Community meeting with Alderman Will Burns turns into spat over Dyett High School’s future

By LINDSAY WELBERS
Staff Writer

A meeting called by Ald. Will Burns (4th) about the future of Dyett High School led to vocal clashing between Chicago Public School officials and neighborhood supporters.

Dyett is slated to close after its final class graduates in the spring of 2015. The meeting took place Monday July 28 at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel Blvd.

While CPS officials said there is no specific plan in place for the future use of the school, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School said it submitted a proposal months ago that would create the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community School.

CPS hired Scott Goldstein from planning consultant Teska Associates to facilitate the meeting. Over 250 people arrived, many to advocate for the Green Technology plan.

CPS separated attendees into smaller groups where they were instructed to discuss how they viewed teaching, curriculum, administration, support for students and extracurricular activities at Dyett.

People in the meetings accused mediators of not accurately recording the suggestions made and ignoring support voiced for the Green Technology school plan.

Duane Turner, a former teacher at Canter Middle School, 4549 S. Blackstone Ave., spoke in favor of the green technology plan.

“We’re not saying that this is the perfect plan, that it doesn’t need to be tweaked or things added or changed,” Turner said. “The hostility is that there’s a sense that through the dialogue that’s taken place in today’s meeting is that we’re starting over. We’re going to go back and get community input and it’s very similar to the school closings where they bring people together and people speak and they write things down and nothing happens.”

People in the breakout sessions said the moderators, representing CPS and hired by Teska, were not accurately recording comments that reflect the public support for the green technology plan.

Jitu Brown, organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) said the meeting would have gone more smoothly if CPS had worked with the community earlier.

“What we expected was for this meeting to be based on the plan we had worked on,” Brown said. “We expected it would be based on respect and not starting from scratch.”

KOCO and community members who worked on the plan said CPS has seen copies of it but has been unwilling to discuss it.

“It’s not that we can’t take input or that we’re not willing to take feedback or anything like that but we want the plans to be discussed and critiqued,” Turner said. “We want to be partners with CPS but they have to come in a different way and they’re going to have to stop disinvesting in the community and coming into the community and saying ‘we’re going to do it our way, we’re going to do it to you.’”

Burns requested feedback by email from those who attended the meeting.

“We understand there are Fourth Ward residents who couldn’t attend, and that others came, but didn’t get the opportunity to have their input heard,” Burns said in the email. “It’s imperative that we continue to work together to show CPS and the Chicago Board of Education how important it is to keep Dyett open and to keep it as a high quality, open-enrollment public high school.”

Teska Associates is still compiling community feedback and will provide a report to CPS. Comments can be sent to Teska at dyetthigh@gmail.com.

l.welbers@hpherald.com