Matthew A. Henson Elementary School is located in the Lawndale neighborhood. They serve children Pre-K to 8th grade. Henson offers before- and after-school programs. They have full and half-day PreK and full day kindergarten. Henson has a 100% low income population. 98.9% of the population is African American. 12.8% of children have disabilities, and nearly 12% are homeless. Henson’s sports programs include boys’ basketball, cheerleading, double dutch, girls basketball, and girls tennis.
“Henson is everything a community school ought to be. “They’re the model for what we want to include in all of our schools in North Lawndale.” —Valerie Leonard, community activist.
Henson partners with Communities in Schools, Whole School Partnership, and WITS in order to bring quality programming to their students. Henson is a Gold winner for the Healthier US School Challenge, an award recognized by the city of Chicago as well.
CPS claims the school is half full and does not have a computer lab, but community activists and parents say that they have more resources than the receiving school, which is Hughes Elementary, and that their new principal, assistant principal, and counselor have made many positive changes:
“Two years ago if you were to ask me if our school was underutilized, I might have said yes. We had several rooms that were unused, vacant or used for storage, but that’s changed. A year-and-a-half ago, we received a new principal, new counselor and a new vice-principal; and they’ve made many strategic moves, one of them was to help utilize our school better.” —Josh Hallerberg, Henson teacher
Besides general education classrooms and ancillary classrooms, space at Henson is used for special education classes, clinician offices, indoor recess, in-school suspension, and academic small-group intervention. They also have a parent resource center room, computer lab, science lab, music room, a library, and a full-service health clinic. They have about 21 children per classroom in the non-special education classes—a number that CPS considers grossly underutilized. But this is the average class size elsewhere in Illinois (~21), and just under the average in Chicago (~23).
Erie Family Health Center operates the full-service, school-based health clinic, providing everything from chronic illness management to family planning to counseling services and well-child visits. Henson is also the site of a bi-weekly pop-up mobile food pantry, sponsored by a partnership of CPS and the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It serves 75 student families and requires space that the school can set aside to hold it.
Parents at Henson are concerned that because of attendance boundaries, most kids will wind up attending Herzl, which became an AUSL turnaround school just last fall:
“When everything settles, AUSL will have controlled every school in Douglas Park, and they will control the area around Henson school. Lawndale has a history, a long history, of collaboration amongst our schools, and we’re not going to let that history die.” —Valerie Leonard
In addition, Henson students are likely to end up somewhere else than their official receiving school Hughes because Hughes only has room for 224 students (using the grossly inflated “ideal” class size of 30 students); sending 252 students from Henson would immediately bring them to more than 105% of CPS’s calculated capacity, even aside from the additional space requirements of the small class sizes required for special education students.
The Committee to Save North Lawndale Schools, other community members, and Action Now have spoken out on behalf of Henson. The community describes themselves as one that has already been subjected to school actions. Community members also suspect that CPS has wanted to close their building for a long time and sell the building off to a charter school, such as UNO.
“This school and this principal and this assistant principal (have) worked many miracles right here in Henson. I want you to understand that the opportunity to make and continue to make this growth happen has to stay right here. [These are] our children. These are our communities. This is our money, and these schools belong to us” —Windy Pearson, Action Now
Parents have also expressed safety concerns for students traveling to their new school because they will be crossing multiple gang lines. WBEZ has made available recordings of the public meetings/hearings where community members expressed their objections as well.
“If it had not been for the teachers at Henson supporting me, I don’t know where my family would be today. I come to Henson every day to make sure that I am helping out as much as I can. I have a child with disability, and the staff at Henson make sure that everything I need to make sure that they were getting the service that they need. I want to make sure that Henson stay open because it is an awesome school.” —Lemetria Johnson, Henson parent