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West Side parents fight ‘education apartheid’

A successful neighborhood school on the West Side is fighting “disinvestment” while a failing charter nearby gets millions of dollars worth of renovations, parents charge.

On Friday, March 16 at 8 a.m., the Emmet Elementary School LSC and the Austin group Progressive Action Coalition for Education will hold a press conference and rally against “education apartheid” at the school, 5500 W. Madison.

Emmet’s scores have improved dramatically in recent years and its performance rating is currently Level 2 (“good standing”) and headed toward Level 1 (“excellent”), said Dwayne Truss of PACE.  In a recent Designs for Change study, Emmet was one of 33 very high poverty schools performing above the CPS average on the ISAT reading test.

Emmet’s success is the result of “the LSC, the teachers, and the principal working together,” Truss said.

Hazards 

But the school is badly in need of capital improvements, he said.  Students are served lunch in the hallway and eat their lunch in the same room used for physical education and assemblies.  This creates scheduling difficulties, and the lack of space and the presence of permanent seats creates a hazard for kids in gym class, he said.

The school’s fieldhouse is decaying and dangerous, with “paint chips all over the place,” and while CPS is planning to implement recess next year, the school’s playground is pocked with potholes, Truss said.

In addition CPS recently cut the school’s librarian.  The school has 450 students in Pre-K through 8th grade.

The charter advantage

Meanwhile CPS is spending $13 million to renovate an annex at Nash Elementary, 4837 W. Erie, for a revived ACT Charter school.  ACT’s low-performing high school suspended operations in 2010; the new school plans to serve 5th through 8th graders.

It will be operated by KIPP, whose Ascend charter school now serves 5th through 8th graders – and like ACT, is rated at Level 3 in performance.  (If charters were subject to probation, KIPP Ascend would be on probation.)

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Obama’s base

Wondering how President Obama is doing with his base?  You could check with the $35,000-a-head donors at his 50th birthday celebration at the Aragon Wednesday night. Or you could check in Thursday morning with his original base, the members of the Developing Communities Project in Roseland, where Obama was a community organizer from 1985 to 1988.

DCP members will be celebrating the day with a birthday cake.  They;ll also get a progress report on the Red Line Extenstion, which the group has advocated for many years (CTA is completing an environmental impact study).  And kids from DCP’s summer organizing camp will give a presentation on their transit projects.

The party starts at 11 a.m. on Thursday, August 4, at Lilydale First Baptist Church, 649 W. 113th.

From Roseland to Oslo

In Roseland, the Developing Communities Project – founded in 1986 under the guidance of a young community organizer named Barack Obama, who served as its first executive director – will host school and community leaders for a viewing of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at 1 p.m. at Langston Hughes Elementary School, 103rd and Wentworth.

And at a community event this evening, DCP members will view the ceremony and President Obama’s address, followed by a program calling on a focus on Greater Roseland for youth and community development, jobs and vocational training, and violence prevention (Thursday, December 10, 5:30 p.m. at Lilydale First Baptist Church, 649 W. 113th).

They’ll also be celebrating CTA’s approval of the Red Line extension, long advocated by DCP.

Fenger Update: Referendum, Lawsuit, Summit

With some saying violence at Fenger High School has increased sharply since Derrion Albert’s killing on September 24, Far South Side residents are collecting signatures for a referendum to open the old Carver High School building to students from Altgeld Gardens, and high school students from Altgeld are bringing a federal lawsuit charging CPS with violating their constitutional rights.

Meanwhile, anti-violence groups are planning to bring students from Altgeld and Roseland together for a peace summit – and for Thanksgiving dinner.

Ceasefire is planning to bus 60 kids from Roseland and Altgeld downtown for a Ceasefire Peace Summit this Saturday, November 14; a press conference to give young people an opportunity to voice their opinions will be held mid-afternoon, following the summit, said Tio Hardiman.

Kids Off the Block is planning its annual Thanksigiving Dinner for area teens, and Diane Latiker says they plan to have Fenger High School students from Altgeld and from the area around Fenger known as the Ville – who were fighting when Albert was killed – “to sit together, take their prayers together, and eat together.” KOB involves youth from both areas and from other far south high schools where there’s been violence, she said.

Starting today, the Developing Communities Project is collecting signatures to place a referendum on the February 2 ballot in the 9th and 34th Wards calling for restoring the original name of George Washington Carver High School, in order “to ensure greater access and academic/vocational options” for Altgeld and other area students.

