Parents, students, teachers and faculty from ITW David Speer Academy filled the blocks in front of 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts’ ward office, 4924 W. Chicago Ave., in an attempt to persuade their elected official into supporting the expansion of their school to accommodate more students.
The call for Mitts’ support comes with a deadline. In order for Speer to expand its campus located at 5321 W. Grand Ave., Mitts must approve the school’s submission to City of Chicago’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards by May 17 for consideration before its May 22 meeting. The expansion is slated to be funded by a private philanthropy and no public dollars at a cost of $7 million. The expansion upon completion would accommodate an additional 300 students by SY 2018-2019.
Speer is ranked as a Level 1+ STEM charter school within the Noble Network of Charter Schools.
Tom Mulder, the founding principal at Speer, said this past year Speer received 2,000 applications and anticipated 3,000 applications will be submitted next year. He said as a parent he would want a voice in Speer’s expansion especially when the school is privately funded.
“It’s not in my DNA to be out here doing something that I’m not passionate about,” said Mulder. “I’m not fake. I’m here not only as a principal but as a parent. I’ve got three kids at home and this is a choice and if there’s an opportunity for more families to have this opportunity then they should.”
Mulder said he’s had discussions with Mitts about the expansion proposal and learned, among other items, that the alderman was concerned about the low number of students from her ward that actually attended Speer.
“I know her concern is that it may not be what her ward wants and I just disagree with that. I talked to too many parents on our waitlist,” said Mulder. “I want her to know there’s a lot of parents that will do what it takes to make sure this goes through.”
Ald. Mitts did not respond to the Chicago Defender’s request for comment.
Prancella Minor, the mother of Andrew Anderson, a Speer junior, was one of more than a dozen parents protesting. School choice, experience with her daughter attending a Noble charter school, and neighborhood proximity are the primary factors behind her support for Speer. Specifically, she mentioned Speer’s STEM school designation as a deciding factor as to what separates Speer from other nearby schools.
“I think that if we want our students to compete with future students or when they get college, they definitely need those components,” said Minor.
Minor said although her son will be her last child attending high school she felt it was important to support the students of other families. She said the protest in front of Mitt’s office was the first she attended in support of Speer.
“I hope [Mitts] will at least consider this or at least tell us why she won’t [support expansion],” said Minor. “I think I deserve that as a parent in this community.”
Bobby McCorvey, the father of Jayden McKay, a sophomore at Speer, highlighted school choice as to why he joined the protest.
“It’s important to me as a parent to have a choice in the education for my son,” said McCorvey, a CPS graduate. “I realize that the quality of education that I had isn’t as good as I thought it was as opposed to what my son is getting now.”
McCorvey said he hopes that Mitts recognizes that parents care about their children’s future and that CPS has let them down in the past. He wondered aloud why not expand Speer to accommodate more students right now. He described Speer as “unique” among other schools.
McKay was joined by both his parents as part of the protest. He said Speer was unlike any of the schools his friends attended.
“Some of the things I appreciate most about Speer is that it feels like a home away from home, it’s a structured environment, you actually can prepare for the professional settings in the world,” said McKay.