Pilsen – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.12 At Whittier, CPS demolishes a library http://www.newstips.org/2013/08/at-whittier-cps-demolishes-a-library/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/08/at-whittier-cps-demolishes-a-library/#comments Sun, 18 Aug 2013 18:49:27 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7619 Despite Mayor Emanuel’s rhetoric about a “21st century education” for every student, his school budget cuts have resulted in the layoff of librarians at 50 elementary schools; at nearly all of them, that means they won’t have functioning library.

Now CPS has gone a step further, demolishing the library built by parents at Whittier Elementary.

Despite the rhetoric about parent empowerment and community involvement — despite Barbara Byrd Bennett’s high-sounding promises about “restoring trust” — the demolition was ordered and carried out with no communication with the parents who had created and fought for the library and community center they called La Casita.

Promises

A little history:  after a 43-day occupation of the fieldhouse at Whittier in the fall of 2010, then-CPS chief Ron Huberman promised not to demolish the building and agreed to work with Whittier parents and elected officials to find funding to improve La Casita, to be operated by the parents committee as a community center.

In the summer of 2011, then-CPS chief Jean Claude Brizard tried to demolish La Casita, but when demolition crews showed unannounced, parents reoccupied the building.  In the aftermath, Brizard acknowledged the Huberman agreement and expressed his “eagerness to formalize a lease agreement and turn the fieldhouse over to the Whittier Parents Committee” in a letter to the parents.

CPS says an August 12 engineering inspection found the structure unsafe, requiring immediate demolition, with no time to consult with the parents group.  But the Sun Times reports that “an almost identical report” by the same engineering firm issued in May “call[s] into question the rational [CPS spokesperson Becky] Carroll gave for the hurried destruction this weekend.”

Carroll also said the Whittier Parents never signed a lease.  But Gema Gaete of the parents committee said they’d proposed changes to onerous provisions in the lease offered by CPS, and that letters from lawyers for the parents seeking to iron out issues were never answered.

In a final show of bad faith, CPS offered to meet with parents at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.  By that time, demolition was underway.

On his Facebook page, Ald. Danny Solis said he would be meeting with CPS and Whittier parents on Saturday morning.  But at a back-to-school fair he sponsored Saturday morning — where Whittier supporters showed up to confront him — a staffer told the Sun Times Solis was “out of town, on vacation.”

CPS promises to build an artificial-turf field, raising the question of whether the deal pushed by Solis for a soccer field for Cristo Rey, a nearby Jesuit high school, is back on track.  According to DNAInfo, it the new facilities will be built with TIF funds.

Schools without libraries

During the 2010 occupation, Whittier emerged as a symbol of a widespread problem in CPS — schools without libraries.   Before La Casita, Whittier was one of over 160 CPS schools that don’t have a library.*  A few are being installed in schools receiving students from closing schools, but at the same time, 43 elementary schools are losing their librarians, according to Raise Your Hand.

Another seven are losing some library staffing, according to the group.  In addition, 26 high schools are losing librarians.

So under Mayor Emanuel, CPS schools without functioning libraries are headed toward the 200 mark, possibly topping it.  And now Whittier is again without a library.

CPS seized about 2,000 books, many of them brand new, from the library in La Casita, said Lisa Angonese, a former Whittier parent who’s continued to run the library.  After the 2010 sit-in, books were donated from all over the world, she said.

Also seized were the library’s iPads, Kindles, and computers.  “These were resources that the community was using as of yesterday,” she said.

La Casita featured readings by neighborhood authors, documentary film screenings, and programs on topics like domestic violence, foreclosure prevention and immigration rights, along with ESL and GED classes, she said.  It also provided a safe haven for children during dangerous after-school hours.

These are services the community needs, and it was all provided at no cost to the public, she said.

Maybe CPS will go forward with its long-delayed promise to install a library in Whittier, but Angonese doesn’t know where.  The last proposal was to put up a divider in a small room now used as a resource room for special education students, she said.

The Whittier parents are now demanding that Emanuel and Solis restore the services and resources that have been snatched away.  They’re calling for a new fieldhouse to replace La Casita.

After an all-night vigil and a march to Solis’s school fair and back, the Whittier mothers and their supporters formed a circle in the middle of the street and held hands.  One leader thanked God for La Casita and for bringing the community together.  We have not been defeated, she promised.

Today, Whittier symbolizes something beyond the lack of libraries:  hardworking parents doing everything they can to support their children’s education, and being undercut and disrespected by CPS.