DCP envisions additional academic and vocational schools that would be open to neighborhood students sharing the building that now houses the Carver Military Academy. Enrollment in the military academy has declined dramatically since it was made selective enrollment in 2006, and the building could house three or four times as many students as it does now, said John Paul Jones of DCP.

The proposal grows out of a DCP task force examining the loss of vocational education in far south high schools in recent years. Another goal of the referendum is to honor Carver himself, a former slave who whose legacy — defying myths of racial inferiority and promoting education and sustainable agriculture — remains relevant, Jones says.

“There’s huge opportunity in green technology and other industries,” he said. “Bring on a science and technology academy, a botany program, an urban agriculture program.” One option in the building should be a general high school, he said.

Asking for Trouble

“I’m all for it,” said Lattiker of the referendum. “When they made the decision to move young people out of their community and put them in another community…nobody asked the youth what they thought.”

Opened in 2000, Carver Military Academy originally had a student body drawn largely from Altgeld, said Colonel Tony Dagget, who served as the academy’s first commandant. The school was open to any student (the only requirement was an interview with a parent), focused on a college preparatory curriculum, and required parental involvement, he said.

There were “no fights – they weren’t tolerated,” and dropout rates declined dramatically, he said. “The Altgeld students were doing extremely well.”

In 2006 Dagget “chose to be terminated” rather than support then-CPS chief Arne Duncan’s proposal to institute selective enrollment. He says “the school had become a bargaining chip” to offset demands for a new high school in Hegewish, to the east; students there are now bused to Carver Military.

“The school belonged to the community,” he says. “It was clear to me it was an attempt to take it away from the community.”

He adds: “When Arne Duncan was pushing to go to selective enrollment [and send Altgeld students to Fenger], I told them you can’t just throw two high school cultures together without surveys, interviews and a process for dealing with cultural differences — otherwise you’re asking for trouble.”

Violence up, transfers stalled

While CPS said in October that Altgeld students at Fenger could get help transferring to Carver Military or other high schools, civil rights attorney Christopher Cooper says that isn’t happening.

“Parents go to Fenger for transfer papers, and they’re told to go to Carver; at Carver they say they don’t have the papers, and they should ask at Fenger,” he said. “Other high schools in the city that have space to take these kids have said no, they don’t want kids from Fenger.”

Cooper is representing students who live at Altgeld Gardens and attend Fenger – and who say the school is failing to create a safe environment for them. That violates the right to equal access to public education, Cooper says.

“If every day somebody’s beating you up and every day you are detained by security and made to sit in a [detention] room with your bruises, you’re not getting an education,” he said. “And if you’re not going because you’re terrified, you’re not getting an education.”

A number of Cooper’s clients have stopped attending school, some saying they fear for their lives; those who are going “are reporting that the school is more violent than ever,” he said.

One of his clients is a 14-year-old who “was beaten unconscious and throwing up blood,” Cooper said. He predicts CPS lawyers will seek to avoid an injunction hearing in which his clients would testify about continuing violence at the school.

“What’s needed is a clearly articulated transfer program” for students who want to go elsewhere, he said. And it needs to be implemented immediately, not next year, he said.

“Some kids from Roseland want a death from Altgeld for Derrion, and they’re not going to stop until it happens,” said Cheryl Johnson at People for Community Recovery, an organization based in Altgeld Gardens. “We’re trying to stop that.”

One Altgeld mother says her sons have been repeatedly beaten up by large groups at Fenger. “They need to be able to go to our own school,” she says, noting the 45-minute bus ride to Fenger. “I feel they should be closer to home.”

Parents call boycott at Fenger

Fenger High School parents are knocking on doors in Altgeld Gardens and Roseland today, calling for a boycott of the school on Monday and Tuesday, following an outbreak of violence yesterday in which they say students were beaten and locked in the school while parents outside were prevented from getting their children and cursed out by security guards and police.

A statement from the Committee for Safe Passage to Schools said that police and security guards “abused” and “brutalized” Fenger students in yesterday’s incident.

“The students are not learning anything, with all the tension and fear in the school, so why not keep them where they are safe,” said Cheryl Johnson of the Committee for Safe Passage. “It took Derrion Albert’s death to show what’s going on” at Fenger, but violence has been a daily problem there since Carver High School was closed in 2006 and its students sent to Fenger, she said. “I don’t think we need to bury another child,” she said.

