Schools need to represent community

01/26/2011 10:00 PM

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The University Village Association organized a community effort seventeen months ago to address the issue of a lack of access in our community to quality public education in a socioeconomically diverse learning environment. Aldermen Danny Solis and Bob Fioretti have worked diligently on education issues in their wards. We have worked closely with both of them to determine how to improve all of the schools here and to increase access to education.

Many people choose to live in Chicago because of its diversity. It, in part, makes Chicago an international city. Likewise our university community is a thriving community partly because of its diversity. Any city that desires to maintain global status must emphasize quality education. Chicago can no longer afford to have large groups of mostly poor, minority children chronically failing in school nor can it afford to chase middle and upper income residents out of the city for lack of access to quality education.

The issues of academic quality and diversity in public education challenge Chicago Public Schools. According to Chicago Public Schools data for fiscal year 2009-2010, of its 409,279 students, 45 percent are African American, 41 percent are Latino, 9 percent are white and 3.6 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander.

Yet according to U.S. Census figures, Chicago’s nearly 3 million residents are 41.9 percent white, 34.1 percent African American, 27.4 percent Latino and 4.9 percent Asian. CPS does not reflect our city with the exceptions of the magnet and selective enrollment schools. These are academically good schools intentionally designed to be socioeconomically diverse. Diversity is maintained by a complicated enrollment algorithm designed in late 2009 when a federal district court judge vacated the desegregation consent decree for magnet and selective enrollment schools. Many of the rest of the schools in the CPS system are neither academically excellent nor socioeconomically diverse.

Ideally, every community would have a neighborhood school that is academically excellent and reflective of our city’s diversity. Our former neighborhood school was taken away from us, after years of hard work by our community to make it a great school, when CPS magnetized it. Our present neighborhood school, which has an excellent principal and teaching staff, presents our community with a challenge because it is not yet academically excellent or socioeconomically diverse.

The very large Chicago Housing Authority Plan for Transformation taking place here in Roosevelt Square is stalled in phase two of six phases. According to the HOPE VI management consultant for Roosevelt Square, who addressed a large University Village Association community meeting last June 10, the two important tenets of success for any mixed income community are a high quality elementary school and avoiding geographic isolation of low income residents in any particular area of the community.

Both of these tenets have been violated at Roosevelt Square and we believe that it is vital for the ultimate success of Roosevelt Square and the rest of our community to address these issues. We look forward to continuing to work with CPS and our elected leadership to make our community a model in Chicago for true transformation.

Dennis O’Neill
Executive Director, University Village Association

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