'Sabotage and destabilization'... Mid-Strike CTU Rally at Dyett High School

On September 12, 2012, one of three simultaneous Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) rallies held during the first week of the strike took place on the south side in front of Walter H. Dyett High School located at 555 E. 51st Street. Along with a half-dozen or so speakers, the Master of Ceremonies, Jitu Brown, from the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), gave the crowd of thousands information about the history of the situation facing Dyett and the surrounding neighborhood, public schools.

Part of the crowd at Dyett High School protesting the sabotage of the school by CPS. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.In a few words: nothing but sabotage and destabilization from Chicago Public Schools (CPS). With Dyett presently being “phased out” of existence, the major theme of the rally was to support schools not close them. CPS/the Board of Education were referred to as “used schools salesmen.” (Please read past reports from Substance for coverage of school closings surrounding and including the recent CPS Dyett hearings, including “Dyett closing hearing at CPS January 27, 2012” by this reporter.)

Jean-Claude Brizard was referred to as “the CEO from New York who didn’t know anything about Chicago.” Mayor Rahm Emanuel and President Obama (via his Department of Education’s “Race to the Top”) were mentioned as being among those who say it’s all about the test scores. However, with a mention of love for the Chicago Police Department, it was pointed out by one teacher that “what you see on the streets spills into my classroom the next day.” It’s not just about learning in many of these neighborhood public schools. Teachers also need to be their students’ mamas, nurses, and psychologists. Yet the students, the teachers, and their schools were expected to “race to the top.”

The crowd heard quite shocking testimony from an African-American student, presently a junior at Dyett. During this phase-out of their school, CPS was forcing the students to go through the school’s back doors only. They were only being allowed to use the back half of the building. In the rooms they were put into, there were 30 students and not enough desks; the students themselves had to get desks from other rooms. This was what CPS called “Children First.” Points made: This is 2012! We shouldn’t be forced to go through back doors anymore! We need (in reference to the report published by CTU) “The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve”! Student speakers from Social Justice High School also shared the history of their struggles, past and present. (See related reports in Substance.) All of the students reiterated that they were “not going to take it anymore.” The crowd was lead in the following chant: “We’re born out of struggle – and the struggle continues!”

Nothing was held against any other schools, however, when Lake View High School, with 16% white students, had several advanced placement classes, and offered courses in Mandarin Chinese, French, and German – the question asked was why did Dyett only offer the students Spanish I and II? This type of school system was set up from institutional decisions of CPS.

Charter schools that couldn’t match the performance of the public schools in Chicago still sucked the funding from the public schools and the children. Mention was made of the push for an elected school board with accountability to the taxpayers for such decisions. One history teacher from Dyett pointed out that in history there are mistakes. “They said” that a woman’s place was in the home. There was no need for a women’s suffrage movement. “They said” that there was no need for a Civil Rights movement. But history demonstrates that these so-called unnecessary actions bring about very necessary changes. Presently the fight is for the soul of public education, for the schools, for the quality schools for which our ancestors fought.

One speaker simply asked: Who sticks around? Then he mentioned: Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan, Mr. Mezany, Ron Huberman… Brizard? … Mayor Emanual? Another speaker noted the “revolving door of four principals in the past five years” at Dyett.

Teachers, on the other hand, who research showed worked 70 hours a week, were going to be evaluated with a flawed system for which principals received training online. The crowd chanted: “Our students – are more – than just a test score!” Layoffs were on the rise. A fair contract for teachers in Chicago directly affected all. The crowd chanted and moved to: “Heads up! Hands down! Chicago is a union town!”

At one point during the speeches, Jitu Brown announced that they were hearing preliminary reports of breaking news. He informed the crowd of a rumor that CEO Jean-Claude Brizard had resigned. As the crowd instantly went wild with cheering and high-fiving, somehow the song “Respect” by Aretha Franklin started blasting on the loud speakers. (Someone should look into the possible setting of a Guinness Book of World Records for number of people spontaneously singing and dancing and celebrating to “Respect” at a public rally.) However, it was announced a short time later that this news had yet to be confirmed.

The crowd, though disappointed (understatement) was lead in a follow-up singing of the old “Nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, good-by” song. Later, Jitu Brown announced, “CPS is denying the Brizard rumor.” At the close of the rally, Jitu Brown invited everyone to join in a “short walk” to “the scene of the crime” located at the closed Florence Price Elementary School. …This was not a short walk! In the 88 degree heat of the day, hundreds of CTU members and supporters hiked 1.3 miles from Dyett on 51st Street east past Cottage Grove over to Drexel, where they then headed north to 4351 S. Drexel.

Along the way, a group of energetic high school students led the crowd in an alternate singing of the song “War”: “Rahm! –Huh! – Brizard! – What is he good for? Absolutely nothing!” A few brief speeches were given in the shared courtyard between the closed Price Elementary School to the north and the selective enrollment Martin Luther King, Jr. College Preparatory High School to the south. Before heading back to cars parked on 51st Street, everyone chanted: “No More School Closings!” Along with this theme, it might also be noted that the concept of “occupy” was mentioned once or twice during the rally...


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