The Chicago Board of Education will vote Wednesday to approve five new programs slated to launch this fall:
Three underused elementary schools will convert to magnets, at Brown on the Near West Side, Claremont in Chicago Lawn and Jungman in Pilsen; and two classical elementary schools will open in Bronzeville and in West Elsdon.
The vote will bring specialty schools to neighborhoods of color that sorely need better education options. Families shouldn’t have to trek across town to find the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula that the magnets will offer, or the accelerated academics offered at classical schools. Existing magnets and classicals already have far more applicants than seats.
But it shouldn’t take the politics of gentrification to bring good news like this to schools and neighborhoods with mostly black and brown children.
That’s what history shows happened in 2016 at Brown, a lower-income black school in a community that had been gentrifying since the Henry Horner public housing project was torn down. About a mile away sat Skinner West, a higher-income, racially-mixed, overcrowded school. It would have made sense at that time, especially for a financially-strapped district like Chicago, to target resources to underused Brown, both to benefit the existing students and to attract children from the overcrowded school nearby.
Instead, CPS promised Skinner West a $20 million annex that wasn’t part of a recently released master facilities plan.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) stepped in, insisting that if Skinner got an annex, Brown must get resources, too. Mayor Emanuel quickly unveiled a plan to transform Brown into a STEM magnet, with new science labs and retraining for teachers paid for with a $15 million federal grant that Claremont and Jungman will share. Jungman, too, is in a rapidly gentrifying community, Pilsen.
A reminder of the Brown-Skinner saga isn’t meant to throw shade at the district and City Hall. Today’s vote is a positive step for kids.
But it is a reminder of an undeniable Chicago reality: Sometimes it takes flexing political muscle to make people do the right thing.
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