Atgeld Residents: New School Will Curb Violence

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Parents, teachers, students and community members from the Altgeld Gardens public housing development are urging Mayor Richard M. Daley and the Chicago School Board to restore their neighborhood high school.

The Altgeld residents and their supporters say bringing back a neighborhood school will help curb the recent surge in youth violence in the area. The Altgeld area received national attention in September when 16-year-old Altgeld resident Darrion Albert was beaten to death near Fenger High School.

The Altgeld community residents, along with members of the Grass Roots Education Movement (GEM) coalition which supports them, recently gathered at the Chicago Board of Education headquarters to ask the Board for a new, open-enrollment high school to share space in the Carver High School building, which now houses a selective enrollment military school.

The protesters want the new school to open immediately. Organizers also noted that the Altgeld area does not have a public library either.
The Altgeld residents and their advocates presented school board members with a petition along with other information.

The groups said they are “committed to do whatever it takes to make sure that Altgeld students get their neighborhood high school back for their security, protection and education.”

Organizers noted that the Carter Middle School building was closed because of under-enrollment and has been dormant for over a year while the public housing complex was renovated under the CHA’s Plan for Transformation.

Since the transformation of Carver High School from a neighborhood school to a selective enrollment military academy in 2006, residents of the Altgeld area said they have been forced to send their children to Fenger High School, which is the next closest school at five miles and two bus rides away.

The group said historic tensions exist between the Altgeld and Roseland communities, where most of Fenger’s student body lives.
Describing their effort to create a new neighborhood high school a “reverse Renaissance 2010” move, organizers blamed many of their school issues on Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 initiative, launched in June 2004 to create new, higher quality public and charter schools.

When Fenger underwent a CPS turnaround under Renaissance 2010 in 2009, school board officials displaced all existing administrators and all but nine teachers, rupturing relationships built over years. Despite the fact that some of the new teachers welcomed the Altgeld students, students and parents from Altgeld said the overall climate at the school is unwelcoming.

16-year-old Albert, an honor roll student at Fenger, died after being kicked and beaten with a wooden railroad tie during a brawl between multiple teens on Sept. 24.

Albert’s beating was captured on a student’s cell phone camera and posted on the Youtube Internet site where it received national attention.

In October, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Chicago’s former schools chief, appeared in Chicago to address youth violence.

The Campaign
The group proposes to name the new school at Carver the Hazel Johnson School of Environmental Justice, after a famed local environmental activist.

Hazel’s daughter, Cheryl Johnson, an Altgeld resident and director of the People for Community Recovery organization housed at the public housing site, told Residents’ Journal before a CPS Board meeting in the fall that Carver should be a dual school instead of just a military academy. Johnson added that making Carver a dual school would help deter the ongoing youth violence between the Roseland area students and those bussed in from Altgeld, the two neighborhoods which send students to Fenger.

“First we have to create a place where they don’t have to fear that violence. And the only way to do that is to have them in their own neighborhood. And it’s going to be more of a parental and community involvement school,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that since Fenger’s 16-year-old honor student Derrion Albert’s death, rivalry between the two community students attending Fenger has escalated, resulting in more fights within the school.
“Because they started bussing our kids, they can’t fight on the outside. So, they have been fighting a whole lot on the inside of the school,” Johnson said.

Before Board President Michael Scott committed suicide Nov. 16, Johnson said Altgeld residents and their supporters asked him to make Carver a dual school.

“Why not? We’re not saying take away the military,” Johnson said. “But, we also want it to be another school within that school that’s not military.”

Marilyn Stewart, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, chided the CPS Board members, saying they should remember that Carter was built for the Altgeld community, and they should reopen the dormant school buildings and let the community kids attend it again.

Now that Altgeld has been completely rehabbed, Stewart said Board members should “give the school back to the community.

“To have put millions of dollars into it and to give it away is absolutely appalling.
So, you need to listen to the community,” Stewart said.

According to Jaime Guzman, the interim director of CPS’ Office of New Schools, there are already plans for the vacant Carver Middle School to become a new Chicago International Charter Campus starting in 2010.

Guzman said several members of the Transitional Advisory Council from in and around the Altgeld community recently recommended the charter school.

Usually, charter schools have a selective process for students, which could deny access to many youths in the area. But Guzman said Altgeld students may get first preference to attend the new charter school.

“We do anticipate continuing to work with the community and other membership to ensure that in the future we may come to the Board with an overlaid boundary that will include first preference for students within the Altgeld Gardens community to be able to attend that Chicago International Charter School,” Guzman said.

In addressing the Altgeld parents concerns about their children’s safety attending Fenger, CPS chief administrative officer Robert Runcie said more than 150 students were transferred from Fenger to other schools in the weeks after Albert’s death.

The majority of the transfers went to Julian, Corliss and Harlan high schools, and to Carter Military Academy, he said.

Runcie concurred with Johnson about the violence taking place within Fenger High School and said that many of the previous altercations at Fenger occurred in the lunchroom area. But since the death of Albert, Runcie said the atmosphere has “drastically improved” due to “beefed up” security measures at the school.

Regarding the Altgeld residents’ efforts to get a new library in the area, CPS chief Ron Huberman said during a fall Board meeting that they were “actively working on that” with the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Housing Authority.

School Board on Closings, Consolidations and Turnarounds
In the fall, CPS announced modifications to their school closing guidelines and the institution of a new “School Closing Student Bill of Rights.”

Regardless of the reason for school closures or consolidations, CPS will now only relocate students to schools that have performed “better than their original school on the CPS Performance Policy,” according to a CPS press release.

The designated receiving schools will now be within 1.5 miles of the student’s home address and will have a safe passageway that is “unimpeded by natural barriers.”

If a better performing receiving school is not available, CPS said they “will provide transportation options to a better performing school during the transition year.”

In addition, a student’s school will no longer be closed or consolidated if that school has served as a designated receiving school within the last two academic years.

Each student will be assigned a staff member at the new receiving school that is responsible for their transition, and receiving school principals and teachers will create personal learning plans for transitioning students.

CPS also pledged to provide special support for homeless and special needs students and families affected by school closure.

CPS said students in these groups that previously received transportation services will continue to get them.

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