In the summer and early fall of 2015, all eyes in Chicago’s education community were on the campaign and thirty-four-day hunger strike organized by community organizers, families, and educators, that successfully led to the reopening of Dyett High School in Washington Park as an arts school. Among the activists in the “Save Dyett” campaign were Dyett alumni and students, many of whom mobilized after feeling their communities and schools were being undervalued by city officials.
This school year, Chicago Public Schools saw a shocking enrollment loss of 1,882 students in its preschool programs, nearly six times greater than last year’s enrollment decrease. The drop in preschool enrollment accounted for seventeen percent of all attrition in the district—the largest decline in preschool enrollment since 2008. This dramatic change coincides with the introduction of a universal online application for Chicago public preschool programs, echoing a similar drop in preschool enrollment after a 2013 shift to a universal in-person application system.
On the evening of February 28, about thirty congregants of St. Adalbert Church huddled under a tunnel of scaffolding outside the main doors of the church, seeking refuge from a downpour of rain. Holding posters, candles, and various Catholic paraphernalia, the churchgoers collectively chanted “La iglesia no se vende.” (The church is not for sale). At around 6:30pm, a few of the elderly parishioners, standing on the steps at the entrance of the church, began a prayer vigil.
During the last city council meeting of 2016, as Chicago’s aldermen gathered with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts to celebrate the Cubs’ recent World Series victory, the room received word that Willie Cochran, the alderman serving the 20th Ward, had been indicted. On hearing the news, Cochran sat quietly through more than an hour of praise for the Cubs, checking his phone and talking to a few aldermen. He escaped the room during the end-of-meeting applause as the press rushed to head him off. Chicago’s longest-serving alderman, Ed Burke, who has been on the city council since 1969, told the Tribune that he had never seen another alderman indicted during a council meeting.
On February 16, during the 3rd Ward town hall meeting at the KLEO Center just west of Washington Park, Pastor Torrey Barrett and Dr. Carol Adams announced their plan for a new organization representing Woodlawn, Washington Park, and South Shore. The organization will look to ensure that three communities affected by the upcoming construction of the Obama Presidential Library in Jackson Park have their concerns heard and interests met. It’s still in the phase of what Adams called “early community engagement,” and hopes to open the application for board seats within the next two or three weeks. “WoWaSo,” as it’s been informally named, wants to consolidate existing scattered neighborhood plans and push for a more comprehensive agenda regarding the Obama Library, but there are doubts and concerns about how fair this consolidation will turn out to be.
On Friday, February 3, Paula Wyatt should have been at her school on Chicago’s Northwest Side, where she works as a librarian for 1100 students. This particular Friday was scheduled as a coveted (and contractually required) staff professional development day. Wyatt should have attended a discussion of LGBT issues in schools with staff from Lurie Children’s Hospital and a presentation by a bilingual specialist. She should have attended a curriculum-planning meeting, a grant-writing seminar in order to apply for library refurbishment funds, and a meeting with Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) mentors regarding the implementation of new Next Generation Science Standards. Her colleagues should have been engaging in other training and development opportunities or using the day for grading and meetings. But instead, on February 3, Wyatt’s school remained closed, like all the 516 other schools operated by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). This district-wide closure left over 31,000 CPS employees without pay and over 320,000 students unable to reap the benefits of those teacher-training programs.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) revealed late last year in their 2017 capital plan that a new seventy-five million dollar high school would be coming to the South Side. Initially, CPS did not release the location of the new high school, and several neighborhoods, such as Chinatown and Englewood, had been organizing and campaigning to be involved in the decision-making process.
Illinois’s public universities are facing a virtually insurmountable funding crisis. According to a report recently published by the nonpartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA), higher education in Illinois suffered a 67.8 percent cut in its allocations from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2016, receiving approximately one-third of the recommended budget proposed by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE). Because of the state legislature’s failure to approve a complete budget for higher education, public universities operated on the minimal funding from the $627 million stopgap budget, a short-term budget that appropriated a small amount for expenditures in higher education through January 2017.
On January 12, the National Park Service (NPS) granted funding for preservation projects on thirty-nine African American and Civil Rights landmarks across the United States. The African American Civil Rights Grant Program was approved by Congress in 2016 through the Historic Preservation fund, which uses “revenue from federal oil leases on the Outer Continental Shelf to provided assistance for a broad range of preservation projects without expanding tax dollars,” according to the NPS. Spread over twenty states, the grants cover the restoration, preservation, and education costs of landmarks such as the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Alabama, which was bombed by white supremacists during the Civil Rights Movement, and Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas, one of the first schools to undergo forced desegregation after Brown v. Board of Education.
The back room of Envision Unlimited’s Rose Center, in Back of the Yards, is piled to the proverbial ceiling with arts and crafts materials: boxes of old lace, a package of sequined hats, a children’s doll whose head had, at some point in its transport, become decapitated from its body. Sorting through it all is Monika Neuland, a social practice artist, educator, and consultant who works with agencies that provide services for those with physical and developmental disabilities. Envision Unlimited, the organization which owns the Rose Center, is one of these. The arts supplies are a donation that will help sustain the various arts programs that Neuland leads around the Chicago area, including the mask-making workshop taking place here in the Rose Center.