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Dyett Supporters Take Over Ald. Will Burns' Meeting on Saving the School

By Sam Cholke | July 29, 2014 6:29am
 Jitu Brown blocks Scott Goldstein from getting the microphone as Phillip Cantor makes the case for Dyett High School becoming a green technology school at a Monday town hall meeting with Ald. Will Burns (4th).
Jitu Brown blocks Scott Goldstein from getting the microphone as Phillip Cantor makes the case for Dyett High School becoming a green technology school at a Monday town hall meeting with Ald. Will Burns (4th).
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

KENWOOD — Frustration over the future of Dyett High School came to a head Monday at a town hall meeting hosted by Ald. Will Burns (4th), with speakers being shouted down and school boosters commandeering the meeting at several points.

“We basically had to take this meeting over,” said Jitu Brown, an organizer from the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, part of a coalition of Bronzeville groups pressing Burns to sign on to a plan to keep Chicago Public Schools from closing Dyett in 2015.

Brown grabbed the microphone from a community-planning consultant from Evanston early in the meeting at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel Blvd., to say that the neighborhood already spent three years preparing a plan for the school and was ready to see Burns put it into action.

Brown received cheers from many of the 200 people in the auditorium, a majority of them supporters of the plan to keep Dyett open as an open-enrollment neighborhood high school with a green technology focus.

“I’m glad the meeting was held,” Burns said in a statement after the meeting. “I am, however, concerned that many attendees chose to leave the meeting or refused to participate because others demonstrated a lack of civility and respect.”

A staff member for Burns claimed dozens in the crowd left.

But even supporters of green technology plan for Dyett said the meeting was frustrating and found it difficult to get their comments heard.

In breakout sessions to brainstorm ideas for the future of Dyett, participants complained that the facilitators did not know what was to be discussed and copied down community comments in misleading and inaccurate ways.

“For you to write down our comments is an insult, we just need to give you this,” said Kimberly Walls, a 4th Ward resident and a middle school teacher, holding up the proposal to make Dyett a green technology school. “There’s no need for you to write this down because it’s already here.”

Many left early frustrated that their concerns were not being accurately captured for a consultant’s report that will be sent to Burns’ office and Chicago Public Schools.

Angelique Harris, chairwoman of the Bronzeville Community Action Council, a community board that advises CPS on the education demands in the neighborhood, stayed after to personally write down her concerns.

“We like this green technology focus, we like the neighborhood focus,” Harris said. “It’s a marketing issue, we need to make sure parents are going to send their kids there.”

She said a green technology or arts high school would meet many of the demands the council has heard when surveying parents, but the current proposal needs a beefed-up curriculum before she would sign on to it.

Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale and staffers in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office have also reviewed the proposal and said it showed promise, but both Vitale and the mayor had said Burns must be on board before it could move forward.

Groups working on the green technology proposal were worried Burns was declining to endorse the plan because he was working behind closed doors to bring a charter into the school.

Burns has repeatedly said he is committed to keeping Dyett open as an open-enrollment neighborhood school, but worries intensified when rumors circulated that students at Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy were told they would move into Dyett for the 2014-15 school year.

Monica Haslip, the executive director of the Kenwood art center and high school, said there had been no discussions about moving the school.

“Nobody here has chosen for us to go to Dyett because that would be a ridiculous thing to do,” Haslip said Monday.

She said the building was too large for her school and beyond its needs.

The next step for Dyett will be a report from community planning consultants from Teska Associates Inc. on what the neighborhood wants for the school.

Scott Goldstein, the principal of the Evanston-based group, said it was clear to him from the breakout group he led that there was a strong desire to keep the school open, but no consensus on what that would look like.

“They feel like if their plan was being heard, their school wouldn’t be closing,” said Durrell Christian, who led another breakout session.

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