Students: When will we ever be good enough?

South Shore students in the snowy street

South Shore students in the snowy street

“You want a real school turnaround? Invest in us!”

That’s the heartwarming (and heartbreaking) message from Chicago Public Schools students who have been speaking out forcefully in the last few days, calling on public officials to stop looking down on them and start working for all students, not just some.

Last week, a YouTube video produced by a group of students from Sullivan High School on Chicago’s North Side took on mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel’s debate comment that “If you take out Northside, if you take out Walter Payton (both test-in schools), the seven best performing high schools are all charters.”

The students thought that didn’t sound right, so they did some research and found out that, in fact, NONE of the top performing high schools in Chicago was a charter school.

According to Don Moore, head of local education advocacy group Designs for Change, as reported by NewsTips,

Not only are no charters among Chicago’s top-ranked high schools; not one charter is among the twelve Chicago high schools with 50 percent or more of students meeting standards. Unlike charters, eleven of the top performing schools are governed by Local School Councils, which select their principals for four-year performance contracts. (The twelfth, Rickover Military Academy, has an advisory LSC.)  Also unlike charters, all twelve are staffed by unionized teachers.

Newstips adds,

Beyond that is a concern that school policy will be based on prejudices rather than facts. Emanuel’s misstatement “shows that the people that people think know everything aren’t really looking into the problems they say they want to fix,” said Christina Henriquez.

Christina, that problem goes all the way up to the federal level, where the Blueprint for Education Reform has been found to be based on very little real evidence, too.

South Shore student’s letter

Catalyst magazine printed a letter from a student at South Shore, Makyla Bell, asking why the current students were not going to be allowed to move into the brand spanking new high school building, which now sits mostly unused across the street from the current old high school facility.

I have been impacted greatly by the board’s decision to not allow us into the “new” South Shore school. I’m not going to act like we don’t know why. It is said to us every day that we aren’t allowed to go to the new school because we aren’t good enough, or we don’t deserve it….It just adds more to the overwhelming pile of nay-sayers saying we aren’t good enough. When will we ever be good enough? When will we ever deserve anything? When will anyone ever help us? Maybe they’ll decide when it’s too late, or maybe when our future has already been mapped out for us to fail. With everything going on in our environment, we still come to school every day and are prepared for our short and very dim, expected-to-be unsuccessful journeys. And once again, still we stand, mentally tarnished and physically worn out.

Earlier this week, Channel 2 News did a story about the students who are having to walk over to the new building for one class per day just to meet local occupancy rules, which I wrote about last week. The cruelty of this plan was only compounded by the fact that the sidewalks had not been shoveled, so students had to walk out in the street.

I dare anyone to look into the eyes of the Sullivan students in their video, or to read Makyla’s letter, and not feel deeply ashamed about what we are doing to some of our most promising young people. This has got to stop.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.