Save Collins High School

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Off the Canvas

Well it was a good fight.
On February 22nd the Chicago Board of Education voted to move our Freshmen, despite our pleas, to schools in the vicinity, some no better, most no safer, for the fall of 2006. It was a disappointment, despite our gains, since with the Freshmen will go the jobs that exist to teach them. A harsh reality that could be as large as 20 teachers. Hard warriors who came to the west side to give their very best and have laid everything on the table. Sincere, determined preachers of the gospel of education like Ali Muhammad, Jay McMahon, and Cory Overstreet are expected to all see the axe. Not because of a lack of talent mind you, no sir, these are some of the best young teachers in the city, and most certainly not because of want, each of these men would commit themselves for a lifetime to the west side. They will lose their jobs because they have the least seniority in their respective departments. So it goes that good teachers, who want to work with the most underpriviliged children, in one of America's toughest situations, will be told that they can't do that by the Board of so-called education. That's their solution, the sum of their wisdom, the result of their research, the spirit of their inspiration. Deny the school the freshmen it deserves, send those freshmen across rival gang territory to "replacement" schools, and fire some of the best teachers in the building. Brilliant.

I think everyone involved learned a lot from this experience. About politics, education, gentrification, courage, people, and the media. Each lesson we took represented something different to each of us, but there is one lesson we all learned, and that is that this cannot stand. That education in America's inner-city needs an overhaul. A change motivated by the very best interests of the children involved. An interest, that I'm sorry Micheal Scott, cannot be measured by a test score, or limited to cold numbers listed on paper. It must be formed through reality, tried and retried through commitment, and it must be grounded in love. The inner-city does not need more charter schools, which traditionally exclude the academically challenged, and quickly expel the socially troubled. Inner-city schools need to be flexible and they need to offer a wide variety of options for these students. They need vocational coursework, they need more reading, and they definitely need more math. But they also need therapeutic options, and psychological ones. They need athletics, artistic exploration, and they need music, dance, and the dramatic arts. And most importantly they need technology, in every building, in every classroom, and they need the training to use it properly. They have these programs in magnet schools, such as King High School on the south side, why not give the very best tools to those that need them the most? Fund them, encourage them, teach them, allow them to explore, to prepare, to question, and watch them, listen to them, and be amazed at what they can do. The bad can become good, and the worst can be the best, in this I believe and that without question.

In closing I want to say that I am proud of everyone from Collins High School that stood up for themselves and our school, and fought that great great battle. I know that like I, no one who participated in the movement, will ever forget the effort. Because most certainly we could have laid down, as other schools have done, and said "come and take it", no one would have been surprised, no one would have thought twice. But we did not lay down, we did not for one minute say quit, no we did not, and I will always remember the day we stood up, marched to City Hall, and laid out the flag of war. I never before felt as much a part of the Collins family as I did that day, and never was I prouder than when we laid our hearts bare at the public hearing. No one who was there that day, whether a Board representative, or a Collins warrior, will ever forget that amazing display of passion and courage. And I think in this regard specifically of our students, who went, one after the other, to the microphone and spoke eloquently, sincerely, and intelligently, on behalf of their school, their teachers, and their families. And they know they were right. And they knew there teachers were right. And they they knew their school was right. We all stood there, we all said it, and on that day if not on any other we were free. And they can never take that.

"And the world did gaze in deep amaze at those fearless men but few." - Irish hymn

I want to say thanks especially to the Mohagany Blue Show on WVON 1450AM, Teresa Guttierez of ABC 7 Chicago, Roz Rossi of the Sun Times, Larry Butler of Labor Beat, National Public Radio, CLTV, Julius Anderson and Men for a Better Lawndale, State Senator Ricky Hendon, Congressman Danny Davis, Comissioner Bobbie Steele, Alderman Michael Chandler, Principal Andrew Denton III, and the entire leadership team of the Chicago Teachers Union for carrying our banner, and pushing us to the forefront of Chicago's conscious. We are grateful, thankful, and hopeful.

The battle was lost. The war rages on.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Deal

On Monday the proud, hard-fighting warriors of Collins High School, and supporting members of the community, finally got their chance to speak with Board President Michael Scott and Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan. Riding a wave of momentum spun from a raucous showing at the February 9th public hearing, those Westside representatives did not flinch, or quiver, from the 2-hour showdown. Rather they stood toe-to-toe with those would seek to take what they have made.

The meeting was arranged by State Senator Ricky Hendon, and held openly in his office for any who supported the cause. That illustrious group would turn out to include Congressman Danny Davis, Commissioner Bobbie Steele, and Men for a Better Lawndale President Julius Anderson. All spoke on behalf of Collins High School. And we too, spoke for ourselves, proudly, and without fear.

