As a high school English teacher, I know that one of the biggest challenges for my students at the beginning of the school year is being sure about an answer to a question. Sometimes students meander and then finally get to an answer; at other times, they only answer one part of the question. Lately, in reviewing my district’s answers to clear-cut questions about how our schools function, I realize that my students are not alone in struggling to come up with good answers.
On a rainy and unseasonably cold October day, Sam Koentopp and others from the national nonprofit organization The Kitchen Community (TKC) was leading the kickoff for the Woodlawn Charter School’s new Learning Garden. Every twenty-minute class began in the cafeteria, with a discussion about gardening and the importance of winter crops—crops that are planted not to be harvested, but to keep the soil filled with nutrients over the winter—and continued out in the garden.
The 1963 Boycott of Chicago Public Schools was a pivotal moment in the history of education and racial justice, not only in Chicago, but in the whole country…I’ll repeat that again.” Then even more slowly and emphatically, Jay Travis, former Executive Director of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, repeated the statement.
I spent 2016 researching Chicago’s police-in-schools program. I sought to understand the accountability system that allowed a police officer serving in a high school to return to his post only days after fatally shooting an unarmed teenager.
Over four years after the school closed, on Saturday afternoon, October 7, the Overton Elementary building temporarily reopened to the public for Opening Closings: Reactivating Closed Chicago Public Schools.
Chicago is trying, make no mistake. Consider the Army of Moms based in Englewood, the Violence Interrupters of Cure Violence, the anti-gang violence work of community members Benny and Jorge in Little Village, or Father Pfleger’s parish in Auburn Gresham; examples are everywhere. From the high-profile work by artists like Chance the Rapper and athletes like Joakim Noah, to the anonymous daily struggles of overworked, under-appreciated parents and guardians of our city’s children, Chicago is trying. And yet, in spite of the tireless efforts by our city’s bravest, brightest, and most passionate citizens, we are obligated to reckon with the sad, simple truth: many of Chicago’s young people are still killing each other. And so we keep trying.
One of my uncle’s friends who is my friend too asked us to give him a kiss to the cheek…When I tried to do it, he turned his head and I kissed him on the lips instead of the cheek. That’s when I learned not to trust everyone.” Cung Lieu wrote this reply to Krystal Nambo after she asked him to share about a crazy memory he had.
When Juan Salgado received a call in March telling him that Mayor Rahm Emanuel was going to appoint him to become the new chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), he said his first instinct was to get to work immediately. After the tumultuous year where Salgado’s predecessor, Cheryl Hyman, stepped down, one can imagine Salgado had his work ready for him.
Recently, researchers at American University and Johns Hopkins found that having just one black teacher can reduce a black boy’s likelihood of dropping out by thirty-nine percent. This is great news for my impact as a Black teacher, but I fear that some will read this study and incorrectly conclude that we immediately need more teachers of color in the classroom. While more teachers of color are needed, simply having a more diverse teaching staff is not enough. School leaders must be equipped to develop and foster the competencies needed to make sure there is a culture of diversity and inclusion in schools.
Everything about the day was expertly choreographed. Dozens of large yellow school buses maneuvered their way through morning rush hour to the Private Bank Theater. Once there, Chicago Public School security staff clad in official blue jackets along with parents and teachers wearing identifiable orange vests assembled hundreds of high school students to their seats. Excitement buzzed in the air. The chatter and energy were palpable. Weeks of work and dedication culminated here at Chicago’s final Hamilton Education Program of the 2016–2017 school year.