Prominent arts and technology leaders to advise on reopening of Dyett High School

Photo by Kalyn Belsha

CPS Chief Academic Officer Janice Jackson spoke earlier this month during the announcement that Dyett High School would reopen next year with a focus on arts and technology. This week CPS said two committees would revise on the curriculum and programming.

Two advisory committees made up of experts in the arts and technology will make recommendations about the new curriculum and programming for Dyett High School, CPS announced Monday, but none of the activists who staged a 34-day hunger strike to get their plan adopted will be among the advisers.

District officials said an 11-member committee would focus on developing Dyett’s arts-focused curriculum, while a four-member panel would advise on the school’s technology and training center, which will be used by teachers, principals and parents, as well as students.

Dyett was slated to close this year after a three-year phase-out — its graduating senior class had just 13 students. District officials cited low enrollment and academic performance for the initial decision to close the school. Under heavy community pressure, CPS announced earlier this month that Dyett would reopen next year as an open-enrollment neighborhood school with an arts and technology focus.

Activists with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, who had drawn up a plan for a curriculum in green technology and leadership, put forward four names to be part of the Dyett advisory committees, but CPS didn’t take any of those recommendations, and declined to say why.

However, two of the organizations the Coalition had hoped to partner with for student internships and academic conferences — DePaul University and the DuSable Museum of African-American History — are among the groups represented on the committees. (Though Coalition members point out their partnership was planned to be with DePaul’s Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships. CPS chose an associate professor in DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media.)*

“We don’t have a problem with any of the people they chose to be on the team, we just want to be a part of it,” Anna Jones, a mother of four school-aged children who took part in all 34 days of the hunger strike, said Monday following a press conference. “We don’t want CPS to keep shutting us out… Everyone should be a part of the plan.”

Jones says parents and others deserve to be part of the planning process for a school that will serve their children. The activists welcome inclusion of arts programming, she added, but they’d rather the school focus on preparing students to work in growing industries. She said the Coalition will continue to fight for the green technology curriculum it had originally proposed.

“We want to know where are our scientists are coming from,” she said. “We need civic leaders and doctors… We’re not going to let this rest.”

Though few details are currently available about Dyett’s technology center and how much it will cost to build, Janice Jackson, the district’s chief academic officer, said the lab would become a community resource and be the first of its kind in the district.

Both the arts and technology committees will make recommendations for developing potential partnerships at Dyett, an approach CPS officials said would ensure the high school remains a “lasting, positive force in the community.”

Activists who went more than a month without eating solid foods ended their hunger strike on Saturday, claiming the results as a partial victory.

Jones pointed to the decision to reopen Dyett as an open-enrollment neighborhood school run by the district, not a charter. She said the strike also brought “awareness both nationally and internationally to how the school system is suffering.”

The arts committee includes Theaster Gates Jr., the University of Chicago’s director of arts and public life, as well Perri Irmer, who heads the DuSable Museum of African American History, and Mary Ellen Caron, the CEO of the nonprofit After School Matters.

Others arts committee members are: Homer Bryant, founder of the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center; Joan Gray, president of Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago; Kemati Porter, interim executive director of the eta Creative Arts Foundation; Tenille Jackson, president of The Intelligence Group, who’s worked on South Side art projects; Mario Rossero, senior vice president of education at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.; vocalist Joan Collaso, musician and composer Ernest Dawkins; and dancer and choreographic Brenda “Malika” Moore.

The technology-focused committee is composed of Howard Tullman, CEO of the tech start-up incubator 1871; Gerald Doyle, vice provost at the Illinois Institute of Technology; Jerrold Martin, vice chancellor and chief information officer for the City Colleges of Chicago; and Nichole Pinkard, an associate professor at DePaul University who founded the Digital Youth Network.

*This story was updated on Sept. 23, 2015 to clarify information about the partnerships listed in the Coalition’s proposal to reopen Dyett High School.