Canter Leadership Academy is located at 4959 S. Blackstone in the Hyde Park-Kenwood neighborhood. Canter is one of a handful of schools that was chosen to be an early adopter of the Common Core State Standards, which CPS is using as its main lever to promote college and career readiness. Canter has done much work in this area and is better situated than most schools to move forward with this agenda. Canter appears to be highly competitive in regards to this primary mission; indeed, CPS may be closing one of its most effective schools.
“When I first came to Canter I was a lost soul. It turned my education around when my teachers started to believe in me. If you close Canter so many other souls won’t be able to be helped.” –Reagan Allen, 8th grader at Canter.”
Canter has built an excellent program and attracted stellar teachers. As The Nation article and four hours of testimony have demonstrated (see here, here, and here), under the guidance of Dr. Colleen Conlon they have carried out exactly the remit of a Middle School: providing a safe environment sensitive to the needs of kids transitioning into high school with high academic standards.
“[It’s] a safe school in a safe neighborhood.[…]Kids who are in seventh and eighth grade, who at this point, their lives shift. Very easily, they can fall into the trap of gangs. We’re able to, in this school, really reach kids,” he said. “I honestly believe that we save a lot of kids, or at least help them prepare for high school.” —Patrick Papson, teacher at Canter
Canter provides a myriad of special programming that enriches and deepens the overall learning and growth of its students. The Algebra Program allows students to earn freshman algebra credit as 8th graders and put them on track for advanced placement math courses in high school. Canter has also provided the award winning intensive Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy Fusion program for several years.
The building is structurally sound and received some TIF funds and CPS funds for upgrades during the past decade. However, CPS is arguing that Canter is underutilized. The proposed plan would send Canter students to William H. Ray Elementary, a full mile away Hyde Park, and Bret Harte Elementary, also a full mile away. These schools do not currently have a 7th and 8th grade program so there is no way to measure whether Canter students are being sent to a higher or lower performing school. However, based on a statistical analysis of ISAT composite meet-exceed percentages that takes into account the demographic make-up of the school (low-income, race, special education), Canter is greatly outperforming its expectations.
Parents and teachers contend that CPS’s utilization formula for Canter is flawed. CPS puts Canter at 58% ideal utilization, assuming that 30 students can fit in the 13 classrooms far larger than the average in the low 20s in downstate classrooms and also much larger than the current average in CPS elementary schools of 26 or fewer. Moreover, CPS’ formula does not allow for the size of middle school students, nor does it consider space needed for counseling and special needs students. And Canter’s population has been growing over the past two years.
“CPS needs to make it known that Canter is a strong and viable neighborhood option and actively recruit families to increase enrollment. There is an active community in Hyde Park who have a vested interest in lifting up neighborhood schools.” – Sherrice Johnson, a Canter teacher.
Many of Canter’s students come from nearby Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School, which is a K-6 school. The win-win way to ensure Canter is fully utilized would be to have Shoesmith become a K-5 (not overcrowded) school and have Canter be a 6-8 Middle School. Prior to 2002, Canter (then known as Louis Wirth) was 6-8 and that made it easier to maintain enrollment. This would solve a problem for Shoesmith as well since CPS has no plan for where these students would go should Canter close; they are not in the Ray or Bret Harte boundaries.
“Her concern was for the kids, and you must keep that in mind no matter where you end up. The Canters are proud of what the Canter school has become, and we urge you to continue to fight.” –Evan Canter, son of Miriam Canter, the school’s namesake
Post author: Hannah Hayes