The Kenwood Oakland Community Organization made good Wednesday on a threat they issued last month to Rahm Emanuel – meet with us about public schools or we’ll stage a prolonged sit-in outside your office.
“We once again demand that the mayor hear the voices of those who will be most impacted by the proposed actions of the Chicago Public Schools,” said Shannon Bennett, lead organizer for Kenwood Oakland.
Those actions are the closure and phase out of eight neighborhood public schools prior to the 2012-13 school year as well as the “turnaround” of ten more schools, in which students stay at the school but CPS replaces all faculty and staff. CPS proposed the actions at the end of November and the Chicago Board of Education is expected to approve them February, at its monthly meeting.
Kenwood Oakland – along with the Chicago Teachers Union and other community groups like Action Now! – essentially articulated three demands at Wednesday’s protests. The demands came on the day of a report by the CPS Inspector General cataloging more than two-dozen instances of mismanagement at CPS between July 2010 and June 2011.
Two demands are easy to understand. Emanuel needs to meet with us, and CPS shouldn’t close down or turnaround these schools.
The third is more complicated. Kenwood Oakland is putting forward an alternative education policy strategy that focuses on community empowerment.
As for the first demand, Jitu Brown, an organizer for Kenwood Oakland, said, “All we want is to have input for a plan for our children,” a message echoed by both activists and parents outside the mayor’s office.
Here's more from Shannon Bennett of the Kenwood Oakland community organization:
Demonstrators today chanted, “Who are the ones that will save our schools? We are the ones that will save our schools!” Parents held up signs of which affected school they represent – such as Dyett High School in Kenwood, which is slated for turnaround.
Here's a look at some of the chanting at the protest:
The enthused protesters seemed poised to stay outside Emanuel’s office for a while. “They should sit in City Hall all night long,” Brown said. “I say to this group, ‘Stay all the way until Dr. King’s birthday!’”
Brown and Bennett also spent a great deal of Wednesday’s demonstration promoting the “Bronzeville Achievers Village Plan.” It calls for CPS to have, “a real collaboration with community to ensure local ownership and accountability.”
The plan echoes a Neighborhood Agenda for Schools released in November by Kenwood Oakland and seven other community groups. That document called for CPS to focus its money on helping traditional neighborhood public schools instead of continually rerouting money to alternatives like selective enrollment and charter schools.
At the risk of oversimplification, these plans focus more on community accountability, while Emanuel and CPS focus more on the accountability of individual teachers and schools.
The Bronzeville Achievers plan is still in its rough stages. But it does articulate what many of the protesters would like to see from CPS policy – whether or not they get a meeting with Emanuel.
The push by community groups also comes at a potentially vulnerable time for CPS, thanks to Inspector General James Sullivan’s audit. Sullivan found that CPS doled out more than $1.13 million in improper benefits to retired teachers.
Sullivan’s report also details several instances of embarrassing conduct unchecked by CPS like a teacher stealing $56,000 donated from parents for an after-school tuition program.
“Their policies are the same as polices from [former CPS heads] Ron Huberman, Arne Duncan, even the former Mayor Richard M. Daley,” said Betty Johnson, the grandmother of a CPS student at Dyett. “We will change the direction no matter what it takes; no matter how long it takes.”