Dyett closing hearing at CPS January 27, 2012

The hearing for the phased closing of Walter Dyett High School (located at 555 E. 51st Street) took place at the Chicago Board of Education located downtown at 125 S. Clark Street on Friday night, January 27, 2012. There were approximately 75-80 people in attendance in the audience, perhaps 20-25 CPS employees on the sidelines, and a battalion of white, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) security jackets on site throughout the building. The hearing was scheduled from 5:30-7:30 PM.

Students from Dyett High School speaking in opposition to the Board's plan to close their school at the January 27 hearing were denied the right to go on the record in their own names. CPS has ruled that all students who speak at the hearings, even with parental permission or because of emancipation, must be put into the official hearing transcript as "Student A," "Student B," etc. CPS officials have given no reason for denying the requests of parents and students that they be allowed to testify in their own names, but years of hearings have shown that CPS wants to suppress the voices of the students as much as possible. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.Various spokespersons from the Board presented their spiels first, followed by members of the audience who had signed up to speak. While those presenting for the Board spoke their names either as though everyone present already knew them or perhaps as though they did not want their names to be well-known, the speakers from the audience were made to clearly state and spell out their names for the person identified by a sign that proclaimed: “Court Reporter.”

The hearing officer, Mr. Porter, had a sign identifying him as: “Hearing Officer.” Please skip a little bit ahead to the heading PUBLIC PARTICIPATION if you would rather wish to hear from the public than CPS employees.

As I entered late, Peter Guidard, he of the “Strategy, Research, and Accountability” sign, was presenting data from a Power Point. His presentation was of the slide-show-of-the-dismal-data variety. He concluded by saying, “To conclude, Dyett has met all the criteria for closure.”

Sean Stalling, former Chief Area Officer/Area 21 and former principal of Manley Career Academy High School, piggybacked onto the dismal data recitation regarding Dyett. In a will-ask-then-answer manner, he asked (himself?) how CPS had tried to help Dyett previous to the present decision to close it. His answer included that CPS had oversight on Dyett’s discretionary budget under its SIPAAA (School Improvement Plan for Advancing Student Achievement) for which they had input from data and “several stakeholders”; plus targeted professional development with coaches who were “thought partners,” training on data, IDS (Instructional Development System), ILT (Instructional Leadership Team), involvement with the University of Chicago Social Services Association, and so on. But none of this worked, so the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of CPS recommended that Dyett be closed.

Mr. Stalling promised that the transition would be smooth, and he recited from the litany of services CPS would now add in order to close Dyett: investments for “additional instructional supports,” an added counselor, and behavioral supports for the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of the students as Dyett is recommended to transition out one grade per year until full closure in 2015. The students of Dyett would attend Wendell Phillips High School.

The last CPS speaker was Jadine Chou, Chief Safety and Security Officer of CPS, who said she was here since November 2011, when she arrived from the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) where she was the Senior Vice President of Asset Management. She told the hearing officer that while she was at CHA, she led “a 50% reduction in serious crime incidents.” She stated that CPS’s Office of Safety and Security (OSS) was prepared to address any safety and security concerns related to the closing of Dyett; she assured a calm and secure learning environment. Among very few details shared, she mentioned that Safe Passage personnel wore identifiable vests to help students to and from school.


There were 29 speakers. Every speaker was vehemently against the closing of Dyett. Throughout the public participation segment, when audience members clapped — often — the hearing officer calmly attempted to reprimand and chastise them.

The first speaker was Angelique Hams, Local School Council (LSC) Chairperson of Ida B. Wells Elementary School located at 244 E. Pershing Road, the same address as the Wendell Phillips High School since they shared space. She stated that with Dyett this would be the third school CPS put across them without input. She challenged the promises of Ms. Chou since there already were “incidences” for Wells students by being housed with Phillips. Ms. Ham was perplexed as to why in everything she heard and read about Dyett and Phillips high schools, there was no mention of Wells, a K-8 elementary school. She said that after three school actions involving Phillips, CPS needed to just let Phillips be.

Sandra Smith said it was as if CPS had stripped a baby, then wondered why it was naked; with the babies being the resources, she said loudly: “Dress the babies!”

Nona Nurney of the Bronzeville Community Action Council (CAC) stated that although there were challenges, CPS needed to build on strengths; the Bronzeville CAC planned to bring back Dyett as part of the whole within the community.

