Chicago education activists who have been fighting to preserve Walter H. Dyett High School as an open-enrollment, traditional neighborhood school protested outside of Ald. Will Burns' (4th) office Tuesday morning, claiming the South Side alderman "pretends to be progressive while pushing privatization."
Members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, who for more than a year have been advocating for a community-driven plan to turn the facility into a "global leadership and green technology" open-enrollment high school, are upset over the prospect of a contract operator taking control of the Bronzeville school. They are also angry because the alderman has not endorsed their global leadership and green technology proposal.
"Instead of honoring the community plan and believing in democracy, Ald. Will Burns has given Dyett over to private operators and left it open for the school to be a contract school," said Jitu Brown with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, which is spearheaded by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO).
The Chicago Board of Education voted to phase out Dyett in 2012 due to poor academic performance. The high school was slated to close after its last senior class graduates at the end of the current academic year. There are only 13 students in the 2015 graduating class, which is also the entire student body at Dyett. Upon the school's closing, 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.
The school district previously stated on numerous occasions that 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 announced in October 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 opened 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 is not accepting charter school proposals for the Dyett site, but contract schools operated by private entities can apply.
Brown, who said the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School plans to submit its proposal to CPS as part of the RFP process, noted that the non-profit Little Black Pearl, which operates a contract school in the North Kenwood-Oakland area called Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy, might be interested in opening a school in Dyett, located at 555 E. 51st St.
Brown said representatives from Little Black Pearl as well as the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School participated in a CPS webinar last month for those interested in submitting a proposal for the Dyett site. Brown said only the two organizations took part in the webinar.
A Little Black Pearl representative could not be reached for comment by deadline.
"We're deeply concerned that a school that only has 7 percent of its students meeting or exceeding state standards would even be considered to run what should be Bronzeville's last open-enrollment, neighborhood high school," Brown said. "We believe this is just another example of Ald. Will Burns pretending to be progressive while he bows down to corporate interest, and we feel like our communities deserve so much better."
Proposals for the Dyett site are due to CPS in early April. The Chicago Board of Education is expected to vote on a proposal in late August, following a community meeting and hearing, according to CPS' timeline of the RFP process.
"The coalition is here today to set the record straight," said coalition member Jeanette Taylor, Irvin C. Mollison Elementary's Local School Council (LSC) president. "Ald. Burns needs to do right, be honest and be truthful about what he has not done, instead of trying to rewrite history. Ald. Burns, do what you claim to do. Support the community's vision for Dyett, the Dyett 13 and eliminate the possibility of Dyett becoming a contract or charter school. Why is the answer for black children always privatization?"
Here's more from Brown and Taylor:
For his part, Burns issued the following statement to Progress Illinois in response to the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School's protest:
Since 2011, I have fought against the planned phase out of Dyett. My office has worked with Bronzeville community stakeholders like the Bronzeville Community Action Council, Bronzeville Neighborhood Collaborative, Quad Communities Development Corporation, churches, and block clubs to fight for the future of Dyett High School.
Pursuant to the Request for Proposal (RFP) to manage Dyett High School, Dyett cannot be a charter, alternative, or selective enrollment school. Dyett must be an open enrollment neighborhood public high school.
I believe that is vitally important for the future of Dyett that there be an open and transparent process to determine the school's academic focus and programming. The RFP process offers all organizations, including the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett, to have their proposals fairly and impartially evaluated.
Given that Dyett will remain open as an open enrollment neighborhood public high school, I can only conclude that today's protest, held only weeks before the first round of voting in the municipal elections, is purely political and designed to distort my record on public education with the electorate.
Meanwhile, the activists allege that the school district has neglected Dyett during its phase out, saying that resources have been cut at the South Side school to the point where students have been forced to take classes such as health, environmental science and art appreciation online. Dyett students have also had to enter the school through the back door of the building, according to the organizers.
Following the sit-in at City Hall in September, the group did win some concessions from the mayor's office for the remaining 13 students at Dyett.
Activists said at the time that the mayor's office promised to bring a gym teacher to the school as well as ACT prep classes, among other concessions. There is after-school tutoring at the school now, students have had some college tours and they will be able to take part in a prom, Brown said. Additionally, the school received some funding for a part-time music instructor, according to coalition members.
However, Dyett students still have to enter through the school's back door and take classes online to meet their physical education and art requirements, organizers said.
"Those students are still suffering," said coalition member Jaribu Lee, one of the education activists arrested in September at City Hall. "They're still not getting access to the quality education that they deserve."
CPS did not return a request for comment on this story by deadline.