I Am the Principal of That Low-Income Chicago School That Could Merge With the Richer School Down the Street

Mar 4, 2016 12:00:00 AM


In commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 87th birthday, two schools located on the opposite sides of the tracks on Chicago's Near North Side came together with a common vision: glory. Jenner Academy of the Arts and Ogden International School are actively exploring the possibility of fulfilling the promises of Brown v. Board of Education. The school I lead, Jenner, is located in the shadows of gentrifying cranes "redeveloping" the 70 acres of what used to be known as the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Although the neighborhood is 50 percent white, my student body is nearly 100 percent black. Our beautiful building, which is less than 20 years old, has room for 680 students but an enrollment of only 247. One mile away, overcrowded Ogden Elementary enrolls 882 students. Nearly half are white and only one-fifth are low-income. While the “whites only” signs of the 1960s have come down, the reality of separate and unequal endures.

'Justice for All Just Ain’t Specific Enough'

“Glory” is the Academy Award-winning soundtrack hit from the motion picture “Selma.” Its powerful lyrics connect our history's troubled past with our anxious present. Consider the line: “Justice for all just ain’t specific enough.” My president is black, but so too are the least employed and most poorly educated citizens of my country. Amidst redevelopment endeavors, predominately low-income schools are often left behind when bold and daring plans take shape. But together, the communities of Jenner and Ogden are challenging this longstanding pattern. Ultimately, our nation's future will be secured by how we respond to the creativity, hope and joy our children bring with them on the first day of kindergarten and more often than not lose along the way. We know that diverse, integrated schools support high achievement for all children. Contrary to popular fears, low-income students achieve at higher levels without hindering the achievement of their wealthier peers. After decades of rollback on school integration, support for desegregated schools has begun to re-emerge. Acting Secretary of Education John King has championed racially integrated schools as a two-pronged strategy to boost achievement and reduce racial isolation. We must work toward these long-term changes as well as the immediate, urgent opportunities to change the way our students view themselves and their futures. As educators, we can play a central role in this effort immediately. Every day, we can remind our kids that their thoughts, ideas, identities and opinions matter. We can share our personal stories so that when our kids look to the front of the room, they see a little bit of themselves reflected back. And we can partner with like-minded colleagues across our districts to create opportunities to realize King’s dream: Little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls as sisters and brothers. As Common and John Legend put it:
The war is not over. Victory isn’t won. But we’ll fight on to the finish, then when it’s all done We’ll cry, “Glory! Oh, glory!”

Robert Croston

Robert Croston is a Chicago Public Schools principal at Jenner Academy of the Arts and a youth leader at his local church. He started his teaching career as a Teach For America fellow at a Chicago charter school. He graduated  from Marquette University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and social philosophy, and earned a master’s degree from Harvard University Graduate School of Education’s School Leadership Program. He lives on the South Side of Chicago with his wife, Sheena.  

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