Renaissance 2010: Sweeping Changes

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Ask people in low-income communities if they have heard of Renaissance 2010 and the majority would likely say they have. Ask them if they know what Renaissance 2010 is and chances are they would say they don’t. Ask if they know schools on the South and West Sides of Chicago have been closing and reopening as “small schools,” and they would most likely answer a definite “Yes.”

That, in essence, is Renaissance 2010: the closing and reopening of both grammar and high schools as “small schools” – schools within a school. The goal, according to Chicago Public Schools, is to reinvent the Chicago Public School system by the year 2010. The policy was made official at the Board of Education’s September 23 meeting according to CPS spokesperson Sandy Rodriguez, despite ongoing protests by community advocates.

Community advocates have protested Renaissance 2010 since it was announced in the spring of 2004, calling it a hasty experiment on neighborhoods and on inner-city children’s education. They allege the plan has been targeted at families living in Chicago Housing Authority buildings, particularly those in the Mid South area of the city, between 31st and 55th streets, from the lake front to the expressway.

John Paul Jones and Andrea Lee of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group hold a map depicting a history of school closings in Chicago. Photo by Clemolyn "Pennie" Brinson

In the Kenwood/Oakland neighborhood, an area that will greatly affected by the plan, activists, parents, and concerned citizens held a meeting at Kenicott Park this past summer. They met to discuss ways to fight Renaissance 2010, which they say was handed to them without community input.

The protesters’ primary allegation was that Renaissance 2010 is aimed at an area with a high concentration of CHA and other low-income families – an area that happens to be the heart of the CHA’s Plan for Transformation. The Plan for Transformation is Mayor Daley’s proposal to revitalize CHA and other low-income areas into mixed-income communities that will include public housing, affordable and market-rate apartments and homes.

At the Kenicott meeting, advocates said Renaissance 2010 will enhance the schools in the area only to accommodate the mixed-income families who will be moving to the neighborhood in the future.

The plan will change over 100 schools by the year 2010. one-third will be converted into charter schools, one-third will become contract or private schools, and one-third will be reorganized CPS-run schools.

Wanda Taylor, Local School Council chairperson at Price Elementary, has four children attending Chicago public schools in the Mid South area. She said she understands CPS and the mayor want better schools but thinks “this new stuff is not for our babies. The mayor knows he has to sell this neighborhood to other people. Where was the $25 million four years ago?”

Whether or not Renaissance 2010 has anything to do with the CHA Plan for Transformation, the community advocates share the sentiment that Renaissance 2010 is a detriment to children in low-income communities. The advocates said that plan experiments with students already at risk, by abruptly forcing them out of the neighborhood schools they are accustomed to, causing them to have to start fresh at another school they know nothing about.

“There is no criteria for the way they are closing these schools. People don’t find out early enough. If you can find out a year in advance, that’s the best case scenario,” said Valencia A. Rias, a Policy Associate and Organizer for Designs For Change, an not-for-profit education organization. Rias is also Facilitator for South Side United Local School Council Federation.

Valencia Rias of Designs for Change Photo by Clemolyn "Pennie" Brinson

“Some of those same students have been moved more than once and it’s an interruption of their learning progress,” she said. “They lose about one year of academic progress every time they move.”

Seventeen-year-old Tanisha Williams, a senior at Dyett Academy, 555 E. 51st Street said at the meeting, “Changing schools [so] quickly could mess students up academically, cause issues with transportation, and if the students don’t wear uniforms it could cause the parents financial problems . . . Real small things can hinder a student’s learning process.”

She also said that small schools could incite gang violence, “pitting one school against another.”

“Having one school in one building could mean better security,” Williams said. Dyett was one of the schools in the headlines this past spring because of gang violence and security issues.

Williams also expressed her concern for yet another matter the protesters opposed concerning the new school plan: a fear that Local School Councils won’t be installed in the reopened schools.

“LSCs are very important to all schools. They are the governing body to choose principals . . . if you don’t have an LSC the schools are operating off nothing . . . you don’t want any old body as principal. [LSCs] make things happen.”

Derrick Harris, Executive Director of the North Lawndale Local School Council Federation, aggressively addressed the need for community involvement through LSCs in the school system.

“Our fight is for meaningful parental involvement and local community control of our schools . . . local community control is mandatory,” he said. “We must be involved in the decision making process … our struggle is now a civil rights issue . . . there are political consequences for elective officials that sell out our children.”

In a later meeting, Andrea Lee, Director of Schools Coordinator for Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, and John Paul Jones, Director of Community Research, agreed that Renaissance 2010 is too risky to chance on students who are already high risk.

NCGB has released to the public a number of critical reports regarding Renaissance 2010. They alleged that CPS is moving forward with a plan that was established without LSC and community input. They are also opposing the plan to allow private businesses into the Chicago Public School system.

“Any company like Dunkin Donuts,” said Lee, “can submit a proposal and if accepted, the neighborhood school can become a contract school without the community and principal even knowing it.”

“Renaissance 2010 says all those kids who are pushed out of those schools, they get the first guaranteed right to return, but I want to make this very clear that guaranteed first right of return is dependent on what that contract or charter or CPS run Performance school looks like,” Lee said.

Jones said he wants the public to know that “CPS has targeted their school district. CHA leaders need to inform their CHA residents of what has happened.”

He said CHA “needs more venues to look at policies and school reform . . . Local Advisory Councils for CHA are not providing venues for these conversations.”

Chief Executive Officer of CPS, Arne Duncan, attended a public meeting this past summer about Renaissance 2010 hosted by the Chicago Urban League to address the community’s concerns. He announced that, “[CPS] wants to fundamentally change the nature of what it means to be a school,” and stressed the statement a number of times.

“Closing schools,” he said “is a tough decision to make, but the right thing to do.”

He also said a number of times, “We want every single neighborhood school to be a school of choice.”

When asked why the rush and without the community’s input, Duncan answered “you raise some good points. We’re doing everything we can.”

“We really want your input.”

He also addressed Tanisha Williams’ question about what’s going to happen to the LSCs. He said “LSCs have to be a major part of the process of appointing the Transitional Advisory Councils. Not all schools will have an LSC . . . CPS will insist that every school have a governing board.”

When told at the meeting that Renaissance 2010 had been handed out with flaws in it, and that “we’re not opposed to change, but you haven’t had the community’s input,” Duncan again answered, “we really want your input.”

Residents’ Journal spoke with CPS spokesperson Sandy Rodriguez, who said she would have someone contact RJ, and referred RJ to a website for more information. She said she recommends that the public also visit the website. No one has contacted RJ as of press time.

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