Twice in the last few months, Julia Towns, a member of the LSC for Austin High School, has invited me to attend the LSC Community Forum. Those forums are designed to have the community come in and listen as the LSC hears the different proposals from different groups who want to bring their Renaissance 2010 program to the school.
I am always proud to admit that I am a graduate of the Chicago Public Schools (Jenner, Cooley UGC and Wells High). So I always consider myself to be an example of the kind of person the public school can educate. Yes, I grew up in Cabrini-Green with a single mother and was so poor that dinner consisted of beans every day, but at the same time, there were expectations that the schools had for us.
So I listened with interest as each group has presented its idea for Austin High School. The sad part is that the community has been lacking interest in Austin High, and I wonder what we all can do to change our perception of the school. First off, the exterior of the building does little to highlight the gem inside. At some point in the past, the community permitted Austin to board up the side and back windows. That has led to the building looking more like a prison than an inviting school. But the interior first floor is gleaming and looks like a place to learn.
As each group presented their idea for the type of school Austin should become, I kept going back to what Austin High School was. It was at one time one of the best schools in the city to get an education. It was a school in a working class neighborhood where the parents valued an education and those same parents were involved with the school. It is a disgrace that in a community of over 100,000 people, so few of us came to the school and showed concern. Truthfully, had someone not put it on my radar, I wouldn’t have been there. But when I got the call, I went and now I am putting the call out to everyone.
It is time to save Austin Community Academy High School. I am calling on Austin alumni. How can you live in this community and not take a stand? Just last week the Chicago Tribune ran another article in the real estate section announcing the joint venture between two ex-CEOs of the Chicago Park District (Michael Scott and David Doig), who are fixing to build more condos in Austin. Now Michael Scott is also the current head of the CPS Board of Education. So between those two cronies of Mayor Daley, they are well aware of the plans for Austin. In fact, they know the plans so well, they are part of the plan. Who wants to buy a condo when there are single family homes for the same price? Who, who, who? And I will continue to write it time and time again: Those plans will not include you and me if we let them.
Austin Community Academy wasn’t allowed to deteriorate educationally by accident. How many of you can quote that gentrification rumor about “Oak Park wants Austin all the way up to Central?” Well, that’s not likely, but if you were planning on taking over a community, you allow crime, drugs and poor educational opportunities to be the mainstay of the area. As parents seek better opportunities for their children, they leave the community and guess what? Others buy at cheap prices and then, just like the South Loop and Near West Side, the property eventually becomes unaffordable to those who live there.
Who can remember when Lincoln Park High School was Waller High, and no one wanted their children to go there? Now that they have multi-million-dollar mansions across the street, that school has a selective enrollment. Or how about Jones Commercial? Now that the South Loop has condos everywhere, the city is having the Garden Mission Home moved to Roosevelt and Kedzie so the “gentrified” children don’t have to deal with the homeless as we did for years. Even Crane High School is changing as the community around it is “gentrifying” even faster than the city thought would happen.
So call Austin High School, 773/534.6400, and find out what you can do. Find out about the next LSC meeting. Ask about helping. Find out what’s need to make the route to and from the school feel safe for the children who are attending. Ask about the sports program and what we can do for it. Several of the athletes are college-bound and if the school changes before they can graduate, then what? Come on Austinites, let’s take a stand for the school that bears the name of this community!
Otherwise … I don’t even need to tell you! You’re smart enough to figure it out for yourself!