Central City High School update

Not long after our high school meeting in the West Loop, Armando Chacon, President of the West Central Association, and I met with Whitney Young High School Principal, Dr. Joyce Kenner, some of her staff, some Whitney Young LSC members, including the Chair of the LSC, and some local elementary school principals to discuss possibilities for increasing access to quality secondary public education in our community using the Chicago Police Academy site, or other possible options. The meeting was a very productive one with both sides raising a number of valid points, and we agreed to continue further discussions after Dr. Kenner, and the LSC meet to review what was discussed.

The West Central Association, and C4C are forming a committee of people who have school aged children, or skill sets in public education that will assist in our education work. Our first meeting will be toward the end of September. If you have an interest in serving on our committee, please fill out a contact form.

Important Call to Action for Central City High School, and Roosevelt Branch Library Update

Please plan to join your neighbors in the West Loop at a meeting to discuss a community call to action to obtain a new high school for the central city community to be built on the property where the existing Chicago Police Academy at 1300 W. Jackson Blvd. now sits. The Academy will relocate to West Garfield Park.

Connecting4Communities and the West Central Association will host the meeting on Monday, August 28th at 6:30 p.m. at Built World Chicago at 1260 W. Madison St. There is a large parking lot for those who need to drive, but the location is only a few minutes by Divvy bike, or 15 minutes or so on foot.

C4C’s Central City High School updated proposal will be reviewed, and discussed, as will a letter writing campaign to the Mayor, and select members of the City Council, similar to the one I organized when I led the effort to open Chicago’s first public STEM school, the STEM Magnet Academy.

In 2010, after I discussed with then Mayor Daley reopening the unused CPS Jefferson School in our community, closed during the CHA’s ABLA revitalization planning for Roosevelt Square, a small committee consisting of community residents came together to help guide subsequent negotiations I had with the Mayor in his office, and with CPS executives for opening STEM Magnet Academy. That committee consisted of two C4C Board members, Jeff Rosen, Ph.D., and Shelley Brickson, Ph.D., along with West Loop resident, Armando Chacon, who is now president of the West Central Association, David Nichols, Paul Dravillas, and Terry Barton of University Village, and Little Italy resident, Jackie Marolda.

At one meeting with CPS executives, a resident of University Village, with two children entering kindergarten who did not get into an acceptable grade school, brought along his $20,000 property tax bill, and expressed regret that he, and his wife would, in addition to paying property taxes, also be spending over $20,000 for kindergarten at a private school. It made quite an impact. A similar organizational structure, broader in scope to include West Loop residents, will be developed in our efforts to obtain a new high school.

Regarding the proposed new Roosevelt Sq. Branch Library & Housing, and mixed-income housing for Taylor St., there is a small group of residents circulating a petition apparently in attempt to delay or defeat the development, and some of this group are falsely, and very naively claiming that the June, 1998 federal district Gautreaux Court’s ABLA Revitalizing Order can be altered to reduce the number of CHA low-income units required as set at 1,048 in the Order. One person making this claim confuses amending the U.S. Constitution with amending a federal district court order, claiming that if the Constitution can be amended so can a federal district court order. The Constitution, and a federal court order are two vastly different things, as are the processes to amend them.

Amending the ABLA Revitalizing Order in order to reduce the number of low-income CHA units would require that someone with standing to file a law suit– it’s a very high hurdle to meet requirements of standing–demonstrate, in what would be an exceedingly expensive case, if a lawyer could even be found who is qualified who would take what would be a frivolous case, that the Gautreaux civil rights attorneys, the CHA, HUD, and the Gautreaux Court made a mistake in setting the number of low-income CHA units at 1,048, and that it should be reduced in number. There’s no basis to make such an argument, particularly since the CHA, and HUD are obligated to provide housing for low income people, and because ABLA, which was once over 3,000 units of CHA housing, had only 1,050 valid leases at the time of the HOPE VI Revitalization Plan, and ABLA Revitalizing Order. Thus, the 1,048 units is approximately the number of valid leases at ABLA in the late 1990’s, which is a reduction by two thirds the original number of ABLA units.

Furthermore, this small group of people, beside running the risk of being perceived as fomenting fearmongering, entirely misses the point of a strategy that C4C developed, and successfully implemented to have 500 additional market-rate units added to the Roosevelt Sq. development in a new Roosevelt Sq. Master Plan, the development of which had extensive community engagement, the meetings for which were announced to our community by C4C. That strategy was developed because of the impossibility of reducing the low-income housing requirement, and in order to obtain what some academic survey research data seems to indicate residents of any given community in Chicago, and its metro area would deem a more desirable socioeconomic mix of housing.

