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Dyett High Protesters Rip Alderman, Mayor, CPS

By Ted Cox | June 9, 2014 2:54pm
 Dyett High School valedictorian Parrish Brown accused CPS of "destabilization" in not providing basic resources.
Dyett High School valedictorian Parrish Brown accused CPS of "destabilization" in not providing basic resources.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Dyett High School parents, students and community leaders repeated their calls to keep the school open and accused the local alderman of making a "backroom deal" to move another school into the Washington Park building at a protest Monday at City Hall.

Jeanette Taylor, chairwoman of the Local School Council at nearby Mollison Elementary and a member of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, said Ald. Will Burns (4th) met with the group last week, but asked no questions about its presentation to convert the school into the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School.

He said simply that he would not support it, Taylor said.

Accusing him of "continued disrespect," Taylor called Burns "unaccountable, and his performance is unacceptable."

 Ald. Will Burns and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have both caught flak over the proposed closing of Dyett High School.
Ald. Will Burns and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have both caught flak over the proposed closing of Dyett High School.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Yet Burns denied there were any backroom deals and said he also was against closing Dyett, at 555 E. 51st St.

"I totally agree with them that Dyett should be kept open as a high-quality, open-enrollment high school," Burns said. "I've told them that, and I've told them that's what we share in common."

Yet, he also said that he had "not endorsed their plan for Dyett." He said he has "no plan" to move another school into the building.

The group wants Burns to hold a public hearing on the proposal in the next 30 days, and also calls on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools to support the plan. 

Taylor also is pressing CPS to hold a town hall meeting on the topic.

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Will Burns are in lockstep in ignoring the needs of children from working and low-income families," Taylor added.

Emanuel spokeswoman Rachel Kruer, though, said that her office has "met with this group and are scheduling a future meeting to discuss providing quality education options in the North Kenwood and Oakland communities." 

CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett and CPS board members "continue to receive proposals about the future of Dyett High School and are always interested to hear feedback from the community on how we can collaborate to provide quality education options to our students," said CPS spokesman Joel Hood. "CPS has met with Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, including two weeks ago when board President David Vitale listened to their proposal for Dyett High School."

Despite Burns' statements, Parrish Brown, valedictorian of Dyett's 39 graduating seniors this year, said he believes the alderman is not on their side.

"Ald. Will Burns is not for us," said Brown.

Brown accused CPS of destabilizing the school and depriving it of resources since it was designated to be phased out two years ago, with the final class set to attend the school next year.

"We Dyett students still made it through," Brown said.

Falandra Amick, a parent at nearby Reavis Elementary and a member of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, accused Burns of orchestrating a deal to give the Dyett building to the Little Black Pearl arts center.

"There should be no backroom deals," said Joy Clendenning, a Kenwood Academy LSC parent.

The protesters pushed for a school that would be open to all neighborhood students.

"We want an open-enrollment neighborhood high school that is in the immediate North Kenwood and Oakland area," said Jitu Brown, a Dyett LSC member, KOCO education organizer and national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance.

He also dismissed CPS' suggestion of Phillips Academy, 244 E. Pershing Road, as the designated Dyett replacement, amid district claims that it's a top-rated Level One school.

"It's not a Level One school," Brown insisted. "What they've done is they've manufactured a Level One school."

He said Phillips' enrollment had actually dropped since being turned around by CPS in an attempt to improve performance.

CPS countered that AUSL turnaround schools often see declines in enrollment at first as a more rigorous curriculum is instituted. According to CPS figures, 91 percent Phillips' graduating class this spring is headed to college, up from 54 percent last year, and enrollment last fall was 670, up from 593 two years before.

Burns said he is trying to keep Dyett open and denied he was involved in any backroom deals.

"I have no plan," Burns said. "Not true.

"What I'm looking for are ways to keep Dyett open," he added. "That's my No. 1 focus."

He emphasized that, as of now, Dyett is only scheduled to be phased out, and the Board of Education has not officially voted to close the school.

Hood, however, said, "There are currently no plans to change Dyett’s scheduled closure, which will go in effect after next school year."

Burns said some of the criticism he is facing is coming from one group.

"It's just KOCO," Burns said. "There are more organizations in the community than just KOCO.

"They have not engaged in a real process with the community," Burns insisted, adding he was not concerned about the issue playing a role in city elections next year.

The coalition's proposal to create a Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School was created over two years with input from education experts at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Brown University, along with Teachers for Social Justice and the Chicago Teachers Union. Burns said he liked parts of the plan, comparing it to programs at Chicago Vocational Career Academy and the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, but not the entire proposal.

"What district would not support a community activated to improve its schools?" Brown said. "There's not a school like it in the city."