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 Melissa Tussing/MEDILL

Julie Woestehoff (second from right), member of Parents United for Responsible Education, talks to reporters about the correlation between Renaissance 2010 and student violence in Chicago Public Schools.

Pressure on CPS board to scuttle Renaissance 2010

by Melissa Tussing
Oct 28, 2009

What is Renaissance 2010?

Renaissance 2010
Launched in June 2004 by Mayor Richard Daley, Renaissance 2010 aims to create 100 high-performing schools in Chicago by 2010. Low-performing schools are closed and replaced with charter and charter-like schools. Students whose schools are closed are moved to a different school that may be outside of their neighborhood.

In 2006, the Chicago Board of Education moved more toward a turnaround strategy that replaces students and teachers but keeps students in their current building.

To Julie Woestehoff, Renaissance 2010 looks a lot like an experimental procedure Dr. House would use on a patient on the television show “House.”

“It looks like the cure is worse than the original disease. The side effects are terrible,” Woestehoff said during the Chicago Board of Education meeting Wednesday.

Except, unlike the TV show, this one doesn’t work.

“Dr. House has a medical degree. He knows what he’s doing,” Woestehoff said. “Y’all are in a state of denial when our children are in a state of emergency.”

Her “y’all” is directed at the officials behind the plan to create 100 high-performing schools within CPS by next year.

Woestehoff, along with members of the Grassroots Education Movement and Fenger High School parents, called for an immediate moratorium of Renaissance 2010 during – and before – the Chicago Board of Education meeting Wednesday morning.

Renaissance 2010 goals will be achieved in part by closing low-performing schools and directing to students to different neighborhood schools.

CPS parents and students blame the closing of Carver High School in Altgeld Gardens and the redirection of students to Fenger for an increase in violence in the area for the past five years.

“Kids are being shipped off to other neighborhoods that they know nothing about,” said Brittney Barnes, a member of Englewood High School’s final graduating class in 2008. “And [they're] getting in fights with kids who are like, ‘What are you doing here?’ It’s not helping at all.”

Altgeld Gardens resident Cheryl Johnson takes the closing of Carver as a personal affront.

“[Carver] has been in our community ever since 1974,” Johnson said. “We should have a right to have our kids go to a school that is in the neighborhood, not to take two buses and to walk to a school that they’ve been fighting in for the last four or five years.”

At the board’s first meeting since the nation turned its attention to the fatal beating of Derrion Albert on Sept. 24, Board of Education president Michael Scott asked for a moment of silence to honor Albert and other students killed this month.

Then Scott faced a two-hour session of public participation, with more than 50 community members registered to speak. Many attacked Renaissance 2010 as a cause of Albert’s death.

Wanda Hopkins, an advocate for fair and equitable education in Chicago, said the Board of Education is responsible to its students and their parents. “You are responsible for over a million people’s lives,” Hopkins said. “Your decision is causing havoc and killings in our city.”

University of Illinois-Chicago educational policy professor Pauline Lipman urged the board to listen to Chicago parents and teachers and pull the plug on Renaissance 2010.

In answering the criticism, Scott said the board took some responsibility for student violence. “The issue of student violence is a large issue,” Scott said. “We’ll work to find some answers to what is a very serious and complicated problem.”

But a recent CPS graduate, Jillona Flowers, said she wasn’t sure if the comments made Wednesday would have an impact. “It seems like CPS has its mind made up,” said Flowers, who is 18.

Flowers said she’s lucky to have attended Michelle Clark High School for four years since her neighborhood school, Austin High School, was closed as part of Renaissance 2010. “I’m afraid it will take another unfortunate incident, more unfortunate incidents of youth deaths, before they change their minds.”

Rosita Chatonda, who has taught in CPS and is a member of a teachers group called CORE, agreed.

“I think they’re trying to understand what we’re saying,” Chatonda said. “But they can’t understand, until they live in our communities, work in our schools and bury our children.”