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Dyett Proposals Face Public Scrutiny ... Lots of It

By Sam Cholke | June 18, 2015 6:18am
 Three options for reopening Dyett High School in 2016 got their first public airing Wednesday night.
Three options for reopening Dyett High School in 2016 got their first public airing Wednesday night.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

KENWOOD — The public got their first pitch on a revitalized Dyett High School Wednesday and the crowd of nearly 200 was vastly on the side of an option that would keep Chicago Public Schools running the school.

Dyett High School graduated its last 13 seniors this month and will be closed for a year while CPS decides between two contract school options and a district school proposal.

On Wednesday, at King College Prep, CPS held the first of two community hearings on reopening the school before the Board of Education decides on an proposal on Aug. 26.

“It’s important to listen to the community and the people sending their kids to the school,” said Carl Lawson, the former principal of King and Price Fine and Performing Arts Elementary School.

Like nearly a third of the audience, Lawson claimed a direct hand in creating the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School proposal, which would keep the district running the school but give parents, teachers and students more say in the manner in which it is run than other open-enrollment high schools.

Twenty-seven of the 36 speakers spoke in favor of the district-run option drafted by the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett, and were not shy of criticizing the two contract school proposals, including a late submission by Dyett Principal Charles Campbell.

Campbell is proposing reopening the school with academics viewed through the lens of sports. During his proposal he offered the development of the modern Olympic Games as an example of a history lesson.

He said the school would open in 2016 with 12 sports teams, including competitive video gaming and competitive dance.

He pitched a vision of the curriculum that stretched from training in physical therapy to the basics on trademarks and other businesses involved in the sports industry.

“I see your child and in their left hand is a patent for a shoe they designed in the maker lab and in their right hand is a diploma,” Campbell said.

Six people, some of them CPS coaches, spoke warmly of the proposal, but others called it out as highly inappropriate to make sports the major focus of a school in a predominantly black community, where often kids feel like their only avenue to success is as a professional athlete or entertainer.

An arts-based contract school proposed by Little Black Pearl, the Kenwood-based arts center, faced less criticism, but also less support.

Two teachers and one graduating student from the art center’s current alternative high school spoke enthusiastically about the benefits of an arts-based curriculum, but the presentation was short on details of what that would look like at Dyett.

Nearly half of the presentation was dedicated to Architect Matthew Kupritz of K2 Studio’s vision to remodel the school with a theater that opened out onto one of two courtyards and an elevated walkway linking buildings.

The two main criticisms of the Little Black Pearl proposal were that it did too little to incorporate the legacy of the existing school, which is named for Captain Walter H. Dyett, a legendary music teacher in the neighborhood, and had failed to solicit community input beyond the art center’s existing supporters.

“One of the requirements of these proposals was interaction with the community, and only one came to my desk, and that was the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett,” said LaKeisha Hamilton, chairwoman of the Hyde Park Community Action Council, a CPS-sanctioned group that’s supposed to be consulted on planned changes to neighborhood schools.

The Hyde Park council has endorsed the coalition’s plan. The Bronzeville Community Action Council has also reviewed the coalition’s proposal, but has not endorsed it.

The next chance for the public to weigh-in on the three proposals comes on Aug. 10 at the CPS Loop office, 42 W. Madison St.

Comments can also be made by phone by calling 773-553-1625 or by email by contacting dyettrfp@cps.edu.

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