Meanwhile, a new volunteer group is collecting books for CPS elementary schools that have no library, focusing on schools with high rates of poverty and homelessness.  So far Books First Chicago has set up libraries in Deneen, McCutcheon, and Parker Elementary.

At Parker, the group reports on its Facebook page, the principal had planned to start a library, but funding was withdrawn by CPS.

 

* As Matt Farmer reported at the time, it was Whittier mothers who obtained and released the list of 160 schools without libraries — overwhelmingly concentrated on the South and West Sides.

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Pilsen surveyed on future of coal plant site http://www.newstips.org/2012/06/pilsen-surveyed-on-future-of-coal-plant-sites/ Tue, 19 Jun 2012 22:57:52 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6382 Pilsen residents will fill out surveys at a community meeting Wednesday, describing what they want to see on the site of a local coal plant slated for closing.

It’s part of an ongoing survey being conducted by the Pilsen Alliance among its membership and at neighborhood churches and schools, said executive director Nelson Soza. The meeting is Wednesday, June 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Casa Aztlan, 1831 S. Racine.

The Alliance wants to present its findings at a hearing of the city’s task force on reuse of the Fisk and Crawford plants next week, Soza said.  The task force is holding community hearings on June 26 at the National Museum of Mexican Art and on June 28 at the Little Village High School.

Soza is among several community representatives on the task force, along with representatives of the city and Midwest Generation, which owns the Fisk and Crawford plants.  He says discussions have been “very positive and very respectful,” with “everybody generally headed in the same direction.”

The task force is charged with sketching out a general framework for redevelopment, he points out. “The challenges will come when the details start being put down,” following the task force report, expected next month.

Soza describes an emerging consensus with economic development that provides living-wage jobs as a top priority.  “People are also hoping we can make up some of the green space deficit in Pilsen,” hopefully including public access to the Chicago River, he said.

With tactics ranging from pressure on the City Council to lawsuits and civil disobedience, community and environmental groups fought for years for the closing of the two plants.  Emissions from the old plants, which lack modern pollution controls, have contributed to higher death rates and increased levels of disease, according to researchers.

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Youth in motion – from Hip Hop to soccer http://www.newstips.org/2011/08/youth-in-motion-from-hip-hop-to-soccer/ Fri, 12 Aug 2011 19:48:18 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4672 Young people get a lot of bad press, but with the support of community groups, many are seeking out positive paths in an increasingly difficult world.  Tomorrow two events – a hip hop festival and a soccer league gathering – highlight some of the alternatives.

The Pros Arts Studio’s Sixth Annual We R Hip Hop Festival showcases local musicians, artists, breakdancers and poets in Pilsen and Little Village, emphasizing the noncommercial, positive aspects of hip-hop culture.

It takes place at Dvorak Park, 1119 W. Cullerton, from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, August 13.  It’s been organized by two teams of summer interns at Pros Arts Studio, one working on scheduling, logistics, and securing sponsorships, the other focused on promotion.

The goal is to promote peace, said teacher-artist Lizette Garza.  In addition to local performers with music stressing social messages — including the challenges faced by female hip-hop artists — there will be an auction of artwork by Pros Arts youth and breakdance and grafitti contests.

Pros Arts Studio offers year-round programming in artistic disciplines ranging from photography to fiber arts, from breakdancing to circus arts; a weekly open studio offers opportunities to do drawing and aerosol art.

Kids from the studio’s circuit-bending workshop, who make new electoric instruments by reworking old components, will  participate in the Festival de Musica Electronica Latina, August 26 at the National Museum of Mexican Art.  A mural by studio youth promoting peace in the community was completed yesterday at 19th and Paulina.

Meanwhile, in McKinley Park, hundreds of children and teens will celebrate soccer league finals with medals and trophies.  The league is organized by the UNION Impact Center of Back of the Yards, founded two years ago in his spare time by Rafael Yanez, a police officer who coordinates youth mentoring programs on the South Side for the department.

The volunteer-operated league offers a healthy alternative for young people who are at risk for gang violence and recruitment.  It’s part of a range of anti-violence activities offered by the center, with after-school programming including Quebradita dance classes, guitar lessons, and art and computer classes.

“Community involvement is the key to fighting crime,” Yanez told Alejandro Escalona in the Sun Times recently – and the city has to do more to bring resources to help community groups do the work, he said.

The soccer league celebration takes place from 5 to 9 p.m., Saturday, August 13, at McKinley Park, 2200 W. Pershing.

