Abandonment or Revival?
What to Expect from a New High School in Englewood
Chicago Teachers Union
Education Policy Department
There is little evidence to support the CPS claim in a letter to parents: “We believe that every community deserves an excellent neighborhood high school that will give your children the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their dreams.” The opposite is true. Through poor planning and racist policy decisions, CPS has deliberately undermined Englewood’s neighborhood high schools. Now, CPS is planning to “consolidate” (close) Harper, Hope, TEAM Englewood, and Robeson, under the guise of “giving Englewood students a high quality high school experience.”
In spite of CPS roadblocks, but because of the dedicated work of teachers and staff at Englewood high schools, many students already have quality experiences. Devoted long-term teachers provide opportunities for local youth who have otherwise been shut out by a district that does not prioritize their success. Across Englewood’s four neighborhood high schools, students have higher mobility rates and higher IEP rates, indicating that these schools need more, not the fewer resources CPS provides. These higher needs are largely tied to historical and ongoing lack of economic opportunities and housing stability in the neighborhood and point to the importance of the dedicated, long-term teachers and staff in Harper, Hope, TEAM Englewood, and Robeson.
CPS has gone out of its way to destabilize Englewood’s neighborhood high schools, but now wants parents to believe that they are creating a new high school out of concern for Englewood students. Teacher, staff, student, parent, and community input have been sorely missing from this CPS decision, and CPS has done nothing in the past to indicate commitment to the high school youth of Englewood. Although the number of teenagers in the neighborhood has declined in the last decade, CPS opened 11 new charter high schools! They also destroyed neighborhood high schools through closures, re-districting, insufficient funding, and disregard for community needs.
In contrast to CPS, Englewood’s high school teachers and staff provide not only stability in their student’s lives, but also classroom spaces where students can connect with one another, process their experiences, and help make decisions about their communities. Many Englewood teachers are Black women who have already experienced school consolidations and closures in other buildings. CPS actions force Black teachers and Black students to bear the brunt of negative policies, while continually shutting them out from new opportunities.
There is little evidence in CPS’s history to suggest that it will foster local community leadership of schools or prioritization of students’ safety. It is more likely that students will be uprooted, staff positions shuffled around, and community voices ignored. The work of empowerment, community-building, and respect that Englewood schools have sought to develop in spite of many roadblocks, will have to start anew.
The play Twelve Angry Men is personal for freshman English students at Paul Robeson High School in Chicago’s Southside Englewood neighborhood. In one class, all of the students reading the play had at least one male relative or friend who was incarcerated. The story of an all-white, male jury, deliberating the fate of a Latino teen being tried for the death penalty, hit close to home for teens who had witnessed the impacts of the judicial system first hand.
Despite students’ needs and teacher and staff dedication, CPS seems determined to destroy small high schools in Englewood like Robeson. Englewood has four neighborhood high schools, all designed to accommodate between 700 and 1,400 students, that now enroll around 150 students. Under-enrollment is a direct symptom of continued and systemic disinvestment from the neighborhood and its communities. Four neighborhood high schools in Englewood (Harper, Hope, Team Englewood, and Robeson) are being threatened with closure/consolidation. These neighborhood schools provide opportunities, and in some cases crucial second chances for youth who have otherwise been shut out by a system that does not prioritize their well-being and success.
The Implications of a New School in Englewood
The city and the school district have announced the building of a new high school for Englewood, but have largely kept their plans under wraps. Teachers who already work in the neighborhood, however, have seen this scene play out and know what to expect. Students will be excited by the prospect of a new school building with expanded facilities, only to be let down when CPS blocks many of the students who live in Englewood from enrolling at the new school. Meanwhile, those Englewood high schoolers who have been bounced between different homes and programs their whole lives, will continue to be sequestered to a starved neighborhood school and possibly not even one in their own neighborhood.
Teachers worry that school consolidation will expose their students to more danger as they will have to cross neighborhood gang lines to commute to a new building. CPS has does little to assuage those fears. Combining schools brings together groups of students who do not know or trust one another. Teachers stressed the importance of having long term staff in the building who know the students and have relationships with them if CPS hopes to pull off a successful merger of multiple schools, but there is little evidence in CPS’s history to suggest that a consolidation would be done thoughtfully or collaboratively. Meanwhile, schools continue to operate in buildings that are starved for resources but still maintain their presence as an established space within the community.
