Goodlow is officially a magnet school, but it operates as an open-enrollment neighborhood school, because it has a fixed attendance area and does not standardly accept students from all over the city. This disparity is the result of policies applied to the school over a decade ago:
“Goodlow, as a magnet school, is supposed to aim for a balanced racial makeup. But in recent years, school officials have used the school to relieve overcrowding, abandoning the racial guidelines until more schools can be built and allowing the enrollment to become 99 percent black.”
Now CPS says Goodlow is underutilized, and the school should be closed. Students and staff from Earle Elementary will be sent to Goodlow, and Goodlow will be renamed to Earle. But CPS’s ideal quantity of students for Goodlow is 630, and the combination of Earle and Goodlow will be 736 students—17% larger than even CPS’s ideal utilization number—where anything under 24 students per class is underutilized and only more than 36 counts as overcrowding. Goodlow is already short on space; according to the school social worker, there is a single shared office for the school counselor, psychologist, nurse, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, and physical therapist. The Earle building is slated for conversion into a magnet school focusing on science and math.
In addition, CPS claims that all children from closing schools will be sent to higher performing schools, but Goodlow and Earle are both officially in CPS’s lowest academic category, Level 3, and, in fact, Goodlow’s overall ISAT scores were higher than Earle’s in 2012:
“When you’re merging two schools together, and they are both low performance, you’re setting up the system to fail. Why is this school taking over our school?” —Darlene O’Banner, Goodlow LSC and grandmother of four Goodlow students
O’Banner has additional criticism of the closure process: “They’re dividing us. They should’ve sat down and asked us as parents, ‘How can we make your child’s school better?’ In fact, Goodlaw may very well be on an upswing. They hired a new principal, Ihechi Sadiki, last summer, and test scores have risen this year during his tenure, but he’d only been on the job eight months when the closure list was announced.
Darlene O’Banner is one of many active community members and parents who volunteer and support Goodlow. At a board meeting last August, the community was commended by Board of Education member Dr. Mahalia Hines for their intiative in improving the school. O’Banner, herself, raised money for a basketball team at Goodlow. Clifford Fields, current LSC member at both Goodlow and Harper High School, was head of the Goodlow PTA in 2009 when he was recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education for his involvement with the school, receiving a Golden Parent Award from the Black Star Project, a mentoring project where African-American men get involved in education in their community. Dorothy Whalum received the same honor the previous year as an honory grandparent for the students at Goodlow.
Goodlow is located in the 15th Ward, an area beset with some of the toughest socio-economic problems in the city: crime, foreclosures, no major grocery store, 49th of 50th in TIF spending. The West Englewood community area is number four out of 77 ranked on a hardship index: Its per capita income is less than $11,000. Thirty percent of households are below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate is nearly 35%. Nearly 17% of the students at Goodlow are homeless.
“It’s hard to believe that in this day and age children do not have access to a computer. In my kindergarten class most of the children get their first exposure to a computer. My students live in one of the roughest neighborhoods on the Southside of Chicago. Many of the children live at the poverty level and are exposed to gangs and violence on a regular basis. Our school is a sanctuary for the students where they can come not only to learn, but to feel safe and loved.” –Mrs. Russell, kindergarten teacher at Goodlow
In an under-resourced neighborhood, the school, like many on the closing lists, serves as an important community hub for the surrounding area. It has a partnership with Communities in Schools Chicago to provide services to families and neighbors. They are also a site for RIF, the oldest and largest children and family literacy organization in the country. The school also partners with the Chicago Foundation for Education, a non-profit that supports teacher professional development.
“Goodlow is not just a school, it’s a family, it’s a home, it’s an environment, it’s a community. Their passion just runs deep, and I really, really wish that I could say something that would help you truly understand that you can’t close this school.” –Bonita Whitfield Shanklin, Goodlow school social worker