Austin High School Athletic Director Glenn Lewis recalled an incident involving a former player of his, now attending Clemente High School on the Near West Side, who was beaten up while on his way home from school.
Austin resident Vonda Robinson, mother of two teen boys enrolled at Austin High School, spoke about a friend whose son, she said, “had to fight almost every day” as a transfer student to Clemente, 1147 N. Western Ave.
Lewis, Robinson and more than a dozen other Austin residents spoke during a nearly three-hour meeting last Thursday at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St., about the closing of Austin High School and the effects of school violence on displaced children.
Austin High School, 231 N. Pine, closed in 2004. The school will reopen in the fall with one of three small schools under Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 plan to restructure under-performing schools. Many of the schools’ 800 students were displaced to other schools in the city. Clemente and Wells high schools and Hyde Park Career Academy are among eight secondary schools that each received more than 150 students from shuttered high schools in Austin, Englewood, and Calumet.
Clemente began accepting students from Austin in the fall of 2004. The school has seen a spike in violence since. Participants at last Thursday’s town hall meeting said Austin students have been victims of such violence.
“I was a witness to some of the violence that happened to our children in our community when they were sent to Clemente High School,” said Lewis, who runs a football and basketball league in Austin. “I filled out one of the police reports after one of my players was beaten up, riding his bike coming home from school.”
Robinson, whose two sons are enrolled in Austin High School for the fall, said one of her relatives had been planning on sending her son to Clemente.
“He’s not going to Clemente,” she said.
Charmaine Harris, an Austin High School junior, told the audience of close to 100 about Austin High School’s attempt to transfer her to Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams, which then tried to send her to Clemente, she said. Harris, 17, said her mother objected.
“We need Austin to stay our community school,” she said, “and we need more parents to come out and support us in what we’re doing.”
Austin’s Westside Health Authority and the Westside School Improvement Coalition, a group of parents and community activists, organized the town hall meeting.
Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott also attended the meeting. Scott announced his resignation from the board two weeks ago, effective July 21.
Khalid Johnson, an organizer with the Westside Health Authority, said the coalition will present a resolution to the board of education to reopen Austin in the fall with a minimum of 200 incoming freshman. CPS and the board, Johnson said, failed to prepare students and parents for changes under Ren 2010.
“What we know now that we didn’t know two years ago when they first began phasing out Austin High School is that our kids going outside of our neighborhood are not safe, and they’re not getting any better of an education at those schools,” Johnson said. “CPS did not do an adequate job of studying the potential for violence and things like that. I really don’t think they did a good job of planning this transition, and thinking about the safety implications.”
Bob Vondrasek, executive director of the South Austin Coalition community organization, said CPS should have done a study before shipping students to other schools.
“There needs to be an impact study on the effect the school closings have had on the children,” he said. “The Chicago Board of Education has not done that. How can you move kids to different schools without studying the impact that move will have on them?”
Scott told participants during the sometimes heated discussion that many of the failing schools had under-performed for years. He admitted that CPS and the board failed to properly inform parents, but that drastic changes were needed.
“What the community has to do is sit down and figure out what’s best for the schools,” he said. “The Board of Education said, ‘Just don’t open a school while the problems remain the same.’ The board said, ‘Let’s try to do something different.'”