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On Whittier, the Tribune is duped http://www.newstips.org/2011/06/on-whittier-the-tribune-is-duped/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/06/on-whittier-the-tribune-is-duped/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2011 22:24:16 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4504 The Chicago Tribune wants to hold Whittier parents to account for the costs of delaying a new library at the Pilsen elementary school.

There’s another way of looking at it.  You could also hold CPS leadership to account for commencing the project in a manner that seemed designed to foment a confrontation.

You might even ask about contracts being let before the Board of Education approved the project.

And it would be interesting to get a breakdown of the $150,000 that CPS officials claim as the cost of the construction delay – quite arguably due to their mismanagement of a delicate situation.

Gapers Block has its own questions.

One central fact is disputed.  The Tribune is incorrect in reporting that there was an agreement to build the library inside the school, Whittier Parents Committee organizers say.

As Newstips reported yesterday, they maintain that negotiations were cut off when Ron Huberman resigned as CPS chief last year, before the parents committee’s proposal could be considered.  (As the Tribune reports, they have videotapes of the meetings; they say these back them up.)

Aside from that, the Tribune employs a good bit of innuendo (and a bit of red-baiting) suggesting the Whittier parents are dupes.

There’s a dark, vague allusion to the past involvement of two activists with the Pilsen Alliance (which is actually a well-regarded organization, now mainly focused on environmental issues).  This is curious, since it fails to mention that Whittier was a community school, with Pilsen Alliance as its community partner.  Funding for the partnership came through CPS.  That meant ESL and GED classes, along with a women’s economic development project.

There’s a strange reference to a ten-room expansion the parents supposedly “wanted,” which would supposedly cost $1.5 million.  That never happened, said Alejandra Ibanez, former executive director of the Pilsen Alliance and program director at the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation since 2010.

There was a brainstorming session with UIC architecture students where a three-classroom smaller expansion was one of many ideas, but it was never presented to CPS, she said.  It was never costed out, either, she said.

There’s an odd treatment of Ald. Danny Solis’s allocation of TIF funds for building improvements.  The Tribune says “the group appealed to Solis, who allocated $1.7 million in TIF funds.”

“That was a seven-year fight,” says Ibanez.  Solis finally agreed in 2009 – he actually allocated $1.4 million — at a time when he was getting additional heat from community outrage after CPS turned over the De La Cruz Middle School building to charter school operated by UNO, which Solis founded.  (De La Cruz students were sent to Whittier.)

None of this is in the Tribune’s account, which pretty clearly sets forth the version of events that CPS brass prefers.

Ibanez said she finds insulting the notion that the Whittier parents are being manipulated.  “There’s always been a strong core of parents,” she said. “They’ve been incredibly consistent all the way through.  They have always been the leaders there.”

It was the parents who insisted on maintaining the school’s fieldhouse, she said.

“It’s typical” of a certain mindset “to see loud brown women” and assume “they must not know any better; they must be being led astray.”

Finley Peter Dunne notwithstanding, a lot of journalism serves to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.  By such lights, something is just not right when people who are supposed to be powerless come together and demand to be heard.

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Whittier parents hold fast http://www.newstips.org/2011/06/whittier-parents-hold-fast/ Wed, 29 Jun 2011 21:00:36 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4485 CPS chief Jean Claude Brizard may have thought he could carry out a preemptive strike against the Whittier Parents Committee.  He couldn’t.

Construction crews arrived at Whittier last Wednesday morning. (Huffington Post reports they were set to start two days earlier but bad weather forced a postponement.)  The Board of Education didn’t actually rubber stamp the project until later that day.

Whittier parents who were downtown to testify at the board meeting rushed back to the school, organizer Evelin Santos said. They found police trying to seal off La Casita, the fieldhouse which CPS has promised to lease to a nonprofit operated by the parents, she said.

Everyone knows that the parents have been negotiating with CPS over the future of La Casita and over where to put a new library for Whittier – negotiations won after parents occupied the building for 43 days last fall.  The parents want the library in the fieldhouse so it can be available to students and the community after school hours.

Launching construction without informing the parents was a simple, straightforward act of bad faith.

Perhaps newcomer Brizard doesn’t know that this community isn’t going to be pushed around.  Perhaps he doesn’t know that this community won a new high school for Little Village with a two-week hunger strike in 2001.

Faced by the parents’ picket line, the construction crews withdrew.  Police pulled back.  The occupation of La Casita is back on.  And Brizard was forced to meet with parents.

A new focus is the decision to eliminate a special education classroom to make room for a library in the school.  That move might be illegal if a comparable space isn’t provided, one expert said.  A windowless room in the basement might not cut it.

At this point parents have no idea where – or if – pull-out sessions for special ed kids will be held.

