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Little Village Schools Just Won’t Fail

The Chicago Public Schools have seen dramatic decreases in the percentage of students attending their neighborhood schools. However, the immigrant community of Little Village bucks that trend, showing remarkably high community investment in neighborhood schools.

As enrollment of students from the community plummets at public elementary schools across the city, Little Village schools have seen stable rates of total student enrollment and a remarkably high percentage of students from the community. And, while it may come as a surprise to some, it did not happen by accident.

The Chicago Public Schools has targeted decreased enrollment as a justification for dramatic school budget cuts this year. Little Village provides an important example of neighborhood school success, just as CPS layers on a new round of cuts city-wide and in Little Village.

Little Village has 13 CPS neighborhood elementary schools, serving 9,585 students in total in 2014. While many schools across the city are losing students, Little Village schools are, on the whole, keeping their classrooms full.

In 2000, Little Village neighborhood schools already had significant community buy-in, but so did many schools across the city. Chicago Public School students are not required to attend the school that includes their address in its attendance area. They can apply to go to a charter school, a magnet, a special program, or even an other neighborhood school (if that school has the capacity).

According to analysis by WBEZ, in 2000, 74% of CPS kids attended their neighborhood school. Our analysis of data from CPS showed that in Little Village the rate was just 2% higher. In 2014, only 62% of CPS kids attended their neighborhood school city wide; 73% of Little Village students attended theirs, 11% more than the city average.

More notably, eight Little Village schools increased or maintained their attendance area participation over that same period. This number is important because unlike total student attendance, attendance area participation gauges the percentage of youth who live in the attendance area that choose the school. When students attend a neighborhood school, they spend less time commuting each day and the school becomes a neighborhood asset and place to meet, talk and build a sense of community.

Among the most highly engaged neighborhood schools in Little Village, attendance area participation increased from 77% in 2000 (3% higher than the rest of the city) to 80% in 2014, a whopping 18% higher than the city average.

In fact, of the 30 schools in CPS with the highest overall attendance area participation rates, five are Little Village schools; this includes two in the top ten. And, while only 49 out of 456 CPS schools saw an increase in attendance area participation since 2000, six Little Village Schools are on that limited list.

This list should actually be longer. Rosario Castellanos and Cardenas were made ‘welcoming schools’ after the closing of neighboring Paderewski Elementary School (located on the border of North and South Lawndale) in 2013-14. If the attendance boundary had not expanded for both schools, they would likely have made eight Little Village elementary schools eligible for the increased attendance list.

In other words, nearly 20% of CPS’s top performing schools in both increasing attendance area participation and in overall rate of attendance area participation are located in the five square miles that make up Little Village.

It is no wonder families are choosing their neighborhood schools; Little Village schools are improving. Little Village is home to six Level 1 Elementary Schools: CPS’s top school rating.

In Part Two of our series on Little Village Elementary Schools, we will look at some of the factors that have an impact on the neighborhood’s schools and why they have been able to retain local students, even as the trend across the city is moving in the other direction. We will also take a closer look at area schools not following this positive trend.

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