At the end of a tumultuous week, Chicago Public Schools chiefJean-Claude Brizard took to the pulpit at a storied South Side church on Sunday to defend the controversial decision to close or turnaround struggling schools.
“I argue and I beg that we can no longer accept a status quo that has failed our students year after year – because that’s exactly what has happened for decades,” Brizard told hundreds of parishioners at Apostolic Church of God in the Woodlawncommunity. “And it needs to stop.”
Speaking to reporters after the address, Brizard downplayed criticism from the Chicago Teachers Union and theRev. Jesse Jacksonthat the closures and turnarounds amounted to educational “apartheid”
“Ninety percent of our kids are black and brown …. how can that be educational apartheid?” he said.
Jackson on Friday said the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition will call on theU.S. Department of Justiceto investigate inequalities in the city’s public school system that, he said, have disproportionately affected African-American and Latino students.
“I’m focusing on the injustice of having kids locked into schools that have been underperforming for years … I’ll let them do what they need to do,” Brizard said in response to the threat of a federal investigation. “I’ve got work to do here to focus on making sure our schools are delivering for our kids.”
Amid criticism from Jackson, the teachers union and scores of community members, the seven-member Chicago school board unanimously approved a slate of changes Wednesday that included closing seven schools and the wholesale restructuring of 10 others, a process CPS calls “turnaround.”
Among those on the list for closure are Dyett High School and Crane Tech High School, both institutions that have had top-level funding but haven’t shown results, Brizard said.
“These schools have been resourced appropriately,” he said. “We have not gotten a return on the investment. Our kids are not getting what they need.”
Community members also have protested any changes to community schools. But on Sunday, Brizard was met with encouragement.
The Rev. Byron Brazier, pastor of church, said he supported Brizard and the needed changes for the community.
“I know there’s always conversations about the schools and unions on what’s right what’s wrong,” the pastor said to the crowd, as murmurs of “uh-huh” and “hallelujah” rippled throughout. “(You can take ) the position to complain or you can take the position to support and help develop because he can’t do it by himself.”
Brizard, who has visited the church three times, told parishioners that good schools can make a difference for a young person in the city.
He used his own story as a young black man growing up in the projects in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I was able to persevere and succeed and stand before you today refusing to accept the proposition that African¿American students growing up in urban America aren’t capable of extraordinary achievement,” he said to thunderous applause. “… I refuse to make excuses for any school failing to educate students and any child not meeting their full potential – and each of you should refuse to as well.”
He said many of the opponents have forgotten that in the end, these decisions are about children, not the adults who are involved in the school.
“I know change can be uncomfortable, but continued failure is unconscionable and is not an option,” Brizard said.