Englewood and West Englewood
HS budget changes due to Student Based Budgeting (SBB)
*SBB was introduced in SY 2013-14
Racist Policies Lead to Changes in Neighborhood Population
Paul Robeson High School
Paul Robeson High School opened in 1977. Named for the African American athlete, musician, and civil rights activist, Robeson was, for many years, CPS’s star high school football team. Recently, however, the school, whose student body is predominantly Black and low-income, has weathered repeated destabilizations from CPS. The first school action came in 1997 in the form of reconstitution and the school was entirely restaffed. In 2005, not even ten years later, Robeson underwent another reconstitution. During this process, the school didn’t have enough time to rehire teachers for all of their vacant positions and Robeson started the school year with 12 teaching vacancies. After the restaffing, Robeson teachers had an average of four years’ fewer experience than the teachers who were removed during the reconstitution. Catalyst Chicago, reporting from 2005, describes Robeson as having a difficult time recruiting and rehiring experienced teachers after the reconstitution as teachers did not feel secure in a school that had been subjected to repeated district actions.
The same year, Robeson became the receiving school for students displaced by the closure of Englewood High School. Robeson’s principal became concerned about overcrowding, as Robeson had also recently acted as a receiving school for students from the closed Calumet High School. Despite Robeson’s robust enrollment throughout the 90s and early 2000s, by 2015 CPS had identified Robeson as a candidate for campus consolidation. Today, Robeson’s entire third floor remains unused. What happened between 2005 and 2015 that Robeson went from being at risk of overcrowding to a campus so under-enrolled that an entire floor of the building was closed down? In short, charters moved into the neighborhood.
How did public schools in Englewood get to where they are today? CPS’s own Facilities Master Plan points to a neighborhood with a declining high school student population; yet, between 2009 and 2015, CPS opened 11 new charter or alternative charter high schools in Englewood and its surrounding neighborhoods. According to Census data, Englewood’s population of 15 to 19 year olds has declined by 31% since 2010. CPS knows that the neighborhood demographics are changing, but still allowed nearly a dozen new charter or alternative high schools to open in Englewood, pulling students and resources away from the existing high schools.
Chicago’s racial and economic segregation has its roots in federal and local policies which promoted residential segregation throughout the country. In Chicago, racially restrictive covenants prevented African American families, who were moving to the city in search of work during the Great Migration in 1916, from living outside of a small area on the city’s south side. This practice continued well into the 20th century via redlining, where insurance companies deemed particular neighborhoods “high risk” due to high concentrations of people of color.1 Many homes in these Black neighborhoods were torn down in the 60s to make way for the construction of the Dan Ryan expressway, which sliced through the Southside and separated Englewood from its eastern neighbors. Recently, Englewood has been hit hard by foreclosures and the enduring impact of vacant properties. By 2014, 11% of residences in Englewood had been vacant for more than two years.2
Reckless Expansion of Charter Schools by CPS Destroys Neighborhood Schools; School Based Budgeting Exacerbates the Problem
Charters are much more likely to expel students for minor disciplinary infractions than a neighborhood school, again pushing out those students who most need support at school.
The severity of under-enrollment in Englewood’s neighborhood schools is part and parcel of CPS’s strategy to undermine neighborhood schools in favor of charter campus expansion. CPS policies have consistently weakened the ability of neighborhood high schools to provide ongoing and necessary services to their students and have also left teachers without adequate resources.
Between 2009 and 2015, 11 new charter or alternative charter high schools opened in Englewood and its surrounding neighborhoods. Charters are much more likely to expel students for minor disciplinary infractions than a neighborhood school, again pushing out those students who most need support at school. During the 2015-2016 school year, Noble network charter high schools alone expelled 1.3 students for every 100 enrolled. In contrast, CPS network high schools expelled only 0.04 students for each 100 enrolled during the same time period.3 High schoolers, especially those who enter high school needing extra help, are almost 33 times more likely to be expelled from a charter high school than a neighborhood one, and the teachers at neighborhood schools are the ones who welcome these students back into the classroom. Students may begin their school year in a charter school, but often, their neighborhood high school gives them a second chance at success.