Back and forth we went. Issues involving the school culture, reading scores, the nature of the freshmen entering Collins High School, the socio-economic features of the community, all were discussed. We asked tough questions. They gave tough answers. We looked for seams and cracks, they baled water out of their boat. Hendon was unflinching and focused. He pushed the discussion and recorded every inch they gave. Determined, but smart enough to keep the debate moving, Hendon was certain to include all of the stakeholders in attendance who sought to contribute. For two hours the issues were held up, examined, dissected, analyzed, and finally put to rest.

The deal that was brokered: Collins High School will not be closed. Rather than a three year phase out, with no freshmen attending Collins again until 2009, we were able to get the Board to commit to a 1-year turnaround, so that Collins would not take freshmen in 2006, but would again in fall 2007. That our curriculum would not be sacrificed for a new police academy, or a golf course, or a charter school. That it would be spliced into two strands, one for vocational (or trades) education, and one for college preparatory work, but not including selective enrollment. So that Collins High School will remain in the community, by the community, and for the community. That was a victory for us. A fine reward for our efforts. But naturally we are not satisfied. Not fully anyway. We believe we can restructure the curriculum in 7 months. That freshmen do not have to be transfered out of their neighborhood school, not even for one year. They should not have to be bussed to Crane, or Michelle Clark, or even miles uptown to Lincoln Park. That they should be able to remain safe in their community, and attend their local school. We have the knowledge to do this, we have the resources to do this, and we have the will to do this. If our previous commitment is any proof, then their should be nothing to stop our success pending of course Board approval. Therefore, tomorrow, at the Board meeting, and really in our final fantastic effort, we will make a plea to vote "no" to the boundary realignment, and to vote "yes" to pushing ourselves to give the North Lawndale community the school it deserves in 7 months, rather than in a year and 7 months. We believe that it can be done, and we will make one last effort to keep our freshmen.

So once more we ask you to light your candles for us, and to believe that those who have come so far, for nothing other than love, can go a bit further. There will be no shame either way. We have saved our school. There will be a Collins High School in Douglas Park for the North Lawndale community for now and the forseeable future. We have proven that the people justly united can stand against injustice, and overcome stark challenges. We our proud of ourselves and know that the effort we put forward was our best one. Tomorrow we can only add icing to our cake, and we only seek that because we are proud, and we know that we can achieve it.

So wish us well, and wish us luck for Wednesday, and on Thursday pat us on the back, and say "What a thing you did! What a great people you are!"

And on Friday we will rest.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Here we come

Tomorrow, February 9th, 2006, has been marked as D-Day on our calendars since this whole closing of Collins High School injustice began. It is the day of our public hearing before the Chicago Board of Education at 125 S. Clark. Well now it is here, and we are ready. We have come together, a group once in disarray, apart, selfish in our concern, to unite as teachers, and as a community, and as citizens of the free United States. Tomorrow we will stand before our accusers and we will be recognized. It will be loud, it will be rebellious, it will be honest, it will be just. The Chicago Board of Education wants to tell us we are not doing our jobs, we are not good enough, our best effort is only second best. We will tell them they are wrong. We will tell them that the teachers at Collins High School have not failed, but rather it is the administration at CPS that has failed, it is our mayor who has failed, it is the Chicago Board of Education that has failed. Given the grand opportunity to address the true failings of inner-city public education, did they come to our classrooms and talk to our students? Did they find out what those children really need? Did they talk to counselors, to teachers, to social workers? Did they walk home with our students, to see the very real dangers that exist on sidewalks, street corners, and alleyways? Did they care, for one minute, to talk to their parents, or guardians, about the difficulties these students have at home, or how the families are trying to cope? They did not, because they do not care.
They could have spent their money and their energy on creating a new public school system for all of America's inner-city poor. A separate system from that of the more affluent, higher achieving schools. One specifically designed to meet the different needs, educational, vocational, psychological, inspirational, of inner city students. They could have seized the opportunity to become the first city in America to say to its inner-city poor "we will not abandon you," and "we will not force you out." But they did not, because they do not care.
They say they are about education, but what has been proven to us these past two weeks, is that they are about money, personal advancement, and the cruel art of scapegoating, manipulating, and abusing the poor inner-city children of Chicago, and the tireless, perpetually optimistic believers who go into these communities every day to teach them.
We will not spend one more day taking these injustices quietly. Tomorrow we go to be heard. Some say the public hearing is but a formality, and that actual Board members won't be there, but we care not. This is our time, and regardless of who shows up, we will take it. We go to speak. We go to advance our directives without any prejudice beyond that which is best for our children. We go as Americans. We go as heroes. We go as Collins High School, on behalf of Collins High School, with all of the brothers and sisters of Collins High School, and we will speak for Collins High School, and we will stand, and we will be proud, and we will be fearless and mighty because we are Collins High School.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Update

After a successful Town Hall meeting Thursday that included strong commitments of support from such leaders as Congressman Danny Davis, State Senator Ricky Hendon, Commissioner Bobbie Steele, and Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart, the movement to save Collins High School, and the 3 elementary schools also facing closing, marches forward Saturday.

