Supporters of keeping Bronzeville's Walter H. Dyett High School open beyond 2015 by turning it into a "global leadership and green technology" open-enrollment high school came out in force to discuss the proposal at a rowdy 4th Ward community meeting Monday evening.
Local Ald. Will Burns (4th) held the meeting to gather community feedback about the future of Dyett, which the Chicago Board of Education voted to phaseout back in 2012 due to poor academic performance. Dyett is slated to close completely in 2015 after its last senior class graduates.
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, dominated the discussion at the meeting, held at King College Prep High School. The academic plan, developed by community members and academics over several years, is backed by the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, a group spearheaded by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO).
"Whatever happens at Dyett, it's got to be a high-quality, open-enrollment high school, and so the whole point is to have a process by which we get ideas for what that should be," Burns told Progress Illinois at the meeting, attended by more than 100 people. "I know that KOCO and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett is very organized and very vocal, but there are other voices in the community, and I want to make sure that they have a way to be heard."
Though most of the people who spoke publicly at the meeting, which included three breakout brainstorming sessions, voiced their support for the proposed Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School, the alderman said he also heard from people in the Bronzeville Community Action Council and others who said "there needs to be some kind of focus at Dyett to make it attractive."
"KOCO has a green technology and global leaders" proposal, said Burns, who opposed the Chicago Board of Education's decision to phaseout and close Dyett. "There are other ideas too. So we want to hear them all because Bronzeville is not a monolithic community. It's not."
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), as well as State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago) and State Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago), also attended the meeting.
"I came out because I fundamentally think Dyett should remain open as a neighborhood high school," Dowell told Progress Illinois. "The type of school it should become, I think, is up to discussions with the community, with the alderman, with the youth in the community."
At the start of the meeting, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials were slated to give a data presentation about Dyett and other nearby schools before it was the community's turn to discuss their ideas.
But Jitu Brown with KOCO took over the microphone before CPS officials could talk. The meeting facilitator attempted to intervene so the event could follow the planned agenda, but audience members erupted in chants of "Let him speak!"
Brown and two others who helped develop the global leadership and green technology proposal proceeded with their presentation.
"We are going to keep Dyett open as a fully-resourced, open-enrollment, publicly-owned and managed high school," coalition member Dwayne Turner told the crowd. "We are here tonight to discuss a plan that has been worked on for four years to revitalize Dyett … We are open to input and feedback on how to implement it, but we are not starting from scratch … We are going to win this battle."
City and school officials could see "hundreds of law-abiding citizens chained to the front of Dyett school" if the district does not reconsider its plan to shut it down after the upcoming academic year, Brown told the crowd.
In a follow-up interview with Progress Illinois, Brown said his remarks about civil disobedience came in a "moment of emotion." But if city and school officials "do not respect the community wishes for Dyett," Brown said education activists "will use whatever form of peaceful disobedience we have to do to stop the school from closing."
Dyett's pending closure means Bronzeville will no longer have an open-enrollment, neighborhood high school that is not a contracted, charter or Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) turnaround school. Those against the planned school closing also 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.
At various points in the two-hour meeting, audience members chanted, "Whose schools? Our schools!" and "Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Rahm Emanuel's got to go!"
During the three breakout sessions, independent meeting facilitators took notes on the ideas that came out of the groups. The meeting facilitators, Burns said, will craft a report to be presented to CPS at a later date with the community's ideas for the future of Dyett —should the district reconsider its plan to close the school in 2015. Burns said the meeting facilitators will also set up a website where people can submit written comments, which will be included in the report to CPS.
In one of the breakout sessions, members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School became agitated with the facilitator and walked out of the room.
"We are wasting our time on something that we already have," KOCO's Shannon Bennett told the meeting facilitator, referring to the coalition's academic blueprint.
"Don't sell yourself short, people," added another coalition member Asif Wilson. "We already have a comprehensive plan. Present that."
Here's video from the breakout session, as well as remarks from Brown before CPS' data presentation.
Jose Morales, an Albany Park resident who works at a charter school in the district, was at least one audience member who had not previously heard about the coalition's proposed global leadership and green technology school plan.
"It seems like an amazing proposal that is centered in the community," he said after the meeting. "Why not take a look at that? Why keep looking at other alternatives? To me, it seems like common sense. There's a proposal made by all the stakeholders with support from people with an academic background. Why are you still looking for other proposals?"
Another audience member, who described the meeting as a "circus," expressed similar sentiments.
"Since we had a plan already, how dare (Burns) hire the independent group to take some message back to CPS to say this is what (the community) want[s] when it was already written," 4th Ward resident and CPS teacher Kimberly Walls said after the meeting.
Walls and other education organizers plan to visit Burns' office Tuesday to ask him to sign a pledge in support of the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School.
"He has to commit if he wants our vote to get back in office as alderman," she warned.