Co-locations at Hope and TEAM Englewood
As charters have invaded Englewood, some have set up shop within neighborhood school’s buildings. In 2013, for example, Kipp Middle School took over half of Hope’s building. Until 2007, Hope included students in grades six through twelve and was the neighborhood’s highest performing middle school. However, when Englewood High school was phased out beginning in 2005 and Lindblom re-opened the same year, Hope was made into a receiving school. When charters co-locate with neighborhood schools, they also bring resources for remodeling and new programs, but only for their own students. Students who attend school in the same building, but are enrolled in their neighborhood high school, are sent a clear message: they are not a priority for CPS.
A similar story unfolded at TEAM Englewood, where the now-closed Englewood High School was shuttered to make way for the co-located TEAM Englewood (a small high school without attendance boundaries) and Urban Prep Academy (a charter). Rather than sending students from the former Englewood High School to the new TEAM Englewood in the same building, they were instead sent to Hope. As one frustrated teacher asked in an interview with Chicago Catalyst, “What picture does this paint [for students], when another functioning, [highly] resourced school takes up their space?”
Chicago Public Schools rely on a budgeting formula known as student based budgeting (SBB). SBB ties school funding to individual students. Under CPS’s current budget algorithm, school funding is contingent on the number of pupils in the building. This is troubling for small schools in a neighborhood like Englewood. While 13.6% of CPS students have IEPs district wide, Englewood’s four neighborhood high schools have an average IEP rate of 24.8%, indicating that their students need more support and more services than the average district high schooler. SBB does not create an economy of scale that can support all the needs of its students, especially at schools like Robeson, Harper, Hope, and Team Englewood, where the student body is small, but the needs of its students are large. If we compare school budgets from 2013 (the last year prior to the implementation of SBB) and 2017, Englewood neighborhood school budgets were reduced by a combined $16,986,933. These schools can’t fund programs to entice new students and are then punished for their small student body with additional cuts for each student that is pulled out of the school, either by charters, displacement, or the criminal justice system. SBB works to undermine neighborhood schools, especially small ones, and ensure a continuing cycle of disinvestment from the neighborhood.
Chicago’s racial segregation and the pervasiveness of the criminalization of Black youth have made Englewood’s neighborhood schools important re-entry points for youth who have been bounced between homes, spent time in detention centers, or funneled through foster care systems. A nearby group home for teens who are in the foster care system and the cycle of incarceration that impacts many of their students contribute to instability inside school buildings. These school’s staff are expected to meet the needs of these students with a reduced budget caused by CPS policies of charter proliferation and SBB.
Charters Surrounding Englewood and Year Opened
Long-term Teachers and Lasting Relationships
As neighbors are displaced from Englewood, neighborhood schools provide continuity in the lives of high schoolers. Englewood’s high schools have disproportionately high mobility rates, which tracks how many students enter and exit a school in a given school year. Mobility is largely tied to a lack of economic opportunity in a particular neighborhood, as families are forced to move to find jobs or new opportunities in different neighborhoods, cities, or even different states. It can also be an indicator of student homelessness. While CPS has a district mobility rate of 17.5%, Englewood’s neighborhood high schools have an average mobility rate of 42%. Student mobility has a large impact on how students learn. Each time a student changes schools during the school year, they lose about three months of learning and students who have moved more than 4 times in 6 years tend to be about a year behind their peers, academically.4 Highly mobile students are also disproportionately more likely to be Black and from low-income households, reflecting the continued economic and racial inequality that is embedded in our city. The map below shows Robeson students’ home neighborhoods and the distance they travel to stay in their school, even after a relocation.
Robeson students travel from as far as Lincoln Square and West Ridge on the north side and Austin on the west side to stay in a classroom with trusted teachers and friends. Some of Englewood’s mobile teens are returning from detention centers, with their neighborhood high school as the first stop on their path back to school. The transition from detention center to classroom is a difficult one. Many students struggle to readjust to a classroom environment after being locked up. They are so excited and overwhelmed when they return to school that it creates new behavioral issues (and sometimes new IEPs, which go unserved), but teachers aren’t being given the resources they need to help those students reenter the classroom smoothly. Because there is so much turnover in their student body, teachers have to reestablish their classroom community each semester.
Harper High School
Harper High School was the first target of CPS CEO Arne Duncan’s turnaround agenda. As part of the turnaround, the school’s entire staff was laid off and the district injected a new curriculum and security measures into the building in an attempt to improve student outcomes. Despite the scant evidence that this type of reconstitution could provide results for Chicago’s high schools (in fact, one expert estimated that even “if they do everything right”, 70-80% of Duncan’s turnaround schools would not meet the program’s benchmarks ), the city continued to sink money into efforts to destabilize the school community.
