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Despite community pleas, CPS puts Dyett HS out for proposals

The "Jazz: An American Art Form" Captain Walter Dyett statue outside DuSable High School on Tuesday, November 5, 2013. | Chandler West / for Sun-Times Media

Chicago Public Schools went ahead Friday with a request for proposals to reopen a school in Dyett High School in 2016 despite many impassioned pleas — including from a civil rights icon at Wednesday’s board meeting — to install an existing community-developed school program this fall.

The district asked for an “innovative program which engages its students and also meets the needs of the local community” in its request released Friday. The Board voted in 2012 to phase out the school currently home to just 13 seniors set to graduate in June, but CPS reconsidered this fall, spurred by protests, to consider reopening the school.

CPS is not looking for a charter operator to take over the building but is open to private contract operators as well as district-operated schools for September 2016. All must apply by April 6, which would make a September opening unlikely. The district said it will evaluate proposals on educational plans, community involvement, leadership and operational capacity, finances and facilities plan, and plans to put the winner before the Board for approval on August 26 following a June community meeting and August public hearing.

CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the request isn’t legally required; rather it’s been issued “to ensure that any and all interested parties have an opportunity to submit a proposal. Conducting this process is the most fair and comprehensive method to evaluate all options for the school.”

The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School developed a neighborhood high school plan over two years with input from the Chciago Teachers Union, the Chicago Botanic Gardens, Teachers for Social Justice and many others. Their vision teaches high schoolers about global leadership and green technology; the group has been begging CPS to let them reopen the school in September 2015.

Civil rights icon and veteran educator Timuel Black, 96, told the board at Wednesday’s meeting that he knew Captain Walter Henri Dyett, the musician and music director at South Side high schools for whom the school is named.

“He was a great man, an inspiration not just in terms of his music but in terms of the educational demands that he put on his students,” Black said. “And therefore symbolically, that building, and that name and those people who have a desire to give it the fame and acclaim that it once enjoyed have not been included in the new ideas about what should Dyett be.”

Black cited his teaching at DuSable, Farragut and Hyde Park high schools and City College administration, “so I know a little bit about it, and I take the position that unless the community around school is involved… that school has more chances of difficulty, whether it’s a charter school or whatever it may be,” Black said.

“I come here in support of those who are for the re-evaluation and rehabilitation of Dyett and its history and all the things that it stands for.”

Black was joined by South Side parents looking for a solid neighborhood option for their children, some of who, they said, had special needs that would rule out a competitive selective enrollment high school, and by a representative from the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

Coalition member and Hyde Park mother Joy Clendenning was among them. On Friday, she said she was concerned about leaving the Dyett building vacant for a year, especially since the coalition has had its plan in place for several years.

That timing “has been a problem for us,” she said. “We have been at board meetings, we have been meeting with people, we presented the plan to the board last spring. There has been plenty of time to do a really good planning process.”

Meanwhile, area eighth graders are stuck without a good neighborhood option, she said.

“On Wednesday, I summed it up: I’ve been so in awe of how the community has come together during the last 2 or 4 years… and I just don’t understand why a school system would need an RFP process to work with the community on the school they want.”