All charter schools are not created equal. Southland shines

With so many Black administrators leading so many predominantly African-American school districts, I am convinced that the educational fate of our children lies in our own hands. No excuses.

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The first day of school for freshman students at Southland College Preparatory Charter High School for the 2021-22 school year.

Photo provided by John W. Fountain

Through the storm, she has emerged, like a diamond still glistening, this formidable ship in south suburban Chicago, carrying precious cargo: The children.

It has neither failed nor faltered. Withstood incessant battering, and the inevitable boisterous and buffeting winds that might have carried her far off course. Caused her to shipwreck, stranding incalculable hopes and dreams.

She has prevailed. Despite the storm called COVID-19, dark uncertain nights and the raging seas encountered over the last 11 years since beginning the journey to provide a quality education, even for Black children.

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She evolved from hope. Inspired by a community’s cry for an alternative to a failing public high school district, which merged with Dr. Blondean Y. Davis’ dream of creating a top college prep school. So Southland College Preparatory Charter High School was born.

All charter schools are not created equal. Southland shines.

I was there in a crowded elementary school gymnasium during a Christmas concert in December 2009, when Dr. Davis announced the idea for Southland as some beleaguered parents, long thirsting for an educational alternative, wept with joy over the possibility.

There that following late spring for the lottery selection of the school’s first class as families’ hopes hung on a wisp of air beneath ping pong balls.

I had a vested interest. My daughter was among those in that first lottery. Our number was picked. We rejoiced with the others. Cried with those who shed tears whose numbers were not. We mourn and are incensed that after all these years since Brown v. Board of Education, public schools in America remain separate and unequal.

And yet, the question remains: So what are “we” going to do about it?

With so many Black administrators leading so many predominantly African-American school districts, I am convinced that the educational fate of our children lies in our own hands. No excuses.

Dr. Davis, Southland’s CEO and also superintendent of Matteson School District 162, made none. She rolled up her sleeves and laid a foundation upon which Southland was built: Academic excellence, Accountability, Family, Respect, Integrity, Hope, Hard Work, Faith. A longtime educator and administrator with Chicago Public Schools, she infused District 162 and Southland with her experience and lessons learned.

She is Southland’s visionary. She has fought. Stood. Faced court battles that might have extinguished Southland in its infancy. She has built. Led, even through a pandemic. Endured. And she has never relented, always making the first thing the first thing: The children.

Raised in Englewood, her mother instilled in her the notion that, “life really is not about you, but making a difference in the lives of others.”

And this is Dr. Davis’ prayer, she has told me: “May the life I live speak for me.”

Contained within those pages of her life must be the irrefutable truth that she has helped create inspired lives produced by the miracle of hard work at Southland. That graduates of all eight classes have been accepted by all eight Ivy League schools, all top 10 U.S. News & World Report national universities, and 48 of the top 50 ranked national universities; and offered more than $250 million in merit-based scholarships.

It must tell of Southland’s $2.1 million Performing Arts Center, of its new multi-million dollar field house. That Southland is the only charter high school to earn the state’s highest designation of “exemplary” for two consecutive years.

But nothing speaks louder than Southland’s presence on Sauk Trail, just east of Cicero Avenue in Richton Park, where it stands as an educational beacon of hope.

Where, after a year of mostly no in-person classes, the children once again this week entered Southland’s open doors.

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