In Harper’s first year post-turnaround, enrollment shrunk by a quarter. Residents impacted by the policy were not surprised, however. Harper had been involved in some kind of school restructuring project since 1997. More than 10 years of misguided reform efforts had mostly yielded a breakdown in local social capital. Neighbors were angry that they were not included in decisions about their children’s education and students did not want to return to a school full of strange adults. In the year following turnaround, Harper moved 50 of their students to other neighborhood schools under the coded language of “disciplinary issues” rather than address social and emotional issues in the classroom. CPS has spent decades moving children across the city rather than investing in those students that most rely on their neighborhood high school.
Englewood’s high mobility rate makes the relationships that exist between students and teachers even more crucial. In spite of displacement from the neighborhood, many teachers have stories of students who continue to reach out to their high school teachers for support. One student lost two brothers to gun violence and was his mother’s main support at home. His teacher noted that this student, “had the skillset” to be successful in school and was a star player on the football team. However, he was distracted by ongoing issues with his mom’s live-in boyfriend. His teachers helped guide him back through his final year of school, despite problems at home, so that he could graduate and move out of the neighborhood for college. He’s still currently enrolled in college and often sends papers back to his high school teachers, either for help on tricky assignments or to share his successes.
Long-term relationships between students and teachers is common among these school’s students, revealing the kind of ongoing relationships that exist in the neighborhood and continue as students leave high school and enter adulthood. These kinds of relationships are important to young adults who choose not to go to college, as well. The same teacher also spends time outside of school with former students who have since graduated and settled down in Englewood, catching up and visiting with their families. These long term relationships are possible because many of Englewood’s teachers have been there for years. Of the seven Englewood-based teachers interviewed for this paper, four had been in their current school for more than ten years. Many of them started at their current school after experiencing closures and reconstitutions at schools like South Shore and Calumet High Schools. There are clear parallels emerging between the South Shore High School conversion and what is currently playing out in Englewood.
History Repeats Itself
In 2001, CPS split South Shore High School into four small high schools with enrollment caps. Then, in 2009, the district began construction on an entirely new school building in the neighborhood. As construction progressed, parents and neighbors were left in the dark. South Shore parents, who thought their teens would re-enroll in the new South Shore, were dismayed to learn that South Shore was being converted to a selective enrollment school. CTU data analysis has shown that prior to South Shore’s conversion, the four small high schools primarily served their local neighborhood students. However, since South Shore has gone selective enrollment, the number of enrolled students who actually live in the Greater South Shore neighborhood has plummeted by 71%. In South Shore, as in Englewood, students who need the most support are left to bear the brunt of the negative impacts of school closures and then barred from the benefits of the new construction. It is also important to note that many of the teachers who had experienced previous closures (and are now facing a potential Englewood consolidation) are Black women. In 2008, 59% of teachers working in Englewood high schools were Black. By 2016, following many of the school actions detailed in other parts of this paper, that number had fallen to 34%. Black teachers as well as Black students continually face the worst impacts of CPS’s reckless policies. In their school buildings, however, these same committed, long-term teachers demonstrate the importance of a stable school environment.
One school counselor estimated that when she arrived at her school, 19 of her seniors had GPAs below 2.0. The following year, there were only seven. She credits this quick turnaround to her commitment to giving her students the one on one motivation they need. She organizes town hall meetings where students can contribute to plans to improve attendance and connects her students to data from other schools around the city to show them a clear path towards improved performance. CPS doesn’t acknowledge or quantify how the challenges related to high student mobility impact student performance and thus also does not acknowledge how important the school community is to these students who are entering or reentering high school under difficult and unjust circumstances.
CPS also refuses to acknowledge the important relationships that exist between their staff and students. There is a difference between measuring growth and obsessing over proficiency and CPS focuses on data above all else. However, as one teacher pointed out, “there are variables to the data” – it’s not all black and white. In addition to academics, teachers pay attention to creating a supportive culture in their own building. One special education teacher told CTU that as a high schooler, she “did not have relationships with [her own] teachers like [she does with her] students”. She feels like her “students are like [her] own kids, even the ones that [she doesn’t] have in class”. Students know that they can come to this teacher if they need to talk or sit in the back of her classroom if they need a safe place to go. In addition, at Robeson, there is an effective Restorative Justice Program, facilitated by Alternatives, Inc., which recently led to a 70% drop in out of school suspensions, and nine youth-led school peace events.
