To the Editor:
Recently Ald. Will Burns (4th) convened Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools Chief Barbara Byrd Bennett to promote his plan to turn over Canter’s school building to Kenwood Academy to house their 7th and 8th grade academic center. Members of the Committee to Revitalize Dyett have requested such a meeting for nearly three years, and Burns has not delivered, despite his awareness of the deplorable conditions Dyett students have endured since 2011. As a matter of fact, Alderman Burns has had the opportunity to partner with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett since 2011, when I, along with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and former Kenwood Oakland Community Organization Executive Director Jay Travis met with him to propose our vision for Dyett High School. He has known about the abuses Dyett students were subjected to, at least since 2012, when he attended a student-led press conference where young people protested having to go through the back door of their school, and taking art and music as online classes. Unfortunately, his knowledge of these abuses did not result in any action on behalf of those students. Has he met with Dyett students in more than two years? Has he engaged any of our coalition members to support or build on our plan? Absolutely not, and that is the truth. Burns’ refusal to take the same definitive action on behalf of Dyett students as he recently took to relieve overcrowding at Kenwood is reflective of his continued dismissal of the issues impacting many African American families in the northern part of his ward. Additionally, as mentioned by numerous letters to the editor in the Hyde Park Herald, Burns’ inability or refusal to hear and act upon the concerns of his constituents is unacceptable.
Yes, the tension was palpable at a recent, long overdue public meeting to discuss the fate of Walter H. Dyett high school. The question is why? Parents and community members are fed-up with Burns’ disrespect and lack of leadership; and were further insulted by his insistence on hiring outside facilitators to take hundreds of residents through a process they had already experienced. His job at this stage is not to lead us, but to “catch up!” The meeting was a typical CPS-style sham hearing, and community residents who have endured the same type of meetings around the closing or private takeover of Price, Dyett, Fuller and Phillips knew it from their lived experience. We will no longer be convened by people with no skin in the game and who don’t have to live with the results. Burns’ claims that he was against the phase-out of Dyett rings hollow because for anyone in leadership, the question is not how did you feel, but rather, what did you do? What did you deliver? His actions clearly were not visible to his constituents. Perhaps he wrote a letter. Who knows? The truth is, in the face of paralysis from CPS and Burns, the Committee to Revitalize Dyett was formed. Members include the: DuSable Museum for African American History, Chicago Botanic Garden, Plant, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education, Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council, Blacks in Green, Washington Park Advisory Council, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Teachers for Social Justice, Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center and Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.
Let’s be clear. While Burns sat idle, the community created a planning process that yielded a solid academic plan for Dyett students, the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School. While Burns sat idle, students at Dyett filed Title VI Civil Rights complaints at the U.S. Department of Education about the treatment and conditions of Dyett High School; which along with the violations mentioned earlier in this letter, included having viable programs and activities such as AVID and the “Life after Dyett” class cut. While Burns sat idle, people from the 4th Ward with supporters from the greater Chicagoland area sat on the floor in front of Mayor Emanuel’s office for three days, demanding a meeting to address issues at Dyett. While the 4th Ward alderman sat idle, Rainbow PUSH partnered with KOCO and held forums to engage the community about concerns regarding Dyett. While Burns sat idle, community residents secured meetings with the Chicago Board of Education chairman David Vitale, and board members such as Andrea Zopp to present the plan for the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School. While Burns sat idle, parents and community leaders addressed the mayor directly at a press conference and hand delivered a copy of the plan. There would have been no forum regarding Dyett on July 28, if it had not been for the consistent pressure by community residents to hold Burns accountable.
Kenwood Oakland Community Organization