About 50 protesters flocked to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Ravenswood home Monday afternoon to voice their opposition to plans to convert the National Teachers Academy elementary school in the South Loop into a high school.
The group — which included parents, students and other supporters — gathered outside Emanuel’s home in the 4200 block of North Hermitage to protest the CPS’ decision to change NTA, 55 W. Cermak, into a new neighborhood high school.
CPS announced the plans last August and final approval from the Board of Education is still needed. The Emanuel-appointed board will likely vote on the measure in February, and it is expected to pass.
Pointing to the controversial holiday on which the protest was held — Columbus Day — Elizabeth Greer, chair of the NTA Local School Council, said the decision to convert NTA was “the definition of neo-colonialism.”
“Like the story of America, the NTA story is a story of colonization,” Greer said. “This is the definition of educational imperialism. A community that has all the advantages of wealth and power have decided that they deserve something. And they are going to take it.”
“They do not care that their desire to turn NTA into a high school will displace 700 students, the majority of whom have no wealth and no power,” she added.
In a letter to NTA families sent earlier this year, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said:
“CPS is taking an important step toward building diverse, high-quality neighborhood schools that will serve your children from pre-K through high school graduation. We did not make this decision lightly, and we believe this is in the best interest of the entire community. We also believe it was important to make a decision so that we could move forward together.”
NTA supporters have pointed to the school’s rise to Level 1, the district’s second-highest rating, in pleading to keep an elementary school that serves a high percentage of African-American students. Its students could attend South Loop Elementary, 1212 S. Plymouth. It serves far fewer poor children than NTA and will get an annex that allows it to expand or stay put as high school grades are phased in.
After addressing the group, Burnside resident and NTA parent Korey Bilbro tried to leave a poster-sized letter on Emanuel’s doorstep, but he was turned back by police.
It wasn’t known whether Emanuel was in the house at the time of the protest, but his wife Amy Rule was dropped off at home about 15 minutes before demonstrators arrived. She facetiously asked the officers assigned to the house if they were “ready for some fun?” before thanking them and walking inside.
Latasha Watkins, another speaker who is mother to a first grade NTA student, spoke glowingly of the school, which she drives to every day from the Calumet Heights neighborhood, 11 miles away.
Watkins said in NTA she found “a community of parents and administrators that we knew would take care of our African-American sons, not only academically but that they would be nurtured.”
“That’s what we found, and to have that snatched from us is just untenable,” she said.
She added that she wants to send her younger child to NTA for kindergarten next year. Eight months pregnant, Watkins also wants her soon-to-be-born child to attend NTA when they are of age.
When speakers paused for applause from the group, a boy who brought a guitar and small amplifier played the famous riff from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” which the group used as backing music for other chants.
After the speakers concluded, the group marched once around the block chanting “NTA is here to stay” before letting the kids play in Helen Zatterberg Park, just up the street from Emanuel’s house.
Contributing: Lauren FitzPatrick