Recently on the front page of the Sun-Times, I saw a picture of a school that is near and dear to me.
I immediately read the story because Drake Elementary School was being depicted as a school that is filthy.
The images I saw did not represent the school that I know; the negative picture saddened me because I know that there is more to Drake, 2710 S. Dearborn.
As a “son of the soil of Bronzeville” and chairman of the Bronzeville Community Action Council, I was quite disappointed.
My questions to anyone ready to dismiss the school: Have you ever visited Drake Elementary? Do you know how much this school has accomplished?
I have had the privilege of visiting the school many times and was the 2017 graduation speaker for the proud Drake Dragons.
Having grown up in the Dearborn Homes, the main community that Drake Elementary serves, I am very familiar with the challenges. In 2015, Drake was informed it would be receiving its third principal in three years. I wondered who the new “interim leader” would be and how long this person would last.
I was eager to meet the incoming principal. And, when I did, I immediately knew that her passion and priority was to enhance Drake and provide access, equity and opportunity for her students and the larger community. Along with her staff, Sydney J. Golliday has transformed the Drake community into a family. This lives in the school motto: “One School … One Family … One Community Committed to Learning.”
Golliday, her staff, students, parents and community partners have transformed Drake into a safe, warm, inviting and structured academic environment. Students enjoy coming to school to learn and participate in the numerous school activities for those who meet and exceed academic and behavioral expectations.
The school has nearly 30 partners and has hosted three School Beautification Days.
As a result of this new, engaged community, Drake has:
• Increased its daily student attendance rate from 92.8 percent to 94.7 percent.
• Increased the number of students who passed reading and math by 20 percent.
• Increased its midyear standardized test scores.
• Increased parental involvement and opportunities for parent empowerment.
• Decreased its suspension rate by using restorative practices to re-engage students to repair the harm they have caused.
The leadership also has taken the initiative to open the school on weekends, meet with the custodial staff and develop an internal team to organize the school’s assets.
On weekdays, the school serves as a safe haven, providing extracurricular and academic programs for students who benefit from interventions as well as enrichment.
Surrounding Drake is Williams Park, which utilizes several spaces in the school for Chicago Park District offices and student programs while a new park fieldhouse is being constructed.
After a rodent infestation was discovered at Mollison School last year, Bronzeville community stakeholders requested a look into our schools in an effort to ensure there would not be a repeat situation.
Interestingly, the rooms where the pictures were taken at Drake are not spaces that are used. To be clear, no space in any school should be dirty, disorganized or dangerous. Period.
However, let’s ask a few broader and maybe even more important questions. First, do school principals have control or say so over the cleaning of their buildings? Has the privatization of janitorial services for Chicago Public Schools worked well for those schools and administrators? Are schools that are predominantly white facing what schools that are predominantly black and brown are? Just asking.
Again, I ask, have you visited Drake? If not, it’s time to do so on April 28, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It’s time to visit the Drake Dragons and see the wonderful programs, amazing students, awesome staff and beautiful school. It’s time to support our neighborhood schools, acknowledge their good deeds and not condemn them.
Let’s do it for Drake.
Christopher Harris Sr. is senior pastor of Bright Star Church.