A bright spot in the CPS high school application process

It's been awhile since I've written. Not for lack of issues to cover, however. I suppose a general state of distraction over the recent presidential campaign and election is partly to blame. It's been difficult to pull myself out of the mire of preposterous and terrible news long enough to write 1000 words with a clear head.

Even today I am not writing as a commentator or critic.  I'm writing as a mom of an 8th grader hunting for a high school. It's an involved job with many moving parts. Filling out forms, submitting grades, taking test upon test, hitting deadlines, doing test prep, scheduling open houses. This is what it is, getting our 8th graders into high school, in Chicago.

It's a continually new process, more Byzantine every year, but I know the folks who devise these things are trying to "make it work well" for applicants. It's just that the whole process is terrible. We parents of 8th graders in schools both public and private know firsthand the ugly underbelly of "school choice." The entire structure is ponderous and awful. The best we can say of it is that it allows some children to be in schools with vastly better resources than other children. And that's not a very good best, friends.

But there is a little new ray of light peeking through the cracks in that awful edifice.

I saw it on Wednesday night.

That's when I and my 8th grader went to check out the new Walter H. Dyett High School at its first open house.

Dyett High School has a lone freshman class of 151. It is getting ready to add another class, building towards a goal of 500 students. The new Dyett is a complicated bundle of opposing elements in tension. It is an arts school with a strong emphasis on science and technology. It is a neighborhood school open to kids across the city. It is not selective enrollment but it has an application process including an interview.

But one astonishing tension stands out more than any other.

It is.

It exists.

At all.

I was a fool not to have anticipated my reaction when we sat down in the theater and waited for the open house to begin. After following this story for years, writing about it many times, attempting to communicate with aldermen and CEO on behalf of this school, and meeting the hunger strikers, the idea that I was here inside this school at an open house hit me in a physical way.

I just burst into tears. I struggled to keep it discreet. The only thing that kept me from falling apart completely was the realization that I had an actual 13 year old sitting next to me who might well die of mortification next to a maniacally sobbing mother.

Here we were, sitting in a very much alive school, that had been dead. But for the heroic efforts of community members who went from trying to engage an unresponsive mayor, CEOs, and school board via ordinary means, to a hunger strike that lasted 34 days, this school would be dead still.

And now it is a south side, Bronzeville, living community thing, all set to engage its neighborhood and become, or remain, the community anchor it always should have been. After having been previously killed off by CPS in drips and drabs over years, after years of disinvestment that progressed from nonchalant to shameful to spectacular grifter-level, Dyett was brought back from the dead because of those heroes. And in that random way of CPS, Dyett in its new life got lucky and landed significant district investment and resources.

And such resources! Such a caring staff. We still don't know if it's the right fit for my kid--her particular art form, creative writing, does not have a major (which are called pathways) there. But she will apply. It's an engaging place. The students of the dance program--freshmen in the first few months of their high school career--winsomely presented current projects with that very particular early-teenage shy confidence. We were taken in by the textile room with its dozen sewing machines, individual drafting tables, huge cutting tables, washer and dryer. I loved the robotics room; I was agog at the super-sleek computers in the digital arts room; the little pile of neatly folded aprons in the Maker Space charmed me--and all this is only part of their Innovation Hub, not even open yet, set to include classes for parents, field trips from local feeder schools, and an annual Innovation Week.

I was impressed by both the school counselor Kyle Bollar and the principal Beulah McLoyd, although months ago I had mistaken the choice of McLoyd as a cynical move on the part of CPS. It is evident how much these two represent a staff of caring folks. I sensed that they feel lucky to be in this unusual position in CPS--at a brand new neighborhood school with a lot of resources backing it.

For this we have the heroes of Dyett High School to thank--as did both Bollar and McLoyd, who called them heroes in their opening remarks. Those people are the activists of KOCO as well as the hunger strikers Jitu Brown, Anna Jones, Cathy Dale, Dr. Aisha Wade-Bey, April Stogner, Irene Robinson, Jeanette Taylor-Ramann, Marc Kaplan, Dr. Monique Redeaux-Smith, Nelson Soza, Prudence Brown, and Rev. Robert Jones.

Don't forget them. Make them your role models. It is likely we will all have to resort to braver choices than we are accustomed to making in the coming months and years.

Meanwhile, parents of 8th graders--strength! And check out that great new school on the south side.

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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