Terrible timing on new school

Written By By MARY MITCHELL Posted: 05/26/2014, 12:43am

In announcing plans to build another selective-enrollment high school on the North Side, Mayor Rahm Emanuel arrogantly dismissed his critics.

That’s how wrong the timing is for such an endeavor.

Concerned African-American families on the South and West sides are still so outraged over the mayor’s decision to shutter 50 public schools last year, that “Anybody but Rahm” political campaign has formed to challenge Emanuel’s re-election bid.

And despite emotional pleas from community stakeholders outside of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, the mayor’s handpicked school board moved forward with plans on Wednesday to turn three more public schools over to a private contractor.

Now, Emanuel’s decision to open a selective-enrollment school named for President Barack Obama in an upscale community where roughly 70 percent of the seats will be filled through an admissions process adds insult to injury.

Emanuel called the proposed new high school an investment, and pointed out that each year 2,400 students who are qualified to get into the highly coveted elite high schools are turned away.

“We have to make sure that across the city of Chicago parents have high quality [schools] so they can make the high quality choices they want. . .,” Emanuel said at a news conference.

“Our obligation is to make sure that for every child that lives up to their full potential, we as adults must live up to our full responsibility,” Emanuel said.

“And that means making some of the tougher decisions to make sure everybody has a chance to get a great education as it’s the most important investment we can make.”

Obviously, every concerned parent wants the option of sending his or her child to one of the city’s best schools.

And given the odds to get into one of the city’s selective-enrollment high schools, it makes sense to build more of them.

Still, the mayor’s timing shows a disregard for the very people he claims he is trying to help.

It is not the children’s fault that they were born into challenging circumstances. Yet, every day these children are getting cues that they are being left behind in a city divided along socio-economic lines.

For the mayor to build yet another elite high school, while some closed schools are deteriorating, is just another insult.

As for those parents who want more for their children, what they see in their own neighborhoods are fewer educational choices.

In the past, I’ve found Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to be both thoughtful and respectful of community concerns.

But Thursday’s announcement had none of those qualities.

Worse yet, the naming of a new high school for Obama has a contrived feel to it. There will be no shortage of public buildings honoring Obama. Indeed, Chicago won’t even be able to say it was the first to come up with the idea since other states have already done so.

Frankly, if the mayor had to build a new selective-enrollment school and give it Obama’s name, it would have made more sense to build it in an area of the South Side where Obama was involved in community organizing.

But no influential African-American business leader, activist or politician is likely to raise a fuss about the mayor’s rush to name a public building after the first African-American president.

I supported the mayor’s decision to close under-populated schools because it didn’t make sense for the system to continue squandering educational dollars on unneeded facilities when the money could be spent directly on students.

But building a new elite high school on the North Side in the wake of closing so many schools in the black community is about as callous as it gets.

Email: marym@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST

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