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Brighton Park parents: new school should serve neighborhood

Brighton Park parents are asking that a new school now under construction be open to neighborhood students in order to relieve overcrowding in area schools – and they’re complaining of “deception” by local charter school operator UNO, which wants the building.

Parents will march from Shields Elementary School, 4250 S. Rockwell, at 9 a.m. on Monday, April 30, and hold a press conference at the site of the new school, 48th and Rockwell, at 9:30.

With 1,849 students, Shields is one of the most overcrowded schools in CPS, according to parent leaders with Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.

Many parents say UNO organizers collecting signatures on a petition to give the new school to UNO misled them about its purpose, with the petition’s text often not available or available only in English, said Patrick Brosnan of BPNC.  Parents will discuss this at the press conference, he said.

Parents leaders with BPNC have pushed for over five years for a new school in the neighborhood to relieve overcrowding.  A charter school that takes students citywide will not help, they say.

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School closings, the law, and alternatives

School closings to be announced by CPS on Thursday—expected to be unprecedented in scope — are the first under a new state school facilities planning law, intended to bring transparency and accountability to decisions over school buildings.

But does the school district’s new guidelines for school actions, which must be finalized by November 30, abide by the spirit of the law?  Many of its proponents – and some of its legislative sponsors – say no.

Meanwhile community groups continue to call on CPS to work with communities to improve struggling schools, rather than imposing top-down strategies that have no record of success.

“I don’t see them as being really ready to adhere to SB 630,” said State Representative Esther Golar, a member of the legislative task force which developed the bill.   The legislation “was intended to require CPS to work as partner with parents, teachers, and the community.”

She adds: “That’s something they haven’t been doing….And they’re still saying we’re going to run the schools the way we want to, and you don’t have any say-so.”

“It’s the same failed policies,” said Dwayne Truss, co-chair of the Austin Community Action Council, established by CPS.  “They just want to open up buildings for more charter schools.”

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Community moves on an abandoned building

Southwest Side residents will paint a mural on an abandoned building and plant a community garden in the backyard tomorrow, celebrating the success of a community drive to secure the property —  and promoting plans to reclaim the building as affordable housing.

A press conference is scheduled for 3 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, May 19) at 6212 S. Fairfield, a foreclosed property which has been a source of trouble for years, and whose owners the city has been unable to identify.

Festivities will take place on the block through the afternoon, and leaders of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network,  Southwest Organizing Project, and Jewish Council on Urban Affairs will hold an interfaith prayer service honoring the community’s commitment and unity.

The two-family building, just across the street from Fairfield Elementary School, has been repeatedly broken into and often wide open over recent years, said Mark Crain of IMAN.  “We know that there has been sexual abuse taking place there and that there’s been rampant drug use,” he said.

It seemed “nothing was ever able to be done about it,” said Mike Reardon of Neighborhood House Service of Chicago Lawn.  “It’s what I’d call a classic bank walkaway.”

First the building’s owner walked away, and after foreclosure, the title was awarded to Deutsche Bank; but the bank never took title, he said.  Other banks and financial services are listed as having interests, and a tax sale also clouds the title.

“We’ve tried meeting with Deutsche Bank, but the talks never went anywhere,” Crain said.

IMAN pressed to have the building taken to Housing Court – an unusual step following foreclosure — but no owners have responded.  Housing Court opens the possibility of taking the building over under the city’s Troubled Buildings Initiative.  In the meantime, NHS was appointed receiver and boarded up the building.

On May 12, with 20 neighbors — along with SWOP and JCUA – in court to show support for IMAN’s effort, a judge issued a final summons to any possible owners.  IMAN is preparing a proposal to rehab the building as affordable housing, Crain said.

If that process is unsuccessful, the group will explore acting under a new state law, the Abandoned Housing Rehabilitation Act, he said.

IMAN hopes it will be the second building in its Green Reentry Project, which trains ex-offenders to retrofit abandoned homes with energy efficient systems.  The project’s first building is scheduled to be completed at the end of this month.

With over 5,000 foreclosures since 2006, Chicago Lawn is among the neighborhoods hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis.  Crain said IMAN hopes to scale up reclamation efforts to address abandoned properties in a six block area of the neighborhood.

Development 101: Giordanos, Oreos — and Wal-Mart

People used to get confused when Jim Capraro would deny that a new supermarket in a blighted community — which he’d worked years to open — was a win for economic development. Read the rest of this entry »

Community portals: DREAM Act to tap dance

Terrance Hall has a message for Mark Kirk, the state’s new U.S. Senator:  support the DREAM Act.

“Saying no to a child going to college is just terrible,” he says in a video message to Kirk, who has yet to make public his stance on the bill.  “How would you feel if it was your daughter or your son in the immigrant’s shoes, and you had to vote on whether they could go to college?…

“This is a place where freedom must ring, as Martin Luther King said.  So let’s let freedom ring, and bring this country together as one.”

That’s from a story on Chicago Lawn’s new community portal — one of three new websites launched through the Smart Communities Program administered by LISC/Chicago, an effort to address the digital divide in five low-income communities with improved access to technology, local content about neighborhood news and resources, and help for local businesses.

As part of the Smart Communities initiative, more than 130 community leaders from Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn, and Englewood met last year on information technology issues and brainstormed ways to move forward.

This summer dozens of teens from the various communities received digital training and work experience through a digital youth summer jobs program.

Englewood’s new community portal features an overview of good things happening in “Chicago’s most notorious neighborhood.”  And there’s lots of good going on, as the website shows:  an aerobic tap dance program, a resurgence of retail, a jazz festival, a men’s performance group, and the annual Imagine Englewood If day of community involvement.

