Library lost to flood just latest insult... Altgeld Gardens students, families continue to protest treatment by Mayor, CPS

Two weeks after they took their protests to the December 16, 2009 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, students and families from the Altgeld Gardens public housing project on Chicago's far south side made a dramatic showing at City Hall the day before New Year's Eve, demanding in front of the mayor's office that they be allowed to use the mayor's Internet since there is none available in the huge sprawling area where they live.

The protesters were continuing an earlier protest they held at the Board meeting, when they received what they considered the brush off by Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman and other high-ranking officials of the city's huge school system.

With the office of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in the background, Altgeld Gardens residents (above) continued their protests against their treatment by city officials on the Fifth Floor of Chicago's City Hall on December 30, 2009. The protesters have asked the Chicago Board of Education that the Carver high school building be immediately opened to serve (again) as a general high school for the community, thereby saving their children from having to travel four miles to Fenger High School across gang boundaries. The protesters are also demanding that a charter school approved by the Chicago Board of Education for the Carver Middle School building be cancelled, and that the library within the sprawling housing project be reopened so that students and others can have Internet access near their homes. Substance photo by David Vance.The December 30 protest, which highlighted the inequities of city policy in the treatment of African American communities that struggle with poverty, became a major news story during a slow news week. All of the city's major TV news departments, both daily newspapers, and several other new news outlets picked up the story.

Although the problems outlined by the protesters had been growing for years, international media attention on the situation had begun with the September 24, 2009, murder of Fenger High School student Derrion Albert in a gang fight a half mile northeast of the school. The brutal murder, which was taped on a cell phone, was broadcast to millions of people in the USA and around the world while Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott, and President Barack Obama made a desperate pitch in Copenhagen that Chicago be allowed to host the 2016 Olympics. (Chicago was voted out of the Olympics during the first round of voting by the International Olympic Committee while thousands of people gathered in Chicago's Daley Plaza for the event watched the announcement in stunned silence).

The December 30 protest outside Daley's office in the corridor on the fifth floor at Chicago's sprawling City Hall continued as more and more public attention focused on the devastating impact of the policies of the Daley administration on the schools and children of Chicago's poorest families.

While Altgeld Gardens parent Cheryl Johnson spoke (at podium, left) supporters of the neighborhood school for Altgeld Gardens unfurled the petitions they had signed in less than a week in support of the proposal. Despite the widespread support for the re-opening of Carver Area High School as a general high school and the fact that the current "Carver Military Academy" is utilizing only a quarter of the huge Carver building, Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman denied the group's request, while ordering subordinates, including his "Chief Administrative Officer" Robert Runcie and his "Acting Chief New Schools Officer" Jaime Guzman to meet with the group. The group later charged that Runcie was simply stalling, while Guzman was trying to promote a second charter school inside the sprawling housing project. Organizing in the Gardens has demonstrated that the majority of the area's remaining residents reject the expansion of Chicago's charter schools and are demanding a regular public high school for their children. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt from the December 16, 2009, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. These city and federal policies have included more than 70 school closings (usually accompanied by privatizations through charter schools) and a simultaneous attack on public housing for poor people like the residents of Altgeld Gardens. Altgeld Gardens was the city's second largest public housing project (by population) and largest (in geographic area) before "housing reform" began to evict the residents over the past decade in programs that were begun during the administration of President Bill Clinton during the 1990s.

The so-called "reform" of public housing, which mirrors the privatization of public education, was more extensive in Chicago than in any other city in the USA prior to the Bush administration's expansion of both through "No Child Left Behind" (for education) and a continuation of Democratic Party corporate reforms in housing and welfare.

One of the ironies of the December Board of Education meeting noted by some activists was the presence at the Board of former Chicago Housing Authority chief Phillip Jackson. Jackson, who during his time as Mayor Daley's CHA chief implemented the destruction of public housing for thousands of poor African American children and families, was at the Board meeting to protest the slim availability of magnet and selective enrollment school seats for African American children. Critics noted that Jackson had been one of the key leaders in displacing poor people from public housing, which has since been privatized in many areas. Jackson's protests, as part of the "Black Star Project", gets widespread publicity from Chicago's corporate media, which never asks Jackson about his role in the destruction of public housing or his earlier years as Chief of Staff to the first "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's pubic schools, Paul Vallas. During the 1990s, Jackson was one of the most loyal lieutenants of Daley and the policies of the Daley administration in both housing and education. He refuses to discuss those historical years with Substance and relies on the other Chicago media to ignore them.