Adourthus McDowell, a parent volunteer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), leader of the “Mic Check” at the December Board of Education meeting, gave a brief history of “school reform” related to Dyett. From 1996-1997, following the 1995 legislation that granted mayoral control of the schools, there were 109 schools on probation; from 2009-2010 there were 299. He asked: Where is the accountability for the destabilization of our schools? He spoke in support for the Bronzeville Global Village Achievers plan, of which Jean-Claude Brizard has not mentioned one word. He said that the community knew that they were set up for sabotage.

One CPS presenter mentioned “Knock at Midnight” as an intervention, but did not mention that they had no funding until November of 2010. Mr. McDowell continued as the hearing officer told him his time was up; he wanted to know how Collins High School went from probation to being taken off probation when they reopened in 2009 if their scores only went up a few points. He said Mayor Rahm Emanual could run, but he couldn’t hide.

Marilyn Foster, a teacher from Dyett wondered how CEO Brizard could speak of a “Listening Tour” when he has never been to Dyett before or after its closing announcement. “Disrespect,” she repeated, “and Destabilization.” CPS phased out Dyett long before the actual announcement, with among other things a loss of positions resulting in no advanced placement classes for a year and no art classes except for seniors.

Ms. Reggs, a parent of an honor roll student at Dyett, spoke in favor of the Global Village plan. She questioned how CPS salaries rose but money for the schools decreased. African-American students and communities were targeted the most. Speaking of elders who had to sit on the floor, she warned them not to dismiss them as if they were nobodies.

Steven Guy asked why the record of CPS did not indicate that Jitu Brown (KOCO) spoke at the previous hearing for Dyett. He told the hearing officer that the documents and information from CPS had lots of misinformation. Don Gibson, a teacher at Dyett donning a t-shirt that read “You Are College Material” on its back, also reiterated that the information presented by CPS was completely focused on the negatives. What did they expect statistically? What do they think might have happened if Dyett was sent students with higher stanine scores? The students of Dyett have improved from their starting points. (Note: When Englewood High School closed, Dyett received those students; when King High School switched to a selective enrollment school, Dyett received the students who were not accepted back into King.)

A group of students from Dyett convened at the podium. The hearing officer was put out momentarily, but the students were not willing to break apart, so he relented and let them remain standing as a group. He insisted that they be referred to as Student A, B, C, etc., even though some stated their names. They did not speak in alphabetical order.

Student A gave the dismal history of the school reform inflicted by CPS onto Dyett beginning with the Paul Vallas changes to King High School. She stated that CPS set them up for failure and that this was not at all about children. Student E told CPS that since “we are the future,” they would come back on them. It was stated a few times above but repeated here that the students of Dyett are required by CPS to take an art class in order to graduate; however, CPS has not supplied an art teacher, so the students have to take the class online. Student E asked how CPS could judge a school that they never stepped foot in. CPS should be the ones on trial, not Dyett. This was followed by loud clapping.

The next student speaker asked: "Wasn’t Fenger enough for CPS?” She said that Dyett led the District on lowered suspension rates.

Another student said that they deserved the same education and resources as others and wanted to know where the power point presentation on Phillips was. The next student listed the classes that they would like to have, such as they have at Dunbar. She also informed the hearing officer about a University of Chicago study that showed that closing schools did not work. CPS needed to put effort into bettering not closing Dyett. Student B spoke about the program Dyett has in partnership with the Chicago Botanical Gardens. (Note: another speaker said that they are second in size after the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, growing and selling food in the community.) He said that CPS was making students clean up the mess that CPS made with school reform.

Student G read aloud a poem he wrote. He told me later that he wrote it as he was sitting there at the hearing. He wowed the audience. One repeating line spoke to “My leader, my leader, my mayor, my CEO” changing at one point from “my” to “Mr.” I asked him to share his favorite part:

“Do you not care? Are you there - when the bell rings? Do you not hear the birds in Dyett’s nest sing? Let us fly high. Let us fly free. Please, Mr. Mayor, do not clip my Dyett eagle wings.”

A student who did not sign up was allowed to speak; Student H said that CPS was demonstrating to the students that giving up was okay, and that when the going got rough, CPS just started something new. She said that each student would need a personal body guard. She said that her parents paid taxes for schools that she couldn’t even attend. What about us? What about me?

