Alderman Burns and the public mayhem: Dyett, part 3

I am far away from Chicago right at this moment, and the city and its problems--and the South Side--and Washington Park--and Dyett High School—all are very far away from my mind.

Even to you in Chicago this might seem like a small story, hard to focus on, a story from someone else's neighborhood that doesn't really have anything to do with you.

I know. It seems like that, but let me assure you, it isn't. Because if CPS can do this to one high school, they can do it to any high school. So I'm asking you to please pay attention a little longer.

I can’t leave unfinished my story of the Bronzeville community’s effort to renew their neighborhood high school.

First we talked about whether or not the crappy school should be closed--and why, in fact, it is crappy. (Hint: it's not "the parents.") Then we talked about the plan that the school community has created to retain Dyett as an open-enrollment, neighborhood Global Leadership and Green Technology school.

Today I’m going to tell you about the community meeting alderman Will Burns called in response to pressure from activists. It took place July 28th at King College Prep High School.

I brought my daughter to this thing so she could see what happens when folks in a community work hard on a problem together, and they are able to come up with a solution, and can actually change the way things turn out. This crowd of Dyett supporters didn’t want their only neighborhood open enrollment high school closed; they had drafted a viable and broad-based new vision; they had made their voices heard; the alderman was finally responding and he would hear the proposal.

We could hardly wait! I love for my children to see democracy in action.

But—first odd thing. The meeting was at King High School. Not Dyett. Isn’t that curious? Now why would Will Burns schedule a public meeting concerning a closing high school and hold it at a different school?

Who knows. He’s not telling. My own thinking is that it’s a half-decent way to divert attention from the school under discussion. Stuff the public into another auditorium to keep them out of the school that’s been starved of resources. We don’t really want to see that sort of thing anyway, what it really is like inside a school that’s had the life sucked out of it, slowly, over a decade. It’s probably not a very nice place for a big meeting that prominent politicians might attend.

Wait a minute. Did I say “meeting”?

Pardon me. There’s a much better word for what happened. I meant “mayhem.”

Mayhem is what happens when a large group of people who are already angry, have been angry for months and years, feel as though they have been misled and duped.

Mayhem is what happens when white facilitators from Evanston (from the Teska group, frequently used by CPS) come to King College Prep with CPS slides that are inaccurate to the point of absurdity (24 other high schools within the Dyett neighborhood—really, facilitators?), and, as a warm-up act trot out a couple of black folks who stand up and tell those present that they need to step up and take responsibility for their community.

Mayhem is what happens when the main event of the meeting begins, and it turns out to be not a statement from Will Burns, not an invitation to the Dyett proponents to explain their very detailed, thorough, well-formed proposal, but rather, an order to divide those assembled into three conversation groups meeting all over the high school. The ensuing obedient exodus is likely what prompted the statement from Will Burns’ people that “many people left the meeting.”

Mayhem is what happens when the facilitators produce a big white pad of paper on an easel and a big red marker and ask for ideas for how the Dyett property might be used in the future.

Let me just say that again.

The facilitators produced a big white pad of paper on an easel and a big red marker and asked for ideas about how to use the Dyett property in the future.

By then the auditorium was a sea of jeering, outraged students, teachers, local LSC members, and neighbors. There was no getting this thing back. But the facilitators gamely gave folks a chance at the mic (with that beloved CPS 2-minute time limit), and most did what you’d do if you knew that nothing you had said or done in the last two years was heard.

They started over at the beginning.

Please don’t close our school. Please don’t close our school. Please don’t close our school.

Mr. Facilitator had to keep restating that this was not why we were here, we were here “to brainstorm.”

Jitu Brown of Dyett’s LSC and the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization took the mic and attempted briefly to outline the Global Leadership and Green Technology High School plan for those in attendance who did not know the details. Hard to do in 2 minutes, to be sure.

When one more woman stood up and pointed the finger at neighborhood parents for the school’s failure (and the crowd noise rose to a roar), I couldn’t contain myself any longer and at the risk of embarrassing my daughter and myself I stood up to speak.

All I could hear in this fiasco of a meeting was a sad and frightening echo of those lamentable, and meaningless, “community hearings” prior to the school closings. Where hundreds of people begged a couple of CPS representatives to please, please, please not close their schools.

But I digress. In fact the facilitator told me I digressed. So I got to the point. We are here, I said, to hear from the alderman. What does the alderman have to say?

But the alderman was gone. He had slipped out at some point between the moment he was spotted wearing headphones and staring at his phone while someone was at the mic, and the moment when I asked him to comment.

Alderman Burns had disappeared without a trace. Unavailable for comment.

Next time we'll talk about my subsequent search for some answers about who is in charge here, what the goal is, and why we have to depend on the alderman for anything beyond wearing headphones while people are speaking, and leaving early without comment.

In the mean time, why don't you phone Alderman Will Burns at his ward office at (773) 536-8103 or his downtown office at (312) 744-2690. Or you can drop him a note at Ask him what he thinks about the Dyett proposal for the Global Leadership and Green Technology High School. And tell him he needs to publicly respond to this plan.

If you want a better Chicago Public Schools system please like my Facebook page and join me there for more discussion. You can also follow me on twitter @foolforcps.

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