Parents Protest CPS Turn-Arounds


Walter H Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St., which is slated to be closed under a new plan announced by the Chicago Public Schools. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

A South Side community group “fed up” with the Chicago Public Schools closing and turn-around process in low-income areas of color brought their protest to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office this week.

“CPS’ top-down school actions in North Kenwood and the Greater Bronzeville community have caused spikes in violence and destabilized schools, and not improved student outcomes,” reads a statement from the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, also known as KOCO.

KOCO members, along with parents from North Kenwood, Oakland and Bronzeville neighborhoods, rallied outside Emanuel’s office on December 1, and called on him to partner with them to implement “The Bronzeville Global Achievers Village,” an alternative school transformation plan they’ve developed over the past 18 months.

KOCO member Shannon Bennett told Residents’ Journal shortly after the protest that members from his organization and several community parents, along with representatives from the Centers for New Horizons and the Grand Boulevard Federation, first met with CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard at their office on November 21 regarding KOCO’s plan to counteract CPS policies concerning school closings, phase-outs and turnarounds. Brizard said he would get back to them but did not, according to Bennett. “So that’s why we have gone around him, and go to his boss,” Bennett explained.

Bennett said members from KOCO delivered a letter to Emanuel through one of his staff members, and added that members of his organization are particularly upset about the phasing out of Walter H. Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St., which KOCO noted in their press release is the only neighborhood high school in Kenwood-Oakland. Sending students to Wendell Phillips Academy High School, 244 E. Pershing Road in the Bronzeville community, will result in increased violence, he argued. In 2005, Bennett said he personally experienced a spike in crime in Kenwood-Oakland after the closing of two schools, the Jackie Robinson and Price elementary schools.

“CPS forced these two schools, with people in the community telling them it wasn’t going to work, because the two schools were very close to each other, three blocks away, they were rivals,” Bennett recalled. “They both were initially k to eighth-grade and they decided to say one of them would be the community primary school and the other would be the middle school. So Price would be fourth-to-eighth-grade and Robinson became pre-kindergarten to third grade. Those kids got into so many different fights because they traditionally went to different schools. So they didn’t get along, and it went on for years and years and got worse, and it grew into like a gang thing.”

Bennett said CPS changed Dyett, formerly a middle school, into a high school when they phased out Englewood High School in 2008. That change “blew up Dyett at the seams” from the overcrowding of students. “And violence increased,” he added.

KOCO quoted one parent in their press release as having said, “They are setting us up for another Fenger High School incident,” referring to the Sept. 24, 2010, beating death of Darrion Albert, a 16-year-old honor roll student at Fenger High School, who died during a brawl between teens after the high school he attended in the Altgeld Gardens public housing community was closed.

Bennett charged that CPS’ closing down of schools in predominantly low-income African American and Hispanic areas was part of a scheme to privatize the schools using companies like AUSL, which has received a number of contracts from CPS.

“We know that our scores are low. We’re not the lowest, but there are many other schools in the city of Chicago and in the Burnham Network that have low enrollment,” Bennett said. “We are very clear that this had been done in neighborhoods that are African American and Latino. And it has been done in areas that are gentrifying. So it’s not about education, it’s about the business of getting schools into privatization.

“We’re not for them coming in taking over any of our schools.”

Bennett said KOCO has secured partnerships with the Strategic Learning Initiative, DePaul University’s Egan Center, the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Chicago Botanical Gardens and other institutions to support their schools plan, which he said is also supported by research from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform from Brown University and Communities for Excellent Public Schools.

Read Residents’ Journal’s coverage of the Darrion Albert incident here:

Click here to also watch Residents’ Journal video of the vigil for Albert at:

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