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On school closings, West Siders offer alternatives

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West Side parents and educators have called for a boycott of CPS’s school closing hearing Saturday morning and will hold an alternative community meeting instead (April 6, May Community Academy, 512 S. Lavergne, starting with a press conference at 10 a.m.) where they’ll present a community school plan.

Perhaps Mayor Emanuel ought to go.

He’s the one who recently said, “What I won’t accept is when people are asked, what’s your alternative, what’s your idea, and there’s silence.”

In fact several communities have developed their own plans, including strategic visions developed by six Community Actions Councils sponsored by CPS to improve communications with its stakeholders.

“They all fall on deaf ears,” said Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition.  “The mayor has said his decision is final, and he doesn’t care what people have to say about it.”

“It’s a waste of time to go to the CPS hearing,” said Dwayne Truss of the Save Our Neighborhood Schools coalition.  “Nobody that can make any decisions is going to be there.  It’s a dog-and-pony show.”

As for CPS staff, he said, “They’re sticking to their talking points.”

CPS has proposed closing four schools in  Austin, impacting 2,000 students, according to Austin Talks [2]. Saturday’s official hearing is for Louis Armstrong Elementary.

Reducing truancy

SONS will present an alternative plan that will minimize school closings and save CPS money, Truss said.

The plan is based on the strategic educational plan developed by the Austin CAC, which Truss co-chaired with Ald. Deborah Graham (29th).  The council included 25 elected officials, LSC members, religious and community leaders, and city agencies.

That plan focused on solutions to problems like high truancy rates and a lack of all-day early education programs, and proposed developing a range of curricular choices for Austin students, including an IB network running from elementary through high school.

A middle-school intervention program would provide support for at-risk youth and “get them on track for high school,” Truss said.  Douglas High School would offer programs in language and fine arts, STEM, career and technical training, and green technology.

No magnet schools

Truss has also been agitating for an elementary magnet school in Austin.  It’s not fair that the community doesn’t have a single one, he says.

“If you look at the majority of selective enrollment and magnet schools, they’re in predominantly white neighborhoods, and they get the extra money and the extra support,” he said.

Along with SAC, SONS members include Action Now, Westside NAACP, Blocks Together, the Lawndale Alliance, and the Progressive Action Coalition for Education.

In March, the Committee to Save North Lawndale Schools, boasting a long list of elected officials, clergy, community organizations and social services, unveiled an alternative plan [3] that proposed a range of specialty focuses for neighborhood schools.

The committee proposed developing schools as community centers that could address issues of truancy and delinguency, meet job training and  health needs, and fill gaps in recreational and cultural programming for youth.

The committee delivered copies of the report to school board president David Vitale and other board members, and to CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett and CPS staff, said Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.  No one even acknowledged receiving it, she said.

Since then, four North Lawndale schools have been proposed for closing.

There’s a vast amount of wisdom, experience, and commitment at the grassroots in Chicago’s communities.  Mayor Emanuel ignores it at his peril.