I was very hesitant about writing this article because I found it very hard to believe what was there for all to see: The Chicago Public School system has abandoned most of the high school students who live in Austin, the largest community within the city of Chicago.
I spoke to some high ranking officials in the Chicago Public Schools central office and asked the following question: Is there a high school located within the Austin community that is required by official Board of Education policy to enroll students who live in the Austin community? After much backing and filling, the answer is “No.”
Think about that for a moment. The largest community within the city of Chicago does not have a high school within its boundaries that must enroll students who live there.
When I was growing up in Mississippi in the 1940s and early ’50s, there was only one high school in the whole county for blacks. Students who lived too far to walk were just out of luck. Meanwhile whites had six high schools that black taxpayers had to help fund. A young lady who graduated with me in 1953 was five years older than the rest of us because it took her that long to find a way to get to high school.
Now in the 21st century, a new millennium, many black students in the largest community in Chicago have to fend for themselves to get to a high school in some other part of town.
For the past several weeks, I have been working with the Austin Community Education Network, which is a coalition of community organizations and individuals. Some of the organizations involved are: Westside Ministers Coalition, Westside Health Authority, and South Austin Community Coalition. Mad, dads and others.
Based on the best information that we have been able to get from CPS, there are a large number of students in Austin who do not have a high school assignment for September. What has happened in Austin follows a pattern that has begun to unfold in black communities in Chicago. The school is closed, privatized and turned over to white operators. Calumet, South Shore, Bowen, Cregier, Orr, Collins. There may be others, including some elementary schools.
How could this have happened? Where were/are our leaders, elected and otherwise? What can we do about it now? My personal view is that the community should come together and demand two things:
1) That the Austin High School facility be restored to a regular comprehensive high school until 2) a new state-of-the-art high school is built within the Austin community.
I urge all to get involved. You are powerless only if you think you are powerless.
Grady C. Jordan, Ph.D., was a high school district superintendent, 1985-95.