Chicago education activists who have been fighting to save Walter H. Dyett High School from closing next year are furious over the prospect of a contract operator taking control of the Bronzeville school.
Members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, who for nearly a year have been pushing a plan to turn Dyett into a "global leadership and green technology" open-enrollment high school, took their outrage to City Hall on Wednesday morning, warning that local Ald. Will Burns (4th) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel "will have a major case of civil disobedience on their hands" if their community-driven proposal for the South Side school is not adopted.
"If a white, middle-class community came up with an in-depth, community-based plan for their neighborhood public school, they would get it," said Joy Clendenning, a 4th Ward resident who sits on the local school council at Kenwood Academy High. "We want the Walter H. Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School, and we want it now."
Thousands of people in the 4th Ward support the idea of the global leadership and green technology school at Dyett, added Jitu Brown with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, spearheaded by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO).
"Since 2008 we've been dreaming about what should be happening in this community. So we are not going to let some contract operator go in this school," said Brown.
"Our children are not instruments of profit," he added. "We do not want someone contracted in to educate our children, because they can always break that contract."
The Chicago Board of Education voted to phase out Dyett in 2012 due to poor academic performance. The high school is slated to close after its last senior class of just 13 students graduates at the end of the current academic year. Bronzeville would no longer have an open-enrollment, neighborhood high school that is not a contracted, charter or Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) turnaround school if Dyett closes.
The school district has 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 adult education activists who staged a sit-in at City Hall, the school district said last week it would accept proposals for a new open-enrollment, neighborhood high school to be located at Dyett's current site.
The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) district plans to open its request for proposals (RFP) process in December, with the hopes of having the new school open in the 2016-2017 school year. The district will not accept charter school proposals for the Dyett site, but contract schools operated by private entities can apply.
"Members of the community have expressed a strong interest in a new school at the Dyett site, and we look forward to working with the community to develop a new high-quality option for students living in the neighborhood," CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in the announcement. "We are committed to ensuring the new neighborhood school at Dyett meets the community's needs and will evaluate proposals from all interested parties."
In an interview with Progress Illinois, Burns said the latest development from CPS on Dyett "should be a moment where we all recognize that something important has happened."
"The Board of Education sees Dyett as part of the future of the mid-South Side," the alderman stressed. "It wants the best ideas on how to make Dyett a high-quality, open-enrollment neighborhood high school. That's a win for everybody."
The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, however, is angry with Burns because he has not endorsed the global leadership and green technology plan.
"After developing a broad-based coalition of support and 2,000 people in the 4th Ward in support of this plan, Ald. Will Burns yesterday went on WVON radio and attempted to take credit for the reversal of Dyett being closed, and then also said Dyett would be a contract school," Brown said. "We knew that Ald. Will Burns was an instrument of privatization all along, but these actions just firmed up what we already knew."
Irene Robinson, a Dyett coalition member who has several grandchildren at Bronzeville's Irvin C. Mollison Elementary, added that Burns "is trying to make everyone believe that he has saved Dyett, but we all know that's not true."
"The fact is that he has sat idle for three years while the school was being phased out and resources taken away," she stressed. "He also has done nothing to support the 13 students who are finishing their senior year at Dyett."
Burns pushed back on claims that he hasn't been involved in the fight to save Dyett.
"I spend a lot of time working on this issue, not marching down the street, but sitting in people's offices explaining the support that this issue had in the community, and how we're redeveloping Bronzeville. We're adding more people to the community ... And then if you have a high-quality, neighborhood open-enrollment option, it will be used," the alderman said. "I think KOCO was a part of this process. They were part of the process showing that the community wanted it to happen, and as a consequence, they should take a victory lap too. All of us worked together to bring Dyett back. And so I don't understand their opposition. It doesn't make any sense to me."
The alderman urged the coalition to submit its proposal to the RFP process.
"The idea behind having an RFP for the future of Dyett, I believe that there are lots of good organizations on the mid-South Side throughout the city of Chicago, not-for-profit, community-based organizations, consortia, principals, teachers, leaders that can come together and come up with some great proposals for making Dyett a great high school, and we need to hear ideas from the bottom up," Burns said. "The RFP process allows us to do that. The RFP process also will have safeguards in it so that Dyett is an open-enrollment, neighborhood high school, and where the teachers at the school are members of the Chicago Teachers Union, and the school respects the collective bargaining agreement. I don't understand why KOCO wants to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."
Brown called the RFP process a "shell game," saying it "will allow these schools that were trying to get in Dyett in the first place the space to do it."
"If we have to submit the proposal [for the global leadership and green technology school], we will, but what we're saying is we're going to do everything we can, in the way we can, to make sure that we don't even get to that process."
"We will do whatever form of peaceful disobedience we have to, but our children are not for sale," Brown stressed.