ENGLEWOOD — On what would’ve been the first day of summer camp at Englewood’s Little Angels Learning Center, heartbroken parents, campers, and staff stood in front of the locked facility Monday morning, begging Mayor Lori Lightfoot to help them reopen their doors.
The highly-rated day care was forced to shut down this month after the city’s Department of Family and Support Services told them they failed to meet the academic requirements necessary to remain open, a surprise to founder and executive director Nashone Greer-Adams.
Greer-Adams and her staff were told that for the first time in 16 years, Little Angels scored below 80 points on a 100-point scoring system, which caused Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Lisa Morrison-Butler to make the decision.
The decision has been blamed on a new application process for early learning centers. According to the Sun-Times, it gave priority to programs that advanced kindergarten readiness, had lower child-to-adult ratios, higher teacher salaries and a more stringent staffing qualification.
Yet according to Greer-Adams, the facility’s longstanding success contradicts the department’s findings.
“When we made the announcement in 2018 that we were building our new school, Commissioner Butler provided a statement of support for our press release,” Greer-Adams said. “I don’t know why she changed her mind. I’d have to defer to her for the answer, but she hasn’t responded to us in months.”
Block Club was unable to reach Morrison-Butler or other department officials for a response.
Hoping for answers, parents, staff and students recently camped out in front of Mayor Lightfoot’s Logan Square home to get them. But city officials have not specifically said why Little Angels lost funding.
Asked about day cares Monday, Lightfoot said the city continued to provide financial support until June 30 — months after the centers’ initial contracts expired — and there wasn’t much more her administration could do.
“Every single group that either had funding reduced or taken away was informed last October,” Lightfoot said in a press conference Monday. “We worked diligently over all these long months to work with these organizations to help them think about what their business model was, and failing that, to make sure that the young people they were responsible for had access to other services.
“Some took advantage of those opportunities to help them, and some did not.”
Greer-Adams said she appreciated the extended support but it still didn’t answer the question of why funding was being stripped in the first place.
“If the mayor is a supporter of high-quality programming, and we know she is because she said so, why is a successful program being defunded?” Greer-Adams said.
Greer-Adams added she attended a press conference last August, where the mayor talked about high quality early learning programming being a pipeline to Chicago Public Schools and how they were pillars for our communities, promising not to dismantle them.
“We were invited to the press conference and held up as an example of success,” she said. “The next day, we received a letter telling us we were being defunded.”
The facility has received overwhelming support in the last few years from politicians like Ald. Rod Sawyer (6th) and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who, before leaving office, pledged $1.4 million for the construction of a new center across the street from the church it currently calls home.
Parents and staff agree a place like Little Angels is vital to a neighborhood like Englewood, an area that has seen decades of city neglect. For 26 years, Little Angels has become a family, bringing mothers and grandmothers and siblings through the doors and into lifelong bonds.
For Cherelle Bilal, it was the help she received as she was leaving an abusive relationship that made her realize just how necessary Little Angels was. She was able to return to school to study early childhood education, eventually leading to a position at the center
“They helped me escape that violence and helped me flourish,” Bilal said. “Taking this place from the community means you’re taking everything from the people who deserve it. You’re taking away a safe haven.”
Greer-Adams and her team say aren’t going down without a fight. They plan to be back in Logan Square tomorrow and the rest of the week to get an answer from the mayor.
“We’re known for the shootings, the drugs, the gangs, but that’s not our narrative,” said Greer-Adams. “We’re not all high-risk, but we’re all high potential.”
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