Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dyett High Hunger Strike: Things To Know

Today, the twelve parents engaged in a hunger strike in support of Dyett High School in the Chicago southside neighborhood of Bronzeville are marking their first full week of their action. Here are some things to know.

What Is This About?

In 2012, Chicago Public Schools decided to close Dyett, allowing the last freshman class to finish their education there if they wished. Only a handful wished (and they were reportedly pressured by CPS to wish differently), but they're done, and the time has come to decide what Dyett will become.

There are three proposals out there.

First, an arts and design academy to be run by Little Black Pearl, an arts group that has shown no particular expertise in running charter schools. I would provide a link, but for whatever reason, all attempts to get to a 403 forbidden message. Second, an athletics-based school backed by Dyett principal Charles Campbell. The Sun-Times also links a Mark Coleman to the proposal as a guy who runs a nonprofit, but I can't find anything about him. I can, however, find a Mark Coleman who runs a media company that specializes in lining up financing for big projects-- that Mark Coleman lists Barack Obama and Ari Emmanuel as his "influencers," but that could be some other Mark Coleman. The athletics school proposal came in after the CPS deadline for proposals.

The third proposal, the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School, came from the community itself, early and complete with a partnership with DuSable University, Chicago Botanical Gardens and others. You can read the whole proposal here.

(Nobody, it should be noted, is proposing a group of robust charters so that the people of Bronzeville can have many excellent local choices.)

Um, Wait a Minute

In a poor, black neighborhood of Chicago, there's an outside proposal for entertainment industry, an outside proposal for sports, and a community proposal for science, technology and leadership. I respect athletics, and you know I love the arts, but you tell me which one of these proposals sets the highest aspirations for the children of this community.

Bronzeville is poor, but they have worked hard for their school (back in 2011, just before the district dropped the hammer, they won a grant from ESPN to rebuild their athletic facilities with big fancy upgrades like working handles for doors). They were improving and growing stronger. There's no question they needed some help, but a search doesn't turn up stories suggesting that Dyett was some sort of notorious hellhole in freefall.

So, What's Really Going On

Well, Dyett is located in the northern end of Washington Park, a very desirable chunk of real estate that is one of the two locations in the running to be the location of Barack Obama's Presidential Library. In fact, the proposed location is within a stone's throw of Dyett.

In fact, Washington Park seems to have been in the crosshairs for many years. Back in 2008, when Chicago was feeling the Olympic love, Washington Park was called one of the hottest neighborhoods, a diamond in the rough, and there is still talk about turning it into a community that could attract and support business, arts, and all the trappings of gentrification. And gentrification is a concern in Bronzeville, just as many see it as a hallmark of Rahm Emanuel's tenure as mayor.

But What Is Actually Happening?

CPS is stalling. There were going to be meetings and hearings to settle this decision. They were going to happen this summer, but finally were pushed back all the way out of August into September because-- well, I can't even say "because reason." Just because. The hunger strikers would like the school district to do the right thing, and it's pretty clear that doing nothing while waiting for the community to stop paying attention just isn't going to work.

Why Don't I Know About Any of This

If you google "Dyett hunger strike Chicago Tribune," the only thing you'll see about Chicago's major media outlet is comments about how it's not covering this at all.

Rather than rail about corrupt and incompetent media, I want to just make an observation here. Because you know what would get the Dyett parents in the media? If they blew something up or set something on fire or took some sort of violent, disruptive action that resulted in a few vanloads of police showing up.

That would be followed by a bunch of handwringing and concern trolling and tone policing and people saying, "Well, I understand they're upset, but if black folks want to be taken seriously and earn a hearing for their concerns, they need to be more reasonable and proper in their tone. They need to work within the system. They need to not be so disruptive and take such a confrontational tone. They're just hurting their own cause. I might have been sympathetic if they hadn't resorted to such unseemly behavior."

The parents of Dyett have done it all by the book. They developed their own proposals and presented them. They have petitioned and remonstrated. They have been ignored.

And this is what is most striking to me-- rather than take action against property or other people, the parents of Dyett are taking action against themselves. They are committing a slow-motion act of violence against themselves.

They have approached this exactly as people who complain about protests and civil disobedience and civil disruption say they want, and what do the parents of Dyett get for their carefully calibrated and heart-wrenching action? What they get is an indifferent media and a public that doesn't pay attention because someone who's slowly starving just isn't very exciting.