(how's my line break?)
On Saturday at 9:30am we will be attending the open meeting of the Rainbow/PUSH organization at 930 East 50th street. At this meeting we will try to garner their support for our movement to stop the closing of public schools, and share with them our hopes to begin a new dialogue on changing the system inner-city schools operate in .

Saturday night we'll be back on the airwaves at 8:30pm on WVON 1450 AM. There will be a couple of Collins Teachers on the radio discussing our issues with current events dj Mahogany Blue, and fielding calls.

Lastly, and most obviously, all of our eyes are now trained on the public hearing Thursday February 9th. We are preparing our speakers and our speeches and we plan to be ready to open both barrels on whomever the Board sends to face us. We are looking for as many supporters as we can get to come cheer us on. The session will go from 3pm to 6pm, and we encourage you to attend. The hearing will be on the 5th floor of 125 S. Clark in Chicago. If you would like to travel with the Collins crew. Our buses will be loading and leaving at 1pm from Collins High School (1313 S. Sacramento Dr.) ~ make a point to ride with us, or meet us there. We need to have solidarity on this issue from all across this city, so please come stand with us.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

On the March

February 1, 2006

We took to the streets with a tremendous roar. Emptying two busloads of students, parents, teachers, administrators, politicians, and supporters onto Chicago's famous LaSalle Street. We came like a river, emerging from two yellow canyons, pouring purposely onto the doorstep of City Hall. I stood at the exit of my bus high-fiving encouragement to every protestor who stepped off. The chant coming down the stairs and into the dowtown air was loud, "We won't go!" "We won't go!" Signs and banners, handmade, computer printed, the gambit, they came too. Yellow t-shirts, purple ribbons, it was a sea of Collins on the palette. The bus ride was jovial, playful, even calm at times, but here, in the "enemy territory" things tightened up. The chant quieted as we were met outside City Hall by two police officers. The leadership negotiated, the students were formed into a marching line, headed by a 12 foot long banner that read "stop gentrification". The energy built.
City folk began their routines, exiting their offices, stepping onto their sidewalks, paths they had trod hundreds of times. Overcoats on, but hardly buttoned, the 1st day of February was a very mild 46 degrees. The commute, a head down trudge from back door to home door, the quicker it can be done the better. But for these well worn Chicagoans there was something a little bit different about tonight's routine. Where they were usually able to hot step past City Hall there was a swell. A surge, coming at them, loud, and with great determination. It sang "we know the score, don't close the door" Deep, the procession was at least 6 wide, and it stetched back half a block. It came, chased by circumstances undesired, but perhaps necessary. African-Americans mainly, and others. High School Students, even some elementary students, adults of every type, and some who were older, projecting the attitude of having been a survivor of THOSE marches. The commuters were overrun, they moved to the side, suddenly forced to lift their head from the pavement. Some moved faster, others crossed the street, while still others simply stood off to the sides, mouths open, here it came and they weren't ready for it.
We marched. One lap around the block containing City Hall, a welcome to the neighborhood sort of stroll, only louder. The signs were flashed into office buildings where employees looked down in wonder. They were waved across the street at busy commuters, who could not avert their eyes. The signs were a magnet, the colors enticed, the noise surrounded and engaged. Flyers were handed out with the simple message: S.O.S. Save Our Schools. We had printed over 1200 such flyers and they were everywhere. Taped on street signs, on buses, on doors, and they were handed out - anyone who made eye contact was hit with a flyer. In this way I met a former student of mine on the street. A Whitney Young grad. from a time ago who had landed his first job out of college a block up from City Hall. He came down just to see what the hubbub was about, and was not surprised at all to find old Mr. Dudley right in the middle of it. This is how we do it, I told him, and that's only on Wednesdays.
After our circle of the block was complete we punched right through the revolving doors of City Hall, a great snake suddenly immersed in a mouse hole. We fanned out, loudly commandeering the elevators, I would have hated to have been working in the Hall that night. Car after car rode up into the heart of Chicago's power station, stopping each time at the 5th floor to unload its ebullient, emotional, exultant cargo. I had filtered towards the back by this time and I waited to see if any other of our kin would be coming in. Seeing the crowd dissipating I caught one of the last Collins loaded elevators. Nerves grew a little bit more tense. The 5th floor was home to Mayor Richard M. Daley's office, and we weren't going up there invited. After we cleared the 4th floor the noise began to filter into our rising box car. A loud, echoing din, "We won't go!" "We won't go!" "We won't go!" Louder, as the elevator doors opened and I stepped into the mass gathering of Collins, Morse, Ferren, and Frazier (us and the 3 elementary schools scheduled for closing) supporters. The students held tight to their long banner, stringing themselves 8 across, directly opposite Daley's door. We were on the inside, as goal number one, we had made it. Goal two, get someone to talk to us, took a bit longer, but our leaders (Julius Anderson, James Kennedy of Men for a Better Lawndale, and Jeanette Darrough, formerly of Collins HS) were negotiating. Police officers began showing up and the kids grew uneasy. I stepped to the front and calmed them with quiet, confident reminders of Daley's status as a public servant, his responsibility to them, and their parents' tax dollars having paid for his office since its inception. They responded and the chanting began again. An NPR reporter who had been with us since the street march heard my encouragement to the kids, and drew me aside for an interview. I was honored to have the opportunity to speak for my students and the teachers who line up beside me. He came right at me with the hard questions...standards, district support, school closings, and student motivation. I tried to speak well, and honestly, and most importantly I tried to defend our position, and advance our ideas. Only time and the radio will tell if I was successful.
After the interview the leadership trio had emerged from Daley's office to announce that the Mayor was not in, but that a spokesperson had agreed to meet with us, which she bravely did, and that someone would attend our Town Hall Meeting on Thursday from that office. We hailed these as successes, and we rallied the troops back onto the elevators. Having been heard and seen we would get on our buses and go home. The campaign to save Collins, and our sister elementary schools, was off and running.
On a final note, while waiting for the elevators down from floor 5 several print reporters, who had shown up by this time, began moving in on the students with purpose, not quite like vultures, but not like friendly dogs either. To my greatest pleasure, and unabashed pride the students handled themselves. It should not have come as a surprise to me, the students had been handling themselves all day. They rode, they marched, they sang, they hoped, they fought. George W. Collins High School may not have the best test scores, but if these students are any indication, there is a lot to be proud of at 1313 S. Sacramento Dr. And we are proud.