The Gautreaux civil rights attorneys have told me that they are in support of, and committed to having these 500 additional market-rate units added into an amended ABLA Revitalizing Order, and C4C will work with them to convince the CHA that this is the right thing to do, and that Related Midwest should develop them. Additionally, this small group also misses the important point that a new, larger Chicago Public Library Roosevelt Branch was something that received overwhelming support from the hundreds of community residents who attended the master planning community meetings. It’s nearly certain that the petition being circulated will have no impact on the library, and housing development, and it is entirely certain that the number of low-income CHA units in the ABLA Revitalizing Order will remain fixed at 1,048. C4C will be reaching out to the community in the future for assistance implementing a strategy to have the 500 additional market-rate housing units added to an amended Order which requires that the CHA go back to court with the City, and with the Gautreaux civil rights attorneys. We will also continue our work to obtain improved management of subsidized housing in our community, and increased access to academically excellent public schools for all residents of our community. We deeply appreciate all the assistance so many community residents have volunteered to these efforts.





28th Ward community meeting-New Roosevelt branch library proposal

Please plan to attend a 28th Ward meeting, hosted by Ald. Jason Ervin, on the proposed new Roosevelt branch library, and housing to be developed on Taylor St. as part of the Roosevelt Square redevelopment of the CHA’s ABLA Homes site.

The meeting will be this Thursday, August 3rd at 6:30 p.m. at St. Basil’s church at 733 S. Ashland Ave. (corner of Polk St. & Ashland Ave.; enter at the back of the building which has a small parking lot for those who need to drive).

The renderings and floor plans of the building, shown here, Roosevelt Sq. Branch Library & Housing, depict a beautiful new public library with 73 units of mixed-income housing stair cased above the library.

There is a small group of people in our community who intend to try to delay the Chicago City Council Committee on Zoning hearing for this development in hopes, apparently, of stopping it because of concerns about the mixed-income housing. Some people have also complained about the height of the building.

This strategy is, however, very short sighted, and a bit naive for the following three reasons: The first is that there is a federal district Gautreaux Court Order that mandates that the CHA build 1,048 units of low-income housing, in addition to affordable, and market-rate housing, on the CHA’s ABLA site, while less than half of the low-income housing has been developed, so the approximately 15 acres of the ABLA site on Taylor St. will receive some number of additional units of low income housing. The second is that one of the primary issues that came from the extensive community meetings hosted by the Roosevelt Sq. master planning team that developed the new Roosevelt Sq. master plan, for which Connecting4Communities successfully advocated to add 500 new market-rate homes to the Roosevelt Sq. plan, was a desire for a much nicer Chicago Public Library branch than the one that currently serves our community.  The third is that reducing the height of this building simply means that with an additional approximately 2,500 units of housing remaining to be developed on the ABLA site, any floors chopped from this building will simply be added to other mid-rise buildings that will be developed for the Taylor St. CHA parcels, and parcels between 14th St., and Taylor St.

That is not to minimize community residents’ concerns about subsidized housing, but the ability of a small group to stop what is mandated by the federal court in landmark civil rights litigation that dates back to August, 1966 is non-existent, and the issue is really one of effective management of that housing. This is why Connecting4Communities has worked with tenant leadership in various subsidized housing developments in our community, including at the Barbara Jean Wright Homes, to get better management in place. We have also worked extensively with the CHA, the Chicago, and UIC Police Departments to get more effective crime prevention measures put in place. These efforts have had success, and are ongoing. Obstruction will accomplish nothing.

Community development meeting: Tues., June 6th at 6 p.m.

Please help spread the word!!

Please join your neighbors on Tuesday, June 6th. at 6 p.m. at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame (1431 W. Taylor St.–Free parking behind Hall, lot entrance on Fillmore St.).

Review plans for the Focus/Guggenheim $20 million renovation of Medical District Apartments, now re-branded SCIO, and the development of the northeast corner of Taylor St. and Ashland Ave. with retail, public plaza entrance, and 250 market-rate residential units above.

See what Related Midwest, and the CHA have planned for Taylor and Grenshaw Streets. A development manager from the CHA will present plans.

Check out what St. Ignatius is building in our community, and what they’ll do to improve the Smyth School campus.

Review plans for the National Public Housing Museum on Taylor St.


Addams Park noise disturbances

Earlier this month I met with the team at the Chicago Park District responsible for permitting special events held in Chicago’s parks. The purpose of the meeting was to convey to the them the issues that many residents, particularly those who live in University Commons, University Village, and University Lofts, had this spring, and summer with noise levels from events hosted at Addams Park.

The noise from Hip-Hop SummerFest in early September was particularly loud so I used a professionally calibrated sound meter to measure the sound levels from a distance of one mile north east of the event up to the event site at Loomis and 14th Streets, and three points in between. The sound levels ranged from 65 db a mile from the concert to 82 db at the source. I also briefly spoke to one of the event organizers to let them know what I was doing, and why. I noticed that the speaker columns, and music stage were facing east so that the sound is directed at thousands of units of residential housing.