The community portal for Auburn Gresham has a note about a community health survey, an asset-mapping project for the neighborhood, and a program that offers free computers in exchange for volunteering in a computer recycling effort.

There are also links to local businesses and neighborhood blogs.

The three portals join similar sites in Pilsen and Humboldt Park.

Here’s Terrance:

Bank of America: #1 in foreclosures

Bank of America has objected that a new lawsuit by the Illinois attorney general – charging that the bank’s subsidiary, Countrywide Financial Corp., discriminated by steering minority homebuyers into risky subprime loans – covers practices prior to BoA’s takeover of Countrywide in 2008.

But those same borrowers could be facing foreclosure at BoA’s hands today, according to a new report from National People’s Action.

The network of community organizations found that Bank of America is “Chicago’s biggest forecloser and among the top owners of foreclosed properties” which lead to declining property values and increased debt for struggling homeowners.

Bank of America was responsible for 4,000 home foreclosure filings in Chicago in 2009, representing 17 percent of total filings in the city, according to the report.  The bank is on track to issue over 3,000 additional home foreclosures this year, NPA says.

According to the report, BoA, the largest service of loans in foreclosure in the nation, had over 1 million loans eligible for modification in the Home Affordable Modification Program, but offered permanent loan mods to less than 70,000 of those lenders – a mere 5.2 percent.

“Bank of America is bad for American neighborhoods,” said Theresa Welch of the South Austin Coalition in a release.  The Bank “controls the fate of more mortgages and homeowners than any other single company in America” and “therefore has a unique responsibility to deal aggressively with the foreclosure crisis.

“Bank of America must do a better job stemming foreclosures and help put an end to the devastation foreclosures are causing in local communities and on the nation’s economy.”

In Chicago, under pressure from community groups, Bank of America agreed to a pilot program with the Southwest Organizing Project and the Greater Southwest Development Corporation last year. The bank is cooperating on outreach to troubled homeowners and assistance with filling loan modification requests.

Though community groups are still awaiting results, the effort represents the kind of engagement BoA needs to undertake around the country, said Gordon Mayer of NPA. [Mayer is the former vice president of Community Media Workshop.]

SWOP is still waiting to see if the bank will make permanent the loan modifications that have resulted from the pilot, said David McDowell.  “It’s still moving forward, but it’s a long process,” he said.

“Our goal has been for Bank of America and other banks to become more proactive” in addressing the foreclosure crisis, he said.  He noted that Bank of America is the bank with the most foreclosures in SWOP’s area.

‘One Chicago’ video award – and Streets 2010

Winners of the One Chicago-One Nation video contest will be announced Thursday night at Milennium Park during a concert featuring world-renowned Muslim musicians. The concert is part of Streets 2010, an urban international festival sponsored by Inner-city Muslim Action Network.

The concert features the “dessert groove” music of Tinariwen, which combines Moroccan protest music, Algerian pop, and rock and roll, along with virtuoso flautist Omar Faruk Tekbilek from Turkey.

It will open at 6:30 with an award ceremony for creators of short videos showcasing Chicago’s diversity in comedy, drama, documentary, music/spoken-word/animation, and mobile digital media categories.  The video contest is hosted by Link TV and is part of a larger civic engagement initiative also backed by the  Chicago Community Trust and Interfaith Youth Core.

The finalists in the video contest can be viewed here. Prizes range from $5,000 to $20,000.

One Chicago-One Nation continues Saturday, June 19 at 10 a.m. with the induction of 100 newly trained community ambassadors at Streets 2010 in Marquette Park..  Ranging in age from 17 to 80 and representing a variety of ethnic and faith backgrounds, the ambassadors have been trained in facilitating intercultural dialogues and will be organizing community conversations over coming months.

Also part of the initiative, CCT will fund 20 grants of $10,000 each for projects that stimulate cross-community collaboration.

IMAN expects 20,000 people to attend its Takin’ it to the Streets event Saturday in Marquette Park, 6734 S. Kedzie, with four stages (including world music and hip-hop), 100 performers (including Mos Def), and a range of educational and community events and forums.

An annual event since 1997, it’s “a Muslim-led festival where artistic expression, spirituality and urban creativity inspire social change.”  It’s since expanded to a week of activities “that embrace a new Muslim cultural renaissance.”

Students create civil rights memorial in Marquette Park

Almost 44 years after Martin Luther King led a march through Marquette Park – where he was hit in the head by a rock – Gage Park High School students have created a civil rights memorial for the park.

It will be dedicated at 12 noon tomorrow, Friday, June 11,  at the Marquette Park Field House, 6734 S. Kedzie.

“What adults have talked about doing for 30 years, it took a team of 16-year-olds to accomplish,” said Gage Park civics teacher Victor Harbison.

Students spent two years researching the history and reaching out to elected officials, community groups, businesses and schools for support.  They’ve created content – including oral histories, footage of the marches, and photographs – for an interactive touch-screen kiosk donated by George Burciaga and SmarTechs

The students had an extended debate over the focus of the memorial, and ended up deciding the civil rights march was a vantage point to tell the story of their community, Harbison said.  The memorial is titled: “A Community Transformed: The Legacy of Dr. King and the Marches of 1966.”

Harbison points out that Gage Park High has “all the problems of a stereotypical urban high school” – high dropout rate, gangs, violence – “and the same group of kids were able to do this.

“This shows what high school kids can do.  All they need is somone to give them a chance.”

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