Southwest Side – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Brighton Park parents: new school should serve neighborhood Sun, 29 Apr 2012 20:09:11 +0000 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.

Shields is one of four schools where BPNC has partnered to create Full-Service Community Schools, offering after-school tutoring, art and drama, along with GED and ESL for parents and leadership development for students and parents.  The program includes counseling, mental health services, and support for at-risk students.

The approach has led to steadily improving achievement levels, Brosnan said.  With 97 percent low-income and 29 percent English-learning students, Shields outperforms CPS averages on reading, math, and science.

CPS officials and several elected officials are scheduled to attend a public meeting on the new school on Thursday, May 3, at Shields.

School closings, the law, and alternatives Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:08:50 +0000 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.”

‘Too vague’

The guidelines for actions are so broad that they leave nearly a quarter of CPS schools open to action, circumventing SB 630’s attempt to encourage transparency in school closing decisions and limit the administration’s ability to act in an arbitrary manner, supporters of the law say.

The guidelines are “too vague,” said Golar.

By using school performance and probationary status as the basic standard for school actions, CPS relies on statistically questionable measurements – and risks exposing its own failure to meet obligations to schools on probation, said Don Moore of Designs for Change.

The number of schools on probation, now amounting to 42 percent of CPS schools, mainly reflects “erratic changes in the CPS probation policy from year to year,” said Moore.  “A large number of Chicago’s probation schools are scoring very well and carrying out good practices,” he said.

Probation standards are currently set to include nearly all schools with significant low-income enrollment, he said.  Schools making steady progress can end up on probation if they slip a couple of points one year.  Due to complex (and controversial) “trend” score calculations, some schools on probation actually have higher scores than schools that aren’t.

Nor does the performance policy account for many challenges faced by neighborhood schools.  Truss points to two Austin schools:  Louis Armstrong Elementary and Plato contract school, located nearby.  Armstrong has 27 percent of its students getting special education, versus 11.4 percent at Plato; the mobility rates are 24.6 percent versus 8.5.  “And Armstrong takes in third graders that Plato doesn’t want,” he said — just in time for tests.

Charter schools, most of which have scores comparable to neighborhood schools, are exempt from the district’s performance policy.

Schools on probation neglected

Moore underscores a common complaint by critics of the guidelines:  “CPS has consistently failed to carry out its own obligations under the probation policy.”

“The schools on probation, what help have they received from CPS?” asked State Reprentative Cynthia Soto, who co-chairs the facilities task force, talking with the Tribune.

At a recent hearing on the school action guidelines held by CPS on the West Side, parents at Marconi Elementary argued CPS has never addressed the problems which led to probation for the school, Catalyst reported.

“The school’s air conditioning is broken, they don’t have a gym, there’s no computer lab, no science lab, ceilings are falling in – there are a lot of issues,” said West Side activist Carol Johnson, who works with Truss in the Progressive Action Coalition for Education.  “CPS officials did a walk-through, they have a list of everything that parents said they needed, but they haven’t done anything.”

“If you’re going to turn around a school and then put in resources, that doesn’t seem right,” she said.  “If you’re going to give resources, do it before you close the school.”

CPS has failed to follow the mandates of state law governing probation – a possible ground for opposing school closings based on probationary status, said Moore.

State law requires that schools placed on probation – under which control over school improvement plans, budgets, and principal hiring is taken from local school councils and given to the central administration – must get a plan from the school district outlining specific steps to be taken to correct identified shortcomings, with specific expenditures in the school budget targeting educational and operational deficiencies.

Supporters of schools facing closing could file freedom of information requests for documentation that these steps have been taken, Moore suggests.  CPS failure to comply would constitute grounds for independent hearing officers to determine that the district hasn’t met legal requirements to close the school.

What about charter performance?

The school action guidelines include a range of factors, and Golar said the legislative task force has written CPS raising a number of questions and concerns.

Some of these include: how do they measure student safety?  Are there any specific criteria for “co-locating” schools, or is that decision entirely up to the whim of CPS?  Will school actions result in smaller class sizes?  Why was the previous policy of exempting schools with new principals dropped?

And a big one for her:  why are charters and turnarounds not subject to the same performance requirements?

Golar has been pushing for accountability for charters since she was elected in 2006.  “Charter schools have the same issues traditional schools have, yet they don’t have the same performance measures,” she said.  “They have all these computer labs, longer school days, better books, all the things parents are asking for, and with all that, they’re still failing.”

It’s quite possible for students from closing schools to end up at charters that are performing no better, CTU has argued.

A neighborhood agenda

There’s an alternative.  Instead of disinvesting from and closing neighborhood schools, community organizations recently proposed an agenda to invest in and improve them.

It’s a comprehensive program – the proposal for college preparation and readiness begins with pre-school for all and full-day kindergarten in every school.  It’s based on the successes of community organizations that have worked in schools for years.