That’s the problem with top-down, unilateral decisions about school facilities and programs that are made without community input.  Parents and community members have basic questions, and basic insights, that deserve attention.

The parents committee charges that “Brizard’s unilateralism represents an even more autocratic and unaccountable central office bureaucracy — one that puts the concerns of parents, students and teachers last.”

Negotiations between CPS and the Whittier Parents Committee were suspended last year when Ron Huberman quit as CPS chief – after he’d presented a plan for a library on the school’s second floor, but before the parents had presented their proposal, Santos said.

The plan, designed with a group of local architects and presented to the community several weeks ago, is quite impressive.  It’s already won an award from the local Design Makes Change group.  The parents have come up with sources of funding, too.

Their plan deserves a hearing.  Especially if Brizard expects his rhetoric about the importance of parent and community involvement in schools to have any credibility.

 

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Whittier parents catch up with Huberman http://www.newstips.org/2010/10/whittier-parents-catch-up-with-huberman/ Tue, 19 Oct 2010 22:38:19 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=2281 After chasing down Ron Huberman as he ran to his car this morning, Whittier parents have a meeting with the CPS chief tomorrow.

The parents, who have occupied the fieldhouse at Whittier Elementary School in Pilsen since September 15 demanding a library for their children’s school, turned down a proposed settlement from Huberman yesterday.

This morning they learned from media accounts that Huberman said he was planning a meeting with them on Wednesday, said spokesperson Evelyn Santos.

“We found out by reading it in the paper,” she said this morning.  “But we don’t know the time or the location.  Who sets up a meeting like that?”

Today Huberman was meeting near Whittier at Benito Juarez High School with local elected officials and leaders of local charter schools.  Members of the Whittier Parents Committee went but “they wouldn’t let us in,” Santos said.

“There was a big guy with a list of names of who could come in,” she said. “He looked like a bouncer.”  The Whittier parents weren’t on the list.

After the meeting Huberman left by the back door and “was running to his car” and “we ran over to him,” Santos said.  “We said what’s going on?  You come to this neighborhood and you can’t come and talk to the parents?”

She said Huberman insisted the parents come downtown and proposed a meeting at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

“He’s the head of CPS – doesn’t he know that school gets out at 3?”  They proposed an earlier meeting, and later this afternoon Huberman called to confirm a 9:30 a.m. meeting at CPS headquarters.  Seven parents will attend the meeting and the rest will be waiting outside, Santos said.

On Monday CPS announced it was willing to build a library inside Whittier and turn the fieldhouse over to an outside group.  The parents committee rejected the proposal.

“There’s no room for a library inside the building,”  Santos said.  “We need an expansion.  We have 1st and 2nd graders together and kids eating lunch in the basement.”  Whittier recently went from K-6 to K-8 when nearby De La Cruz Middle School was closed.

“Show us where the library is going to be built” inside the school, Santos challenged.  “Let the press in – they’ll see there’s no room.”

The parents committee, which has operated community programs in Whittier’s fieldhouse for years, also wants to be in charge of running the building.  Over the years parents have built a strong community school program, partnering with groups such as Chicago Children’s Choir, Alivio Health Center and Merit Music School, developing a community garden across the street, and holding after-school and adult education programs in the building.

And they’re the ones who’ve been fighting for years for TIF funds to improve the facility, Santos said.  The proposal to bring in an outside group is “a slap in the parents’ face,” she said.

Last week negotiations brokered by Pilsen elected officials fell apart after they obtained a written list of the parents’ demands and Huberman failed to respond, Santos said.  The parents decided to hold an overnight vigil at CPS headquarters Sunday night, and went to Huberman’s office Monday morning.  He wasn’t in.

Santos said the parents finally received a copy of an engineering report done for CPS which declares the building to be unsound.  She said it was clear the study was done after the decision to demolish was made.

The new CPS proposal is a big step forward from its previous offer to delay demolition for six months.  “We’re getting close,” said Santos.  But she said the sit-in will continue until they have an agreement in writing.

Santos believes Huberman is dragging his feet (when he isn’t being chased) because he’s afraid the Whittier parents will set an example for parents at other schools – including the 160 that don’t have a school library, according to CPS.

Parents are coming up against Huberman’s agenda of shifting resources “from public schools to charter schools,” Santos said.  “You talk about reading levels and you defend having 160 schools without libraries?” she said.  “Shame on you!”

At a deeper level, the parents are challenging CPS leadership’s refusal to “hear our voices,” she said.  “They don’t listen; they ignore us.  The only way to have our voices heard is to sit in.”

