It’s refreshing to hear that at least one powerful Chicago family is willing to come out publicly against Mayor Emanuel’s relentless attack on neighborhood schools.
According to the Chicago Journal, the McCaskey family, owners of the Chicago Bears and heirs of Bears founder George Halas, recently donated a plaque and $20,000 in honor of “Papa Bear” to Crane High School, Halas’ alma mater.
But Crane is in the Mayor’s school closing crosshairs this year, and the McCaskeys aren’t too happy about that.
Patrick McCaskey — Halas’ grandson — wrote this in a letter to J. C. Brizard:
“We lend our support to the principal, Richard Smith, the staff, students and community to keep Crane High School a neighborhood school, just as it was when my grandfather attended Crane. The children of the neighborhood need a neighborhood school to attend that sits in close proximity to where they live. Please let the tradition continue on just as the tradition of the Chicago Bears continues on.”
In sharp contrast to so many of Chicago’s power elite, the McCaskeys understand and honor the important place public schools hold at the heart of the community.
In its continuing effort to prove that it is completely tone-deaf, CPS through its spokesman Frank Shuftan confirmed to the Journal “that they had received the letter, but sent back a generic response identical to one the schools have been giving out throughout public hearings on Crane.”
The $20,000 will go a long way towards upgrading a football program that has been sorely lacking. The Journal reports that “Last year, the school couldn’t finish the football season because it didn’t have enough players, partially because of the program’s older equipment and lack of appeal, according to Crane Athletic Director Bennie Horton.”
And who will benefit from the new equipment? That’s what Athletic Director Clarence Smith of Dyett High School is wondering about the brand-new gym built at his school as a result of his award-winning entry in an ESPN contest. Here’s the story from News In Black’s J. Coyden Palmer:
Who gets the prize of a refurbished athletic facility at a South Side high school, which is on the verge of becoming a casualty in the war for Chicago public schools, is causing a major uproar in the African-American community.
Dyett High School was featured nationally in October on the ESPN network after winning a contest to have its athletic facilities renovated. But the school is now in jeopardy of losing it all after the Board of Education voted in November to phase out Dyett by 2015. The decision has angered students, staff and parents of the Washington Park community school, but especially those associated with the athletic program who view what CPS is doing as nothing more than larceny.
“Having been here so long and being through what all we’ve been through to be considered a legitimate high school, it hurts, what the board is doing,” said Dyett Athletic Director Clarence Smith. “I fought hard here trying to do what’s right by kids and our student athletes, and to see it all go to waste would be something I’d never forget.”
Last year, through a contact at the Illinois High School Association, Smith learned about a contest being sponsored by RISE UP, in which schools from across the country could apply to have their athletic facilities renovated for free. He wrote an impassioned letter detailing the severe disadvantages and obstacles Dyett students faced on a daily basis. The old gymnasium at Dyett had an old, warped wooden floor, dim lighting and the dreary colors made for an aesthetic nightmare.
Current girls basketball Head Coach Joe Crumb said the gym was an embarrassment for the kids. He said things were so bad, his team preferred to play away games. But after it was announced in June that Dyett had won the contest and would be featured on ESPN, he saw an immediate a change in the students.
“Their whole demeanor was uplifted,” Crumb said. “You could tell they were proud to say they went to Dyett.”
In partnership with the Chicago Bulls’ community outreach program, a Chicago-area construction company and New Orleans architectural firm, RISE UP installed a brand new basketball court, updated the weight room with state-of-the-art equipment, added new padding along the walls adorned in the school colors and logo, updated the lighting and bleachers and provided all of the sports teams with new uniforms and equipment.
The renovations would have costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to taxpayers, according to Smith. But he is most upset that those who should be benefiting from the new upgrades the most will not be able to do so in the future.
“I’m glad the kids that are here now are getting a chance to enjoy it while it’s here,” Smith said. “But if in fact they close the school down the stuff will still be in good shape and where does it go from there? Who’s the recipient of it? A charter school? A private school? Maybe even a Catholic school?