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School Closings That Are Underperforming In Chicago

11/29/2011 10:31 AM ET

School Closings - School ClosingsClosing down underperforming public schools in Chicago has historically been a traumatic process, with battle lines drawn between affected communities and district leaders.

School closings take on an even greater significance this year, because they are designed to be the first step in the strategic plan of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked school administration to overhaul the struggling system.

The Chicago Public School district, which has closed about 50 schools in the last decade, is expected to increase the number of schools being turned around and to expand the number of charter schools. Officials must release the list of schools it plans to shutter by Dec. 1.

Oliver Sicat, 32, will lead the process. He is the district’s chief portfolio officer, a new position focused on providing a “high-quality seat” for every child, in the words of Chief Executive Jean-Claude Brizard. Mr. Sicat is a former teacher and principal — positions that Mr. Emanuel said would be on the résumés of his new district leaders.

The son of Filipino immigrants, Mr. Sicat grew up in Santa Ana, Calif., where he said his parents had to work around the system to get him a good education.

“I learned early on that there are different inequities based on where you live,” Mr. Sicat said, noting that at one point, his parents used a different address to get him into a better school.

“Looking back now, I see exactly why my parents were doing that,” he said. “But I think there’s something really unfair about it.”

If Mr. Sicat succeeds in the task handed to him by Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Brizard, families will not have to gamble on where their children go to school. After low-performing schools are closed, Mr. Sicat and district leaders say they plan to reorganize or replace them with schools managed by both public and private operators who have successful track records.

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