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The New Old School Violence

By Steve Rhodes

"Schools close, violence spikes."

Sound familiar?

Now consider: That was the headline on a Sun-Times story from 2006. That's right. Three years ago, the Sun-Times pinned a rise on school violence on the mayor's Renaissance 2010 program, then being implemented by Arne Duncan.

Reading the paper's 2,500-word examination now is stunning in its resonance to recent events. And it puts Duncan & Co. on the spot.

The article isn't available online (naturally), so I'll be generous with excerpts here.


"In November, Wells High School junior Eddie Cruz was jumped and beaten bloody in a school hallway by a group of freshmen. The emergency-room bill was $4,000.

"Last semester, a Hyde Park Career Academy teacher was punched in the face after he asked a student for identification.

"Last month, Clemente High School parent Beatrice Rodriguez was pummeled by a group of students who were taunting her for being a 'big woman.'

"This is the kind of violence that is troubling Chicago's public high schools - especially those accepting students from areas where failing schools are being systematically shut down under Mayor Daley's Renaissance 2010 initiative."


"Wells, Hyde Park and Clemente are among eight high schools that each received more than 150 students from the attendance areas of troubled schools now tapped for closure and eventual rebirth - Austin, Calumet and Englewood high schools.

"Since they began admitting those students in the fall of 2004, all eight schools have posted an increase in reported violence that is at least twice as high as the average for similar high schools systemwide, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis indicates."


"The most dramatic example was Hyde Park, where the average number of reported violent incidents per month jumped 226 percent during that period, the analysis of CPS data showed.

"In fact, Hyde Park was hit by a double-whammy, being forced to accept more than 300 students - more students than any other receiving school - in the past two years because two schools closed to freshmen: Englewood this school year and Calumet the year before.

"Some folks say the increase in violence at receiver schools has contributed to higher teacher turnover and has worn down principals who retired unexpectedly. Students say the fighting makes school a tougher place to learn. And West Side community group leaders say they worry school closings could unintentionally lead to a higher dropout rate.

"'They have opened a Pandora's box,' said Khalid Johnson, lead organizer with Westside Health Authority. '[CPS officials] did not properly plan for the transition of these students.

"They are taking kids from low-performing schools outside of their neighborhood [to] areas where there are cultural differences, gang differences, and there are no supports for the students. Out of that comes increased violence, increased dropouts'."


"However, some of the spike may be due to better training on reporting incidents, CPS officials said."


"They also see some signs of progress. The violence level is lower so far this school year than last school year in most receiving schools - though it's still higher generally than when those schools began accepting students diverted from troubled schools.

"And, they say, they've learned some lessons. Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan said some schools, like Hyde Park, received too many new kids, 'overburdening' them. Next school year, receiving schools will probably get no more than 30 such freshmen each, he said.

"'We absolutely want to reduce the number of children going to any school [in the future]. It's the right thing to do,' Duncan said."


"But that's little comfort to students and teachers now forced to live with what they say is a new culture of violence and its impact on education. They note that two high schools - Englewood and Collins - that absorbed students from failing schools in the past few years wound up closed later themselves for lousy test scores.

"'I believe the violence is going to get more severe, and frankly, it's going to lead to the school being closed,' said Hyde Park teacher John Kugler, the school's teachers union delegate. 'We need help fast'."


"Nearly every story in the November issue of the Clemente Voice - the high school's student newspaper - was dedicated to quashing violence.

"One story started this way: 'The Chicago Board of Education's decision to change Clemente's boundaries has resulted in an increase in school violence at Clemente.'

"Students and teachers at other receiving schools also say violence has invaded their hallways and surrounded their campuses. Some weeks at Clemente, Wells and Hyde Park, fights are an everyday event, they said.

"'Students talk about it, how their school has changed and they can't have activities they normally would have. [They] even have concerns about having a dance because of violence,' said a Wells teacher, who asked not to be identified because the principal there instructed the faculty not to talk to the Sun-Times about this story."


"When sizable numbers of students come from different neighborhoods and cross gang boundaries, it can be a catalyst for more violence, education experts said."


"Duncan says he now realizes too many outsiders flooded some schools."


"Some contend the system was asking for trouble by sending kids from failing schools across gang boundaries to other schools.

"'What you have is groups vying for dominance. And because they're crossing gang lines, there is more conflict,' Strend said.

"But CPS officials noted that gang turf lines change all the time. Rather than exclude schools from receiving kids because of gang turf, the system chose to address any problems by adding extra security, said Phillip Hampton, CPS director of community relations."


"CPS security chief Andres Durbak said if teachers, students or parents believe violence isn't getting enough attention from school administrators, they should contact his office directly."


Posted on December 2, 2009

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