I suggested to the Park District that in the future the event organizers set up their music stages, and speaker columns facing west, and that they also be encouraged to direct the speaker columns toward the audience, and away from residences as much as possible. The Park District was very understanding of the concerns of our community, and the people I met with committed to working with the event organizers to minimize the impact that events at Addams Park have on the surrounding community. They also agreed to encourage the event organizers to orient the music stages, and speaker columns to the west. We agreed to reconnect early next spring to review the events, and their set ups so I’ll have more information for our community then.


John M. Smyth IB World achieves Level 1 status

There are few things more critical for the continued, and future health of our community than a successful implementation of Roosevelt Square. Closely linked to the success of Roosevelt Square is the success of Smyth School.

Smyth was the receiving school for four failing elementary schools (Riis, Jefferson, Medill, and Gladstone) that once served the children living in the Chicago Housing Authority’s ABLA Homes. These four schools were closed in the eight years between 2002, and 2010 after most of ABLA had been demolished to make way for Roosevelt Square, a socio-economically integrated, mixed-income community.

Combining, and consolidating schools poses a host of challenges as we learned when Chicago Public Schools closed a record number of elementary schools in 2013. Individually, the challenges these school closings posed paled in comparison to what Smyth faced in consolidating four failing schools in a community in which public housing was also being demolished.

CPS ranks schools in its district using a School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP) which measures annual school performance. The SQRP for the 2016-2017 school year (based on 2015-2016 data) is the third set of school ratings under this policy.


SQRP is a five-tiered performance system based on a broad range of indicators of success, including, but not limited to, student test score performance, student academic growth, closing of achievement gaps, school culture and climate, attendance, graduation, and preparation for post-graduation success.

In a remarkable testament to what can be achieved when a community rallies around a neighborhood school to support it, Smyth just this year achieved a Level 1 ranking. The percent attainment at grade level on NWEA by individual grade levels over time shown in the graphs is quite impressive, and is a better indicator of achievement than is the aggregate snapshot on the Ranking Report for 2nd grade, and 3rd -8th grades.

This achievement is the result of extensive coordinated engagement at Smyth by two large teams of UIC faculty, sustained community engagement on the part of Smyth parents, and many residents from University Commons, and the incredible dedication of Smyth Principal Dr. Ronald Whitmore, his leadership team, and the teachers at Smyth.

C4C, and Dr. Whitmore, along with former UIC Director of Community Relations, Caroline Swinney, advocated for UIC’s deep engagement at Smyth, and we would like to recognize and thank the many dedicated UIC faculty, and their graduate, and undergraduate students who are committed to making Smyth an exceptional school. In addition, two not-for-profit organizations, Pilot Light, and Gardeneers, are engaged at Smyth and complement, and supplement the work of the UIC faculty.

UIC’s deep community engagement

Connecting4Communities would like to thank the University of Illinois at Chicago, the HUD Midwest Region Office and Alderman Patrick Daley Thompson and his staff for their recent work on important community building in education, public safety and housing that will be critical to success of Roosevelt Square and our broader community.

In addition to the work at Smyth School that UIC’s Dean of its College of Education, Dr. Alfred Tatum, and his colleagues have been doing, supported by a large grant from the Kellogg Foundation to scale up impressive results from a literacy pilot program that the College obtained at UIC’s Reading Clinic, Dr. Ross Arena, who is Head of UIC’s College of Applied Health Sciences Department of Physical Therapy, and a team of experts in health and nutrition, will be working along with the staff at Smyth School on an extensive program to educate children, and their parents about healthy lifestyles and their impact on academics. Professor Arena will also be recruiting a full-time, tenure track faculty member who will embed at Smyth as part of this project. Professor Arena is the current Chairman of the European Society of Preventive Medicine and an enthusiastic supporter of the work that Smyth Principal Dr. Ron Whitmore and his staff are doing at the school.

According to preliminary analysis of the most recent standardized test scores at Smyth it appears that on-going community efforts by C4C to support Smyth School, which are well-resourced by significant intellectual and financial capital from UIC, are paying dividends because Smyth may progress from a Level 3 school to Level 1. We’ll know more in the early fall. We’d also like to thank UIC Chief of Police, Kevin Booker, and the UIC Police force for their engagement with residents of the Barbara Jean Wright Court Apartments to help improve public safety at this large housing development as well as with students of Smyth School to whom some of the UIC police officers serve as mentors.

