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Community Relieved that Mahalia Jackson School Staying Open

Danzel Lucas remembers exactly where he was when he got the news a few weeks ago that his school, Mahalia Jackson Elementary, would remain open.

Mahalia Jackson Elementary School“I was so excited when I found out,” the sixth-grader said. “My mom kept telling me to calm down because I was running around the house yelling and screaming.”

Jackson was one of four schools spared by the Chicago Board of Education when it voted May 22nd to close 50 other schools.

The next step for the South Side school is getting off probation and moving up from its level-three ranking, the lowest of three categories Chicago Public Schools uses.

Jackson, 917 W. 88th St., has been on probation the last 10 years, but came close two years ago to getting off the list.

“Jackson was one point away from getting off of the probation list during the 2010-2011 school year; last year the school regressed. There was a lot of uncertainty,” said Principal Robert Hubbird, who’s finishing his first year as the school’s principal.

Hubbird’s aim: to transform Jackson into a level 1 school in just three years. Hubbird and his team have two more years to reach their goal.

“Building capacity and establishing a positive culture is the best way we will transform this school,” he said.

Hubbird doesn’t expect to get more money for the school, which came close to shutting down because CPS officials had determined Jackson is underused by 57 percent.

One reason the school may have been spared is its high number of students with disabilities.

About 23 percent of its 310 students are on an I.E.P., or individualized education plan. The students have specialized needs because of their disabilities, which include autism and/or being hearing impaired. Hubbird himself is hard of hearing.

Closing the school would have made it more difficult for the kids who need extra attention to find a school that would satisfy their needs, supporters of the school argued.

Parents, teachers and residents of Auburn Greshem, where the school has operated since 1973, attended hearings to testify in support of keeping the school open.

Jymmetta Penson, head of Jackson’s Parent Advisory Council, said she had faith that the school would be saved.

“I was not letting go,” Penson said.

Jackson and Penson go way back. Two of her kids attended the elementary school and now her grandkids do.

Penson attended the May board meeting at which the closure vote was taken – and Jackson was officially spared. She had already learned the school would remain open so she used her two-minute speech to thank the Chicago Board of Education for keeping Jackson open, and she promised them the school will work hard to become a level one school.

“Everyone is working on it – or else.”

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