Mayor Daley: We Want To Use YOUR Internet! « Chicago Labor & Arts ...

By Lew Rosenbaum

As Substance News has reported (see Jim Vail’s article at http://www.substance articles.php? page=1022§ion=Article on the Substance News Web site) the Chicago School Board met last week and was confronted by hundreds of people protesting Board policies.

Parents and students from Altgeld Gardens on Chicago’s far south side were joined by members of GEM (Grassroots Education Movement), Teachers for Social Justice, CORE (Caucus Of Rank-and-file Educators), Kenwood-Oakwood Community Organization (KOCO) and others to demand that CPS place a quality neighborhood public school in the building that houses Carver Military Academy.

The [military] Academy, a selective enrollment school, replaced a community school that at one time served the Gardens and surrounding area; but the Academy only uses 1/4 of the space in the school.

What especially took the Board by surprise, was that the protesters presented the Board with a 38-page proposal for the new school. Leadership of this protest belongs to the parents and students from the Gardens; parents have been involved for 30 years in the battle against toxic waste dumping in the area, and the higher disease rates that are consequences. The new school proposed by the protesters would be called the "Hazel Johnson Environmental Justice School", and would exist side-by-side with the current military academy. Many speakers in the public participation part of the program repeated their support of the proposal.

Since then, parents and their supporters have met twice with David Pickens, a leading officer from the Board of Education. The protesters had demanded a meeting with the Board in the Gardens. The Board officials typically refuse to meet away from their offices. In this case, they did meet in the Gardens, and agreed to let Cheryl Johnson chair the meeting. She is executive director of the community organization that has spearheaded the fight against the toxics (People for Community Recovery) and one of the founders of the Committee for Safe Passage (safety for the students in the schools).

Wednesday, December 30, the parents and students from Altgeld came to city hall to confront Mayor Daley with their concerns. The talks, Cheryl Johnson said, are now just talks. Parents haven’t seen action yet. Parents are not willing to accept transfers to other schools where the distance may be greater, educational services no better and the safety issue not resolved. The parents have placed an interim proposal in front of the Board until a fully functioning school can be established in the fall of 2010. They are asking for 4 or 5 classrooms to be staffed by certified, union teachers (the Board wants these to be associated with another CPS school, acting as a “satellite.”). But, as Ms. Johnson reiterated, so far this is just words without action.

Last week, after the protests opposed a charter school in the community, the School Board showed their responsiveness . . . by approving the charter school. On December 30 parents and students again emphasized their desire for a public high school in their community. They were at Mayor Daley’s office perhaps because the Mayor’s office took control of the schools over 10 years ago and now is ultimately responsible. But the occasion for coming to Mayor Richard Daley was to show him directly that students do not have a school and do not even have a public library in their community that is accessible, and consequently cannot even use public access internet to keep up on their classes during the holiday break, to do research. A number of students spoke to the issue: they are behind in their classes and afraid of flunking. And so in a spirited display, the community residents and their supporters chanted demands to use Daley’s internet access.

It is not surprising that Mayor Daley did not come out to meet the protesters Wednesday. Nor is it surprising that he didn’t let them in to use his computer. It is also not surprising the the Board is delaying action as long as it can.

This will be a difficult fight to win, but the people in the community have expressed their willingness to fight this battle. It is literally a matter of life or death. But it also raises questions about how much the School Board is willing to concede, and how will they guarantee a quality education when they have proven how adept they are at dismantling public education in the guise of “No Child Left Behind.” The significance of winning this battle, even this limited one, is that the parents are taking the leadership in taking back from private hands a space that once was public — a school which was a public school, is now a military academy and is slated for charterization next year.

Note that GEM and CORE are planning a big event January 9, an educational summit at Malcolm X College, where the focus will be on school closings and charterization. The event will take place from 10 AM to 1PM. Child care will be available, and refreshments will be on hand.

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Parents, students ask city to reopen their Altgeld library branch 'Can we use your internet?' December 31, 2009 BY ROSALIND ROSSI Education Reporter Sun-Times

Fenger High School senior Kermilia Wellington wanted to spend her Christmas break at the local library, using the Internet to work on college applications -- but her neighborhood branch has been closed since March. "I'm trying to go to college, but I don't have a computer where I can apply to college," Kermilia said.

