Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Scrap Pickers

As you may know, Disney II faces a CPS school action. In our case, this is a positive thing. However, the process has not been without its challenges and roadblocks. We applied in August, and CPS announced its approval of our proposal in December 2012. Immediately the conversations turned to: "Where are they going to put this expansion? CPS is going to put it in Thurgood Marshall Middle School, right?"and an onslaught of conjecture-fueled upset from neighborhood groups, neighbors, other schools, school groups, the press, and watchdogs.

In late March, CPS announced its proposal to co-locate the Disney II expansion with nearby Thurgood Marshall Middle school. And immediately, the charge of the conversation was amplified. Suddenly, TMMS became a much-loved neighborhood gem upon which every stakeholder pinned his/her hopes and fears.

Hopes for a way to buck the system and gain automatic entry (GIPNA's proximity overlay proposal), hopes for a relief valve for an overcrowded neighboring school (Belding's request to redraw attendance boundaries), hopes for a different high school model (Murphy LSC's on-stage proposal), hopes for a renewed interest in a neighborhood middle-school model (TMMS teachers), hopes for re-election (Ald. Arena), and fears for the strength of current programming (Murphy parents). 

As a stakeholder myself, I've taken a keen interest in the process. I've attended many meetings about this, from poorly-communicated District-sponsored meetings to well-publicized community meetings on the network level to legal-compliance meetings within the community and downtown. I have attended LSC meetings and LSC meetings, and community-led meetings. I've had innumerable conversations with neighbors, friends, and classmates' parents about the process and what each new development means. For the record, this details the process. It is an imperfect document, a reflection of the imperfect details provided to Disney II by the District. 

To be honest, the process from March 31 through today has stunk. Half of my neighbors won't talk to me or to the smattering of other Disney II families who share our neighborhood. I don't really blame them; envy is a powerful and difficult emotion. I wish every parent really had the options that the system has led us to believe that we have. Because choice in the context of elementary education is a fallacy. Choice is applicable to a select few--those with the means to pay for private or parochial school and the lucky souls whose names were chosen out of a hat.* 

The gradual dissolution of my relationships with my neighbors--especially because I have opted to engage them--bothers me. CPS's School Actions policies and the media have primed everyone for a fight. Although I am open to debate, I don't want to fight with anyone. I believe every one of the statements I made at every CPS public meeting. My intent, and the intentions of those intimately involved in the Disney II expansion project, are good.

But the part of this that bothers me the most is this feeling that we are all fighting for scraps. While listening to a handful of parents and teachers express outrage at CPS in the guise of rejecting Disney II at Monday's meeting, I was reminded of my earlier work with Raise Your Hand and its initial mission of equal funding for all. We banded together to show CPS that we want a bigger pie rather than fight each other to get a bigger slice. Unfortunately, fighting for scraps is exactly what has happened in the public comment portion of the expansion process.

This is, quite frankly, ridiculous. I am not part of a scheme to subjugate high-poverty, low-resources students and their families within the public school system.  Growing our school by 200 students next year is the best example of meeting our priorities that I can give. As I wrote last year, there is a difficulty in setting and funding to priorities within CPS. Antoinette Sea-Gerald wants equity for charter schools? Belding wants equity? I want equity too.  

* More on what that means for me later. 


windycitytiff said...

Well said! I find it hard to put into words all the conflicts around what should be a positive piece of news: the growth of a successful school and an opportunity for at least some children city-wide to have another choice in HS, juxtaposed against the concerns of neighboring schools and communities as well as the highlight put on CPS operations. I am empathetic with neighbors who are upset that they didn't "win the lottery" for Disney II elementary, but at least the school is estabishing a good model and expanding its seating. CPS isn't going to change its practices overnight, parents have a right to express their concerns about "scraping" for choices within the CPS system, but they don't have to personalize this concern.

Mayfair Dad said...

Well stated.

Disney II is not the problem; we are part of the solution. Not sure when our program expansion became a referendum on all magnet schools, poor decisions made by CPS over the past 30 years, the politics of poverty, perceived elitism and good old-fashioned envy -- but for some people it has.

In a spirited back hallway exchange with one of the more vocal bashers last Monday, I asked, "look, you guys may have a legitimate beef with CPS but why do you choose to publicly crap on Disney II to get your message across? Why make us your punching bag?"

She seemed a tad offput by my candor. I think it is time for more candor.

Katherine said...

Caroline, I have to admit that I commend you or being so outspoken on behalf of the school your children attend. Your kids are lucky to have a mom who is as involved as you are. Can't say I agree with everything but such is life.

Mayfair Dad, I'm fairly certain I know who you are, if you were at Rep Mell's office on Monday night. I overheard your comment about the "punching bag" as your voice is quite distinctive. I can't say you're completely wrong for getting this impression: the stakes are high and so are emotions. However, I'm not entirely sure you've listened to everyone who is opposed to this expansion and TRULY heard what they had to say. If you listened to any of the 4 speeches I gave at the community meetings, you would have heard me give credit to Disney II where it's due. It is a great school doing great things. Let me put this "punching bag" feeling in perspective for you: CPS is going to drop $10 million on a building that is not suited for a high school, even with all of the major overhauls. In the process, they are kicking out low income, minority students, forcing teachers out of jobs, and ignoring requests from other Level 1, overcrowded schools. Did DII choose 3900 N Lawndale? No. BUT, did anyone at Disney II listen to the concerns of the community, much less take a TOUR of the building to realize this was not a smart move/location? CPS has already granted your proposal for your expansion, one that I'm HIGHLY doubtful they would rescind. I would have loved to see ANYONE from Disney stand up to CPS and say "give us a location that is more fair for everyone." Do you think Mrs. Chkoumbova is thrilled with this location? From what I've heard, she's not exactly keen on the idea either (hence a memorandum of understanding unsigned by her and Mr. Flaherty) Keep in mind I realize that it's impossible to please everyone but I can guarantee there are better options than this. I would love to see someone from Disney step up and say "we have time to think this through and we would like CPS to consider another location for us." I haven't seen anyone from Disney II willing to take on CPS, rather a lot of Rahm hand-kissing for this expansion approval. It seems to me that DII is in the drivers seat. Take control.