Advocates push for magnet school in Austin

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David Askew calls Austin and other parts of Chicago magnet-school deserts.

On Wednesday, Askew urged the Chicago Board of Education to do something to change that as he criticized the board’s decision to open a new magnet, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, in University Village this fall. He described the plan as an “immoral action” because Austin and other neighborhoods don’t have this option.

The newly approved magnet school will have a science, math, engineering and technology curriculum similar to Austin Polytechnical Academy, one of three CPS high schools operating on the former Austin High School campus. Why not have a elementary STEM magnet on the West Side that could feed into Austin Polytechnical, Askew asked.

“What you are doing is saying that it’s OK to perpetuate the system of haves and have nots in the city of Chicago. What you are saying, (CPS CEO) Mr. Mazany, is, ‘Yes, education is the key. Yes, education is the way out,’ ” Askew said. “However, if you win the economic lottery and can afford to live in a certain neighborhood, then you’ll get the nice magnet schools. And I ask you how you can justify that?”

Askew, a lawyer and parent of a 5-year old at Thomas Drummond Elementary School, a magnet in Bucktown, questioned the concentration of magnet schools across Chicago. There are more than 50 magnets citywide, with six elementary schools located in the Little Italy/University Village area alone.

Ald. Deborah Graham (29th Ward) – who opposed the board’s plans to move another school, located in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood, to a different location – also lobbied CPS for a magnet in Austin.

“The community is very disturbed that we have not been considered at all for a magnet school to come to our community,” she said. “We’d like to be on that list of a place for quality school.”

Before Wednesday’s board meeting, Virgil Crawford, director of community organizing at Westside Health Community, protested alongside other school advocates in front of CPS headquarters at 125 S. Clark St.

Crawford is calling for the CPS board to meet with community residents about using the site of the former Brach’s Candy factory located at Cicero Avenue and Lake Street as a neighborhood high school. Frederick Douglass Academy is Austin’s only public neighborhood high school.

Crawford said he has extended an invitation to CPS board President Mary Richardson-Lowry and interim CEO Terry Mazany to attend a community forum set for Feb. 15.

After Askew spoke, board President Lowry said he “may not be aware of programs and processes in place that the CEO [Terry Mazany] is working on,” and she asked they meet at a later time.

Later, in an e-mail to AustinTalks, a CPS spokesperson said there’s lots of support for the magnet in University Village. A community forum the district held Jan. 11 “was extremely positive and many residents from the neighborhood were in support of the proposal.”

CPS also stated, We will be looking at recommendations and implications to the district from the perspective of need, demographics, facilities and budgetary commitments that would result from the decisions.”

Audio courtesy of WBEZ.

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