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Continued Trends and Near North Schools

Eric Young Smith

In part one of this series, we explored the ongoing loss of students in Near North’s two neighborhood public elementary schools—Jenner and Manierre. That article also pointed out that fewer families in Near North are sending their children to these schools. That’s an issue for the whole community, for residents of every race and income level.

Like development all over the city, the CHA Plan for Transformation was slowed down by the recession of the late 2000s. This slowdown in residential development also slowed down the strategic development of our Near North area CPS Schools.

At one time there were five Near North area CPS Neighborhood schools Byrd, Shiller, Truth, Manierre, and Jenner, with many more Near North students also being able to attend Ogden school before the new Ogden borders were expanded westward. With the closing of so many Near North schools and no new magnets schools opened recently south east of Division/Halsted streets, parents now have a much more limited school choice set in the Near North area.

CPS neighborhood schools help define the culture of a community. If families don’t feel they live in the boundaries of a good CPS neighborhood school, many are faced with a complicated application process to select an alternative CPS public school for their child.

On further discussions with the community by the Near North Unity Program in focus groups, when parents were asked for examples of schools they thought were high functioning, parents cited nearby CPS neighborhood schools, Ogden and Lincoln, as examples where communities and local leaders came together to create strategies for building these successful CPS Neighborhood schools to better match the needs of the neighborhood.

As the Near North area’s residential development catches up with communities like River North and Lincoln Park, we know there’s new growing demand for good CPS neighborhood schools by talking to our  neighbors and reading in the newspapers about the overcrowding issues CPS is facing at neighboring local CPS neighborhood schools, Lincoln and Ogden.

Families from nearby communities are wrestling with the very real issues of over enrollment, with no easy or cheap solutions for school expansion. Even in the Near North community the local CPS application-only open enrollment school Ruben Salazar Bi-lingual Education Center is facing overcrowding issues as demand for seats continues to increase.

So why is it with all this new housing development and seeming demand from families for good public elementary schools that the Near North area’s CPS neighborhood schools have stalled on increasing their enrollment?

Much of the answer lies in the delayed response from CPS and neighborhood stakeholders to formally acknowledge the cultural shift that has occurred in the Near North area.

The Near North area is no longer home to a primarily low-income CHA populace but is a diverse area that represents many cultures and races.

Currently, the area is 50% White, 41% Black, 6% Asian, and 3% two or more races. There is a resurgence of young families living in the area. The 2010 census shows a growing population of young children.

And the children of today in the Near North area are more racially diverse. Children under the age of four are now equally likely to be from another race other than the historic Black demographic from the area.

Near North schools, however, still mirror the pattern of extreme racial segregation tied to the past decisions CPS made about attendance boundaries for neighboring schools and the legacy of former CHA housing policies.

Above is a sampling of racial demographics from Near North's CPS schools and the three closest CPS neighborhood schools. The differences are clear.

Segregation in NNUP Area Schools Affect African American Families More

Although Near North is becoming a more mixed community racially, and the youngest children in the area reflect that change, it is also true that today, the majority of school-age children in the community are African American.

If you’re an African American family living in the Near North community, you are much more likely to have a child in your household. A majority of the white population living in the area is adult with no children, with only 10% of white families having a child under 19 at home. Conversely, 37% of African American households in Near North have children under 19 living in their home. Note that the number of school-age children in the community includes a mix of races and ethnicities.

Yet the number of students attending Jenner and Manierre from within the neighborhood boundaries continues to drop. Although the two schools’ populations are almost exclusively African American, most of these students now live outside the community.

African American students who were displaced during the Plan for Transformation continue to travel great distances to come back to schools like Jenner and Manierre. In conversations with parents and grandparents who formerly lived in Cabrini Green, NNUP has heard stories that many former Cabrini residents use childcare through family members who still reside in the Near North area, so it becomes easier for these parents to get before and after care if their children are in schools close by to the extended family caregivers.

We also have heard from former Cabrini residents that their families were relocated to unfamiliar neighborhoods where the CPS neighborhood schools appear to be less safe, so families continue to travel back to the relative safety of the Near North side, some students at Jenner are travelling up to 10 miles each way.

While these students can and should be able to continue to attend Jenner and Manierre, the schools also need to be true neighborhood schools—a resource for all families in the community.

Residents of the Near North area recently have been bringing increased attention to the issue that our schools have remained isolated from some of the real benefits that the Plan for Transformation was to offer. With the support from the findings in the 2015 NNUP Quality of Life Plan, many stakeholders have actively been reaching out to CPS and neighboring social institutions as well as local leaders to support solutions to bring more community inclusion to our neighborhood schools.

As part of the Near North Quality-of-Life Plan, the NNUP’s Youth and Family Committee continues to engage the community in conversations about our area CPS Neighborhood Schools. Community stakeholders continues to present well-researched plans to local political leaders and CPS administrators that could build capacity, educational quality for students, and reduce socio economic segregation in our neighborhood schools. These are actionable solutions that build on the goals presented in the CHA Plan for Transformation and real school actions that would help all families in the Near North area and beyond.

We know you have ideas on this topic as well

We would like to hear from you… Please click here for a survey on this story and topic and have your voice heard.

Results from the survey and continued developments in our CPS neighborhood schools will be presented throughout the year at our monthly Monday night NNUP meetings and in articles on the NNUP portal.

Please get involved and be part of the transformation in our area. We look forward to seeing and hearing from you.

Posted in Children and Youth

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