So everybody who complained about things like the acting out in Fergusson and the other protests that have popped up in the news over the last year, everybody who said, "You know, I think they have a real point and these issues of racial inequity really bother me, but I can't support such destructive misbehavior"-- here's your chance to put up or shut up. You can support the parents of Dyett in their quiet measured stand against the silencing of community members, the suspension of democracy, the trampling of people in a community just because they're black and they're poor and they don't have rich and powerful friends to help them in city hall, or you can admit you just don't give a rat's rear about any of that, and you can admit that non-wealthy non-white folks in this country have little choice except to be loud and rude and disruptive in this country. In either case, I don't want to hear concern trolling and tone policing out of you ever again.

Dyett Is Bigger Than Chicago

Dyett is everything that reformsters say they want-- an engaged and energized community that has shown a willingness to do the bootstrappy work needed to turn their own school, guided by their vision of they want for their children. Their vision is big and global and challenging and loaded with high standards, as well as a vision of using the school to anchor a rising and advancing of their entire community. If reformsters aren't going to speak up for the community and public school in this situation, they never will.

The Dyett hunger strike isn't just about the future of Bronzeville and the fate of the last of the open-enrollment public schools in the area. It's about reformsters being caught in their lies, about being given what they said they wanted and finding an excuse to turn it down so that they can do what they actually wanted all along-- profiteering and a charter system that strips democracy from Those People while busting up their neighborhood. Without a national change in course, sooner or later, all of us will be in Dyett's shoes.

For More Information

This site will lead you to most of the important up-to-date resources. Teachers for Social Justice also has an eye on things. Anthony Cody's Living in Dialogue has been paying attention. And the following clip presents more insight from Jitu Brown and Pauline Lippman-- it's a good quick summary to send to your friends who aren't so into the whole reading thing.

Send support. Spread the word.


  1. The City Club of Chicago had a forum to debate whether they should keep the unelected school board it currently has, or return to an elected school board. On the panel were the then-CEO of Chicago Public Schools Jesse Ruiz---who favors privatizing schools and keeping the board appointed, and not elected---and Jitu Brown, a community activist who favors an elected school board, and is against turning over schools to privately-run charters.

    At one point in this forum, Ruiz claims that keeping the board appointed also keeps forces from "inserting more politics" into Board operations, and prevents union-backed candidates from having influence on contracts. Jesse insists, "I don't have to raise a dime from anybody. I don't have to worry about my next campaign..." to get elected or re-elected.

    Jitu Brown, a community activist, and proponent of having an elected school board, counters this, referencing the cushy no-bid contracts, where school buildings / annual school budgets are turned over to the Charter Management Organizations like the "Academy for Urban School Leadership" (AUSL), while former/future AUSL officials are serving on the board.

    Can you say "conflict of interest"?

    Jitu also references the community's grassroots fight to keep open Dyett High School, the only remaining traditional (non-charter) public high school ("open-enrollment") in the Bronzeville neighborhood.
    ( 30:24 - 31:42 )
    ( 30:24 - 31:42 )
    JITI BROWN: "I got a question for you, though, Jesse."

    JESSE RUIZ: "Yes?"

    JITI BROWN: "How could it be any more 'POLITICAL' than it is RIGHT NOW?? I mean HONESTLY! You have the Chief Operations Officer for Chicago Public Schools who's the former CEO of 'The Academy of Urban School Leadership.' (AUSL charter chain)

    "You have the Board President of the Chicago Board of Education, who is the former Board President of 'The Academy of Urban School Leadership' . They (AUSL) get schools (turned over to them) with no-bid contracts. They (AUSL) just---and despite the fact that they (AUSL) have (failed initially and) had to turn around THEIR OWN turn-arounds at two high schools TWICE! They (AUSL) have had to restart Phillips (High School) TWICE! They (AUSL) have had to restart Orr (High School) TWICE! How could it be more... (political)'?

    "Right now, right now, the mayor of Chicago... was... this morning was at (Chater School organization) LITTLE BLACK PEARL, which is a politically-connected arts organization when we have been fighting like wet cats for (to save) Dyett High School (as a traditional non-charter school), in Bronzeville, saying that we don't want to loser our last open-enrollment neighborhood high school, and the mayor is getting a political endorsement at (from) an (privately-run charter) organization that is submitting an application for (taking over) Dyett (High School)???!!!

    "Do you ACTUALLY THINK that we that this is FAIR??!!

    "How could it possibly be MORE 'political'?

    "You just had a (CPS) board member (Deborah Quazzo, was later forced to resign over this) who was caught taking profits, her company taking profits. So how can it be more 'POLITICAL' than it is right now???!! I mean, HONESTLY!!"