Fenger parents met with Mayor Daley, CPS chief Ron Huberman and Board of Education President Michael Scott last Monday, presenting a proposal that Carver be reopened as a general high school, Johnson said. A portion of the building currently houses Carver Military Academy.

CPS officials at the meeting maintained the building is too small for that, according to Johnson.

She said the building has a capacity of 2100 and the military academy has less than 500 students. At the meeting CPS officials maintained the building’s capacity is 750, although Scott later admitted its capacity is around 2000 in an appearance on the Cliff Kelley Show on WVON, she said. Johnson said there were nearly 2100 students at Carver when she attended in the mid-1970s. “It wasn’t overcrowded,” she said.

“These people making decisions don’t live here and haven’t worked in the schools, and they don’t understand the dynamics that are triggering the violence that is going on in our schools,” she said.

A leader of the environmental justice group People for Community Recovery, based at Altgeld Gardens, Johnson said the Committee for Safe Passage is reaching out to parents in Roseland to join the boycott and show “that parents of Altgeld Gardens and Roseland do care about their children’s safety, and we want concrete solutions to resolve the dangerous atmosphere at Fenger.”

Red Line to 130th

In hearings earlier this month, the CTA announced its endorsement of a Red Line extension project along the route backed by the Developing Communities Project (see 6-2-09 Newstip), which has been organizing for the extension for years.

That route — which the CTA reported was heavily favored in residents’ comments and in advisory referendums in the 8th and 34th wards — runs adjacent to the United Pacific rail line’s right-of-way with stations at 103rd, 111th, and 115th Streets, where it veers west along Cottage Grove to a terminal station at 130th.

DCP has a final push underway to generate community support for the proposal before the public comment period closes on Wednesday.  They’re also calling on Governor Quinn to add the Red Line extension to the state’s capital budget.

At the book fair

“Expressions from Englewood,” an annual journal of essays, fiction and poetry, will be available at the Printers Row Lit Fest on Saturday and Sunday — and also at the Bronzeville Cultural Festival, June 19 and 20 at the Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, 700 E. Oakwood.

Also appearing at Printers Row will be Michael Gardner, a Ceasefire worker in Roseland who’s worked in community outreach for 15 years, talking about his new book “American in a Sense,” which is described as a crime thriller and a collection of historical stories depicting Chicago’s various ethnicities and treating corruption, poverty, youth violence and organized crime.  He’ll be at space GG-1 from 12 noon to 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Red Line extension moves forward

The long-awaited Red Line extension takes a significant step forward this week, as the CTA presents its proposed route at two community meetings on the Far South Side.

For more than 35 years residents have called for extending the Red Line to 130th Street to cover the only area of the city that lacks rapid transit service. For over two years CTA has been conducting alternatives analyses for possible routes.

Community support for the extension has been shepherded by the Red Line Oversight Committee of the Developing Communities Project of Roseland. The committee has supported a route which uses existing rail right-of-ways to serve commerical strips as well as Altgeld Gardens and the Ford Plant on 130th Street. Other routes that were studied followed the Bishop Ford Expressway and I-57.

Following a public comment period running through June 18, the CTA’s choice will be submitted for approval under the federal New Starts program. The alternatives analysis is the first of five steps — next is an environmental impact study, followed by preliminary engineering, final design, and construction — each of which could take two years or more, said Wanda Taylor of the CTA.

This week DCP is blitzing Greater Roseland with information on the CTA presentations (including the 95th Street station during rush hour today), urging residents to attend a meeting, comment on the plans, and particularly to contact elected officials to ensure that the state come up with funding for the next phase of the project.

The state’s new capital budget only funds maintenance and repair of the existing transit infrastructure, said Diane Palmer of the RTA. At this point expansion of the Red Line and other plans “would not be able to go forward” because state funding needed to draw down federal funds isn’t there, she said.

Meanwhile federal New Start funds are being awarded to other states, said Brian Imus of Illinois PIRG. Illinois is falling behind in meeting the transportation needs of an era with rising gas prices and growing concern about climate change and congestion, he said.

The CTA meetings take place Wednesday, June 3, at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria of Olive Harvey College, 10001 S. Woodlawn, and Thursday, June 4, at 6 p.m. at the Carter Woodson Regional Library, 9525 S. Halsted.



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