Why not just close the crappy school? Dyett H.S., part 1

I think if we're honest with ourselves, we wonder aloud--or, depending on where we are or whom we're with, inside our own heads--why on earth a few folks make such a big deal about another school being closed. Honestly, the decision was made years ago, the handwriting has been on the wall for years, the school's been going downhill for years. For years we've known. It's time, right? To stop complaining and just do the thing, close the crappy school.

I'm talking about Dyett High School.

I've been a Hyde Parker for years and as long as I've been around here, Dyett's been one of those schools. One of those ones you would never send your kid to if you had the choice, and thank goodness we do.

If we're honest, we may feel a little sorry for those kids who do have to go there, but honestly they're not really a part of our lives, they may live all the way across the city from us--we may say to ourselves, adding--I have so much going on in my own family and community and I can't really pay attention to those other people's problems. I have to deal with my own kids at my own school.

I mean, CPS is great if you can navigate the thing, educate yourself about the options, maybe even hire a consultant, do the test prep courses, and--assuming your kids get into the coveted, excellent, nationally renowned kinds of schools--figure out how to get them there every day. CPS is great.

Props to CPS for those great schools.

And hooray, latest news is our scores have been rising. Props.

Lord knows we don't want to rock any boats, we think to ourselves, it's been hard enough to manage for our own family navigating this system. We certainly don't want to jeopardize our kid's position. We don't want to complain too much. Things are looking up--right? All those school closures, well that seemed like kind of a lot, but whatever, it's water under the bridge and what's done is done and there's no going back, and anyway, my kid is in a pretty damn decent school, so it's really not affecting us. What does it have to do with us? What does it have to do with me?

We really don't understand those parents who just won't stop complaining.

Take this Dyett crowd. They won't. Stop. Complaining.

I've been noticing this Dyett ruckus for years, buzzing like a far away mosquito that I can't quite see. I mean Dyett is after all in Washington Park, it's not exactly in my neighborhood. But the noise, sometimes I hear it louder than at other times. Now is one of those loud times.

So several months ago I dropped in on one of the Dyett public meetings. This one was at the high school itself. I know the property because my kids have taken swimming lessons there for years. I will give Dyett this--it has a beautiful pool! Great locker rooms too. Lots of private swim lessons are offered here.

Well this meeting anyway--it was packed. Standing room only type of thing. A couple of folks gave a little history of Dyett, starting with the school's namesake, Walter Dyett (1901-1969). He was a musician apparently, a violinist. Taught music in CPS high schools Phillips and DuSable for 30 years. Funny thing, some super famous folks came through his programs. Nat Cole, Bo Diddley, Von Freeman, Dorothy Donegan, Dinah Washington, and even comedian Redd Foxx--just to name a few. (Click on those links. I think you'll like them.) What a teacher he must have been! You could actually spend hours and hours just listening to the luminaries that were educated by Walter Dyett. But I'm getting off the track here.

So he got a school named after him in 1972 when Dyett opened as a middle school. Dyett started out as kind of a technology hub, something you can feel looking at the squared angles of its 70s industrial design. In June 1999 Dyett administrators received a call from CPS announcing that since nearby King High was going to become a selective enrollment school, Dyett would now become an open enrollment high school in the coming fall session. Dyett received little advance notice and no money to make this transition.

So the next ten years in CPS were characterized by education reform. (Reader of this blog, you know by now, I'm sure: I mean corporate style education reform. Consolidate, close, privatize, promote charters, elevate high stakes testing, advocate choice. This stuff has been with us twenty years and more now. Paul Vallas was its first cheerleader here.) Pair this with the rise of the TIF as a wonderful new revenue stream which drew money away from schools, throw in a crippling recession, and you have a perfect combination of factors to cause a receding of resources away from Dyett, like the tide sliding away from the shore and never coming back in.

For years the resources slid away. Dyett got a whole bunch of new labels: underresourced, underutilized, underperforming. The board voted to close it in 2012.

Oh, it was another board. Another CPS CEO. But that's what they decided. No more freshmen would matriculate and the kids who were already there would finish out their years in an increasingly empty school in ghostly quiet halls.

Well after the history review, the next part of this meeting--remember? we're at a community meeting--was a little conversation about the current situation the students find themselves in at Dyett.

Students themselves told us.

Dyett's by now severe lack of resources means that some kids can't finish their graduation requirements without taking classes at another school. They take art online. And PE online. And to the certain sorrow of Dyett's namesake, students take music online.

That beautiful pool is not used by Dyett students, only by paying customers. They don't use their gym either, despite winning a $4M gym makeover from ESPN in 2011, since the last gym teacher was let go.

Students are required to enter and leave the building through the back door.

Well. I was squirming in my seat a little when the kids told us those things, especially when we got to the weird part about the back door. But honestly, it doesn't happen at my kids' school. Too bad that this happened here, but really, that school isn't cutting it. There's a lot of reasons, I'm sure.

I mean, it's partly the kids. They couldn't even get in to a selective enrollment school. Where are they going with their lives anyway? They're just not very excellent. Why should we spend our resources on them? I mean, my kids need resources too. Or maybe it's the teachers' fault. Those lazy union hogs shoving in for more food at the trough. All they care about is more more more, their high salaries and cushy jobs--wait. I'm not sure it's very cushy there. Or no, maybe it's the parents. I mean, come on--they dropped the ball. They're gangsters anyway, raising their kids to be gangsters. What else would you expect? They don't even care about education. Where are the parents, anyway? And that community. I mean is it even a community?

You're thinking: My God! Can she even say that? I'm telling you: I hear it all the time. I hear it far more often, in fact, than I hear the facts about Dyett High School.

The facts being: it has been destabilized, disinvested, and disenfranchised for years. For years. The community has been disregarded for years. The community is now being ignored and silenced. The students are not currently receiving the education that CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett was just touting the other day in a Sun-Times editorial, disingenuity dripping off the page:

Every child must have access to a high-quality education. We need high standards, rigorous curriculum and powerful instruction for all, regardless of their neighborhood, diverse learning needs or English proficiency. (7/31/14)

The facts about Dyett are staggering when you look at them. They should fill us all with shame.

The facts about Dyett should concern us all regarding the stability of every CPS school and the administrative fiat by which any one of them can be destroyed.

One last thing about that meeting I haven't told you. The community's plan for Dyett High School. Yes, there is a very well-developed plan for a revitalized, open-enrollment school with a green technology emphasis. But a certain amount of--shall we say--confusion over who is in charge of things at CPS--or wait, is it the alderman?--seems to be preventing any real action, or even a real response, just now. I'll tell you all about that in the next post.

Just close the crappy school? I'm not so sure.

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