You may recall that a year ago, activists launched a hunger strike to protest the closing of Dyett High School in the historic Bronzeville section of Chicago. Chicago Public Schools appeared bound and determined to carve the school up and turn it into one more private turnaround money salad (with gentrification dressing on top), even though community members had done everything just the way they were "supposed" to, from working the system and making community based proposals, to mounting a protest that was non-violent and non-confrontational. And yet, for a while, it looked as if CPS was only interested in working the optics rather than addressing the issues.
But now, a year later, Dyett is on the verge of opening again as a public high school.
The Walter H. Dyett High School for the Arts (with a website address of "newdyett") is ready to go, with millions of dollars of improvements and a fuller-than-expected roster of enrolled students (150 instead of 125). On Wednesday, Beulah McLoyd, Dyett’s new principal, and Janice Jackson, chief education officer at CPS, toured reporters through the new school.
The new school sounds impressive, with everything from a swimming pool to a black box theater, and the original protesters who were on hand are quoted as cautiously optimistic. But they were clearly moved by the resources and investment in a school that had previously been left to simply fall down around itself.
“When I went in there, I just started crying,” said Irene Robinson, a CPS grandmother who was hospitalized during the strike. “If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
The story is not over yet, and folks are still waiting to see how the handoff to an elected community board goes; that's supposed to happen in 2018.
Jeannette Taylor, another hunger striker, said she is holding off on
enrolling her freshman daughter in Dyett until she sees how open
administrators are and how inclusive the school is of parents and the
community during its first year.
Here's hoping that CPS manages to follow through with its promises to the community. Kudos to the members who staged the hunger strike. Maybe next time CPS can do the right thing and listen to community members without anyone having to starve.