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NFL to fund Kelly Park renovation

The NFL and LISC are donating $200,000 to construction of a new artificial turf soccer and football field at Kelly Park, a major win in a two-year campaign to win renovation of the Southwest Side park.

Mark Bachleda and Ramon Salazar of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council made the announcement at the first annual Brighton Park Fest held Saturday at Kelly Park by BPNC to raise funds for the renovation.

Hundreds of residents turned out for games and festivities, with booths featuring local restaurants.

Pat Levar, chief operating officer of the Chicago Park District, announced the district would contribute $500,000 in capital funds for the field.  Previously State Senator Martin Sandoval had won a $210,000 state appropriation for the project.

Sara Reschly of BPNC, chair of the Kelly Park Advisory Council, said CPS had indicated it would kick in the balance of the $1.2 million needed for the field.

Brian Richter, assistant principal of Kelly High, exulted that Kelly’s boys’ soccer team, now in the running for its second citywide championship in a row, would have a real soccer field across the street from the school for practice and games.

In 20 years as a teacher and administrator at Kelly, he said, he’d “watched the park continue to deteriorate….We’re so pleased our children are finally going to get the park they deserve.”

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Brighton Park: vigil for gun victims – and call to action

Brighton Park residents will gather at Kelly Park on Tuesday for a candlelight vigil memoralizing 26 deaths in Newtown, Connecticut and 27 people shot in Brighton Park last year – and call for gun control legislation and restoration of funding for youth services there.

Joined by local elected officials, they’ll gather at Kelly Park, 2725 W. 41st, at 3 p.m., Tuesday; in case of inclement weather they’ll hold a brief press conference there and gather inside Kelly High School across the street.

Last year funding for two state anti-violence programs was cut in half; in Brighton Park that meant the loss of five full-time school-based counselors serving Kelly High and seven elementary schools, said Sara Reschly of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.

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Facing anti-violence cuts, Brighton Park proposes a community plan

Kelly High School’s auditorium was packed Wednesday night by residents of Brighton Park – the neighborhood where a 13-year-old boy was shot on his front porch while shielding a friend earlier this month – supporting a community anti-violence plan in the face of drastic cuts to programs they say have been working.

“Violence is up in Brighton Park, but it’s not up as much as elsewhere,” said Patrick Brosnan of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.  In nearby Chicago Lawn, killings are up 150 percent, the Chicago Tribune reports.

“The gang issue has gotten more complicated this year,” Brosnan said.  “There are a lot of fights, a lot of shootings.”  This spring there was an average of a shooting each week, according to The Gate.  But BPNC’s youth programs have a lot of success stories, Brosnan said.

State Representative Dan Burke and other officials pledged to help BPNC secure funding from the state for youth leadership and mentoring programs, parent patrols, school-based counseling, and gang intervention programs.

Budget cut in half

Most of those programs are currently funded through two state programs.  The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative provides jobs for 80 young people as peer mentors and 50 parents mentors in each of 20 Chicago communities, and the Safety Net Works program supports existing youth services, including school-based counseling and crisis intervention, to collaborate on broad anti-violence efforts.

But the $30 million funding for the two programs was eliminated in the new state budget.  It was replaced by a $15 million allocation to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Agency for community-based violence prevention efforts.

Organizations participating in the two programs are pressing to keep existing programs operating, said Chris Patterson, NRI coordinator at Organization of the Northeast in Uptown.  “How do you cover 20 communities with half the funding?” he said.

BPNC proposed a plan which would step up programs, including new money to bring CeaseFire to the community.

A better path

The group’s youth programming is “very effective,” said Esteban Salazar, who will be a senior at Kelly this fall.  Before getting involved, “I was on a bad path,” he said.  “I was hanging around with gangs, hanging around with crews, involved with drugs and alcohol, doing violence.”

He’s left all those things behind, and he now plans to study auto mechanics for a year after graduating high school, then go to college for mechanical engineering.

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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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Coalition questions G8 costs, calls for community investment

Costs for the G8/NATO summit in May could be much higher than current projections from the city, according to a labor-community coalition which is calling for a Chicago G8/NATO Community Fund.

“We think that $65 million is very, very, very low, and based on the experience of other host cities, the actual cost is going to be much higher,” said Elizabeth Parisian, a researcher with Stand Up Chicago.

She said the 2010 G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario, ended up costing over $1 billion, the bulk of which went to security costs. Costs of housing, transportation and entertainment totaled about $180 million, she said.

Like the upcoming summit, the 2010 G8 was a joint summit (that year it was with the G20), and as expected for the upcoming summit, there were big protests.

Stand Up Chicago is working on developing a more detailed independent cost estimate, Parisian said, but getting information is difficult.

“There’s been no transparency from the city,” she said, adding that “we need to know how much it’s going cost and who’s contributing.”

Last week the Chicago Reader reported that a $55 million federal grant described by officials last year as funding planning for summit security training is actually a routine grant that supports the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Security cost estimates will not be released before the summit, OECM told the Reader.

Funding for community needs

In a letter to Mayor Emanuel last week, community, labor, and civil rights groups asked him to call on corporations contributing to the summit host committee to provide matching donations to a community fund “which can be used to keep libraries and mental health clinics open, as well as to provide direct investment in Chicago’s many struggling neighborhoods.”

Six mental health clinics are slated for closing in April for a cost savings of $2 million. Library hours were recently cut in order to save $1 million.

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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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Championing neighborhood schools

It’s now ten years since the launch of Renaissance 2010, the CPS campaign that closed scores of neighborhood schools and poured resources into scores of new charters.

The result?  Virtually no improvement in academic performance, according to the Chicago Consortium on School Research.  Better-resourced charters performing at the same level as neighborhood schools.  Worse, CPS’s racial achievement gap has only gotten larger.

The response from new city and school leadership?  They say they want much, much more of the same:  many more closings, many more charters.

What’s the alternative?  Nine community organizations are proposing a Neighborhood Agenda for Schools at an event on Tuesday.  They argue that since the vast majority of CPS students attend neighborhood schools, that’s where available resources should be focused.

The endorsers include groups that have long histories of involvement with schools, including nationally-recognized parent involvement, teacher training, community schools, anti-violence and student mentoring work.  Their recommendations flow from their extensive experience.

The groups include Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Enlace Chicago, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Organization of the Northeast, Southwest Organizing Project, and Target Area Development Corporation.  The College of Education of NEIU has also signed on.

The agenda will be released at a public event with 60 community activists from across the city, Tuesday, November 22, 10:30 a.m., at LSNA, 2840 N. Milwaukee.

‘An amazing convergence’

It’s been a remarkable week in Chicago, a nonstop whirl of protests targeting the financial industry and government collusion with corporations, and demanding action on jobs, housing, and schools.

Coming Friday:  a rally for “jobs not cuts,” with MoveOn, Stand Up Chicago, Chicago Jobs With Justice and Occupy Chicago joining forces, at noon at the Federal Plaza.

Occupy Chicago gets much credit for capturing the public’s imagination – and for their 24-7 commitment and important organizational innovations.  But it was community groups and unions that staged some of the most dramatic and creative actions here this week.

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