CPS announces Dyett compromise

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Dyett High School will reopen as an open-enrollment arts-themed high school, a decision that appears intended to end the three-week hunger strike by the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (known as “KOCO”), Janice Jackson, chief of education for Chicago Public Schools, announced Thursday.

Those strikers, however, rejected the proposal after it was announced Thursday afternoon.

Jackson said newly-installed leaders at CPS had to “look with fresh eyes,” and that CPS would be “taking pieces” from all three options presented under a prior request for proposals. That includes one from the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett/KOCO and another from Monica Haslip, founder of Little Black Pearl.

“We will have an arts theme, but it will not be run by Little Black Pearl, and we are also bringing in the technology piece that KOCO has lobbied for.”

Not good enough, the strikers said in a statement issued through a spokesman.

“This does not reflect the vision of the community,” the statement said.

None of the leaders proposed for the new school in the CPS compromise plan “have been invested in the process. Many of them have existing contracts with the city or have been on the payroll. The mayor has lied to us and the taxpayers of this city. This process has been a sham from the beginning and was created to simply award the school to a private operator,” said spokesman J. Brian Malone.

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As proposed by CPS, the school would give enrollment preference to students who live within the Dyett community boundaries. Remaining seats would be filled by a lottery.

Jackson said CPS settled on an arts program because that model attracts students from all over the city.

“We had to look at what is in the best interest of the community. We looked at the data and we decided we need to open a school that would attract people from within the community and also outside the community,” she said.

The new Dyett will also be an innovation lab.

“We want to make sure we are bringing resources to a community that has felt they have not been listened to. Unfortunately, not every school in Bronzeville can afford the type of resources that we plan to invest in this innovative space,” Jackson said.

The controversy over what would become of Dyett has been brewing in the Bronzeville neighborhood for five years, and came to a head when a dozen KOCO supporters went on a hunger strike, vowing not to eat solid food until their demands were met.

The grassroots organization had lobbied for the school to reopen as the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School. They also did not want it to be privately run as either a contract or charter school.

The decision by CPS appears to have struck a compromise that gives KOCO a pseudo-victory and a way to end its hunger strike.

Jackson pointed out that because of her previous role as Network Chief, she has close ties to educational stakeholders, having managed 26 principals in Bronzeville, Woodlawn and Hyde Park. The decision was reached with input from pastors, principals, school leaders, and entrepreneurs. Also, Jackson said members of the Community Action Council, created in 2013 to advocate on behalf of Bronzeville schools were part of the decision-making process.

“When the CAC devised a strategic plan, the first point on that plan was to open an arts theme,” Jackson said.

She said she didn’t want to “blindside” KOCO with the announcement, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool called Jitu Brown, one of the hunger strikers, to let him know about the plan before he announced it at a Thursday afternoon press conference.

Afterward, Claypool said he knew the hunger strikers were “disappointed.”

“We hope that they will recognize that this is a win for everybody,” Claypool said.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, who attended the news conference, said he supports the compromise.

He mentioned his own history of activism, saying activists sometimes are blinded by their enthusiasm, and “we don’t really realize when we have won.”

Rush added: “Eighty percent of that — which I am aware of — that they were seeking, they have won,” Rush said of the hunger strikers.

Ald. Will Burns (4th) called the decision a “great day for Bronzeville.”

“We are all working together to create a great open enrollment arts program high school in Bronzeville. It honors the legacy of Captain Dyett and comports with what many of us in the community have wanted for several years,” he said.

“We intend to to start the principal selection process immediately so we can identify an administration to build out the framework of this school, and engage the community,” Jackson said.

“We definitely intend to focus indigenous artists on the South Side,” she added. “I want to make sure that we are not arguing over Dyett and the facility and we think about it as an idea in a space.”

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