Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday November 22nd, 2013, 7:43pm

Chicago Education Activists Launch Coalition To Revitalize Bronzeville's Dyett High School

A broad coalition of educators, parents and South Side community leaders are urging Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to reconsider closing Walter H. Dyett High School and instead keep it open as a "Global Leadership and Green Technology" neighborhood high school.

In 2012, the Chicago Board of Education voted to phaseout Dyett on the South Side due to poor academic performance. Dyett is expected to close completely in 2015.

Those with the newly-formed "Coalition to Revitalize Dyett" argue that closing the high school entirely would expand the "school desert" in Bronzeville, a historic African-American neighborhood.

The coalition's members want to see global leadership and green technology curriculum offered at Dyett, along with other programs involving agricultural sciences and cultural awareness. The proposed Global Leadership and Green Technology High School would be open to all students in the community.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the mayor need to "do right by the families of this historic, proud community," stressed Jitu Brown with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), one of the groups with the new coalition.

Others involved with the effort include the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), academics at the University of Illinois at Chicago and representatives from the DuSable Museum of African American History, to name a few.

The activists say Bronzeville is in dire need of a high-quality high school because nearby Kenwood Academy High School is overcrowded and Wendell Phillips Academy High School, which is an Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL) turnaround school, has zero-tolerance policies that "push out many of our students," explained Steven Guy, a Dyett Local School Council member. Additionally, DuSable High School is "unstable" because one of the schools on its campus, the Betty Shabazz International Charter School, is closing.

"If Dyett closes, North Kenwood and Oakland will not have a neighborhood high school," stressed Brown. "That is not choice, that is displacement by force. As a community, all we are asking is [for city and school officials] to work with us in partnership so that we have a quality neighborhood high school for all children."

As it stands, Dyett has "worse than the basics" when it comes to course offerings, explained Brown. Dyett does not have honors, advanced placement, art or music classes and physical education courses are taken online, he said.

"Our young people are not getting what they need, not because of bad teachers, not because of bad parents, but because of [the] district's low expectations," Brown said.

In response to the conditions at Dyett, which have "dramatically deteriorated" since the board approved the phaseout, a group of students at the school filed a formal Title VI Civil Rights Act complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights on November 12.

"Throughout Dyett's entire history, the board has demonstrated a disregard for the student body," the complaint reads. "The board has deprived our school of resources and undermined numerous promising attempts by our community to improve the school. What was the board's response when, as late as 2008, we had the largest increase in students going to college in all of Chicago Public Schools? What about in 2009 when we had the largest decrease in student arrests and suspensions? Disregard and disinvestment."

On report card pick-up day, some 300 parents from Dyett's feeder schools, including Edmond Burke Elementary, William C. Reavis Math and Science Specialty Elementary, Melville W. Fuller Elementary, Jackie Robinson Elementary and Irvin C. Mollison Elementary schools, signed a petition in support of the proposed Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.

Rico Gutstein, faculty associate with the University of Illinois at Chicago's Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education, said he and others will be partnering with academics at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University to flesh out the community's proposal for the high school. Gutstein helped produce the plan for the Social Justice High School in South Lawndale, a neighborhood public school that opened in 2005 and currently has CPS' best level one academic rating.

The coalition plans to present its concrete proposal for the school to the Chicago Board of Education by this January, with the hope of opening the school in August 2014.

Brown said he has received some indication from Byrd-Bennett that the district could be open to such a proposal. Byrd-Bennett reportedly told Brown and some Dyett parents during a meeting in March that she wants to work to keep the school open.

"She wants Dyett, in her words, 'to be her baby,'" Brown added. "And she wants to partner with us to do it. What we're saying is make good on that promise, because our children can't wait until it's convenient."

The activists stressed that creating a high-quality high school in Bronzeville boils down to an issue of priorities for the district.

"You can't say you're broke, so 'We're just going to disinvest in the lives of children' as your creating institutions that people aren't asking for in other neighborhoods," Brown said, referring to new charter schools the district has in the works.

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