Choice

Narrated by Bridget Newsham

A new millennium, a new plan. Titled Every Child, Every School: An Education Plan for the Chicago Public Schools, CPS unveiled their new plan during the 2002-2003 school year. It was the result of more than 50 discussion groups. Parents, teachers, local school council members, students, and members of organizations devoted to education and social service all played a part in crafting the new direction for Chicago’s public schools.

In the plan, CPS stated its new goals, which included building instructional capacity and centering schools as pillars within the larger neighborhood community. Strengthening existing high school programs was a priority, but so was expanding choice.  Enter: Renaissance 2010.

 Longtime Englewood resident, grandmother, and guardian of her five grandchildren, Theodria Constanoplis addressed her thoughts on the building of a new school during the second of three public meetings CPS held as a way for South Side residents to voice their opinions on the high school closures. Photo: Olivia Obineme

Longtime Englewood resident, grandmother, and guardian of her five grandchildren, Theodria Constanoplis addressed her thoughts on the building of a new school during the second of three public meetings CPS held as a way for South Side residents to voice their opinions on the high school closures. Photo: Olivia Obineme

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Chicagoans with any sort of connection to education--maybe they have kids in CPS, maybe they were kids in CPS, maybe they’re teachers or friends with teachers--have probably heard the term Renaissance 2010. Announced in 2004, the plan involved closing underperforming schools and opening new ones, often times in the same building but with more state of the art equipment. Community groups like the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization criticized the plan. They said it was handed down from CPS to neighborhoods instead of involving community voices throughout the process.

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Robeson High School didn’t close as part of the Renaissance 2010 plan, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t affected. Robeson become a receiving school for Englewood High School, which closed in 2008.

LaToyia Kimbrough, now in-house counsel for the Chicago Teachers’ Union, was a senior at Englewood High School in 2005 when the decision to phase out the school came down from CPS.

[Kimbrough: “my  senior year I actually taught  one of the ROTC classes, so I  knew freshman students, sophomore students  and I saw how, um, they, they had siblings that  were anticipating on going to Englewood and we're not able  to, um, and we're forced to go outside of the community and  they ended up dropping out of school. I remember, um, one girl  in particular, her little brother was terrified, you know, um, to  go to the, the outside school. So he just didn't go. Um, and, you  know, he, I think later on he did, um, decided to go get his ged,  um, but he didn't get that experience of going to the neighborhood school.”]  

Dr. Lipman says that’s a part of school closings.

    [Lipman: “This is a pattern we have seen year after year in Chicago. Schools are closed, the children are sent to another school that has a very destabilizing impact on those children and the receiving schools. So then that tends to destabilize the receiving school and then lo and behold the receiving school is the one that is closed. We saw this happen repeatedly a number of times in Bronzeville” … “Some kids in the Bronzeville area went to a total of three schools in four years. They were shifted from three schools in four years. They dont know the teachers or adults. Then the teachers are faced with a whole new group of students they also dont know. What we have seen across the city is that these school closings have had rolling destabilizing effects on the receiving schools and Robeson was one of those.”]

There’s an article in the Chicago Tribune from May 2006 that looked at the rise in violent incidents in schools, specifically Clemente High School, a receiving school for the phased-out Austin High School on the West Side. Mixing student cultures, including gang populations, increased the volatility of regular high school drama.

A subsequent editorial criticizing CPS for not taking the proper steps to ensure students safety through these transitions spurred CPS CEO Duncan to respond.

His comment--also published in the Tribune and entitled “Making schools ones of choice”--described the steps CPS had taken as a result of the violence. This including boosting security staff and partnering with other city agencies like the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Transit Authority.

Duncan acknowledged that the process of closing and phasing out school is not easy, but wrote that, quote: “we will continue to close and phase out schools that have become schools of last resort for their communities.” End quote. The comment essentially argues that these underperforming schools have become the only options for many families when they shouldn’t have to be.

Duncan concluded his response with the following: “We need to make every school in Chicago a school of choice.”

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Theodria Constanoplis’ choices were limited in 2009 when she became the guardian of five of her grandchildren.

    [Theodria: “because  it was late in the  year when I was bringing  them on board, I went to Robeson  because it was a neighborhood high school  and went through the process of entering them  there because it was in the attendance district,  um, Robeson.”]

Theodria has been an Englewood resident for over 40 years. She graduated from Parker High School, and decades later she would have to send her kids to Robeson, the school that had replaced it.

In 2009, Carlos, Theodria’s oldest grandchild, was a sophomore. Carlos’ younger sister Krista would be entering her freshman year.

    [Theodria: “I found out that the  teachers were hardworking.]

Carlos--who Theodria described as a quiet, good student--got involved in Robeson’s AVID program. AVID--Advancement Via Individual Determination--provides academic, social, and emotional support to students who want to succeed in high school and beyond.

Krista got involved with fights.

    [Theodria: “Unfortunately, my granddaughter was a socialite and um, being that and being a freshman, um, she was, um, she had friends that, um, well honestly they got into fights, um, and that was not, um, that was not good for her. ]

A similar thing happened with the daughters of Shirley Harris--a Robeson alum from ‘85.

    [Shirley Harris: “One of my daughters was there in 2005/2006 and it seemed that students were violent, the girls were violent towards them. It wasnt like I dont like you I dont like what you have on it was like I am going to attack you” [...] “]

Shirley’s daughters ended up leaving Robeson. Theodria too had to send her granddaughter Krista to another school.

[Theodria: So I transferred her to a school where she didn't have that. She hadn't formed that connection with, with a group of young people. So I wanted to start off clean at a different school and once again I had to use the attendance area school. So she attended Harper, which was the same type of school. It was a school that the teachers cared about the young people. They, uh, they, uh, were always interested in encouraging to them.”]

For Carlos, Theodria’s grandson, Robeson was a good fit.

    [Theodria: “Carlos was like I said, quite kinda quiet an inward, but there was a teacher who saw his artistic ability and just kind of took him under her wing and got him to, um, do some of the things in art around the buildings as far as murals and posters and that kind of thing.”]

But Theodria noticed that there were still problems with Robeson. .

    [Theodria: “The students were coming in at different levels of, of readiness for high school. At that time, uh, the, the grammar schools were not as strenuous as getting children graduated with a certain level of competencies. So the gaps were that the, that the teacher and faculty just had to deal with students at all different levels. And it's very difficult to have a class of 30 and you have four different levels that you need to get this information across to.”]

And because it received Englewood High School students following Englewood’s close, Robeson had overcrowding issues.

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In 2006, Robeson High School had more than 650 freshman. If each student remained for all four years, meaning none of them dropped out, the school would’ve suffered from the same problem it faced the year it opened: too many students for the capacity of the building.

In 2009, Robeson reached a peak with around 1500 enrolled students.

But in less than ten years, that number would plummet.

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At the start of this school year, Robeson had only 128 students.