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CPS Decision to Close Dyett High Will 'Gut' Bronzeville, Activists Say

By Quinn Ford | November 23, 2013 1:56pm
 Community members in Kenwood and Washington Park said the phase out of Dyett High School will create a "school desert" in Bronzeville and are urging CPS to consider reopening the school as a "global leadership and green technology high school."
Community Activists Say Dyett Closing Will "Gut" Bronzeville
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KENWOOD — A "broad-based" coalition of community activists, lawmakers and union leaders are continuing the push to keep Dyett High School from permanently closing its doors, saying the loss of the neighborhood school will "gut" the Bronzeville community.

On Friday, activists called again on Chicago Public Schools to to work with community members on a plan to reopen the school as Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.

The Board of Education voted to phase out Dyett in February 2012, citing continually low performance and graduation rates. The school is set to close in 2015.

But advocates for Dyett have argued the low performance was due to continual disinvestment that destabilized the school.

"Students don't have honors or AP classes," said Jitu Brown, of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. "Students don't have art. Students don't have music classes, and students also have to take physical education as an online class."

Brown and others said closing Dyett will serve to destabilize the historic Bronzeville community, once home to names like Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole. He added the North Kenwood and Oakwood area will not have a neighborhood high school if Dyett closes.

"That is not a choice. This is displacement by force," Brown said. "This historic neighborhood, we feel, is being gutted."

Representatives from Chicago Teachers Union said they stood "fully in support of the coalition" trying to save Dyett.

"CTU forcefully opposed the vote two years ago to close and phase out Dyett High School, and we believe that it is unacceptable that Dyett would close and that the children of this community would be underserved," said Norine Gutekanst, the CTU organizing director.

Aside from Dyett, the closest neighborhood high school serving children in its attendance boundary is Kenwood Academy High School. Kenwood Academy is already overcrowded, Gutekanst said. Despite the swell in enrollment, the school's budget was cut by $1.2 million.

Advocates fighting for Dyett have held protests, sit-ins and even filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.

Brown said he and others met with CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in March of this year and said she "acknowledged" what they had to say and "has committed and said that she's going to do her best to work with us," as have other members of the Board of Education.

Working with education faculty at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Brown said he and others are finalizing a curriculum and plan for a new Dyett High School which they plan to present to the board in January.

CPS officials would not comment Friday on activists' concerns that closing Dyett would "gut" the Bronzeville community but did say Byrd-Bennet spoke with the group.

"The CEO met with Dyett advocates prior to her appointment, but there are no plans to keep Dyett open," said CPS spokesperson Keiana Barrett in an emailed statement.

Still, Brown said he hopes a continual push from a number of different groups will spur CPS to change its plans.

"At some point, there has to be accountability to the public, and what we're saying is when you have a community organized — a broad-based community of teachers, parents, students, youth-development experts — who are ready to invest in improving the high school and preserving a neighborhood high school, a smart district would support those efforts," he said.