    Jesse Ruiz, a current appointee to Chicago's unelected School Board, appeared at a forum held at the City Club of Chicago last February 2, 2015. It was a discussion about whether Chicago should keep its appointed (by the mayor) school board, or return to the old system of having citizens elect a board. The return to an elected board was overwhelmingly endorsed by Chicago's citizens in a non-binding vote last spring.

    In defending the unelected Chicago School Board upon which he sits, Jesse opened his mouth and made some "WTF-did-he-just-say?!" statements that were, thankfully, captured for posterity on video.

    NOTE: Earlier this summer, Jesse was also briefly the interim Chicago Schools CEO (not Superintendent... schools are a business in Chi-town) when the then-CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett had to resign after prosecutors announced an investigation of her conflict-of-interests in spearheading a multi-million-dollar contract to a principals' training organization that she had ties to... but that's another story.

    Anyway, back to Jesse Ruiz, who, years ago, was also appointed to the Illinois' State Board of Ed, where he served for several years. At Ruiz' aforementioned appearance at a City Club of Chicago forum, Jesse started talking about how hundreds of school districts in Illinois had elected boards, and while serving on the Illinois board, he got along well with the members of those elected boards---he calls them his "colleagues".

    However, Ruiz nevertheless argues that Chicago must not have an elected school board, and made the following justification: (here's the video.. go to about 06:58 - 07:35)
    (06:59 - 07:35)
    JESSE RUIZ, Chicago Board of Ed.: "But for our city, I honestly do believe that it would be best left as it is, as an appointed school board, because it's an incredibly complicated and diverse district. There are very difficult decisions to be made, and sometimes they're not very popular decisions, and I would have to---I WOULD HATE to have to worry about my next election when making a vote.

    "I NEVER worry about that. I've NEVER HAD TO worry about that, or worry about WHO, WHO... uhhh... I am pleasing, or un-pleasing with my vote. All I worry about is what's best for the students in the city of Chicago. And so therefore, that's the system that I prefer."

    I don't know about you, Peter, but Jesse's really "un-pleasing" me with his justification for the 20-years-and-counting cancellation of popular democracy in the governance of Chicago's public schools, and where the corporate reformers and profiteers that bankrolled Rahm Emanuel's election now drive the policy... and not Chicago's citizens.

    How about you, Peter? Are you as "un-pleased" with then-CEO and Board Member Ruiz's comments as I?

  3. But seriously, istn't that how democracy works?

    When some policy implementation is unpopular and "un-pleasing" with the citizen-taxpayers---no matter how much Board Member Ruiz, or any elected official is desirous of such implementation---that fear of being removed from office in an upcoming election is a necessary check-and-balance, one that reins in Ruiz and his fellow Board members from doing something that the voters---his ultimate "bosses" in a democracy---do not want to happen. The will of the people will prevail in this scenario... theoretically, at least.

    This was particularly relevant when Ruiz and his unelected Board closed 50 traditional public schools---with them replaced by privately-run charters---despite overwhelming polling saying that the tax-paying citizens of Chicago would be very "un-pleased" by this. (I know, I'm beating the "un-pleased" joke to death... that was the last one.)

    At the very least, these schools being closed had elected Local Schoolsite Councils (LSC's) made up of parents and community members, with albeit minimal decision-making power. The privately-managed charters that are currently in the process of replacing them, however, have no such LSC's, and thus, the parents have ZERO input. Parents are barred from the meetings of that board, which are held in secret, and chaired by businessmen who have ZERO experience as teachers and/or administrators.

    MORE ON..."Board Member Ruiz" in my next post.

  4. This Hispanic Jimmy Fallon-look-alike Jesse Ruiz is not the pleasant, engaging, and mild mannered politico that he presents himself as in the ABOVE video. Again, here's the link:

    To contrast this, see how Ruiz behaves when the cameras are off, according an account of activist principal Tony LaRiviere in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
    LaRiviere is a proponent of having and elected school board, and who backed Chuy Garcia, Emanuel's opponent and Ruiz' boss in the recent election.

    BELOW is LaRiviere's first-hand account. In the story that follows, LaRiviere put his job on the line, and boldly confronted Ruiz at principals' budget meeting, days before Ruiz was replaced as Interim CEO of CPS. LaRiviere took Ruiz to task about how Ruiz and his unelected board diverted $2 billion dollars of school funds to organizations who had backed Mayor Rahm Emanuel's successful re-election bid.

    (NOTE: Years ago, Mayor Emanuel had appointed Ruiz to the Board, and also appointed Ruize to briefly lead the board as its interim CEO earlier this summer.)

    In a real mano-a-mano confrontation, Ruiz clumsily attempted to refute LaRiviere's contentions, but eventually became flustered and gave up, calling Ruiz a "loud-mouthed principal."

