I'm an advocate for education. My organization, SocialWorks, and I have worked tirelessly over the past two years for the students, parents, teachers and principals within Chicago Public Schools.
My efforts - through face-to-face interactions and programming in the schools or creating grants that provide CPS principals the resources to produce their dream schools - are a sign of support that no matter the circumstances, I'm committed to providing innovative ways to work with institutions to positively affect our children. This investment is not a stamp of approval for the bureaucracy of CPS, but I do want to see CPS students succeed. Instead, I am witnessing what seems to be the never-ending cycle of the displacement of our black and brown children.
Unfortunately, this has been the reality for one South Side elementary school, National Teachers Academy. During the last school year, CPS decided to close NTA as an elementary school, so that its building can be used for a new high school. CPS made the decision despite NTA's educational successes and despite unwavering objections from the NTA community.
Through its affordable after-school activities, community health clinic and senior recreation center, NTA has figured out that the key to providing a successful educational experience is collaboration with the community. NTA has become more than just a building - it's a village. NTA parents, teachers and students are battling to keep this village.
Located at the former Harold Ickes public housing project, NTA's students are 80 percent African-American, and 76 percent fall below the poverty line. Over the last five years, NTA has welcomed students from neighboring schools that have been shuttered. NTA is also a Level 1+ school, earning CPS' highest school rating and outpacing 80 percent of students across the nation. The Illinois State Board of Education has called this accomplishment "commendable," which is an understatement given the state's history of inadequate public school funding, NTA's past principal turnover and its initial school rating of 3 (which is CPS' lowest school rating). This five-year turnaround is a testament to the teachers, parents and staff at NTA.
Yet even this stellar academic record fails to tell the full story of NTA.
What school do you know of that has a "walking school bus," for example? For the past five years, Marilyn "Ms. Peaches" Ross has been walking 30 students every day to and from NTA. The school nurse helped another NTA parent - whose five children attended NTA - after the woman's eldest son was shot.
CPS is now in a court battle with NTA parents and the advocacy group Chicago United for Equity over the school's closure. The judge is expected to issue a ruling Monday.
If CPS succeeds in its plan to close NTA, I can't help but ask what will happen next. What will happen to Ms. Peaches - will she be able to walk kids to a new building? Will the health clinic remain to treat members of the community? Where will senior residents swim on weekend mornings? Will the school's displaced students be able to find nearby Level 1+ school to attend? CPS' inadequate transition plan and its seemingly discriminatory rationale for closing the school in the first place tell me that the answers won't be positive.
It's not too late for CPS to make the right decision and change course. This moment could set a precedent for future school closings and end the displacement in education that has plagued CPS history. In the fight for equal education, it is imperative that we all stand with NTA.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Chance the Rapper, who was born Chancellor Bennett, is a Chicago entertainer and founder of his youth empowerment nonprofit organization, SocialWorks.
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