane sat in the audience feeling conflicted.
Public schools in her Douglas neighborhood have lost funding, Lane said, so more parents are seeing no other option but charter schools.
“Our neighborhoods need more high-performing schools,” she said, citing the loss of a local public elementary school’s program for gifted students.
Patricia Batey-Johnson wants more charter schools. Her teenage daughter has been at Perspectives Charter School in the South Loop for less than two weeks and already she can see the difference, Batey-Johnson said.
“Her weakness is math and now she comes home and tackles it,” she said.
Several parents appeared frustrated by how the meeting was conducted, with CPS officials filtering questions and offering few in-depth answers.
When some parents asked how the cash-strapped CPS can afford new charter schools, officials referred them to the district Website.
“People are being lied to about charter schools and their performance,” said Nathan Goldbaum, a Chicago Teachers Union coordinator.
During the meeting, Goldbaum vented his frustration by shouting “This is a sham!”
Moments later, charter school supporters countered by banging tambourines and shaking noisemakers.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun