Courtenay is a “small school” in the Ravenswood neighborhood at 1726 W. Berteau, just around the corner from the home of Mayor Emanuel. Courtenay is part of the CPS Options for Knowledge program, and all students are admitted by lottery.
As of 2012-2013, there were 277 student enrolled and of these 72.2% were low income students, 32.9% were Special Education Students and 32.5% were Limited English Learners. It is an incredibly diverse school with Hispanic students making up 56.7% of the student population; almost 20% of the students are white, while the other approximately 24% are African-American, Asian-American and Native American children.
Courtenay was voted the 2nd most promising school by Chicago Magazine thanks to their high-achievement and small class sizes. Courtenay was also ranked one of the top 25 best schools in Chicago, based on their ISAT meet-exceed percentage. Their overall composite score for all subjects in all grades was: 90.7% meeting or exceeding standards. They were not considered a Level 1 school, however, as their initial scores were high already and they did not move considerably above those. They are considered 85% utilized by CPS. When their %-low income is taken into account, they are one of the best performing schools in the city. According to the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, Courtenay is very strong in 3 of the 5 essential criteria, strong in the other 2, and well-organized for improvement.
They offer a unique curriculum which is child-centered. Their school web page notes that their curriculum “focuses on life skills that include leadership, ethics, accountability, people skills, and social responsibility. These skills are developed and practiced in authentic experiences in the classroom and a variety of extra-curricular activities.” Their Academic Page has an overview of their curriculum in language arts, math, science, fine arts and social science.
An enrichment program, “Right After School” offers students a wide range of opportunities. They work with the University of Illinois at Chicago reading and writing program and with Chicago Cares to develop student volunteer opportunities.They have small class sizes, about 25 in their kindergarten and a range of 22 to 25 in their other grades. There is one class for each grade. Research has shown that students have the best academic experience in small classes in personalized small schools and Courtenay’s success illustrates that. There are 3 self-contained special education classes and 1 blended pre-school class. Their part-time social service staff includes: a psychologist, social worker, occupational therapist, 2 physical therapists and a full-time speech language specialist.
Courtenay was not on the final list of school closures and the school’s parents and teachers were not provided with a community forum. One parent noted that they “did not meet any of the criteria to be closed and thus were not given an opportunity to advocate for our children until now.”
“The current proposal before the Board is insulting and disrespectful to parents in its design and how it was communicated. Courtenay was not included on the list of school closures and therefore stakeholders were not provided with a community forum. I did not get the opportunity to advocate for my child, my child’s school and the community.” —Wendy Auffant, Courtenay parent
So why is Courtenay being closed? The FICTION is that it ISN’T actually being closed (as that would not be possible because of their high academic standing), but that rather they are just moving to another building, Stockton, and that new building will now be called Courtenay. The “new” Courtenay will assume the neighborhood boundaries of Stockton. But the current Courtenay students (whether they live in the neighborhood or not) will be able to attend.
Yet as one active parent said, “the move will take away almost everything that makes our school Courtenay.” At the CPS Board meeting on April 3rd, a Courtenay parent pointed out that:
“[W]hile CPS communicates that Courtenay is merely relocating, it does not address the fact that this will fundamentally change the design of the school, the very design that makes Courtenay successful. CPS is saying Stockton will be closed, but the building will remain open, the students will stay; only the name will change. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it still is a pig!”
Parents have also objected to the change in the enrollment policy, taking away the lottery aspect of the Options for Knowledge program, thereby removing parent choice. Why does CPS want to do away with the small school model? With a school of proven success with a child centered and rich academic curriculum? The kind of program that could increase academic achievement in other schools and be a model for other schools? Why does CPS not acknowledge the research about the importance of small class size to academic achievement and providing a more effective personalized learning experience for all students?
The current building does require some capital improvements to the property, about $6 million, much less than either the average ($10.5M) or the median ($9.2M) cost to maintain and repair across all CPS school buildings. CPS has recently put considerable money into renovating Stockton, $14M. So, from their point of view this is a savings. However, the savings does not take into account children and parent’s experiences, deprives parents of choice, and means closing a relatively cheap building to keep in good condition with respect to the rest of CPS’s buildings. (In addition, DNAinfo reports that “[a]s late as summer 2012, CPS was still investing in Courtenay, building a new playground for the school and freshening up the building’s paint.“)
As there will be no more Stockton (in name), the principal will be appointed by the LSC of Courtenay. That leaves Stockton parents, with the larger school population, no say in their school administrative leadership. As with Stockton, many questions are unanswered: How can Stockton with only three available rooms absorb over 275 Courtenay students? What will happen to the special education students at both schools? To the small class sizes that are characteristic of both schools? Why hasn’t CPS brought parents from both schools together to discuss the many difficulties these plans will engender?
Post author: Diane Horwitz