Chicago students and parents from the Altgeld Gardens housing development gather Wednesday at City Hall to demand that the city reopen their library branch, which was closed in March after a steam pipe burst. They also complained about the closing of their neighborhood high school. (Keith Hale/Sun-Times) So instead, she joined about two dozen other protesters from the Altgeld Gardens housing development who gathered outside Mayor Daley's City Hall office Wednesday to demand that Daley reopen the Altgeld Branch of the Chicago Public Library.

The same group has complained about Daley's closing their neighborhood high school, causing friction that they say led to the September beating death of Fenger student Derrion Albert.

On Wednesday, their angry chants echoed through empty halls: "We don't have a library. We don't have a school. So Mayor Daley, what do you want us to do?''

When a press secretary emerged to find out their demands, one student screamed, "Can we use your Internet?" Other protesters quickly took up that message as their new chant.

Some kids needed the Internet to work on college applications. Others wanted to prepare for college admission tests. Still others said they have homework that demands Internet access.

Going to libraries outside Altgeld requires travel through dangerous areas, said Altgeld parent Cheryl Johnson. To get to one, at 119th and Halsted, kids have to take three buses and walk six blocks, Johnson said.

The Altgeld Branch, in a Chicago Housing Authority building at 132nd and Ellis, was closed in March after a steam pipe burst. One of three estimates put repairs at $500,000, a CHA spokesman said. The Chicago Public Library hopes to open a new Altgeld branch by summer in an empty wing of the Wheatley Child Parent Center at 133rd and Corliss, library officials said.

Chicago Public Schools would renovate the wing and rent it to the library, which would help with renovation costs, Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey said.

The CHA hopes to open a computer center, using 30 used computers rehabbed by trained CHA residents, in January in the Altgeld Community Center at 951 E. 132nd Pl., CHA officials said.

But all of that comes too late for kids who need the Internet now. Said Johnson: "If [a burst pipe] happened in another community, it would have been repaired by now.''

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Students try to get into Daley's office... to use his Internet Jennifer O'Neill Reporting WBBM Newsradio 780

CHICAGO (WBBM) -- A group of about two dozen Fenger High School students and parents tried to get into Mayor Richard M. Daley's office this afternoon to use his Internet access.

They were calling attention to the fact that they don't have access to a library, since the one at the Altgeld Gardens CHA housing development where they live was shut down last spring because of flooding.

Daley was not available to address the crowd, but spokesman Lance Lewis says the CHA and Chicago Public Library System have been working with community groups to open a new library in the new year. He says there also are plans in the works to open a new charter school in the neighborhood.

But the group says it doesn't want another charter school and it can't wait until next school year to have access to a safe school with quality education.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fenger High School students protest at mayor's office over lack of library near Altgeld Gardens -- Chicago Tribune (also on Breaking News)

Altgeld residents also left without neighborhood school

Kermilia Wellington, a senior at Fenger High School, wants to go to Southern Illinois University next year, but she doesn't have access to a computer to fill out the online application. "It's too late to apply to most schools. If I can't do it in time, I'm going to the Navy," said Wellington, 18, whose neighborhood library in the Altgeld Gardens public housing complex has been closed since it flooded in March. The closest library is now two bus rides away, she said.

Wellington was among 20 Fenger students who showed up at Mayor Richard Daley's office Wednesday to protest the lack of a neighborhood library and school.

The Board Report from then Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan to close Carver High School as a general high school and open it as a military high school meant that the majority of high school age students from the Altgeld Gardens public housing project would have to travel more than four miles to Fenger High School to get to their "neighborhood" high school. Carver, which is located in the far eastern edge of the sprawling Altgeld Gardens project area, had served the Gardens from the 1960s, when it was opened. The closing of Carver was part of CEO Arne Duncan's plan to create a half dozen military high schools in Chicago, an unprecedented program. The resultant problems for the children of Altgeld Gardens who did not want a militarized education was finally dramatized by the murder of Derrion Albert a half mile from Fenger High School along one of the two bus routes Altgeld Gardens students had to follow to get to and from school every day. Substance graphic from the Chicago Board of Education Agenda of Action, February 22, 2006.Daley was not in his office, but a representative briefly came out to hear the students' concerns. Wellington handed him a copy of a poem that read: "We don't have a library, we don't have a school, so Mayor Daley, what do you want us to do? We don't want to rob, we don't want to steal, and we are tired of seeing teens get killed."