See you tomorrow!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Get involved

Want to help us fight against the hypocrisy of school closures?

Then join us Wednesday February 1st at Collins High School at 3:30pm for a rally and a little bus ride to City Hall to share our views with those in charge.
If you are not sure about making such a commitment to our cause you may instead attend our Town Hall Meeting on Thursday February 2nd, also at Collins High School, at 6:00pm.
Either way get involved, and help us stand up for urban education and the students who need it the most.

George W. Collins High School is located at 1313 S. Sacramento Dr. One block south of Roosevelt Road between California and Kedzie.

True Lies

So if test scores and academic achievement are not the real reasons for the proposed closing of George W. Collins High School then what is? Better get the Real Estate section from your Chicago Tribune, because the answer lies in property values, and in the ever-menacing, ever-growing "G" word: gentrification.
Any fool with two eyes can look across the street from Collins High School and see the initial work being done on gut re-hab condominiums lining the west side of Douglas Park. Condominiums which well sell for over $300,000, a price tag way beyond the means of the families that have lived, worked, and died in this community, called North Lawndale, for the past 30 years. A community that is impoverished, crime-ridden, beat down in the media, and almost entirely African-American. It is in fact interesting to note that the four schools chosen for closing have an average student body population of 99% African-American. The other 1% are certain to be Hispanic. Furthermore the average percentage of students at those schools receiving free and reduced lunch (the state's measure for how impoverished the student body is) is 96%. George W. Collins High School, for that matter, has 99% of its students on free and reduced lunch, the highest number in the entire state of Illinois. To be harsh, these numbers further reveal that not a single majority, middle class, tax-paying, voting, white family will be effected by these closures. This is not playing the race card, this is simply reporting the facts. To go a step further it is very easy to look east and to see the type of family that is coming, and it is not the former, rather, but the latter.
Brinks Armored Security opened a massive warehouse for its trucks last year 3 blocks away from Collins High School. I saw no signs informing the community that job applications would be accepted there despite the large workforce needed to run such an expansive warehouse. Who are the workers then coming into this community? 1 block from Collins (hardly, it's across the park - 200 yards), Roosevelt University is building a large, 3-story extension. It is a beautiful building, and no doubt will not only house students from communities outside of Lawndale, but faculty, staff, and other such workers as well. Think they'll invite the community to come in, have a look around, use the facilities, and apply for jobs therein, think again. 4 blocks away on Western Avenue there are sprawling new condominium developments. And 2 blocks further east of that begins the massive Hospital Row, featuring no less than 4 of Chicago's biggest facilities. No doubt the scores of hospital staff who commute daily would love to live a scant 5-minute bus ride from their employer. The city planners are not stupid, they know which direction the wind is blowing, and what underachieving inner-city high school stands smack dab in the middle of their expansion. Deny the school freshmen now, completely remove the student body by 2009 and in 2010 city leaders will be able to present a brand new charter school (sponsored by the big business of the moment) with, no doubt, updated facilities, to entice more "desirable" families to move back to the west side. If you are not yet convinced, and consider me run amok with conspiracy theory, then take a minute to examine for yourself who owns several buildings within walking distance of Collins High School. You will find that the answer is none other than Chicago Public Schools President Michael Scott. How convenient that he gets to "close a failing school" and pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars off a subsequent increase in the property values of each of those buildings that he owns. Education warrior? Education crook.

