CHICAGO—In an address before the City Club of Chicago today, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten announced an innovative, new partnership with a plan to create sustainable community schools that aims to reverse the tide of disinvestment and the effects of gentrification in one Chicago neighborhood.
Weingarten also pledged her union’s continued support for Jesús “Chuy” García in the upcoming runoff election for mayor, calling him the “mayor this city needs” because of his commitment to revitalize Chicago’s neighborhoods, as compared with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has a record of answering only to downtown interests.
“Chuy García understands that we educate kids in the context of community, in the framework of neighborhoods, not in a vacuum. He knows that the key to success is to strengthen neighborhood schools, and to account for the out-of-school factors that impact educational attainment with an investment in wraparound services,” Weingarten said. “He understands that we need to strengthen neighborhood schools and situate them in an ecosystem of support—including economic development and public safety. And he understands that when it comes to making tough choices, communities need not be your enemy—they can be your partner.”
The partnership that Weingarten announced today is one such effort to work with the community to bring back a once thriving, historic Chicago neighborhood. Convened by the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the AFT, this partnership will bring together community organizations, businesses, unions, and others to identify solutions and resources.
As Weingarten noted in her speech, “there has been a wholesale disinvestment in the community,” and the “aggregate effect is that a place that’s just minutes from downtown Chicago is largely disconnected from downtown.”
At the end of this school year, the North Kenwood-Oakland community will lose its last remaining traditional public high school. In addition, there has been a loss of thousands of units of public housing, adequate healthcare and support for after-school programs.
Weingarten hopes that the new partnership, modeled after Reconnecting McDowell, a successful public-private partnership spearheaded by the AFT in McDowell County, W.Va.—the eighth poorest county in the nation—will put this community on a path to renewal.
“What if—like we are doing in McDowell—the neighborhood, community organizations, labor and business can create some big miracles by seeding real and broad partnerships,” Weingarten said. “That’s why CTU, AFT and KOCO have made this initial commitment. We hope that this will blossom, like Reconnecting McDowell, into a robust, vibrant and community-driven initiative that involves many of you in this room.”
She asked the City Club of Chicago audience to join with Chicago’s teachers to undertake a collaborative process to reclaim the promise of public education by addressing poverty, inequity and segregation.
“Teachers can’t do it alone. We’re still faced with the mythology that the only thing that affects a student’s performance is the effort and talent of the teacher. I’ve said many times that if someone can’t teach after they’ve been prepared and supported, they shouldn’t be in our profession,” Weingarten said. “But when economists are now telling us that teachers—as important a role as they play—ultimately account for 10 percent of the variance in student achievement, then we need to focus on the other 90 percent as well.”