Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Vigil for One School’s Survival

It’s nearly beyond belief, that a community would have to beg its local public official to keep its neighborhood high school alive. It’s shocking that she—Alderwoman Mary Ann Smith—can hold up the plans for school improvement that over 2,000 local folks have weighed in on, and that others, including teachers, parents, administrators, and residents, have been meeting nearly weekly (after work, and on Saturdays) to research, consult, brainstorm, develop, and write. So much labor, good will, energy, and hope held hostage by…what exactly?

So here’s how it’s playing out: Senn’s Strategic Planning Committee has developed a plan to strengthen the community school over a five-year period. But Alderwoman Smith wants to close Senn down and install in its place several selective small high schools; this news reached Senn via a leaked document after a year’s work on the strategic plan, with one of Smith’s aides in weekly attendance. Then Senn was turned down for some grant renewals—the word was that they didn’t want to fund a school with an “uncertain future.” Senn’s principal heard from a colleague that Board of Education documents related to Senn were red-flagged—take no action. Chicago Public Schools says it can’t promise to work with the Senn Strategic Planning Committee to improve the school unless Senn is working with Smith, but Smith won’t set a date to meet.

The Organization of the Northeast (ONE) tried to move the issue by making Senn’s future the center of its yearly convention on June 2. Smith was invited but didn’t show. So we took the meeting to her home, and asked her to support Senn. But really, it’s maddening—why should a public school have to plead for survival? Especially, why should it have to get permission to exist from one local official? Except, of course, that’s not what’s really going on—Daley has his plans and Duncan (CPS CEO), Smith, and the unelected Board of Education simply do his bidding. Smith does it by refusing to answer her door, as you see here.

ONE should take the next vigil to Daley’s doorstep.