Education activists on Monday renewed their call to keep Bronzeville’s Walter H. Dyett High School open beyond 2015. The group also allege that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials are phoning Dyett’s few existing students and urging them to transfer because the school may be shuttered earlier than planned.
The demonstrators also called on the Emanuel administration to support more community involvement in CPS school reforms.
“When they get these schools, they get our communities,” said Jitu Brown, national director for the Journey for Justice Alliance.
The education activists, led by Brown and the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), held a press conference Monday at City Hall and requested a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in the hopes he would intervene on the school’s closure and support turning Dyett into a "global leadership and green technology" open-enrollment high school.
Dyett is slated to close completely in 2015 after its last senior class graduates. Back in 2012, the Chicago Board of Education voted to phase the South Side school out due to poor academic performance.
Since the vote, activists allege, the school has been neglected and resources at Dyett have been cut so drastically that students are forced to take classes such as gym and art online.
In 2012, about 360 students were enrolled at Dyett, Brown said. Last year, less than 30 students remained at the school, with less than five teachers staffed, he claims.
While classes across CPS are scheduled to start September 2, Brown alleges that the district has reached out to at least six Dyett students and “encouraged” them to transfer to Hyde Park Academy High School or Bronzeville Scholastic Institute.
“Why not just invest in these children that you know have been underserved? Why can’t you just say, ‘Let’s wrap our arms around these children, and let’s make sure that their senior year, they get what they deserve,’” Brown asked.
Here's for more from Brown and other activists.
Kenneth Brown, 17, who is part of the last class going into senior year at Dyett, said at least two of his peers received calls from CPS last week and were urged to transfer schools because Dyett could close ahead of schedule.
“Last year, when the seniors didn’t have to come to school anymore ... nobody was in the school. We felt like CPS didn’t care about us. There was nobody left, there was only a few teachers, a few students, it was like a ghost town,” he said, adding that he has attended Dyett — a school he can walk to from his house — throughout his entire high school career.
Instead of closing Dyett, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, a group spearheaded by KOCO, has supported a community-driven blueprint to offer a global leadership and green technology curriculum at Dyett, along with other programs involving agricultural sciences and cultural awareness.
“As taxpayers, you should not have to say, ‘Let me have input in our public schools,’” Jitu Brown said.
In the fiscal year 2014 spending bill that was signed into law in January, a new option was included in the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, which is designed to buoy schools suffering from years of low achievement.
The option allows schools to submit their own plan for a “whole-school reform strategy” that uses a research-based, proven program, instead of limiting the school to reform strategies included in the grant regulations.
Activists with organizations such as Journey for Justice Alliance would like to see that translated into more community involvement and collaboration during school reform.
“The education and research is abundant and clear, involved school communities not only make a real difference in education quality, but this dedication is an indispensible condition for good schools,” Rico Gutstein, faculty associate with the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education, said during the press conference.
Ken Bennett, director of the mayor’s Office of Public Engagement, told Monday’s activists that Emanuel is committed to having a meeting with them, Jitu Brown said.
“We are here to say that we are the final line of defense for these children that have been neglected. So, whether he wants to or not, he is going to have to engage with us.”
A representative with CPS could not be reached for comment by deadline.