In the 4th Ward, 800 equals zero: Dyett, part 2

Last time, I said I would let you know about the plan that has been created to keep Dyett High School operating as an open-enrollment school, and where the conversation currently is with the powers that be.

Pardon me if I can't tell you exactly who is in charge in this decision. No one is really, um, owning it at this time.

Well--CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett did say that others voted to close the school before she showed up.

And she did say that she has no power over the situation now, regardless of what her feelings might be.

Which I thought was a little...well, lame, if I can be honest about that. But I'm getting way ahead of myself.

First. The plan for Dyett. Click on this link and you will find the 57-page proposal created by a team of 26 people representing a coalition of eleven community, citywide, and state institutions. (And please do click on that link. The hard work these folks put in over years yielded a proposal worth reading.) Those institutions include, but are by no means limited to, the University of Illinois at Chicago, DuSable Museum, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Remember this little bit of information about the 11 institutions, as it will come into the picture again.

The school plan draws from a deep well of community wisdom and incorporates some of the most exciting resources on the south side today, including The Plant (a vertical farm/food business incubator/research and education space) and Blacks in Green (an organization devoted to economic development and the creation of sustainable communities using some timeless methods). Legitimate pedagogical depth comes from advisors with the UIC College of Education and the Annenberg Insitute for School Reform at Brown University. Dyett community folks including LSC members, teachers, and students all contributed to this proposal.

It covers mission, goals, curriculum, discipline (restorative justice, which has already proven dramatically successful at Dyett), growth projections, staffing needs, and post-secondary readiness. It touches on how the school might function as a community hub and how it will incorporate weekly colloquia, modeled after those at Northside Prep, and internships for students in every grade. It includes a budget, a timeline, a list of external partners, and several pages of references.

The proposal outlines a high school with a dual emphasis: global leadership and green technology. Here is how the proposal explains these two foci in its introduction:

The goal of global leadership, as we understand it, is to develop young people who can become leaders in their school, community, city, nation, and world....

We want Dyett students to understand the interconnections of local, national, and international issues, and governmental and social structures, as these relate to students’ lives and their communities. We see the importance of youth understanding the interrelationship of the “global” and the “local” in which they grasp the meaning of civics and civil society at multiple levels, and develop into “world citizens.”

....Green technology, in our view, speaks to the connection between agricultural sciences, clean technologies such
as solar and wind power, and their relation to community development. We want to develop students who are
practical explorers and creators and who will utilize natural resources as a tool to improve the living conditions
in their community.

The team that created this proposal aims for students at the renewed Dyett to understand who they are in a global context and in a very local and sustainable context as well. The connection between those two is the development of the will and capability to "help make the world more a just and more sustainable place." And that goal is foregrounded in and developed throughout the entire curriculum.

The proposal was drafted and refined over years--since the 2012 announcement of Dyett's wind-down and eventual closure. The community did not then, and does not now want to be left without a single open-enrollment school in Bronzeville, which it will should Dyett close.

As I ponder this proposal it seems like they've covered just about everything. I mean it really seems like they've left practically no stone unturned.

But there is one glaring omission.

Despite its thorough description of the need to retain a neighborhood open-enrollment high school, despite its long list of experts, partnerships, and institutional support, despite its creative vision of how a Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School education will look, something is missing.

This thing lacks any real response whatsoever from CPS or from the alderman in whose ward Dyett High School sits, Will Burns.

Now this is not, mind you, because the good folks behind this proposal have never asked for a response.

Oh, they have. In fact the volume and number of such requests clocks in somewhere between "thundering" and "deafening." And I do mean that literally, as loud chanting crowds have repeatedly sought the attention of those ostensibly responsible for the school.

In the most recent round of requests, the committee met with CPS board president David Vitale on May 27. Vitale was positive about the plan. Looking good, south siders! He told the Dyett representatives to consult with their alderman, naturally because Vitale himself has no say over anything.

On June 9 they held a press conference and delivered 800 petition signatures and 500 signed pro-Dyett-plan postcards to the mayor's office. June 16 saw a rally and vigil outside of Burns' home followed by a three-day campout there. The campout ended when Burns promised a public meeting to hear the proposal, although no date was set at that time. On June 25, Dyett supporters visited Burns at a City Council meeting and loudly requested that he respond to their proposal at a public hearing. They were escorted out by police, and Burns dismissed their actions as political theater. On June 27, the group held a town hall about their plan for the Global Leadership and Green Technology High School. This is the meeting I wrote about in my last post.

They have asked for a response, as you can see, an absurd number of times and in a preposterous variety of ways.

Now, CPS has had the same answer all along. It's the same as David Vitale's. CPS, impassive to the point of being coy (or calcified? or mummified?), keeps saying that Dyett supporters should talk to the alderman.

So that makes Will Burns the one they have to keep trying to engage. But Will Burns has a problem.

He has, I'm afraid, some issues with innumeracy. He just doesn't seem to get numbers very well. Will Burns has insisted for many months that community buy-in to this proposal is simply not high enough for him to give a response.

There is just not sufficient community representation here.

And good grief, 11 institutions which include DuSable Museum, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Washington Park Advisory Council, Bronzville's Black Metropolis, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and Teachers for Social Justice--why that's really practically nobody. A team of 26 which includes local and national luminaries might as well be zero people.

Because actually, when you are Alderman Burns, 11 equals zero. And 26 equals zero. And 500 equals zero. And 800 equals zero.

Zero community buy-in, that's what we're talking about right here folks. That's what he says.

There's not enough community representation for him even to consider the 57-page Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School proposal.

Despite his feelings about how few people are actually involved in the Dyett proposal--no one of any significance--Burns did the stand-up thing and finally agreed to a public hearing on the Dyett question, even going so far as to set a date.

I'll tell you about what happened at that event, and since, in my next post. But I can tell you right now that in the 4th ward, 800 still might as well equal zero.

Until then, 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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