Saturday, July 12, 2008

Politicians, Free Speech, and Generosity

After months of invitations from the Senn Strategic Planning Committee, Alderwoman Mary Ann Smith finally came to Senn High School to talk about the school’s future. The meeting was “brokered” by State Rep. Harry Osterman. Unfortunately, of the nine members of Senn’s Strategic Planning Committee, including three amazing Senn students, Christine, Bagi, and Umme, who rearranged their lives to be able to attend the Friday meeting at 3:00 PM, only four were allowed into the meeting room. The rest, including all three students, were sent to the hallway, where we waited for nearly two hours.

At the close of the meeting, we were invited in, at the insistence of Linda England, Senn’s LSC Chair, to introduce ourselves to David Pickens (CPS), Nancy Myerson and Mary Ann Smith (Alderwoman’s office), and others. Bagi took the opportunity to express his “sadness” about being excluded and Smith’s plan to close Senn as a general admission school. He came here a year ago (his mother country is Mongolia), he said, and “thought America believes in freedom of speech.” Smith jumped in to explain her view that, “Whether truth or lies, it’s all free speech.” Although only loosely related to what Bagi was expressing, that actually explains a lot about Smith, who dissembles rather frequently—she’s a just good public servant, upholding and enacting our Constitutional rights, even when truth-challenged.

In a very little nutshell, the word at meeting’s end was that Smith’s office will commit to providing funding for an “educational consultant” which Senn doesn’t need (it has highly qualified teachers, administrators, and Strategic Planning Committee members, including several with advanced education and content area degrees). And we will all work together to craft a plan we “can all sign off on” by January 2009. It seems, for new, that Senn will stay one school, open to all, with a wide range “differentiated learning opportunities” inside the building, including International Baccalaureate, AVID, and more.

Now if only the school could get someone to provide funds for lost positions and needed equipment—how about a few LCD projectors (Smith’s office promised some more than a year ago, but they never showed up); reviving the band (the instruments are gathering dust in a closet, waiting for the instructor position to be funded); service learning (which may be cut this year, though the program was award-winning); a Freshman counselor; equipment for the one up-to-date science lab, and even another science lab? Isn’t that what all students deserve?

I have a proposal: The parents of Northside Prep and Walter Payton students, who raise funds by assessing fees from families, holding auctions, and asking for contributions for their own children—maybe they could share, and send a little of that money over to Senn and the many other Chicago schools with largely low income, English-as-a-Second-Language, immigrant student and family populations. I’d like Bagi to know that America might tolerate lies, but we also support generosity.

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