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The decision to close more than 50 struggling schools in Chicago has fueled outrage among many parents and teachers. But others see the strategy as a way to improve education for the city’s most vulnerable students. Patricia Hunter, 28, a stay-at-home mom, sends her daughter Danielle to Dulles School of Excellence on the South Side. The school is a “turnaround” school, meaning it was previously identified as chronically low-performing and given an infusion of cash, all new teachers and new management to help it improve. The school has made incremental improvements and next year will receive students from a nearby school that is closing.

Patricia Hunter speaks at a hearing on school closures

Hunter, a member of Stand For Children, an advocacy group, is helping to lead a welcoming committee at Dulles intended to ease the transition for the new students and parents. The Hechinger Report talked to her about her hopes for the school and its new students.

The Hechinger Report: What do you think of your daughter’s school?

Hunter: It’s a very good school, especially because of the neighborhood it’s in. This is my daughter’s first year here. They were not challenging her academically [at her old school]. When I put her in Dulles, it was like a whole new child.

Her scores went drastically up. Her reading is so much better, her comprehending is better. Doing math, she doesn’t get as frustrated as she used to get.

THR: How did you choose it?

Hunter: The reason I chose Dulles is because it was closer to my home, and Danielle knew a lot of people. I heard it was a turnaround school, and I asked what that is. Parents said that’s when they put more resources in it, and parents who knew me said it’s a place she can grow.

Now it’s becoming a receiving school – and I think that’s an accomplishment.

THR: What did you think when you heard about the closings?

Hunter: Before I found out why they were closing, [I thought] “Why would you close a school down? I understood the teachers union [which has protested the closures].

But I started looking at the statistics, and I realized they weren’t challenging academically. If you’re not teaching children, it’s just an empty space. It needs closing.

THR: What led you to that conclusion?

Hunter: If a teacher has been at a school 24 years and there no children really graduating—you have 100 children and only 25 graduate—something is wrong with the school. How can we keep sending our children somewhere where they are not learning? You get their report card and it says they’re doing good, but they take statewide tests and they’re failing.

I wouldn’t necessarily say close the schools, but maybe give more resources. Give to us what you give to other neighborhoods.

THR: So you don’t think they should necessarily close schools that are struggling?

Hunter: We do live in a recession. Teachers are losing their jobs. And with our economy, you can’t just up and retire anymore. But at the end of the day it’s about the children. They’re not getting the education that they need.

Safety is definitely an issue. We live in a city where gang violence is very high. We live in a city where in certain areas you have to dress a certain way. But as a parent you have to go through hell and back for your children.

At Dulles, they have all types of staff who are monitoring children who are coming to school and leaving. One of the things I’m proposing is that we have a parent patrol…to get children to school safely. That will cut out fights before school, bullying and it will make parents feel a little safer.

THR: Are you worried about the academics changing at Dulles with the new influx of students?

Hunter: I’m a little concerned that with the class sizes growing, some of the students won’t get the attention that they need. We don’t want any child falling through the cracks.

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