Will Alderman Smith's 'facilities' money go to break Senn HS into 'small schools'? $6 million on tap for Senn High School?

Talk around the halls at Chicago’s Nicholas Senn High School has turned recently to $6 million in “facility improvements” that were floated by Alderman Mary Ann Smith at a local block club meeting in early May.

Senn needs renovation of its theatre space, which lacks an effective sound system, spotlights, or a presentable curtain. In addition to improvements to the stage, Smith is also suggesting that $2 million will be forthcoming for HVAC improvements, and another $2 million for refurbished science labs.

Importantly, none of these improvements have been discussed with Senn’s Local School Council or its Strategic Planning Committee (SPC), raising the issue of whether it is the alderman or the school community that will decide the future of Senn.

Many at Senn do not trust Alderman Smith.

As a member of the SPC, Chris Inserra told Substance Newspaper, “Senn high school continues to struggle for resources and a seat at the table to help decide its own future… We are very proud of the community process that we established — thousands of people have participated in that — but Alderman Smith has chosen not to.”

The SPC formed two years ago and has held extensive outreach, holding a series of large community meetings, getting out surveys and holding focus groups. Over two thousand people have been involved in planning around Senn. The group was formed as an initiative of the Senn LSC and includes many of the activists who had fought to protect Senn during the conflict over Rickover Naval Academy.

In fact, Smith has angered the Senn community with her persistent attacks on the comprehensive public school.

During the hearings about the installation of a Naval Academy in fall of 2004, Alderman Smith called for Senn to be reconstituted. Reconstitution is the process whereby all of the staff at a school are fired (from teachers to the principal) and replaced by a new “team” appointed by Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan. This school year, reconstitution was used by the Duncan administration against four elementary schools (Copernicus, Fulton, Howe, and Morton) and two high schools (Harper and Orr). On June 30, all of the teachers and principals at those schools will lose their jobs.

When the organized Senn community thwarted Smith’s original plan, she continued to be hostile to Senn. In early 2005, she formed an appointed taskforce called “Senn Tomorrow” which sought to put out an RFP (Request for Proposals) that would turn Senn into charter schools.

When members of Senn’s faculty, student body, parents, and community members joined “Senn Tomorrow,” Smith promptly disbanded it.

The SPC is the successor to that committee, and Smith’s aide on Education Issues, Nancy Meyerson participated in the group’s meetings, before suddenly quitting.

In November, on eve of SPC’s release of its plan, Mary Ann Smith arranged her own, private meeting with Arne Duncan in which she put forward her own design for the school — a scheme where Senn would be closed and broken into four “small schools.” Ironically, while Smith is still promoting “small schools” for supposedly improving Senn, Orr High School is being reconstituted this month five years after it adopted “small schools” as its model. Senn has produced a lot of political pressure on Smith. Members of the SPC are meeting with State Senator Heather Steans. U. S. Representative Jan Schakowsky continues to be involved as well, as does State Representative Harry Osterman, who is on Senn’s SPC.

But the school is not only relying on elected officials. The school community continues to be very active, holding workshops for teachers as recently as mid-May, when 250 people came out to the unveiling of Senn’s strategic plan (including representatives of the Board of Education).

Many in the Senn community are worried that the planned improvements are not intended for Senn at all, but rather for the four “small schools” which Smith proposed to Arne Duncan in November of 2007.

Mary Ann Smith continues to tell block clubs that her plan for Senn will be implemented in Fall of 2009. “She has continued to put it out to the block clubs that her plan is going forward. In reality, that’s not true,” said Chris Inserra.

The money that Smith plans to use will come from the Clark-Ridge TIF (Tax Increment Financing district), CPS’s Capital Improvement budget, and federal monies through Jan Schakowsky, Smith has reportedly said. There was no Chicago Board of Education Capital Improvement Budget presented to the public during hearings in May 2008, and Senn did not participate in the hearings. The hearings were held at six locations across the city between May 1 and May 22. Many north side high schools made presentations, as did several aldermen. Neither Senn nor Smith participated in any of the six hearings. The Organization of the North East (ONE), a major community organization, has announced that Senn with be the focus of their annual convention, which will be held on June 2nd and will have a thousand participants. 


May 6, 2011 at 1:25 PM

By: kierra



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