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Students demand that CPS invest in existing schools

Several Steinmetz students protested CPS disinvestment in neighborhood schools at an event held before the June meeting of the Chicago Board of Education on June 27.

(Pictured: Rising seniors Kaden Abrigunda, Sabrina Marrero and Jareth Carrera with Roosevelt alumnus Sarah Johnson and Steinmetz alumni Juan Padilla and Emily Jade Aguilar).

Kaden gave an impassioned speech at the 10 a.m. press conference, organized by Communities United and held at CPS headquarters,  42 W. Madison St.

The Steinmetz students, along with other northwest side youth, community members, teachers and parents, protested in speeches, chants and then with testimony and reports they shared during the Board of Education meeting.

“Today we call on CPS to stop opening new schools until all needs in our neighborhood schools are met,” said Prosser alumnus Khadijah Benson, who led the press conference.

“There is a need of $3 billion dollars for school repairs,” she said. “CPS believes that is okay for students to study in these conditions. Is this right?”

Communities United presented two demands, that CPS meets existing school repair needs before opening any new schools and that CPS implement a transparent process before any school actions are taken.

KadenMany people are outraged by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS’s plans to shrink Steinmetz’s attendance boundaries for a planned $70 million Taft South campus on Oak Park and Irving Park.

Prosser students, who have seen CPS’s spending on new charter schools instead of investment in existing schools up close, with the Noble Spear school built across the street from Prosser, also protested the disinvestment of existing schools.

Prosser junior Yuliza Soto, who spoke at the press conference, waited nearly four hours with others from Communities United for her chance to testify at the public participation portion of the Board meeting.

Yuliza gave examples of need for capital improvements at Prosser and asked that the Board members stop voting to authorize new buildings if it won’t take care of existing buildings.

Burbank parent Mariana Reyes also spoke to the Board members about community schools needing investment.

Steinmetz teacher Sharon Schmidt testified at the meeting, following up on a presentation she gave in March about the unnecessary and expensive school CPS wants to build to alleviate  overcrowding at Taft. Taft is overcrowded by choice, enrolling hundreds of students who don’t live in its neighborhood. CPS doesn’t need to build another campus for Taft; it needs to limit enrollment to students who live in its neighborhood.

Ms. Schmidt’s prepared remarks are published below:

Good afternoon. I’m Sharon Schmidt, a teacher at Steinmetz High School, where we had a great year.

Our graduates are career and college ready, with so many receiving scholarships. You can read about many of them in the Steinmetz Star [distributed to Board members and CPS officials], which as usual ranked in the Top 5 in the annual Chicago high school media awards.

Other highlights this year:

  • The academic decathlon team finished ninth in Chicago.
  • The Middle Years/International Baccalaureate,  honors, AP and Dual Enrollment programs at Steinmetz continue to thrive, serving our academically advanced students.
  • Our Arabic and Japanese language students participated in regional events.
  • Students enjoyed many field trips – to the Shakespeare theater and to see “Hamilton.”
  • Our boys volleyball and girls softball won conference.
  • Work has begun on our new track and fields on the front campus.
  • And on Saturday, hundreds of volunteers participated in the Chicago Cares serve-a-thon, painting classrooms.

Steinmetz is a wonderful school, with fantastic students and staff, deserving of investment, as are all existing Chicago schools.

But Mayor Emanuel and a northside alderman have made plans to build a hugely expensive and unneeded school on the northwest side that will harm Steinmetz by diverting a large number of our students and segregating the school.

As part of this plan, this Board of Education will be voting soon on whether or not to remove Bridge, Canty and Dever as Steinmetz elementary feeder schools.

When I presented information at the March meeting about the harm the plan will inflict on Steinmetz, CPS CEO Janice Jackson said, “It’s my understanding that, and I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but that a very small number of students from those feeder schools currently attend Steinmetz.”

I responded that there were 200 students. You seemed not to believe me, which is why I am providing a list I printed in April and highlighted for you.

Out of the 1,177 Steinmetz students, 194 live in the Bridge, Canty, Dever attendance area, 16 percent of our students. Steinmetz is currently under-enrolled. We’re down 1,000 students from 10 years ago. We can’t afford to lose another 200.

In addition, if this Board votes to shrink Steinmetz’s attendance area, you will also be drastically decreasing our racial diversity. Right now, we have about 70 percent Hispanic students, 14 percent Black students and 13 percent White and Asian students.

You can see on the list I gave you, which shows the race of the students along with their addresses, that diverting these feeder schools will remove almost all of Steinmetz’s Asian and White students.

This is not good for the people of the northwest side, which has had a long history of racism. Diverse schools like Steinmetz combat that kind of racism.

White, Black, Hispanic and Asian students at Steinmetz learn a lot from each other and are friends with each other. Isn’t this a goal of public education in Chicago?

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