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Kings and Queens A grandmother’s response to school closures in Chicago

In 2013 the city of Chicago closed 50 of its public schools, the largest single closing of schools in any district ever in U.S. history.

Kings and Queens is an exploration of inequity and a view into resilient communities on the south side of Chicago. Irene Robinson, an activist and grandmother, navigates the aftermath of a school closing in her neighborhood. Irene comes face to face with the harm resulting from policies and decisions that are at the heart of school privatization. Watch the entire film below. After watching please scroll down through this site to learn more.

Keep scrolling to read a letter from Ms. Irene, updates on the school closings in Chicago, and insights on the larger education issues raised in Kings and Queens that are affecting communities across the country. Check out tips for holding your own conversation around the issues presented in the film, and find out what you can do to get involved.

What is the anatomy of a school closing?

In the first few minutes of Kings and Queens, Ms. Irene explains how her neighborhood school was “sabotaged” by strategies that are undertaken to shut down and ultimately replace a school.

Tina Trujillo at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Colorado’s Michelle Renée suggest that government agencies and policy-makers, including the U.S. Department of Education, would be wise to look at educational research as they guide school turnarounds.

Evidence shows that top-down, punitive efforts are ineffective and counterproductive. Instead, a collaborative, community-driven approach—combined with significant, sustained financial investment and a focus on improving the quality of teaching and learning—has been proven to be the better path to school improvement. Read More.

What Happened to Chicago's 50 Closed Neighborhood Schools?

The Chicago Reporter is tracking the status of the public schools that were shuttered four years ago in the largest mass school closure in U.S. history. There are still 17 vacant schools, located in mostly poor, Black neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West sides, that have yet to be sold or repurposed.

Overton High School which is featured in Kings and Queens was sold for $325,000 in December of 2014. The valuation on the building was $925,000- $1,125,000.

What the real cost of privatization? A letter from Irene Robinson.

My name is Irene Robinson; I am a mother of six and a proud grandmother of 18. I have always been active and involved with my children’s education and schools for over 30 years. I raised my children and grandchildren in the Bronze Ville neighborhood where the fight for a strong public education has always been important to me. In 2013, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) board of education and the mayor of Chicago chose to close 50 schools in the black and brown communities; and one of those schools was Anthony Overton Elementary School where my children and grandchildren attended. We lost our public school and that is when the battle began.

After CPS close the 50 Chicago public schools, a fire sparked in me. A fight had begun! I didn’t choose this fight, this fight chose me and I became a parent organizer. My organizing consisted of working with the parents and teachers in neighborhood schools; protesting; attending board meetings; and being arrested in the effort of protecting the education of our children. My whole life changed! It opened up doors for me that I cant believe today! I have traveled around the country fighting for public education; I work with coalitions and endured a hunger strike for 34 days to revitalize Dyett High School. When the hunger strike ended, I continued to fight for our children and public education by creating a “Quilt Project” that helps tell the story of school privatization through creative artwork and expression.

I am currently involved in many projects that are happening at Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and Journey for Justice. Currently I am involved in the We Choose Campaign, Closing Schools is a Hate Crime Campaign, Special Ed. Parent Committee, Rent Control Campaign, Obama’s CBA and many other activities that uplift communities locally and nationally.

In my spare time, I design educational activity coloring books. One of my dreams is to get them published and share the love and creativity with children in my neighborhood. My most important dream is to declare closing schools as a hate crime; stop privatization of public schools; and to improve and make equal the quality of education for all children throughout these United States.

The film Kings and Queens is important and children need to know that they’re loved! Show our children that we value them and in return they’ll do valuable work. Most of all I wanted the world to see the damage that is done in black and brown communities due to improper closing of public schools. Every child deserves a world-class education filled with love, and equity set in place to succeed. Yes, that is the correct formula to educate our children!

Irene Robinson

What happened at Dyett High School and how did it get reopened?

Originally published in the Chicago Reporter.

Dyett High School reopens its doors and welcomes some 150 freshmen. Inside, a memorial will eventually pay tribute to the school’s history, including the dozen hunger strikers who made international news with their protest to keep the school from shutting down.

Jitu Brown, a veteran community activist and an organizer of the strike, says it’s important that the students understand what it took to reach this point. “This school was born out of struggle,” he said.

The roots of the hunger strike were laid in 2012, when the school board voted to phase out Dyett. At the time, dozens of other schools in black communities across the city were being shut down; Brown and other leaders were already angered at the situation in Bronzeville, which had been hit by nearly a dozen closures and consolidations.

Shutting down Dyett, they said, would leave young people in the community without any neighborhood high school, with the closest one two miles away. Rallies and sit-ins ensued, eventually forcing the district to promise to keep Dyett open.

A coalition of community members and organizers envisioned Dyett with a new, revamped curriculum focused on green technology and global leadership. But when Chicago Public Schools delayed a final vote on a plan, activists turned to the hunger strike as a last resort. They sat in Washington Park—where Dyett is located—in the summer heat, drinking only liquids for 34 days.

National and international media covered the story. Mass protests were held inside City Hall. After one hunger striker fainted at a school board meeting, two board members pressed the district to make a final decision on Dyett. Newly appointed CEO Forrest Claypool and Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson announced that Dyett would reopen —but as an arts school, not the green tech school that the strikers wanted. Read entire article here.

Sparking a Critical Conversation.

Engaging in productive dialogue begins with empathizing with each other and defining our shared values. Here are a few prompts to help you set the foundation for open dialogue about Kings and Queens.

1. Describe your most powerful personal learning experience. What made that experience unique? Who was there? What did you discover about yourself? What might be different if you had never had that experience? What do you think needs to happen in your community to create more empowering learning spaces for young people?

2. Outside of your home, where did you feel safest as a child? Why? Who was there? What happened in that space? What made the difference? What might be different about your life if you hadn’t had that safe space? Do you think the children in your community have access to safe spaces? What needs to happen to create more spaces for youth to learn and grow?

3. After watching Kings and Queens, what did Overton Elementary School represent to the children who attended and their parents? What has been lost with the closure of Overton? What are the consequences of a school closure for a neighborhood?

Dialogue Tips Created by Piper Anderson, an experience designer and facilitator with Create Forward

GET INVOLVED

There are numerous organizations rooted in communities working to stop more school closures in Chicago. We encourage you to follow them on social media, engage in their work, and if possible, support that work by donating to their continued efforts.

Journey for Justice.

SUPPORT the efforts of Journey for Justice

Kenwood Oakland Community Organization

We Choose Campaign

Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools

GET EDUCATED

This is not just a Chicago story. Learn more about school closures—why they happen, who they target, and how they can be resisted.

The Color of School Closures: An infographic showing how recent mass school closings disproportionately hurt Black and low-income students.

Dispelling False Narratives about Charters and Public Education: A video of the Schott Foundation’s Dr. John H. Jackson speaking at Howard University.

What Does it Take to Create a Successful Community School?: A report describing the key components, lessons learned, and tips for implementing a community schools model.

Chicago School Closings Vote: A report from 2013 when the Chicago Board of Education announced plans to close 50 public schools.

#FightForDyett Timeline: A history of the Dyett hunger strike, as told by the strikers themselves.

Democratic School Turnarounds: A policy brief and model legislation for advancing more equitable and democratic school turnaround programs that do not rely on closures and privatization.

Credits

Kings and Queens, a film directed by Manauvaskar Kublall, Produced by Media Sutra Inc.

Guided in strategy by the Partnership for The Future of Learning.

Credits:

Manauvaskar Kublall

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