Classroom as Space to Process
Just as students know that they can find a quiet space in their teacher’s classrooms, their teachers also create courses that allow teenagers space to process their experiences within the context of their curriculum. In interviews, many teachers mentioned how their students are stretched in too many different directions to be fully prepared for their school days. This problem is particularly visible in high school, as older children are called on to care for their younger siblings and support their parents and relatives when they’re not at school. Many students work after school because their families need the extra financial support and one long-term teacher noted that she has seen her students juggling more responsibilities at home now than they did when she first started teaching over a decade ago. One teacher described a student who would sleep through her class every morning. As she got to know the student better, she found out that school was the only place he had where he could sleep in a safe, quiet space because he lived in a home that was used for concealing and organizing drug sales and people passed through his house at all hours of the night. Englewood has a median household income of $18,960 per year (a small fraction of the city median of over $47,000), and a 36% unemployment rate.5 Historic disinvestment from the neighborhood has hit not only the neighborhood’s housing market, but has also limited local employment options.
A high percentage of Englewood students experience trauma at home or in the neighborhood, and the classroom is one place where they end up processing their experiences and supporting one another. The students who studied Twelve Angry Men, particularly two seniors who had been placed in the class to make up English credits before graduation, were able to find space in that class to discuss their own experiences in and around incarceration and policing in Chicago. The teacher who led this class emphasized the need for connections between staff and students to go both ways to ensure a tradeoff of knowledge and experience in the classroom and that each student’s contribution to the classroom is acknowledged. Many teachers reported that their students feel that, “a lot of times people don’t listen to them”, so creating space for student contributions in the classroom helps students not only connect with their work, but also with one another.
Students lack access to even basic resources when they’re not at school and teachers emphasized the need for access to things such as no-strings-attached community meals on the weekends and youth job training. Job opportunities not only keep students out of trouble after school, but also prepare them for life after high school. Harper offers a culinary arts program and Robeson offers a popular medical careers training program, but there is more student interest than there is space in the program. Meanwhile, computer lab and library resources are out of date, shutting interested students out of technology training opportunities. Safe spaces for teens are far and few in many Chicago neighborhoods these days and as CPS courses and programs dry up, students are left without access to the kinds of opportunities that are offered to their peers at better funded schools on the north side.
One teacher, who previously worked at the now-closed Calumet High School, pointed to how prior to the implementation of Ren10 programs and charter proliferation, school administrators could harness the additional resources that came along with a neighborhood school consolidation and push resources into career programs, exposing students to certificate programs as well as tools and space to build skills in a variety of fields, including culinary arts, computer science, and construction. The resources for these programs dried up as students were siphoned into charter schools, however.
Neighborhood Schools that Serve their Neighbors
As another teacher said of their school’s current situation, “the bad didn’t happen all on its own.” The problems that impact Englewood are not new. They reach back and through Chicago’s history of segregation. The Englewood students of today are targeted by a longer process of disinvestment that has hit their community again and again. Whether that disinvestment comes in the form of cutting off access to housing via redlining or via charter school expansion, all of these processes have worked to pull resources out of neighborhood schools. Despite CPS’s ongoing and intentional policies which work to destabilize neighborhood high schools, teachers have come together to create a crucial space for their student to learn and grow.
The district has been stubbornly opaque about its intentions for Englewood, just as it was when it spent $94 million on a new building for South Shore College Prep, displacing many of South Shore’s high schoolers. Now, some of the teachers who were impacted by South Shore’s closure feel the same processes creeping into Englewood. CPS’s plan to close or consolidate Englewood’s remaining neighborhood high schools should not happen without fostering local community leadership of schools and the prioritization of students’ safety. Englewood students and teachers are standing up for their schools, as they have many times in the past, but there is no indication that CPS is listening.
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1 Metropolitan Planning Council, “The Cost of Segregation”, Report. Accessed online: http://www.metroplanning.org/costofsegregation/default.aspx
4 Sparks, Sarah D. “Student Mobility: How it Affects Learning”, Education Week . August 11, 2016. Accessed online: http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/student-mobility/
5 Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Community Snapshot - Englewood”. Accessed online: http://www.cmap.illinois.gov/documents/10180/126764/Englewood.pdf