A broad coalition of Chicago educators, parents and South Side activists demanded Wednesday that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel meet with them on a community-driven proposal to keep Walter H. Dyett High School open and transition it into a "Global Leadership and Green Technology" neighborhood high school.
The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School — which formally presented its academic plan for the South Side public school at April's Chicago Board of Education meeting — wants a meeting with the officials within the next two weeks.
Back in 2012, the Chicago Board of Education voted to phaseout Dyett, located in the city's historic Bronzeville community, due to poor academic performance. Dyett is expected to close completely in 2015.
Coalition member Jeanette Taylor, president of the Local School Council (LSC) at Irvin C. Mollison Elementary, one of Dyett's feeder schools, said the group is "not going away" anytime soon and is "committed to the dream of a world-class village of sustainable community schools in Bronzeville."
"We will not be denied," she stressed Wednesday morning at City Hall outside the mayor's office.
The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School has collected some 600 signatures in support of its proposal to offer global leadership and green technology curriculum at Dyett, along with other programs involving agricultural sciences and cultural awareness. The proposed Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School would be open to all students in the neighborhood, coalition members said.
"If Dyett closes in 2015, North Kenwood [and] Oakland would not have an open-enrollment neighborhood high school," said Jitu Brown with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), one of the groups in the coalition. "This is not what over 600 parents who signed our petition want ... This is displacement by force, and it's not acceptable."
Those with the group say there is a strong need for an open-enrollment high school in Bronzeville because Kenwood Academy, a nearby neighborhood public high school, is currently overcrowded.
The Dyett supporters also urged city and school officials to shelve any plans to turn the neighborhood high school over to a charter operator.
"Our first choice in our neighborhood should not be an alternative school or a charter school," Brown stressed. "Our children deserve the right to go to an open-enrollment, quality neighborhood high school."
CPS did not return Progress Illinois' request for comment by deadline. A mayoral spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
The community plan to revamp Dyett was developed over a two-year period by various groups, including Blacks in Green, the Chicago Teachers Union, the Metropolitan Tourism Council, Teachers for Social Justice as well as parents and students from Dyett and its feeder schools. Others involved with the coalition include the DuSable Museum of African American History, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, the Washington Park Advisory Council, the Chicago Botanic Garden and the University of Illinois at Chicago's (UIC) College of Education.
UIC professor Eric 'Rico' Gutstein, who teaches in the College of Education's department of curriculum and instruction, noted that the Dyett school community has experienced "disinvestment, disenfranchisement and destabilization" over the years.
Currently, Dyett lacks sufficient course offerings, the group maintains. Dyett does not have advanced placement classes and students have to take art and physical education courses online.
The activists stressed that creating a high-quality, public high school in Bronzeville is doable. The issue simply boils down to the school district's priorities, members explained.
"CPS's rhetoric of choice is false if Bronzeville families are denied the one choice that all parents really want — a wonderful school close [to their] home that all children can attend," stressed Gutstein, who worked on Dyett's revitalization proposal. He also 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.
Under the group's desired timeline, 150 ninth graders would start at the Global Leadership and Green Technology high school in August 2014. The school would add an additional 150 ninth graders each year until it reaches its full capacity of 600 students in 2017, Gutstein said.
Over the next few weeks, the coalition will meet to hash out an implementation plan for the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School. Brown said the group is also working to set up meetings with members of the Chicago Board of Education. If CPS agrees to the coalition's proposal, the board would ultimately have to sign off on the plan.
Coalition members stressed that they will keep the heat on city and school officials about their plan.
"We are engaging in a summer of discontent until our proposal is supported," Brown said. "We will engage our elected officials on a weekly basis until they conduct themselves as if our children are just as precious as children on the North (Side)."
UPDATE 1 (7:31 p.m.): Mayoral spokeswoman Rachel Kruer issued the following statement to Progress Illinois regarding the coalition's proposal for Dyett high school:
The Mayor's Office and CPS met with this group and are open to future meetings to discuss providing quality education options in the North Kenwood and Oakland communities.
UPDATE 2 (8:18 p.m.): CPS spokesman Joel Hood provided the following statement to Progress Illinois:
There is currently no plan to keep Dyett High School open beyond its scheduled closure next year. The Board of Education redrew the school's boundaries in 2012, allowing Dyett's incoming students the opportunity to attend Phillips Academy, a Level 1 neighborhood school that serves students in the North Kenwood and Oakland communities. We will evaluate all options to ensure the families in these neighborhoods continue to have access to quality education options.
Hood explained that two additional high-performing high schools located near Dyett, including King College Prep, which is selective enrollment, and Kenwood Academy, a neighborhood high school, also pull in some students from the North Kenwood and Oakland communities.
Regarding online classes at Dyett, Hood said juniors and seniors at the high school have to take a health course online in order to satisfy their physical education requirements. Dyett's gym is also open to all students at the school, he noted.