Back in 2008, I attended a community meeting hosted by the Chatham Avalon Park Community Council (CAPCC) and I expected it to be an uneventful meeting until the guest was introduced. The guest was a representative of Youth Connecions Charter Schools ( http://www.yccs.us/). The representative informed the audience of several interesting facts. There was a growing number of CPS students ages 14-16, who technically were dropouts. Also, the number of students in that group and dropouts from 16-19 who resided in the surrounding community was growing. Under State of Illinois law you must attend school until age 16. A large number of individuals in the audience looked on with disbelief but the presentation got better. The presenter informed the audience that they were operaing an alternative High School, Sullivan House on 81st South Chicago and were in the process of opening another Alterative High School on 90th Langley in a shuttered Catholic Elementary School and they were at the meeting to get feedback from the audience on the opening of another High School in the shuttered St. Clotilde Catholic Elementary School. The audience silence signaled their disapproval. Later, I was informed that they decided not to come to St. Clotilde because of negative feedback.
Later in 2009, I was informed that another group came forward with another proposal to open an alernative Elementary school for children expelled from CPS for behaivoral issues. Again, the residents voiced their displeasure and the issue died. The shuttered St. Clotilde Elementary School finally reopened as New Way Learning Christian Academy which operated in practical obscurity and has now since closed.
Fast forward to 2011 and for several weeks there has been conversations brewing about another alternative school not coming but now occupying the St. Clotilde space. The Greater Chatham Alliance (GCA) community organization made it a focal point at their recent meeting. Today Roderick Sawyer issued the following statement.
In recent weeks there has been legitimate concern in the community about a new school that has moved into St. Clotilde on the 8400 Block of South Calumet. I have reached out to the church, school and community leaders to do an investigation into this project, and I am writing this letter to provide you with some information about how this school came to our community.
For those who are unfamiliar, it is the Richard Milbourn School, an “Alternative Safe” educational facility that accepts students from the 6-12th grades. An Alternative Safe school is a school for students who have been expelled from their primary school, but have not yet exhausted their options for returning to their home school. This facility keeps these students anywhere between 45 days and 2 years. The school had approximately 35 students when I met with the Administrator on September 12th, and can potentially house as many as 115 students. The middle school aged students are bused to and from the school and the high school age students must take public transportation to get to the school. Security officials are posted at the bus stops in the morning and afternoon, escorting students to and from school. The Administrator understands the concerns of the neighborhood, and the school administration seems well meaning in their attempts to mitigate issues in the community.
My concern, however, is in the process that was used to bring the school into the area. This school was placed in this building by the administration of St. Clotilde and the Chicago Public Schools without any consultation with the neighbors or with my office. This is disrespectful to the community and shows a complete lack of regard for the legitimate concerns of a neighborhood to opening this school in a residential neighborhood. This is not an attempt to demonize children who have made a mistake; however, there are legitimate questions about filling what was traditionally an elementary school with high school aged students. There are legitimate concerns about having teenagers take public transportation to a school that is multiple blocks from most sources of public transportation. The process that was used in installing this school ignored all of those legitimate concerns in the neighborhood.
I hope that this is not indicative of the level of cooperation we can expect from the Emanuel and Brizard administrations. I want to be partners in improving both our schools and our children, but that requires collaboration with teachers, parents, government and the community. I am asking my Chatham neighbors to keep an eye out on this school and let us know if they are being good neighbors. I would also encourage those who want to assist the school in their goal of placing these students on the right path to visit the school and offer your assistance. They have pledged to maintain an open door policy and work with the community, and I intend to hold them to that vow. The city had a poor process for placing the school in our neighborhood, but we will not allow the school to remain in our neighborhood if it actually results in problems in our community, and for that, you are my eyes and ears.
So who is the operator of Richard Milburn Alternative Schools? The Richard Milburn Schools (http://milburnschools.org) are run by a for profit corporation headquartered out of Woodbridge Virginia and operate schools in Virginia and Chicago. They also have an online virtual campus as well. The Chicago campus is run under a Charter agreement with Chicago Public Schools.
So why didn't anyone with CPS, Chicago Archdioces and the Board of St. Clotilde feel that they had the right to not inform the community about the school? Also, when questioned by community organizations and residents, it has been reported that the Chicago Archdioces became disrepectful and basically told the community to mind their business and they could do what they want with their property. When a $20 million high school (Gary Comer) was built less than a mile away and another charter school operating out of a state of the art building(Gary Comer Community Center), why was it necessary to segregate these students from others?
Should the community demand an apology from Mr. Brizzard, Chicago Archdioces and Milburn Schools?