Students who live in Altgeld have been assigned to Fenger since 2006, when their neighborhood high school was turned into a selective-enrollment military academy. There have been long-running tensions between students who live near Fenger and those who are bused from Altgeld. That feud contributed to the beating death of student Derrion Albert in September.

Several Altgeld parents and students said they still want a neighborhood school. Chicago Public Schools said 10 students have accepted an offer for a midyear transfer to Carver Military, and the district will give Altgeld students priority when a charter high school near the housing complex opens next school year. Altgeld residents have gone without a library for nine months, after a pipe burst in their local facility. The Chicago Public Library system said Wednesday it has found a new nearby location for a library -- at the Wheatley Child Parent Center -- that should open before the summer.

"We have been actively looking for other alternatives in the neighborhood while we were waiting on CHA to renovate," said Ruth Lednicer, the library spokeswoman. Lednicer said she understands it is inconvenient for residents to travel to another location, but the "payoff will be worth it."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Students: Fenger unsafe By Katy Yeiser December 30, 2009 @ 3:30 PM

Parents, students and community members of a South Side neighborhood brought their demands for a new school and library to Mayor Richard M. Daley's doorstep this morning.

About two dozen residents of the Altgeld Garden neighborhood demonstrated outside the mayor's City Hall office. They're asking for repairs to their library, which was damaged in a spring flood.

Without it, they say, students no longer have a place to access the Internet, do homework and prepare for college-preparatory exams.

They also continued to speak out in favor of a new neighborhood school, which they proposed at this month's school board meeting. Students from the area attend Fenger High School, which residents say has become increasingly dangerous since the beating death this fall of student Derrion Albert.

The proposed new school would be located in the closer Carver Military Academy.

Protesters spent a few minutes this morning at the mayor's door, calling for him to come out and speak with them.

"We don't have no library. We don't have no school. So, Mayor Daley, what you want us to do?" they said.

Residents have been asking to meet with the mayor since Albert's death, says Cheryl Johnson, executive director of People for Community Recovery.

The mayor has instead delegated staff members to hear concerns. Daly wasn't available Wednesday morning, butspokesman Lance Lewis talked briefly with the protesters.

"I feel like Fenger is not a safe environment," student Deontea Jones told Lewis. "We need some type of support and (the mayor) needs to get back to us as soon as possible."

Lewis took a statement from the community addressed to the mayor and left after about 10 minutes. Community members still want to meet with Daley, Johnson says.

"We're tired. We need some action," Johnson says.

About a dozen Fenger students came to the protest and expressed their frustrations over not having a library or neighborhood school. For the students in Altgeld Gardens, getting to school everyday means taking two buses and walking across gang lines.

"It's not fair that they have to cross gang lines and have their lives threatened to get an education," says Aisha Elamin, who is a member of the University of Chicago's Teachers for Social Justice.

Fenger's environment wasn't as hostile in the beginning of the school year, freshman Jontell Laws says. But violence in the school grew after Albert's death.

"It's escalated to everybody getting jumped on. It's gotten worse and worse," Laws says.

Alton Spikes is also experiencing violence in his first year of high school. Spikes says he has been in fights and been jumped at school more than once. Although security has increased since Albert's death, violence still exists, Spikes says.

"It doesn't help," he says.

Spikes is attempting to transfer out of the school, and more than 150 have asked to transfer, CPS Chief Administrative Officer Robert Runcie said at this month's school board meeting. 


January 1, 2010 at 9:18 AM

By: truth seeker

internet and library access should be possible NOW

I'm wondering what happened to the books in the library which had the broken water pipe. Did any of them survive? Could there at least be bookmobile service a few days a week to offer access to books and interlibrary loan? Is there a social room in Altgeld that could serve as a temporary facility until an appropriate facility can take over on a more permanent basis? It seems ridiculous and criminal that something has not been done.

As for internet service, has everyone forgotten how easy it is to use existing building wiring(power/coax) or wireless networking to quickly distribute internet access> Did anyone look into compelling CHA to share the T1 line that probably is connected to the administrative facility as the basis for the service which could be distributed? Has anyone offered to get computers into apartments or a social room at Altgeld to get access to the kids who need to do their college applications?

Practical easily implemented solutions exist to address interim acute needs. Why is there no action?

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