C4C worked with the tenant leadership at Barbara Jean Wright to convince HUD’s Midwest Region Office to conduct a Management Occupancy Review of this development. There were some findings which are in the process of being corrected. Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson and his staff worked closely with the ownership of this development to get a very nice new children’s playground installed there recently. With negotiations between Related Midwest and the Chicago Housing Authority proceeding toward restarting development at Roosevelt Square it is important that the influential institutions active in our community work collaboratively on issues of housing, education and public safety so that our community can be a healthy, safe and vibrant one for all who live, work or go to school in it. C4C intends to continue being a catalyst to facilitate such collaboration.

Where did all our money go? City of Chicago has 20,000 dead trees on parkways that need to be removed and the City’s not removing them or replacing them efficiently.

Glance a few seconds at the 2 minute video above. It’s one relatively small, concrete example of why much of the public sector in Illinois is approaching insolvency and why, for example, there’s no money to build much needed high school options for Chicago families like Central City High School: That is, unless you’re a politically connected charter school operator that wants to use the public purse for personal reasons.

The 5 City employees in the video took an hour to trim 3 trees that had been reported to 311 last July by neighbors (there’s a truck driver, not seen in the video, who never has to work other than driving). Tree trimming is a 2 or 3, at most, person job unless you consider Chicago’s archaic “make-work” rules. For an hour, only one of the workers—the one holding the chainsaw while standing in the lift—did much work. Downtime of large numbers of employees on public job sites is routine in Chicago. It’s very costly, lowers productivity and siphons large amounts of money from worthy and necessary projects.

Chicago has many great public employees who are often just cogs in a very dysfunctional system. The one Forestry employee with whom I spoke was polite and professional and never tried to defend the “make work” aspects of the job site that I raised with him. He showed me the 311 call sheet the crew was using and also told me that Chicago has a backlog of 20,000 dead trees that need to be removed. The City will never get to all these trees in our lifetimes at this rate. Those dead trees won’t be replaced any time soon either; so much for “clean and green” Chicago.

According to the City Data Portal, Streets and Sanitation’s 366 Motor Truck Drivers earn an average salary of $73,041 give or take a thousand dollars. There are 437 Streets and Sanitation Pool Motor Truck Drivers, 304 of whom earn an average salary of $72,850 and 133 of whom earn an average salary of only $14,982 (they may be well compensated seasonal employees). The 64 Tree trimmers earn an average of $75,928 give or take a few dollars and 188 general laborers earn an average salary of $42,456.

There is also administrative overhead of a total of 226 Streets and Sanitation positions such as Admin. Asst’s., Asst. Commissioners, Asst. Division Superintendents, Asst. General Superintendents, Asst’s. to the Commissioner, Asst. to the Exec. Dir., Deputy Commissioners, Division Superintendents, Equipment Dispatchers, and several other job categories earning an average salary of $83,813, not to mention the 17 Dept. of Transportation employees who all earn $65,748 to tie signs around trees when tree trimming and other City services need to be delivered—tying a knot with string must be some skill. This bloated overhead, along with the substantial pension and other generous benefits these employees receive, dramatically increases the cost of public services.

So, at City of Chicago there’s not much money sitting around for important projects. At CPS there’s no money to be used on high school construction. The Chicago Teachers Union, CPS executives and politicians all ensured that by cutting deals to avoid adequately funding employee retirement. Inadequately funding public pensions for decades, while simultaneously building a culture of incredible tolerance for gaming the public pension systems, has helped turn the Land of Lincoln into the Land of Logrolling with a fleecing of taxpayers soon to follow.

I deeply appreciate the very important role organized labor has played in America’s history. A great grandfather of mine, an Irish immigrant who achieved success for himself and his family as an electrician in Chicago, was a founding member of the IBEW Local 134 in Chicago who may have paid for his union activism with his life. He died traumatically on the job under very suspicious circumstances in 1921 at the age of 57 while trying to organize the Armour and Company meat packing plant on Chicago’s south side, made infamous by Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” where he had worked beginning in 1888 not long after coming to this country from Ireland. What would this country’s pioneering labor and political leaders think of today’s politicians and public employee labor movement which have had such negative impacts on the public purse?

The political leaders in Springfield fight among themselves like 5th grade bullies while spewing their thin political spin, invective and other nonsense at the public, while Illinois residents vote with their feet by moving out in seemingly record numbers. If you really want to be informed, and depressed, about how corrupt, dysfunctional and arrogant the political leadership in Illinois is, read these two pieces: Forbes Illinois pension piece and Andy Shaw’s BGA Chicago Sun Times piece. My friend Adam, who wrote the Forbes’ piece, also helped break the story about the highly questionable practices of the new Illinois Auditor General. As we have recently learned from the wrangling over the scope of the Chicago IG’s overview of City Council functions by entrenched, self-interested aldermen, the political class in Illinois hates oversight; it prefers the dark, just like mushrooms do.