With the onset of Chicago Public Schools’ current initiative of opening 15 new Chicago high schools within the next two years-but none assigned for Austin-the Austin Community Education Network (ACEN) revives an ongoing effort to construct a comprehensive high school in Austin.
The executed planning process, stipulated under the Renaissance 2010 formula, calls for a “community-based” selection process. But this, ironically, excludes the community. It also, whether purposefully or inadvertently, has distanced CPS further away from their professed commitment for a comprehensive public high school for every Chicago. Ren10 assigns the Community Transition Advisory Councils (C-TACs) to partner with the community concerning the educational needs of CPS-designated “priority communities.” Those currently include West Garfield Park, East Garfield Park, South Shore and South Chicago. C-TAC was formed to serve as the “voice of the community” by reviewing proposals of groups-ranging from local educators to national management organizations-interested in opening schools in a particular community. They also make recommendations to CPS CEO Arne Duncan.
Essentially, the stipulated planning process of Renaissance 2010 employs a process that begins at the top. A process that validates the need and joint efforts by activists to form our own progressive agenda that discusses what we believe is best. Providing a comprehensive high school assures community sustainability. This is achieved by producing community pride, a comfortable environment for nurturing and learning, and a number of high-paying jobs (particularly in growing markets such as green technology.) Lastly, our community sustainability will come from our collective and individual ability to shape community development; as opposed to what CPS proposes and is currently implementing.
Since the final class graduated from Austin Community Academy High School in 2007, Austin’s educational system has been piecemealed and Balkanized. Austin students, approximately 1200 freshmen (60 percent), have been relocated to neighboring schools outside of their community-schools that are often themselves underperforming. This displacement has increased the already heightened gang tension by busing students outside of familiar territory. The “small school” solution of CPS is incompatible with the Austin community’s vision, which currently has close to 7,000 students underserved and without a high school within their own neighborhood.
This is not a futile or hollow undertaking, but rather an earnest effort to engage, uplift, and reform our community by starting with the reformation of education in Austin.