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Whittier sit-in dramatizes CPS inequities http://www.newstips.org/2010/09/whittier-sit-in-dramatizes-cps-inequities/ Thu, 23 Sep 2010 21:14:31 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=2229 For over a week, parents at Whittier Elementary in Pilsen have been sitting in to block demolition of the school’s fieldhouse and demand a library for the school.  Tomorrow morning they will rally with supporters (Friday, September 24, 10 a.m., 1900 W. 23rd Place).

The sit-in is sharply dramatizing issues of transparency and accountability in CPS facilities planning, long raised by advocates for neighborhood schools (see last year’s Newstips report) and now under examination by a task force of the state legislature.

The task force has hearings scheduled for Saturday in Garfield Park and Tuesday in Humboldt Park (details here).

For years Whittier parents have organized for improvements to the school including a library.  When TIF money was allocated for Whittier earlier this year, it turned out $356,000 had been budgeted to demolish the fieldhouse long used for community programs including ESL.

They’ve requested that CPS provide a breakdown of the demolition budget and a copy of the engineering assessment that is said to have deemed the fieldhouse structually unsound, to no avail.  An independent engineering assessment arranged for by the parents found the building to be sound but in need of a new roof, projected to come in at around $25,000.

That’s typical of information available about CPS facilities planning, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, who is a member of the legislative task force.  Since Ron Huberman took over leadership of CPS, the capital improvement budget has been presented as a single lump sum with no itemization, she said.  Before that, the 2009 capital improvement budget showed millions of dollars being spent on schools that were being closed and turned over to Renaissance 2010, she said.

How many Chicago public schools lack libraries?  It’s not generally known, she said.  “I can guarantee, though, that schools serving more upscale residents have it all, libraries, math labs, science labs, everything,” she said.

In August the task force toured Whittier as well as Attucks Elementary in Bronzeville, relocated suddenly in 2008 (as reported here), and Carpenter Elementary in Humboldt Park, which is being phased out to make room for an elite high school (more here).

Parents at Carpenter and at Anderson Elementary, working with Designs for Change, have filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, charging that CPS violated the students’ civil rights – not just in the process of deciding to close the schools, but in “gross inequities” in the allocation of classrooms and learning resources during the phasing-out period, including “indignities reminiscent of the Old South,” such as separate entrances and separate bathrooms.

Carpenter is now getting millions of dollars in renovations – far beyond anything noted in its official building assessment, Carroll said.  And Whittier is still waiting for a library.

The task force hopes to propose legislation that would reform facilities planning in CPS in next year’s session in Springfield, Carroll said.

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Clean Power spotlight on Solis after Munoz signs on http://www.newstips.org/2010/08/clean-power-spotlight-on-solis-after-munoz-signs-on/ Wed, 04 Aug 2010 20:03:59 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=2134 An grassroots campaign to win aldermanic support for the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance had its first victory yesterday when Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) signed on as a co-sponsor.  Meanwhile the other alderman representing a ward containing a coal plant, Ald. Danny Solis (25th), faces a protest outside a fundraising dinner tonight.

Solis has not endorsed the clean power ordinance, which would raise standards for emissions of carbon dioxide and particulates.

A press conference at 6:30 p.m. (Wednesday, August 4) and a “people’s dinner” outside Alhambra Palace Restaurant, 1240 W. Randolph, will highlight the group’s charge that Solis is “more concerned about his campaign donors than the health of neighborhood residents,” said Jerry Mead of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization.

He said that Midwest Generation has been a major contributor to Solis’s campaigns.

Midwest Gen’s two Chicago plants, Fisk in Pilsen and Crawford in Little Village, cause premature deaths, ER visits and asthma attacks, and contribute to lung cancer and respiratory disease, according to the Chicago Clean Power Coalition.  The two plants are located in more densely populated areas than any other coal plants in the nation.

They are also among the largest sources of carbon emissions in the city, emitting 5 million metric tons – the equivalent of 872,000 cars – in 2007, according to the coalition.

In 2003 voters in a precinct near Fisk voted by nearly 90 percent in favor of tougher emission standards, Mead said.

In recent weeks PERRO and others have been petitioning residents at neighborhood festivals and churches.  “The response has been really good,” Mead said.  “It’s clear that people really favor the ordinance.”

Munoz announced his support for the ordinance Tuesday morning, citing congressional inaction on climate change and health concerns in his ward.

“For over eight years our communities have fought to clean up these plants, and we are glad Ald. Muñoz is responding to our cries for clean air,” said Kimberly Wasserman of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

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