After this final student voice, the audience started chanting about fighting for their rights.

Bobbie Townsend, known at Dyett as Grandma B, wanted CPS to know “We know that” for everything negative CPS was saying about Dyett. Katrina Richard, a teacher at Dyett said that CPS was comparing apples to oranges with its data, when Dyett had more special education students than schools it was being compared with. She disputed CPS data, referring to data from the Illinois State Board of Education.

Elaine Cox, a National Board Certified (NBCT) teacher from Dyett, emotionally choked up a bit as she spoke of how they wrapped their arms around students at Dyett that others considered “throwaway students.” She asked about the growth of the students who attended, for contrast, Jones College Prep, asking if the students entered Jones reading at a fourth grade reading level.

Rico Gutstein, a professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Chicago Circle Campus, reviewed 18 years of CPS school reform relating to the students who were sent to Dyett: from the closing then selective enrollment of King, which got millions financially while Dyett got nothing; and through the receiving to Dyett of students from Harper, DuSable, and Phillips (when AUSL took over). Coupled with the gentrification and displacement experienced in the community, he requested a thorough investigation of who went where. He pointed out that this was not a “very lengthy and thoughtful process” as stated in a letter from CEO Brizard on November 30, 2011. He asked if this would be acceptable in the well-off Lincoln Park community. He suspected that CPS was implementing a business plan by and for the 1%, not an education plan.

Jitu Brown from KOCO began with an apology; the hearing officer had threatened to have him removed earlier if he would not keep quiet in the audience. He presented data that only 18% of new schools were at high-performing Level 1, and half of that 18% were selective enrollment schools. He asked: why continue when this was not effective? How could CPS broker off responsibility for the schools, then weed children out? Speaking directly to the CPS employees seated to his right behind the barrier, he told them to look in the mirror. Look at what they were doing to black children. That the worst leadership trait was for someone to believe that he was smarter than anyone else. If this was Oak Park, the School Board would jump when the parents demanded anything. CPS cannot prove that closing schools works; CPS cannot run from the evidence that it doesn’t work.

Bernita Johnson-Gabriel said the proposed boundaries were not logical or sustainable. The status quo was unacceptable, but so was closing the school. She also bought up the fact that Dyett had a state-of-the-art gym, renovated with $500,000 from ESPN. She asked: How could an outside organization give more money and recognize the promise of Dyett than the entity charged with educating the students. She said a meeting was called by CEO Brizard at the school, but no one from CPS showed up. The hearing officer said that he heard that already. Ms. Lee from KOCO said that Brizard’s plan was nothing new. It was a history rehash of Paul Vallas and Arne Duncan. A man named Howard, who did not clearly identify himself, said that CPS should not close Dyett simply on the grounds that the process was faulty. At the previous hearing, CPS did nothing to stop the intimidation of the paid protestors, they stopped the meeting when KOCO entered, and their summary of the meeting was not accurate.

Erica Clark, a white CPS parent, said that she was not from the Dyett community (Dyett is 100% Black), but she wanted to show them her support. These turnarounds were wrong. When she heard the CEO and mayor refer to them as “a new day,” she wanted to laugh. She wanted the Dyett parents to know that there were a lot of others just like her out there who supported them, and they would remember this come election time. She told CPS to listen to the parents, consider their plan, and do the right thing.

Sheton Dunlap, a concerned Dyett parent, presented a chain of events in which CPS caused problems with the way they thought they were eliminating them. Toni Clay, another concerned parent, said that children would revert to the street.

Jackson Potter, a representative from the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), recalled that he spoke at a hearing not unlike this one when Englewood closed. He spoke against it as teacher there for five years. He said that a former student told him her younger brother dropped out rather than not attend Englewood. He said that the safety and security issues in CPS were like causing a flood, then building a dam; or calling the firemen, after they started a fire. He pointed out research from the Philadelphia Research Institute showing that school closings didn’t even save school districts money. Why put lives at risk?

The final speaker asked the question: Is there a Board member present? This was followed by the answer: silence.

He said that what was presented by the Board employees to the hearing officer was filled with falsehoods and information left out; they were lying. He then spoke directly toward the CPS employees seated to his right: Why do you dog out Dyett, Mr. Computer Numbers Guy? Have you ever talked to a student at Dyett?

The meeting ended with the following chant: " Who are the people who will save our schools? We are the people who will save our schools."


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