Press "Enter" to skip to content

Despite Promises, Whittier Library Still Out in the Cold

No progress has been made on renovating the field house at John Greenleaf Whittier Elementary School in Pilsen, and members of the Whittier Parent Youth Committee who spoke to the Chicago Public School Board last Wednesday say funding for the project is long overdue.

Although members of the Whittier Parent Youth Committee say the building is in need of renovation, la casita is home to Whittier Elementary's only library; a collection of donated books.

“What we want is our money,” said Lisa Angonese, 50, secretary of the Whittier Parent Youth Committee, who spoke on behalf of the group, which has staged sit-ins to defend against demolition of Whittier’s field house, commonly called la casita.

Following a 43-day sit-in, parents say Ron Huberman, then the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, promised funding for the renovation of la casita. In a letter dated Oct. 27, 2010, Huberman agreed to help the Whittier Parent Youth Committee “work with elected officials to find tax increment finance dollars and/or state of Illinois dollars to pay for improvement to the field house.”

A second protest occurred in late June 2011, just after Jean-Claude Brizard took over as the head of CPS. The school board revealed a decision to demolish la casita and build a new library on the second floor of the school, an area parents think is overpopulated and inaccessible for special needs students.

Parents held another sit-in to protect la casita this decision. The week-long protest halted construction and eventually led to cancellation of the project. Chicago Public Schools’ officials said the construction delay cost the district $150,000.

There have been no further developments; Whittier is still lacking a library, and parents are still saying the field house needs renovation.

Of 675 Chicago Public Schools, Whittier is one of 164 schools operating without a library staffed by a trained librarian, the Chicago Tribune found in 2010.

Two of Agonese’s children attend Whittier. Her daughter is in seventh grade, and her son is in eighth grade.

In an interview after she spoke to the Chicago Board of Education at its Oct. 26 meeting, she said, “We could start to call them embezzlers, which would really throw the stick at them.”

“We want them to meet with us so that we can continue negotiations on our contract. That building needs renovation … That money has already been allocated to us a year ago.”

Agonese says her organization has a letter from state Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago) allocating Whittier $200,000 in state funds to be used for renovations to the field house.

She said they also have video documentation of meeting held this past summer at Chicago Public Schools’ headquarters with the entire school board, including Brizard, present. She says two board members verified the money was ready to be distributed and one board member spoke of the board’s intentions to write Whittier a check for the $200,000.

Neither Acevedo nor Brizard could be reached for comment.

“It’s all on tape and documented,” she said. “They can’t deny anything … They’re just going to let la casita go, but we won’t let that happen. We fought too hard for it.”

La casita is used for after-school programs, tutoring sessions, immigration classes and houses a library consisting of books donated by the community.

The predominately Hispanic school is on probation for low academic standing, with less than 6 percent of students meeting state academic standards in eighth grade.

“The school board needs to see how badly we need this,” said Carla Lopez, 28, a parent of a Whittier first grader. Lopez said her family doesn’t go to the library very often because the nearest location is too far away, despite her daughter’s love for reading.

“The kids are our future,” she said. “It’s hard to try to get the kids well-taught if there’s not a lot of opportunity. I think la casita is important; they need a library.”

Agonese said her organization would continue to attend the board’s monthly meetings, saying Chicago Public Schools’ officials are now ignoring Whittier.

School administrators declined to comment.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *