Families in Chicago Just Had a Huge Victory But Now the Real Work Begins

Feb 13, 2018 12:00:00 AM

by Tanesha Peeples

Yesterday, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Janice Jackson announced that three of the four high schools proposed to be closed in the South Side Englewood neighborhood will remain open to graduate the students who are currently enrolled. This is a major advocacy win for the residents and supporters of Englewood. I would be remiss not to thank CPS for taking the community’s voice into consideration, ultimately revising their proposal. This absolutely looks like a step in the right direction for mending mistrust and building positive relationships between the district and its families. However, this victory can only be celebrated momentarily. [pullquote]We need parent engagement and community collaboration to become the norm.[/pullquote] Here in our community, getting comfortable again after this announcement is not an option. We cannot ignore the facts that landed us here in the first place. I’m a lifelong resident of Englewood, though I graduated from Kenwood Academy located several miles east. Like many parents in our community, my parents insisted that I choose a high school outside the neighborhood. Today Englewood has four neighborhood high schools that the community apparently gave up on by choosing other neighborhood high schools across the city or local magnet or charter schools. Harper, Hope, Robeson and Team Englewood now have a combined enrollment of a little over 300 students in a community with more than 3,000 high-school age kids. And when these schools were proposed to close, we fought hard—but ignored the fact that they’ve held a Level-3 performance rating for years.

This Fight Is A Long Time Coming

In truth, the community didn’t speak or act when we should have. Englewood schools have been failing their students for decades. That’s why my parents sent me to Kenwood and thousands of other parents have exercised their right to choose the school that best meets their children’s needs. We can no longer afford to get mad for a hot second then retreat back into our lives and watch the remaining schools in our communities continue to deteriorate. Everyone wants to play the blame game when really, we’re all at fault—and [pullquote position="right"]the students are the victims of our failures.[/pullquote] Yes, schools are being closed because they are underutilized, but we have to consider the factors that contribute to them being under-enrolled. Crime, unemployment, substandard housing and poor school performance are all factors causing Black flight from Englewood and similar Chicago neighborhoods. Where are the coordinated efforts to address these issues? These four neighborhood high schools have been struggling for years and various feeble efforts to improve them were tried but not sustained. CPS and the city haven’t done enough for our neighborhood schools, but as a community, we haven’t demanded that commitment or supported it with our choices.

We've All Got to Be Involved

The bottom line is, we all have to do better. CPS has to meaningfully engage the community, be transparent in their planning and allow parents and stakeholders at the table when making these decisions. Parents and community members must actively engage with the schools to ensure that CPS is providing the highest quality of education. We need to know our principals and teachers. We need to put ourselves inside the buildings, whether at Local School Council meetings or as coaches, mentors and supportive adults for our youth. That way, we’ll know much sooner when CPS isn’t meeting its responsibility and we can call them out before it’s too late. As a community, we have to be more proactive than reactive. Our students are capable of learning and achieving at the highest levels—and they deserve a high quality and equitable education. It is our collective responsibility to make sure they reach their potential by working together and speaking up—before it’s too late.

Tanesha Peeples

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and advocacy of those that are often ignored. Tanesha wholeheartedly believes that education is the foundation for success. Her grand vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or ZIP code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. And that's what she works towards every day.

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