Aug 112017
 

This post summarizes the key findings of two GSLA surveys which followed the first and third community meetings held by CPS to gather feedback on a proposal to expand the South Loop Elementary School’s boundary southward to 22nd Street and close the National Teacher’s Academy elementary school (NTA) to repurpose it to serve as a 1,000 student high school which would be available to students residing in the South Loop, Chinatown, Armour Square, Bridgeport, and north Bronzeville areas.

The purpose of the first survey was to gauge the community’s sentiment regarding key themes raised during the June 6 meeting held by CPS, where the proposal was officially presented to the community for the first time.  The purpose of the second survey was to gather feedback on the version of the plan presented at the July 10 meeting, which has evolved from the one originally presented on June 6.

Who responded?

We received a total of 217 responses across both surveys (n=162 and 55, respectively), which were configured to not allow multiple submissions from the same IP address in order to limit the ability of individuals to submit multiple responses.  We estimate that the surveys reached over 4,000 people.

We asked each respondent to identify with a stakeholder audience: parent of a student at SLES, parent of a student at NTA, parent from greater Chinatown area, community member who plans to send a child to public school in the future, or community member who does not have plans to send a child to public school.

The distribution of respondents across these stakeholder audiences was similar for both surveys; approximately 40% from NTA, 20% from SLES, 30% from community members who plan to send kids to public school in the future, and 10% from other stakeholder groups.

What was the response to the first survey?

The main themes raised during the first meeting were:

  • Requests to see other alternatives presented by CPS
  • Concern regarding the lack of community/stakeholder inclusion and lack of transparency by CPS in the development of the proposed plan
  • Concern regarding the disruption and displacement of NTA students, the majority of whom are low-income and are thriving in their current school

The survey was designed to capture sentiment regarding these 3 areas, and results and key themes are outlined below.

Alternative Plans and Capacity Concerns:

  • 83% Agree or strongly agree that CPS should share alternative plans for providing quality Pre-K-12 public education options in our community. 9% disagree or strongly disagree.
  • 86% Agree or strongly agree that CPS should provide 5-year projections of the populations of South Loop Elementary and National Teachers Academy (current boundaries of both schools). 4% disagree or strongly disagree.
  • 87% Agree or strongly agree that CPS should provide 5-year projections of the number of anticipated graduating 8th graders from each of the elementary schools in the South Loop, Chinatown, Bridgeport, and Armour Square neighborhoods.  5% disagree or strongly disagree.
  • 30% responded that based on what they know of this issue, they are confident that the current plan proposed by CPS will result in better outcomes for all students involved, vs. 66% who did not feel confident that the plan will result in better outcomes.

Transparency:

  • 18% of respondents indicated that they believe CPS is engaging in a fair and transparent process vs. 74% who do not believe the process has been fair and transparent.

Concern regarding disruption/displacement of NTA students:

  • An overwhelming theme in the comments was concern for NTA students and staff. Many comments indicated that while a more closely-located high school would be very valuable for the area, it should not come at the expense of NTA students, including those who live outside of boundary and attend NTA as legacy Ickes Homes residents or as part of the lottery-based Options for Knowledge program.

Outcomes of the First Survey:

Based on the initial survey results,  the GSLA raised questions and concerns regarding these areas to CPS via meetings with the CPS Family and Community Engagement office and at the Board of Education meeting held on June 28, in an effort to ensure that the final solution represents the best interests of our community now and into the future:

Alternative Plans and Capacity Concerns:

Will this plan provide adequate capacity at either the elementary or the high school levels to serve the aggressive growth planned for our neighborhood?

Over 4100 new residential units are planned to be constructed within the proposed new boundary area within the next 5 years, which will surely cause the number of elementary-aged children to increase.  SLES and NTA are currently enrolling a combined total of 6 kindergarten classes per year; the capacity of the new combined SLES will be 7 classes.  CPS demographers advised us that this plan is based on growth projections of 3-5%, which we do not believe to be adequate.

At the high school level, CPS shared at the July 10 meeting that the boundary/feeder schools for the proposed high school will not be announced until the fall of 2018, however if just 45% of students from the neighborhood schools located within 1 mile of NTA choose to attend the proposed high school it will exceed its 1000 student capacity.

Transparency:

Why wasn’t a process initiated to openly engage key community stakeholder groups for input before presenting this plan?

The lack of involvement and communication with impacted stakeholder groups prior to presenting a single plan to the community (which includes closing one school and moving its students to another school community) was disappointing.  In contrast, the recently approved Ogden-Jenner school merger was handled in a different manner.  In the Ogden-Jenner situation, the administrations of the respective schools recognized a challenge that they could work together to solve, and it still took over 18 months from when the principals from both schools approached CPS to request the merger until CPS approved it this February (2017).  An independent consultant was retained to engage all stakeholder groups and a lengthy report was published to justify the recommendation to merge the schools.  Much was learned during the process, which was hailed by CPS as the “blueprint” for situations like this in the future.  We have asked why this process was not applied to our neighborhood’s situation.

Concern regarding disruption/displacement of NTA students:

What will happen to students at NTA, and what steps will be taken to ensure minimal disruption to students and their families?  How will students be distributed across the multi-building SLES campus, and how will this impact families from both South Loop Elementary and NTA?