The agenda proposes that all neighborhood schools follow the community school model.  It includes programs like parent mentors in the classroom, smaller class sizes, arts education and recess, restorative justice and mental health services, local teacher development and improved bilingual education.  It stresses partnerships with community groups and community governance, including local school councils with decision-making power at every school, and support and training for LSCs.

In Bronzeville, community groups have worked for two years on a plan for Dyett High School and five elementary schools that feed into it.  Dyett would  become a Community High School of Green Technology and Leadership, and the elementary schools would focus variously on math, science, engineering, languages and global citizenship.

There would be curriculum alignment throughout the “village,” says Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, along with health centers, a social worker and nurse, social-emotional and leadership programming, restorative justice, safety patrols, and pre-K for all.

The groups have called for a moratorium on school closings in Bronzeville, which has been hard hit by closings over the past decade, and which has a large number of schools which meet the new criteria.

“We’ve had ten years of closings, consolidations, and turnarounds, and they have not helped our students,” said Andrea Lee of Grand Boulevard Federation.

Brown points out that Dyett was under-resourced when it was turned into a high school to serve students who couldn’t get into the new King College Prep;  a couple years later it was “completely destabilized” when Englewood High was closed and students were sent to Dyett.

Constant destabilization

“We have to defend ourselves against our own school district,” which is “setting up our schools to fail,” he said.

“We’re looking at schools being constantly destabilized with models that just don’t work – just moving children around – and no accountability when they don’t work,” he said.

There’s evidence that the alternative strategy works.  Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s community schools are nationally acclaimed, and in a high-poverty, high-crime area on the Southwest Side, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council has worked for eight years in schools and seen steady improvement in  achievement levels.

BPNC’s full-service community schools provide afterschool academic support for struggling kids and homework help for others, followed by two hours of enrichment activity – music, art, drama, sports, “everything you can think of,” said Patrick Brosnan.

There’s ESL, GED, citizenship, and computer classes for parents, aimed at assisting them in supporting their children in school. There’s parent and student leadership development.

Each school has a resource coordinator and a social worker.  Funding comes from the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program and other public and private sources.

“It’s building ownership over the school and trying to promote the school as a center of the community,” Brosnan said.  “We’ve seen tremendous results in schools that have a lot of challenges.”

Soto has announced the legislature’s Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force will hold a hearing on CPS school actions on Thursday, December 1 at 10 a.m. at the Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle.

The Chicago Teachers Union is holding a teach-in on stopping  school closings for teachers, parents, and community groups on Saturday, December 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel.

Community moves on an abandoned building Wed, 18 May 2011 22:51:28 +0000 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.

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Development 101: Giordanos, Oreos — and Wal-Mart Thu, 21 Apr 2011 21:13:57 +0000 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.

He explains it, in a fascinating post for the blog of a new community development institute, in terms of a neighborhood’s “trade deficit.”  A grocery store recirculates some of the money spent by residents into local paychecks, but most of the money leaves the community to pay for the food.  Actually growing a local economy requires exporting something – goods, services, labor – that brings new money into the community.

Capraro, who retired last year after 35 years at the helm of the Greater Southwest Community Development Corporation, now consults around the country on creating sustainable communities for LISC’s Institute for Comprehensive Community Development.  (The Boston Globe recently caught up with him training local leaders in the hometown of one of his heroes, Jane Jacobs.)

He writes about the lessons learned over his years of work in Marquette Park, helping a hole-in-the-wall joint with great pizza grow into Giordanos, working with the CTA to build the Orange Line, and convincing Nabisco to modernize its Southwest Side plant where Oreos are made – the largest bakery in the world – rather than moving the operation to Mexico.

Meanwhile, Lakeview business leaders and residents are holding a press conference today (Thursday) to underscore community opposition to a proposed Wal-Mart at Broadway and Surf and share information on the mega-retailer’s negative impact on jobs and small business.

At a recent community meeting, residents spoke overwhelmingly against the proposal for a Wal-Mart.  The Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, Local First Chicago (which promotes locally-owned, independent businesses), and Chicago Jobs With Justice are participating in the press conference.

Working In These Times reports on a new study that undercuts Wal-Mart’s claim that raising wages for its workers would force it to abandon its low prices.

An increase to $12 an hour for Wal-Mart workers across the U.S. who make under $9 would cost Wal-Mart about 1 percent of the its annual sales, according to a new study by the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of California-Berkeley.

If borne entirely by shoppers, that would average out to $12.50 a year, or 46 cents per shopping trip, according to the study.  That’s the price of a pack of gum, points out Jennifer Stapleton of UFCW’s Making Change at Wal-Mart.

Community portals: DREAM Act to tap dance Thu, 02 Dec 2010 19:34:41 +0000 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 Wed, 30 Jun 2010 17:20:45 +0000 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.

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‘One Chicago’ video award – and Streets 2010 Wed, 16 Jun 2010 20:48:11 +0000 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 Thu, 10 Jun 2010 13:54:52 +0000 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.”