Whose School Is It?

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The Little Village High School, 3120 S. Kostner Ave., opened in September 2005 after parents waited years for it to be built as promised by the Board of Education. But after just one semester, the school of four small schools located in the citys Latino community had already become the subject of debate.

Little Village High School, 3120 S. Kostner Ave., was a recent subject of debate between Little Village residents living outside the school’s boundaries and those living in the predominantly African American North Lawndale community, whose children also attend the school. The school is home to four charter schools. Photo by Clemolyn "Pennie" Brinson

According to Jaime De Leon, the new communities program director of the Little Village Community Development Corporation, a number of Latino parents solicited the help of state Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-12) to establish a referendum to re-draw the schools attendance boundaries. The boundaries are east of Pulaski, west of Kenneth near Cicero, north of 16th Street, and south of 33rd Street. The parents, who live in Little Village but outside the attendance boundaries, want their children to attend the beautiful new school, but say that African American students who live in the community of North Lawndale are taking up the space.

De Leon said the state senator was influencing the parents who asked for the referendum: Because what Sandoval was saying was that kids from outside the community living in the North Lawndale area were attending the school, which wasnt true, De Leon declared.

“Originally, [the referendum] was with the intention of increasing the population of kids in Little Village,” De Leon said.

These parents believe the school should “rightfully be for Little Village students because the Little Village community fought for that school.”

“That was the sentiment of the spirit of the referendum,” he explained.

De Leon said that his organization, along with parents from the school, felt that the referendum “was unjust and &racist” even though it was worded with seemingly good intentions.

“What they really meant was so that only Latino students from Little Village can attend Little Village High School,” he said.

The four small schools’ student body is currently made up of 70 percent Latinos and 30 percent African-Americans.

“(The referendum) created a lot of tension because a lot of black families in the school assumed that people from the neighborhood didn’t want them here. People at the school want the diversity. It was people outside the boundaries who got the support of the senator who happens to be up for re-election.”

De Leon said the senator only heard the opinions of the parents outside the boundaries but never sat with the principals and parents of the school to find out how they felt. And that the senator never responded to phone calls made by the committee.

“Instead, he took it as an issue that he could champion because he was up for re-election in a couple of months,” he said.

Since the referendum, Sandoval has teamed up with state Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-5), an African American who represents much of Chicago’s West Side, and together they are trying to expand the boundaries to include both communities, De Leon told RJ.

“We contend that there are only so many that this high school can serve. And since this high school is under the small schools model, it’s important to keep the school at enrollment and not over-populated the way so many of our high schools are,” he said. “That’s the philosophy behind small schools.

“When you get more students, if you don’t also get more teachers, you’re going to be doing a disservice to those students. The school opened in September 2005 with freshmen so that the school could slowly build up its student body. At the end of this year, those freshmen become sophomores and new freshmen come in. And in four years, there will be a full student body. The school needs time to plan some values and culture instead of filling it all up at once,” he said.

“Sandoval and Hendon are saying it’s a waste to do it that way because what you’re doing is not using up the entire school right away. We are going to use the entire school. We’re just doing it slowly instead of cramming it full of students from the day it opens. Everything becomes much more chaotic that way,” said De Leon.

According to De Leon, the Board of Education and then CPS Board President Michael Scott were well aware of the situation and in full support of the way the school opened.

“All new high schools open up this way. Whenever the Board builds a new high school, they fill it up one grade level at a time,” said De Leon. “By 2009, the school will be filled to the capacity.”

If the boundaries are expanded, De Leon is concerned that the students that live within the boundaries will have to be given the right to attend the school if they apply before the deadline, which could bring about another overcrowded Chicago public school. Little Village High School was promised to the community in the beginning of 1998, and according to an article published by Catalyst magazine, it is the Chicago’s first high school built to accommodate small schools. It is also the city’s most expensive new school with a budget of almost $60 million.

Even though it had been promised, the community still had to fight to get the construction of the school in motion. In 2000 and 2001, De Leon said after a few months of meeting with school officials and getting petitions signed, the Board announced they had no money to build the school, even though the state had allocated $30 million for the construction. On Mother’s Day 2001, the Little Village Community Development Corporation and community residents staged a hunger strike that lasted 19 days. That made the difference.

Today, the new school consists of a Multicultural Arts High School, a World Language High School, a Social Justice School, and Infinity Math, Science, and Technology High School. The small schools share a library, swimming pool, dance studio, childcare center, auditorium, gyms, literacy center and learning labs.

Sen. Sandoval’s office said he was unavailable for comment. Sen. Hendon did not respond to calls made by RJ by press time.

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