THE LOOP — The proposed plan to turn Dyett High School into a multicultural, ecologically oriented academy got some high-profile backing before the Board of Education Wednesday.
Historian and civil-rights activist Dr. Timuel Black threw his support behind the proposal, along with a representative of the Chicago Botanic Garden.
"I am here supporting ... the rehabilitation of Dyett High School," Black told the board. "And I take the position that, unless the community around the school is involved, that school has more chances of difficulties."
Black said he knew Capt. Walter Dyett, the music director for whom the school is named, and that he was "a great man and an inspiration." He chided Chicago Public Schools for ignoring the community-backed proposal, in that "those people who have a desire to give it the fame and acclaim that it once enjoyed have not been included in the new ideas about what should Dyett be."
Dyett has been slated to be phased out for years, and now has a dozen seniors as its last students before closing with their graduation next spring. The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett has arrived at a comprehensive plan to convert it into the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Academy, a plan composed by the community, along with education experts at Brown University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as the Chicago Teachers Union.
Yet CPS and the Mayor's Office have rebuffed attempts to have that plan adopted in time for next fall. Instead, CPS announced in October it would put out a request for proposals on Dyett, with the intent to reopen it in 2016.
"There should be no RFP process when the community has already worked tirelessly on this plan," said Jeanette Taylor, chairwoman of the Local School Council at Mollison Elementary. "CPS needs to respect the community and join us to make this plan a reality."
"There is no need to wait to 2016 to revitalize Dyett," added UIC educator Daniel Morales-Doyle. "To consider other proposals and delay the opening of Dyett is a waste of time and resources that the people of the community cannot afford.
"Another class of eighth-graders should not be scattered outside of Bronzeville when their parents have already made their voice clear," he said.
The green technology part of the plan also won the support of Eliza Fournier, urban youth program director for the Chicago Botanic Garden, who has worked the last five years on a Washington Park youth farm adjacent to Dyett, which figures in the community proposal.
Fournier said she had seen the school "systematically dismantled" and "the building and young people virtually abandoned" by CPS.
"We sincerely hope that the process of selecting the type of school is an open one that takes into consideration and respects the needs, the vision and the hard work of the community," Fournier added. "To have a school such as the proposed Dyett Green Technology and Global Leadership High School open in the fall of 2015, rather than fall of 2016, would maintain the option of an open-enrollment high school for the community."
Several speakers said they were concerned CPS would end the RFP process by making Dyett a charter or contract school. Ald. Will Burns (4th), who has been a target of the neighborhood coalition, has said he wants to keep Dyett a neighborhood, open-enrollment high school and not a charter, but has left open that he would accept a contract school.
"We do not need an RFP process, especially if that means you are looking for someone else to operate Dyett," said Joy Clendenning, a member of the Kenwood Academy LSC and the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.
"We vigorously reject any attempt to operate Dyett as a private entity," added Duane Turner of the coalition.
Board President David Vitale praised Black for his efforts to bring President Barack Obama's proposed library to Chicago, but otherwise the board did not comment on the Dyett proposal.
The board held its first meeting at CPS' new headquarters at 42 W. Madison St. Wednesday. CPS claims the move to a smaller space from its previous main offices at 125 S. Clark St. will save $70 million over the next 15 years.
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