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Bronzeville Parents Speak Out Against School Closings

Angry Bronzeville parents disrupted a South Side community panel Nov. 8 as city officials and CPS discussed plans for closing neighborhood schools and addressed concerns about alternatives.

“You’re not respecting us. This is just like a [CPS] board meeting,” said one woman from across the room.

“This meeting is my meeting, my tax dollars,” another said to the panel.

“These are our schools. Our community should be able to have a real dialogue,” said Cathy Dale, a local resident.

Submitting questions to the panel, but not being able to respond upset them. They were disappointed with the way the Bronzeville Community Action Council formatted the discussion. That’s what they told the council’s chair and host for the night, Pastor Chris Harris, who attempted to diplomatically calm them down.

Almost one-hundred attendees showed up to the Charles Hayes Center, 4859 S. Wabash. This was their opportunity to present written down questions for Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), Ald. Will Burns (4th), Sean Stallings, chief of schools for the South Side Collaborative and state Rep. Esther Golar (D-Chicago). Most of the frustration was directed at Chicago Board of Education member, Dr. Mahalia Hines. Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed her to the board in May of 2011.

“We’re going to be honest and transparent as we can be. This does not mean there won’t be school closings. There’s no way we can keep them all open. Your voices need to be heard, [but] you need a plan,” Hines said.

The board does not plan to vote on anything without bringing it to the community first, she said.

State legislature requires CPS to release a list of school actions, which would show any boundary changes, consolidations and school closings by Dec. 1.

There has been speculation that anywhere from 80 to 120 schools could close. Chicago Board of Education’s ceo, Barbara Byrd-Bennett is pressuring the district to extend the deadline to March 31.

Schools will be evaluated based on enrollment and performance.

Parents from Dyett High School’s LSC at the meeting made it no secret that they are angry with CPS. Currently, the neighborhood public school is in the first year of phasing out. Members want the school to be saved.

Dyett is on probation and is given a level three performance rating, which is the lowest level.

The fight for the West Side’s Richard T. Crane Technical Preparatory High School to remain open is in the distant past for some, but not all. Some parents from Dyett are upset Crane was saved, but their school was ignored.

Crane and Dyett were slated to stop accepting freshmen last year. Both were to phase out, but after community groups advocated for the school to not shut down, former CPS CEO Jean Claude Brizard decided to keep Crane’s doors open. He helped make it Chicago’s first public high school dedicated to preparing its students for careers in medical fields.

The difference between the plan Crane provided versus Dyett’s is simple, Hines said. Crane was very specific in listing the benefits the students would receive, but Dyett’s plan was too broad.

Stallings, of the South Side Collaborative, said schools like Dyett became under-enrolled because parents chose to send their children elsewhere. He said 34 transferred to Phillips High School and others moved to Simeon or South Shore International College Prep.

Cathy Dale was one of the angry parents, but after speaking to Hines in a private conversation after the panel portion, she said she feels more hopeful that Hines will help the community. The two have agreed to meet and discuss plans for Dyett.

Discussions on charter schools versus contract based schools, consolidating schools, violence in the schools and funding issues also came up during the two hour gathering.

The panel showed their ability to remain honest and open with the community by giving direct responses to questions. They also let parents know what is expected of them.

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