Chicago education activists took to City Hall Tuesday to demand a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel over the future of the South Side's Dyett High School campus.
The activists were with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, one of three groups behind separate proposals to reopen the now-closed school, located at 555 E. 51st St.
Back in 2012, the Chicago Board of Education voted to phase out Dyett due to poor academic performance. The school, located in the Washington Park community, closed in June after its final senior class of just 13 students graduated.
For nearly two years, the coalition has been advocating for its community-driven plan to turn Dyett into a "global leadership and green technology" open-enrollment high school. Members of the coalition, spearheaded by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, were also on the frontlines protesting the initial decision to phase out Dyett.
The school district had repeatedly said there were no plans to keep Dyett open beyond 2015. But following mounting community pressure against the school's closure, including the arrests of 11 Dyett coalition members who staged a sit-in at City Hall, the school district decided late last year it would accept proposals for a new open-enrollment, neighborhood high school to be located at the Dyett site.
"The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett has been working on this problem for years now," coalition member Ken Porter said outside Emanuel's office this morning. "We've been met with an RFP [request for proposals] process after all our hard work, which is unacceptable. We've worked hard for this community, and now other people are trying to capitalize off of the [coalition's] work."
In addition to the coalition's global leadership and green technology plan, CPS has received two other proposals for the Dyett campus. The non-profit Little Black Pearl, which operates a contract school in the North Kenwood-Oakland area, is proposing to run an arts high school at the Dyett site. The third proposal, which CPS accepted despite it being submitted late, is for an athletic career academy being spearheaded by Dyett's former principal Charles Campbell.
Those two contenders are proposing privately-run contract schools. Under the coalition's plan, CPS would operate the global leadership and green technology school.
At today's event, coalition leaders said the Bronzeville area does not need another contract school, explaining that the South Side community no longer has an open-enrollment, neighborhood high school now that Dyett has closed.
The education activists also raised concerns about the other Dyett proposals. They criticized Little Black Pearl's academic performance, noting that 5 percent of its students met or exceeded state standards in the 2014-2015 academic year. Coalition members also questioned why the late proposal for the sports-focused academy was accepted.
A public hearing on the three Dyett proposals is slated for August 10. The Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the plan recommended by CPS at its August 26 meeting.
"Chicago Public Schools is committed to a community-driven process that will identify a high-quality education option for the former Dyett site," CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said in a statement. "We continue to review applications garnered by the 2014 RFP, and look forward to receiving further feedback at the upcoming community hearing to inform a decision that will best serve the students and families in this community."
Coalition members say they have largely been ignored in the discussion around Dyett's future.
"We are talking about the dismissal and devaluation of low[-income] and working-class black families' voices," said coalition member Jayme Robinson. "While white North Side parents voices are valued and heard, and the Noble and Intrinsic proposals were pulled back, our voices are thrown to the wayside."
Robinson was referring to the Noble Network of Charter Schools' recent plan to bring a campus to Uptown on the North Side. Following public outcry over Nobel's proposed Uptown location, the Chicago Board of Education delayed consideration of the plan. Since then, Nobel has withdrawn the proposal.
Another charter school operator, Intrinsic Schools, encountered recent community pushback over its plan to locate a new North Side school at the Rosehill Cemetery. Local Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th) announced on his website earlier this month that Intrinsic has now dropped that proposal.
Robinson said the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett has met with Chicago Board of Education members about its global leadership and green technology plan. The group has also garnered more than 2,000 petition signatures in support of the proposal.
"We have met with Ald. Will Burns to get him to listen to his constituents' demand for a neighborhood school," she added. "We have held six town hall meetings. We have the support of the community and allies around the city, and we have even created a proposal for the CPS Dyett RFP. What more do we have to do?"
The group on Tuesday demanded a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel or a representative from his office to discuss their concerns. A press secretary in the mayor's office addressed the group, and said she would relay the coalition's request for a meeting to the appropriate officials.