Saturday, January 12, 2008

Senn High School and a Vision for Public Education

The Alderwoman of the 48th Ward, Mary Ann Smith, has been floating around the community, via email and visits to sympathetic block clubs, what looks on first glance like a vision for the future of Senn High School, but when examined more closely turns out to be evidence of some pretty nasty local back-stabbing by the politician and her aide, Nancy Myerson.

After the rough period at Senn, during which Smith had her will with the school by imposing on it, against the expressed wishes of the school and local community, a military academy (which was given one wing of Senn’s building), the school rebounded by forming a Strategic Planning Committee and beginning to draft a vision for the school’s next five years. The committee was open to the public and comprised of representatives from the school (students, teachers, parents, LSC members, and administrators), community members, and local politicians and their representatives (State Rep. Harry Osterman and Nancy Myerson from Smith’s office attended).

The group met bi-weekly for a year and a half, held focus groups, collected survey data, talked to many residents, and were just getting ready to unveil the Senn Strategic Plan when someone from Smith’s office leaked a suspiciously similar but also crucially different plan to the LSC. This one had Smith’s name on it, and included some apparently plagiarized bits from the Senn Strategic Plan, but also the stunning information that Smith wanted to close down Senn and open, in its building, four small schools with new names, new programs, and most importantly, new students. Of the four planned schools, three would be selective, admitting students based on test scores. Senn, on the other hand, is an open enrollment school, open to all students living in its boundaries. Right now, Senn is one of the most diverse schools in the city, with students from at least 60 countries, according the its website. Closing it to all but the few students who can test in would do a disservice to its current students, to its community, and to all citizens of Chicago, who must begin to demand that all our schools be well-funded, excellent, and open to every child.

The Senn Strategic Planning Committee is moving ahead with its plan, that has created a vision of just such a school, developed in open and with the benefit of community residents’ insights, rather than behind closed doors. I’ll post it soon.