Hearing Wednesday on Thornridge HS fight
He only had one year of high school left, and Vivienne Williams envisioned her athletic and academically gifted teenage son graduating from Thornridge High, the neighborhood school down the street from her house that he has attended for two years, she said.
So when she got a letter in the mail explaining that Thornridge would be closed for upperclassmen next year and that her son would have to attend school in Harvey, Williams was more than taken aback. She was angry.
"This means he'll be displaced," an emotional Williams said. "Thornridge is a good school ... You are going to send my child to a school where he'll get less?
"This is unfair to our children and it's unethical -- period. I want my child educated in our own community."
Williams is one of about 50 parents in Dolton and surrounding south suburbs who are suing Thornton Township High School District 205 in a last-ditch effort to keep the school open as a four-year high school.
The lawsuit claims, among other things, that District 205 did not properly consult parents or the community when it applied for an $18 million federal grant to restructure high schools that serve 14 suburban municipalities.
A hearing before a District Court judge is scheduled for Wednesday. That meeting might determine whether the district can proceed with its plans or if the grant will have to be forfeited, officials said.
The idea to overhaul all three high schools came as a result of failing test scores and unmet standards, said Tim Truesdale, an associate superintendent for the district.
According to the school district, 43 percent of freshmen in the district read below the fifth-grade level. And during the 2009-2010 school year, 42 percent of freshmen did not earn enough credits to become sophomores.
When district officials applied for a federal school improvement grant in June, they proposed a dramatic turnaround: close historic Thornridge High School and reopen it as a freshman center, and send all upperclassman to Thornton and Thornwood High Schools.
The idea is to ease the transition from middle school to high school, Truesdale said. At the same time, educators can devote more energy to the young incoming students and give them the extra attention they may need to get to grade level.
"We see this as an opportunity to prepare our students to be competitive when they leave high school," he said. "We see students coming in with gaps in their learning that have to be filled on a rigorous high school curriculum."
District 205 is hoping the changes will eventually improve test scores, grades and outcomes for students. If the district is unable to bring the students up to standard, it could face state takeover.
In October, the district was awarded an $18 million federal grant for its proposal. The idea was applauded by some state officials, who said the proposal was both radical and unique.
Still, some parents and local activists say the changes are too drastic, too experimental, and should not have been approved without parent and community guidance.
Tucked away in a sleepy suburb, Thornridge is well-known for producing local sports heroes and has a strong legacy for its drama program. The high school serves Burnham, South Holland, Dolton, RiverdaleCalumet City, and many parents view it as their neighborhood school. and
"The whole point is parents should have been involved in the process," said Deidre Baumann, an attorney representing a coalition of parents.
Because the students are from different suburbs, some parents worry that territory rivalries could lead to physical confrontations. Others are concerned that having 1,300 freshmen in one building without older student role models could lead to more trouble.
As volunteer parent coordinator Felita Crayton walks the hallways at Thornridge High School and greets teachers and students, she points out all the things she loves: the annual holiday concert, the football games, the energy from the busy teenagers.
"This building is 50 years old. We should be celebrating it, not moving toward closing it as a four-year school," she said. "What will happen to the pride of Thornridge?"
She worries about the students finding their way in new buildings, transporting them back and forth and possibly discouraging attendance. She's concerned about scholarships and college applications.
"I agree we need change," said Crayton, whose five children graduated from Thornridge. "The academics must get better. We're at the bottom. But that does not mean young people have to be moved, and shuffled around to get that academic change."
-- Lolly Bowean