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Austin Groups Want New High School

A newly-constructed, traditional open-enrollment high school in Austin is one of the goals of a new alliance of community groups focused on a comprehensive educational plan for the West Side neighborhood.

This week the groups invited CPS officials to a public meeting at Frederick Douglass High School, 543 N. Waller, to discuss reports that CPS was considering closing Douglass. The former middle school was converted to a temporary high school in 2004 when Austin High was closed to new enrollment.

CPS chief of staff David Pickens told the meeting that Douglass would remain open next year but would be reevaluated on an annual basis. He invited community groups to meet with him quarterly to monitor that process.

The “uncertainty, misinformation and miscommunication” around plans for Douglass “leaves students feeling like they’re in limbo” – and mirrors the larger failure of CPS to involve parents, students, and the community in educational planning, said Virgil Crawford of the Westside Health Authority, one of the organizers of the meeting.

He said Pickens’ proposal for community oversight of the evaluation of Douglass was “a good first step.”

This spring WHA convened the Austin Roundtable on Education with the South Austin Coalition, the West Side Ministers Coalition, and other groups and individuals involved in education. They are working toward formulating a comprehensive educational plan for the community. They also want CPS to be open about what plans, if any, they have for schools in the neighborhood.

One clear goal of the Roundtable, according to Crawford: “A traditional high school is exactly what we need in our community.” A high school is “one of the centers of a community” and can serve as a focal point for “broad based community participation and community pride and a whole community culture of learning.”

Austin has one of the largest populations of Chicago’s communities, with the highest density of students, Crawford said. Currently three-fourths of Austin’s high school students attend schools outside the neighborhood. Austin High has reopened with one small school, and two more are planned for the building. Douglass, originally built as an elementary school, is inadequate in terms of capacity and facilities, Crawford said.

“We want what CPS would provide for any other community,” he said. “We are ready to take this campaign to the streets, to organize action after action after action, even if it means visiting some of our officials at their offices or at their homes. We feel this community deserves better treatment from CPS.”

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Category: Austin, CPS

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