    All very entertaining stuff... read on...

    This is an enlightening look into how zero free speech and non-democracy reigns with an unelected school board.
    Outspoken Principal Tony LaRaviere goes at Chicago Public Schools
    CEO Jesse Ruiz one-on-one: (days before Ruiz was replaced)

    Just before this excerpt begins, LaRiviere has been asking to have to floor, and speak at the principals' budget meeting, when...

    At that point, interim CEO Jesse Ruiz stood up, projected his voice, and with a somewhat stern and agitated tone stated, “You can get your question addressed outside in the hall with me.”

    Once again, a CPS official was stating, “Everyone will hear us, but no one will hear you, and no one will hear our response to you.”

    His standing up was a bold move, seemingly intended to either intimidate me, or to make other principals think twice about seconding my question.

    “My question needs to be addressed right here with the principals in this room,” I replied.

    “YOU are disrupting this meeting,” he said.

    “And YOU are insulting the intelligence of everyone in this meeting,” I countered.

    At that point, my network chief asked that I accept the CEO’s offer to step outside the meeting; so I did. As I left I told principals, “If anyone else is interested in his answer to the question, we’ll be right outside the door.”



    TONY LARIVIERE: (continued)

    No principal took me up on my offer. When we got into the hallway, we began to engage in what I can only describe as a testosterone-driven, back-and-forth aimed at little else except besting the other’s last comment.

    I’m sure there is quite a bit I’ve left out due to the limitations of my own memory, but here is—to the best of that memory—how it went once we left the auditorium.

    LARIVIERE: "That political propaganda had no place in a principal’s budget meeting."

    RUIZ: "If you’re so unhappy with CPS, why do YOU stay in it?"

    LARIVIERE: "To save it from people like YOU."

    RUIZ: [I can’t remember his exact words, but it had something to do with the budget]

    LARIVIERE: "Your mayor has diverted over $2 billion tax payer dollars to his campaign contributors."

    RUIZ: "He’s YOUR mayor, too."

    At this point Ruiz launched into an extended critique of my involvement in the Chuy Garcia campaign.

    (NOTE: Garcia was Mayor Emanuel's opponent, who made history by being the first non-machine candidate to force the machine incumbent into a run-off. Garcia backs keeping traditional public schools---not closing them and replacing them with charters, and also backs going back to an elected school board. JACK)

    LARIVIERE: "Please. Don’t lecture me on the ethics of principals being involved in election campaigns, when you work for a mayor who repeatedly pulled CPS principals out of their buildings during work hours to stand on stage with him at his campaign events. Let’s get back to the point. Your mayor diverted $2 billion taxpayer dollars to his campaign contributors (both Daley and Emanuel)."

    RUIZ: "And what is your source for that?"

    LARIVIERE: "Forbes Magazine."

    RUIZ: "Well, I’m sure they didn’t cite any evidence."

    LARIVIERE: "They cited about a decade of receipts from City Hall’s vendor checkbook."

    RUIZ: "You’re nothing but a loud-mouthed principal!"

    “Did the CEO of CPS just resort to name-calling?” I thought. The exchange had already sunk low enough. I wasn’t about to sink to name-calling—especially with my boss. I will tell my boss a truth he doesn’t want to hear, and raise questions he doesn’t want to answer, but I’m not calling him names.

    It was after the “loud-mouthed principal” comment that I decided to end the exchange.

    LARIVIERE: It’s obvious I’m not going to get my question answered here so I’m going back in to listen to rest of this nonsense propaganda.

    RUIZ: If you think it’s nonsense, why would you sit through it. I would not sit through nonsense.

    LARIVIERE: That’s because you’re too busy dishing it out.

    [I walked away and returned to the auditorium]

    We had left the auditorium because Ruiz invited me into the hallway with the understanding that he would address a question I posed about CPS’s reckless spending. However, the exchange we had outside that room quickly degenerated into a chest pounding stand-off, much of which had nothing to do with my question about CPS spending.

    I had allowed him to lure me into a verbal cockfight. The CEO of Chicago Pubic Schools and one of its most successful principals were going toe-to-toe like two overstimulated teenaged jocks—in public. It was certainly not my proudest moment, and I doubt it made Ruiz’s top ten list.

  6. Thanks for your thoughtful story on Dyett and Chicago Public Schools. As you note, Rahm Emanuel has no interest in seeing the community's ideas to fruition, but a great stake in directing this into the hands of privatizers. Rahm Emanuel is also unfailingly helped by our local media who couldn't care less. For more, visit