Crispus Attucks Elementary is a case study in how CPS school closings target the most vulnerable communities. Instead of providing aid, however, CPS’ policies end up withdrawing resources for those who most need them and spreading uncertainty and disruption in neighborhoods that can ill afford more instability.
Attucks is located on 5055 State Street, in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side. Of its 275 students, 96.9% are low income. Furthermore, 131 or 48%, have been identified as homeless. At hearings on the status of Attucks, Robert Elchert, the Education Liaison and Social Service Coordinator for 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell, pointed out that changes in Attucks would be especially difficult for the students there.
“[C]hildren from those types of environments really need the maximum amount of stability. Clearly the best way to do that would be to keep the school open.”
Despite such concerns, Attucks is scheduled to be phased out over the course of two years, with its students moving to Beethoven Elementary three blocks north on State Street. Beethoven itself already has 74 homeless students. The combined student population would be made up of about 1/3 homeless students.
Even more worrying is that fact that, like many schools in Bronzeville, this is not the first time that Attucks has been affected by CPS school closures. In 2004, Attucks — then located at 3813 S. Dearborn — was a receiving school for students from Raymond Elementary (3663 Wabash Ave) and Hartigan (8 W. Root St.) when those schools were closed. Then, in 2008, Attucks itself was shuttered. Then, as now, it had an extremely high homeless population — the largest in the city. Many of the students had also been affected by public housing demolition, and a large number did not live close to the school.
The 2008 closing was especially sudden and disruptive. At the end of July of that year, CPS declared that the Attucks building required a $7 million new boiler, which CPS could not afford to purchase. With little community input, and no information sessions the school was shut down and moved twelve blocks away to its current location in the former Farren School, leaving the building vacant and essentially abandoned. A student who entered kindergarten at the Raymond School in 2003, therefore, could have been moved to Attucks in 2004, moved again to the former Farren building in 2008. Now Attucks is facing yet another disruption.
Nona Burney, the chair of the Bronzeville Community Action Council, raised this issue at the hearing on the Attucks closing.
“The concern that wasn’t mentioned is the fact that some of the students who still currently attend Attucks were involved in the other moves as well. So there are probably 6th, 7th and 8th graders who were moved at that time and should not be dislocated again, is really the biggest issue for us. The other thing is that even though Attucks had a high percentage of students living in temporary situations, they did not receive the support that they needed on a regular basis.”
Burney added that she was worried that CPS would once again fail to provide adequate support to Attucks students during and after the move.
Despite being subjected to repeated school actions, Attucks’ rating from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research is that the school culture is “organized” for improvement and strong in two of its Five Essentials categories. Attucks has partnered with Communities in Schools Chicago for more than eight years to provide services to students and families.
“It’s going to make it hard for the teachers and the students. I moved him from [another school] over east, and his grades have improved here. Here they got a little more privilege. They let him get on a computer. They have soccer. They have music. They have all that.”–Marqueeta Peters, Attucks parent
The students at Attucks, then, have disproportionately unstable and difficult home situations. CPS has responded to this by providing the students with an extremely unstable and fluctuating school environment. It is hard to see how yet another major disruption can possibly be in the interest of Attucks or the children who go there.
Post author: Noah Berlatsky