A sign a student held up in one of the recent school closings meetings read, “My family has lived in this community for over 60 years. I am the third generation to attend Talcott School. How long will you be around, Duncan Huberman Mazany Brizard Byrd-Bennett?” The sign underscores how school closings not only harm specific communities but also disrespect community values. School closings disregard the continuity, history, and commitment that make communities strong. The string of Chicago Public Schools CEOs referred to in the student’s sign begs the question: if CPS can’t maintain stability and continuity in its own leadership, how can it presume to impose drastic decisions on communities that have integrity and staying power?
When students, parents, and teachers plead with the CPS Board to keep their neighborhood schools open, they talk about school as a family, as an extension of home. They emphasize the importance of constancy, stability, trust, and respect – all the qualities that help human beings grow in community. They talk about the ways their schools fight to remain a healthy community in dangerous times and places, and to connect the community with wider cultural opportunities, thorough creative and dynamic partnerships.
In a family, each person is valued for who they are, and encouraged to contribute to the family as a whole. In a family, a child is not a test score. CPS should be proud that so many families view their schools as such vital supports in their lives and communities; it should be seeking ways to build on these supportive structures rather than tearing them down. In its frenetic campaign to transform schools, CPS is missing the fundamental fact that children need relationships and stability to learn.
CPS brass may not want to see its schools as families – but it would have a lot more to work with if it would learn from the families who speak, love, and fight for one another.