Per the updated plans shared by CPS at the June 20 and July 10 meetings, if the proposed plan moves forward, ALL students attending NTA will have the opportunity to attend South Loop Elementary when the new 3rd building opens in 2019 and NTA students in upper grades may have the opportunity to finish their elementary years at NTA and continue matriculating through the high school.  The GSLA finds this to be encouraging and appreciates CPS being responsive to the concerns of the community on this point.  We also understand that there are many remaining concerns to be resolved and look forward to CPS sharing more details regarding how the human impacts of this plan will be handled to ensure an equitable and positive experience for all involved.

What was the response to the second survey?

The second survey was made available after the 3rd community meeting, in order to gather feedback on the most current version of the plan.  A summary of meetings 2 and 3 may be found here.   A summary of the second survey is  below.

Is this plan aligned with our neighborhood’s priorities?

  • Respondents’ top Priorities for Education in the South Loop (respondents were asked to select up to 3):
Priority Response (%)
Provide high quality education for all students, regardless of race, income, or address 70.91%
Establish a plan for meeting education needs that accounts for projected population growth in the South Loop 58.18%
Maintain National Teacher’s Academy as is 52.73%
Creation of a neighborhood high school that serves the South Loop 30.91%
Creation of a high school that serves the South Loop, and also provides surrounding neighborhoods with a high school option 25.45%
Improve student performance, regardless of school 21.82%
Increase capacity at South Loop Elementary 20.00%
Increase overall elementary and middle school capacity in the South Loop 9.09%
Minimize usage of public funding (e.g. TIF funds. tax dollars, etc.) 3.64%

 

  • When asked for an overall opinion of the proposal, based on their priorities for education in the South Loop, 29% of respondents indicated that the proposal is “good” or “very good”, while 58% felt that it is “poor” or “terrible”.

Human Factors:

  • 32% of respondents agree or strongly agree that CPS has sufficiently articulated how the needs of low-income, minority students will be served through this proposal. 60% disagree or strongly disagree.

Planning for the Future:

  • 29% agree or strongly agree that CPS has sufficiently articulated how this proposal will serve the needs of the South Loop for the next 5-10 years, 64% disagree or strongly disagree.
  • When asked how likely it is that they and their family will stay in the neighborhood if this plan moves forward, 22% selected “Much more likely”, 36% selected “Much less likely”, and 25% selected “no more or less likely”.

Qualitative feedback:

The qualitative feedback provided was largely representative of the comments and feedback already shared at the community meetings.  The most prevalent concern shared was whether the plan accounts for our neighborhood’s growth and ensures against future overcrowding.

Some comments did, however, reflect a few inaccuracies or “myths” which seem to be rather prevalent and which we feel are worthwhile to attempt to clarify for the broader community:

Myth #1: Out of boundary families should “move within the school boundaries and pay their tax share, as we do [here in the South Loop]”.

Clarification: Aside from TIF districts, which only cover specific areas in the city for specific periods of time and for specific types of project investments, tax dollars paid by residents do not go directly to the zoned neighborhood school in the taxpayer’s area.  Tax dollars for education are centralized for use throughout the district and allocated to schools per pupil, based on the number of students attending the school as of the 20th day of the school year.  Thus, the taxes paid by parents who live in the SLES or NTA boundary do not go directly to either school, and parents of students living outside the attendance boundary and attending either school paid just as many tax dollars toward the school (proportionately) as parents residing within the school boundaries.

Myth #2:  There were several negative comments regarding the percentage of students attending NTA who do not live within the attendance boundaries, suggesting that this is somehow “bad” or “stealing resources” from our neighborhood.

Clarification:  It’s worth spending some time considering the “business model” of public schools in CPS and how and why schools enroll students from outside of their boundaries.  As noted in Myth #1 above, funding for each individual school is based on the number of students attending as of the 20th day of school, not the amount of taxes paid by the parents within the school’s boundary.  As a result, it’s in the best interest of each principal to ensure that as many available seats as possible are filled at their school because the costs are largely fixed and the only way to maximize funding (income) is to maximize the number of students in the building.  This is why schools jockey for specialized programming to make their schools attractive, and this is why schools, including both NTA and SLES, continue to accept students via the Options for Knowledge program to try to “round out” enrollment numbers at each grade level to roughly 28-30 students per classroom.  Unused seats are the equivalent of lost revenue.

Myth #3:  There is a lot of expansion potential at NTA due to the surrounding vacant land.

Clarification:  The currently vacant land to the east of NTA from Cermak to highway 55 will be redeveloped into nearly 1,000 new mixed-income housing units and a retail center.  Work may begin as early as later this year, and former Harold Ickes Homes residents have first right of return to the affordable units.  This May 11 article from Curbed Chicago includes a rendering of the proposed new development, alongside the existing NTA and park district buildings, the Jones HS field, and Park 540 (where the baseball field is located).  There is some space on the existing NTA parcel to expand into the front yard or to build on top of either the staff or park district parking lots in the rear.

What’s next?

The GSLA recognizes that this topic is incredibly important to the future of our neighborhood, and will continue to be focused on doing what we can to ensure that any proposal related to education in the South Loop considers continued population growth, contributes positively to our standing as a neighborhood of choice, and reflects the values of our neighborhood.  As additional information becomes available, we will continue to ask for community feedback and share that feedback on behalf of the community.

If you have questions or opinions to share with CPS, email transitions@cps.edu

If you have questions or opinions to share with the GSLA, email info@greatersouthloop.org

About the GSLA

The Greater South Loop Association (GSLA) is a 501c3 non-profit organization founded in 1998.  Our mission is to bring neighbors together to maintain and improve the South Loop as a vibrant, diverse, and inclusive community.

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