Dave Stieber: The Intentional Impoverishment of Neighborhood Schools

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Over the past 6 years I have seen the public high school I work at on the South Side, TEAM Englewood, lose funding little by little, that is until this year. Our school was part of Arne Duncan’s Renaissance 2010 plan which was based on the faulty premise that one could simply make education better by closing schools, firing everyone that worked in the building and opening a new school. Being new to Chicago and not knowing anything about this plan, school closings and turnarounds I decided to work at TEAM Englewood (which replaced Englewood Tech Prep). I chose to work in the Englewood community, not because I didn’t have job options of where to work, but because I wanted to work in the Englewood neighborhood.

Our school’s motto is simply “Opportunity.” We want to give our students in Englewood the same opportunities that students all across the city get. I am one of the original teachers who started at this school when it first opened.

During the past six years I have seen our school do amazing things. Maybe the most impressive is that we average about a 93 percent graduation rate for our senior classes. However, the opportunities that we are able to give our kids are slowly dwindling and being taken away by CPS and this city in the name of “mandatory” budget cuts.

These cuts started small. Four years ago we had two counselors, we had to cut one. In that same year, we had to cut our librarian (we are “lucky” to be a school that actually has a library).
Three years ago we cut our Assistant Principal position.

Last year we did get an Assistant Principal back, but we cut our College Readiness Coordinator.
Also that year we had to cut our attendance clerk, school accountant, and tech coordinator.

The implied message from CPS was to do more with less.

Obviously little by little our computers stopped working, school staff had to take on more and more roles. Our Curriculum Coordinator now became in charge of fixing technology, organizing all the CPS-mandated standardized testing we are forced to give, helping teachers, observing classrooms, acting as an administrator, among other roles.

All these cuts though very large and detrimental at the time now pale in comparison to the cuts CPS is forcing our school (and all CPS public schools to make) this year. Our school of 500 students had our budget reduced by about 15 percent, which translated into a $400,000 budget deficit. So now our school, due to the CPS budget, is being forced to eliminate three teaching positions and three non-teaching positions (for example: clerks, deans, assistant principal, curriculum coordinators).

Now that we have less staff, larger class sizes, and less resources our school will be demanded to improve or have the threat of being “turned around.”

Every neighborhood school in the city is facing similar or even worse cuts.

Our city claims it doesn’t have money to fund schools or teachers’ pensions. Yet our city has money to build new stadiums, river walks, give $85 million to charter schools, and a host of other “necessities”.

I agree with the late John Henrik Clarke who said, “Powerful people cannot afford to educate the people that they oppress, because once you are truly educated, you will not ask for power. You will take it.”

The people who run this city truly do not want a fully educated public. They want great magnet schools that are fully funded with experienced teachers for a select few and neighborhood schools that are poorly funded with an inexperienced teaching staff for the majority.

This is not some conspiracy: There is historical precedent for the actions of limiting educational opportunities in lower income communities of color around the world.

What this city is attempting to do is a human rights violation. If what was going on here in Chicago was happening in a different country we would easily classify the actions of this city as a human rights travesty.

As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon in which you can use to change the world.” Our city clearly agrees as it is restricting the education of the majority to keep in power a powerful largely white minority.

 

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