Your NPR news source

New Schools Plan Leaves Some Voices Out

SHARE New Schools Plan Leaves Some Voices Out
New Schools Plan Leaves Some Voices Out

Adelle Young’s grandchildren have to commute from Austin to other parts of the city. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)

The Chicago Board of Education is expected to vote today on 13 new schools. They’re part of a four-year-old effort by the district to create small, niche schools across the city. But some activists on Chicago’s West Side are complaining they’ve had no say on proposals for new schools in their area. We report from our West Side bureau.

Ambi: Young people.

These young people in Garfield Park don’t have many good school options. That’s one reason the Chicago district began planning for new schools in that part of the city last spring. When it did, it turned to Mildred Wiley of Bethel New Life, one of the West Side’s largest community-service organizations.

WILEY: East Garfield will receive two schools, and West Garfield will receive one.

Wiley was the main link to parents and other community members.

WILEY: My role was to try to find them, recruit them and facilitate the biweekly meetings.

Called Transition Advisory Councils (TACs), the groups helped the district evaluate proposals from nonprofit groups competing to design and run the new schools. Jaime Guzmán of Chicago’s Office of New Schools says the district also held neighborhood forums and public hearings.

GUZMAN: Ultimately, all of the TAC work culminates with TAC members sitting around a table with Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan -- where they sit down and they say, ‘Mr. Duncan, this is the school that we feel is the best fit for this community.’

The plan for Garfield Park is to open a K-8 school proposed by psychologists, an all-boys high school, and a high school designed by labor unions.

WATKINS: All of these schools seem very promising. Each one seems like a miracle.

Reverend Patricia Watkins is a parent in East Garfield Park.

WATKINS: But I know miracles don’t just happen. I know it takes people to make them happen.

Watkins leads a coalition that released a five-month survey of West Side parents this month. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the survey found that parents overwhelmingly want a say in school-restructuring efforts. Watkins herself, though, says she didn’t hear about the proposed Garfield Park schools until I sent her a district announcement a few days ago.

WATKINS: We have a number of churches that we partner with on the West Side, and community groups, and when I sent them this, none of them knew anything about this. Without engaging the community, they are going to have protests.

If recent history is any guide, the protests could be bitter, especially if the district has to close schools to open the new ones. Just north of Garfield Park, some parents in West Humboldt Park are upset about reform underway at Orr High School. In Austin, another West Side neighborhood, there’s more anger.

Ambi: Homework.

Adelle Young is raising four of her grandchildren there. Like hundreds of other kids in Austin, they have to commute to schools in other parts of the city. Young blames this partly on a 2004 district decision to phase out Austin High and devote the building to new small schools.

YOUNG: The powers-that-be are going to do what they want to do regardless of what you say or how many people you bring out. Young believes the new schools are meant for wealthier families.

Ambi: Young people.

Back in Garfield Park, Mildred Wiley shakes her head at that suggestion.

WILEY: As a person who has been involved in the development of these new schools, we make known to CPS that this is for the children who currently exist here, not for your next market.

If the board approves the new Garfield Park schools today, the district’s next step will be finding buildings in time for next fall. Wiley acknowledges that could mean closing or consolidating existing schools.

I’m Chip Mitchell, Chicago Public Radio.

The Latest