Punching Holes in the Board's Argument

The best idea in opening any debate is to first acknowledge your opponent's argument and then state clearly and with evidence why your opponent is wrong. This is the intention of this post.

The Chicago Board of Education has stated through its own leadership, and Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan that George W. Collins High School was selected for the proposed closing because of a history of low test scores and no growth. To be more specific they have have said repeatedly, on radio, television, and in the newspapers, that Collins High School has "a history of poor academic achievement". This statement relating directly to the fact that Collins High School has had less than 10% of students testing at or above state standards for a number of years. This fact is not in dispute. We also recognize that this is the main reason identified by the Board for closing our school. However we believe that when one actually looks at the numbers it becomes clear, that while our scores are low there is a certain measurable amount of academic growth taking place at Collins High School. Therefore we would like to take a minute to present the actual numbers which represent us:

  • Our state test scores have risen 1 percentage point each year for three years a row. From 7% at or above standards in 2003 to 9.3% in 2005
  • Our ACT scores have risen for 4 years in a row. Our students currently have an average ACT of 14.6 our highest score since 2001.
  • Our attendance has held steady, while we have increased our graduation rate, and decreased chronic truancy
  • Our reading scores have steadily grown from 14% at or above state standards in 2001 to 21% currently
  • Collins High School has decreased its incident reports (cataloguing fights, crime, school vandalism, etc.) over the past two years, and Maggie Daley, wife of Mayor Richard Daley, marveled at the school's cleanliness and said it was the most organized she had seen it in years.

These facts have not been addressed by the leaders of the Chicago Public School system. Nor do they want to talk about the schools that are ranked below us. That's right, there are several, including no less than 3 in the same community. Now we want to reiterate that we are against all school closings, but since the Board is intent on doing this it would seem that they would look to close the worst one, not one that has shown 3 years of growth. The proof is the same test scores that they are indicting us with. Last year, in our third year of improved scores, Collins HS scored a 9.3 on the state mandated PSAE tests. A rival high school 4 blocks north of us scored a 9.0, another school to the west scored an 8.3, and still yet a third area school, only 10 blocks north of us, scored a 7.0. In fact that school has had no growth in its ACT scores in 5 years. If the Board is seeking to close schools with low academic achievement why not choose a school that is actually achieving lower than Collins? Because the real reason Collins High School has been selected for the proposed closing doesn't have anything to do with our test scores, it has to do with reasons far more sinister. Reasons that involve the racial make up of the student body at Collins High School, its beautiful location in the heart of Douglas Park, and the ever increasing property values of the west side streets between Kedzie and Western Avenues (see the posting True Lies). But don't rely on us, do your own homework and post your results here in the comments section. We believe our integrity and the hard work we have put in will speak for itself.

Opening Statement

This blog has been created as a method through which the leadership committee of Collins High School can post information, updates, and photographs regarding our campaign to save Collins High School, in Chicago, Il. from being closed by the Chicago Board of Education.
The intent for this action is to be positive and informative. We are not looking for doubters or naysayers. If you have concerns about our decision making, or of the course of this campaign then please let us know in a professional manner, with specific suggestions as to how we can improve our direction.
Mainly we are trying to provide a central link for those who wish to know more about us and our campaign, and those who have the information, and more importantly, the truth about Collins High School and the proposed closing of the school.
Thanks for visiting and taking the time to read this statement. We hope that you take the time to read through the information posted here, and consider seriously the plight of urban education in Chicago and the United States for that matter. Your voice can be a contribution, and the more voices we have the better we sound.