Supporters Of A Chicago School Merger Hope To Stamp Out Segregation
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Chicago is one of the country's most racially segregated cities. You can see that reflected in its public schools. But there is a plan to merge two schools, one that serves mostly poor, black students and a nearby school that is much more affluent. Some parents take this endeavor very seriously.
MICHELE DREZCYNSKI: This type of inclusive school merger is in the spirit of Brown v. Board of Ed and is equally as historic and important for this city as the Cubs going to the World Series.
SIMON: Michele Drezcynski may support the merger. But the deal is not done, as Becky Vevea of member station WBEZ reports.
BECKY VEVEA, BYLINE: Ogden International is in one of the wealthiest parts of Chicago, across from the Waldorf-Astoria. To give you a picture, parents there raised over $100,000 in a single day last year when they learned the school would face a budget deficit. Two parents from Ogden, Lori Smedley and Ianna Kachoris Ori, met me at a coffee shop recently.
LORI SMEDLEY: Ogden is an amazing school.
IANNA KACHORIS ORI: The International Baccalaureate curriculum is tremendous.
VEVEA: They're part of the effort to merge Ogden with nearby Jenner Academy of the Arts, a school that's historically served kids from public housing. Jenner lost almost a million dollars from its budget over the last three years.
And even with the new building and rising test scores, the school struggles to attract new students. A merger with Ogden would give the school's mostly poor, black children access to one of the best public schools in the city. Kachoris Ori went to Chicago public schools herself.
ORI: We have a reputation for being a very segregated city.
VEVEA: She sees a merger between Jenner and Ogden as an opportunity for Chicago to work on its issues with race and class.
ORI: You know, certainly, the events of the last year with the violence in communities and the police-community relationships - like, these are real issues that we need to deal with. And if our kids are going to school together, we're only going to be better equipped to deal with these challenges.
VEVEA: But the parents at Ogden and Jenner tried this once before. Last fall, hundreds of people signed an online petition in support of merging. Teachers and even the school's two principals encouraged the district to act. Some Ogden parents, though, just didn't want anything to do with Jenner.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I made a conscious choice. I want to live in this neighborhood. To say that what I used to call my neighborhood school is now going to, you know, extend its boundary - it's a complete imposition on my personal space.
VEVEA: So what did the district have to say back then? Not a word. Months later, Chicago's chief education officer, Janice Jackson, says it was because the community didn't do enough, quote, "due diligence."
JANICE JACKSON: Who's going to be the principal? What happens to teachers? I mean, you just can't come up with a bright idea and not work those things out.
VEVEA: So over the last year, that's exactly what the communities did. About 20 people formed a steering committee, got a grant and hired consultants to do a feasibility study and survey parents. Now they're waiting to hear back from the district. Again, Ogden mom Lori Smedley.
SMEDLEY: It does feel a little David and Goliath right now. We think this could work in dozens of pairs of schools in the city. And thousands in the country, you know?
VEVEA: And the idea is gaining support, including from former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. But Janice Jackson with the school district says they're still deliberating. For NPR News, I'm Becky Vevea in Chicago.
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